One of the major questions facing the Yankees in 2014 was how they would deal with life without Mariano Rivera. Yet even with new closer David Robertson gone to the disabled list with a groin injury, the bullpen has been one of the Yankees’ strengths in the season’s first month.
Until Friday night, however.
Relief was nowhere to be found as the Yankees sustained an 11-5 ripping by the Rays, who stopped a four-game losing streak and ended the Yanks’ five-game winning streak as well.
By game’s end, it was hard to believe that the Yankees were once in command having held leads of 4-0 and 5-3. Until the last two innings, it appeared that Hiroki Kuroda would finally win a road game, which he has not done since July 25 last year at Arlington, Texas.
Kuroda departed with two outs in the sixth as Tampa Bay turned it into a one-run game. Alfonso Soriano’s RBI single in the seventh got the Yanks what seemed an insurance run, but they must not have paid the premium.
The Rays attacked the bullpen for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead and tacked on five more runs in the eighth as the Yanks’ pen simply exploded. It got so crazy that Cesar Cabral was ejected from the game by plate umpire Joe West after he hit his third batter of the inning. Cabral faced six batters in the eighth, all of whom reached base on three hits and three plunks. In addition to all that, Cabral even threw a wild pitch.
Cabral’s ejection forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to bring Shawn Kelley, nominally the closer with Robertson on the DL, into the game to get the final out of the inning.
The pen entered the game unscored upon in its previous seven games covering 15 1/3 innings. The relief corps had held hitters to a .188 batting average with six walks and 22 strikeouts over that stretch.
Friday night, however, the Rays whacked Yankees relievers at a .563 clip and battered them for eight runs in 2 1/3 innings. David Phelps was forced to leave the game when he was struck in the stomach by a line drive. Matt Thornton and Adam Warren followed and could not control the Rays before Cabral came in and all hell broke loose.
Amazingly, all 11 of Tampa Bay’s runs were scored after two were out. It was a decided downer for the Yankees, who are catching the Rays at a time of weakness with two of their top pitchers, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, on the shelf. Career pin cushion Eric Bedard was the seventh different pitcher to start for Tampa Bay already this year, and the Yanks knocked him out of the game by the fourth inning in building that 4-0 lead, which by the end of the long evening seemed part of another game.
The Yankees were relieved that an MRI exam of Carlos Beltran’s left shoulder and right wrist came back negative. Just to be cautious, manager Joe Girardi kept Beltran on the bench Friday night.
The right fielder tumbled over a fence in foul territory down the right field line while chasing a fly ball in Thursday night’s 10-2 victory over the Rays at St. Petersburg, Fla. Beltran remained in the game but said Friday that his shoulder and wrist were sore. Ichiro Suzuki played right field despite Tampa Bay starting a lefthander, Eric Bedard.
Beltran is expected to play again Saturday night. Also out of the lineup despite a three-hit game (single, double, triple) Thursday night was Brian Roberts. Girardi said he wanted to keep Roberts, who has had back soreness recently, off the artificial surface at Tropicana Field for at least one of the four games scheduled there this weekend.
The triple play turned by the Yankees in the second inning Thursday night was the 24th in franchise history and their third over the past five seasons, all with CC Sabathia on the mound. Third baseman Yangervis Solarte started the triple killing by fielding a ground ball by Sean Rodriguez, tagging third and throwing to Roberts at second for the second out. Roberts’ relay to first was in the dirt but picked out by Scott Sizemore, who was playing the position for the first time in the major leagues.
The Yankees’ previous triple play was April 12, 2013 at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles. It was a wild play with three of the four infielders — second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Kevin Youkilis and shortstop Derek Jeter — each touching the ball twice. The first baseman who got the assist on the third out was Lyle Overbay.
Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Nick Johnson collaborated on a triple play behind Sabathia April 22, 2010 at Oakland. That ended a 42-year drought between triple plays for the Yankees. Their previous one before then was June 3, 1968 by pitcher Dooley Womack, third baseman Bobby Cox and first baseman Mickey Mantle against the Twins at the Stadium.
David Price usually has the edge over CC Sabathia whenever the former American League Cy Young Award winners face each other, but that was not the case Thursday night. The Yankees punished Price for past losses and gave Sabathia all the offense a pitcher could want in a 10-2 victory.
Price lasted only five innings and was mugged for 10 hits — six for extra bases — as the Yankees hit for the cycle against him. There were doubles by Scott Sizemore, Yangervis Solarte, Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter, triples by Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury and home runs by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann to send Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, to his first loss of the season.
Price entered the game with a 6-1 record and 2.41 ERA in his pairings with Sabathia. That ERA climbed to 3.06 after the Yankees banged him around this time. It was also the first time since he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012 that Price lost a game against a former Cy Young winner. He had defeated R.A. Dickey twice and Tim Lincecum and Sabathia once apiece prior to Thursday night’s loss.
Sabathia, the AL Cy Young Award winner with the Indians in 2007, stayed out of the one big, bad inning that had characterized earlier starts. His teammates in the infield kept a potential big inning from developing in the second by pulling off a triple play.
The Rays’ first run off Sabathia was not earned due to a passed ball by Brian McCann. CC gave up a home run to Sean Rodriguez leading off the seventh, which turned out to be the big lefthander’s last inning. He scattered six other hits, walked two and struck out six to even his 2014 record at 2-2.
CC has had a tough go of it against Tampa Bay. Thursday night’s victory improved his career mark against the Rays to 12-13 and 4-8 at Tropicana Field. Since joining the Yankees, Sabathia’s record against the Rays is 5-12.
The Yankees’ fifth straight victory followed Wednesday’s sweep of a split-admission doubleheader in which they blanked the Cubs, 3-0 and 2-0, the first time in 26 years that a major-league club won both ends of a twin bill by shutouts since the Twins won, 11-0 and 5-0, May 6, 1988 at Oakland. The previous time the Yankees did it was April 19, 1987 over the Royals, 5-0 and 1-0.
Solarte had another big night, climaxed by his first major-league home run, off Grant Balfour in the ninth inning. Solarte also doubled and singled and started the triple play.
Roberts, who entered the game mired in a 1-for-25 slump and having missed three games with back issues, had a triple, a double and a single and drove in two runs. Soriano also had three hits with Ellsbury, Jeter and McCann adding two apiece in the 16-hit onslaught.
There are probably hundreds of first basemen in major league history who were never part of a triple play. Getting an inning’s full compliment of outs on a single play is rare. But there was Scott Sizemore in his first career game as a first baseman Thursday night completing a triple killing that was the third turned behind CC Sabathia over the past five seasons.
Sizemore, who does not even own a first baseman’s glove, played a major part in the triple play that wiped out a potential Tampa Bay rally in the second inning. Sabathia was working with a 4-0 lead but got into trouble when Evan Longoria doubled to right-center and Wil Myers walked.
Sean Rodriguez followed with a grounder down the third base line. Yangervis Solarte gloved it a foot from the bag, stepped on it and fired to second baseman Brian Roberts for the force there. Roberts’ relay was in the dirt, but Sizemore made a fine scoop to complete the trip-up. He made the play wearing Kelly Johnson’s glove. Manager Joe Girardi went with Sizemore at first base to get another right-handed bat into the lineup against Price, a move that paid off. Sizemore doubled leading off the top of the second and scored on a triple by Roberts, who was back in the lineup after missing three games because of lower-back stiffness.
One out later, Jacoby Ellsbury also tripled. This inning was all about triples one way or the other. Derek Jeter made it 4-0 with a single to center off a two-strike slider from Price, who was not as formidable as he often has been against the Yankees.
The Yanks are hoping the first-base situation will clear up perhaps as early as Sunday when Teixeira could return from the disabled list. Tex is working out in the extended spring program at Tampa, just across the Bay from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The Yankees got a scare in the third inning when Carlos Beltran toppled over a fence down the right field line chasing a foul ball by Desmond Jennings. Beltran apparently landed safely because he climbed back over the wall and continued playing. With the Cardinals in the World Series last year, Beltran fell into the bullpen at Fenway Park. Beltran has got to familiarize himself with American League yards.
Give Brian McCann a hearty cheer.
The catcher got the Yankees off to a quick, 1-0 lead in the first inning Thursday night at Tropicana Field by crossing up Rays manager Joe Maddon’s over-shift with a line single to left field, a big, two-out hit that gave CC Sabathia a run before he took the mound against longtime nemesis David Price.
Regular readers are probably weary of listening to me moan about hitters not taking what the defenses are giving them. More than any other manager Maddon has made use of the infamous Boudreau Shift to thwart dead-pull hitters.
The macho mentality that exists today among hitters is such that many believe it is cheap to hit the ball the other way and take advantage of an empty portion of the field for a single. They would rather try for home runs and simply hit into an area filled with fielders.
Ken Singleton of the YES Network pointed out during McCann’s at-bat in the first inning that he watched the catcher take batting practice and noticed him hitting balls to the left side frequently. Taking that approach into the game, McCann came up with two out and runners on first and second and punched Price’s first pitch on a line over the vacated shortstop spot and into left field for a run-scoring single.
Very nice to see.
It would be hard to get better starting pitching on a long, chilly day at the park than what the Yankees got Wednesday in the split-admission doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
Granted, those were who-are-they? lineups the Cubs rolled out in each game, but by the same token Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are the fourth and fifth starters in the Yankees’ rotation. However, if they can keep up this type of performance moving up the food chain is definitely possible.
After Tanaka pitched eight scoreless innings of two-hit, 10-strikeout ball in the matinee game, Pineda followed with six more zeroes of work in the nightcap. The combined effort by the two newcomers: 14 innings, 6 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 13 strikeouts.
Referring to Pineda as a newcomer is in terms of pitching. He has been in the Yankees organization since 2012 but did not pitch at the major-league level for them until this month while recovering from shoulder surgery.
The 6-foot-7 righthander has gone to a strong start in his first long look with the Yankees. Three starts into the season, Pineda is 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings. He has walked only three batters and struck out 15. Wednesday night he became the first Yankees pitcher to allow one or fewer runs in each of his first three starts with the team since Kevin Brown in 2004. The last pitcher to do that in his first four starts with the Yankees was Tommy John in 1979.
It was not the kind of weather that serves hitters well. That much must be said. How Carlos Beltran homered on a blustery day when the ball did not carry at all was astonishing. The Yankees had only four other hits and were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They touched up Cubs pitching for 12 hits in the night game but scored only two runs.
But with the type of pitching the Yankees got, not much offense was needed to produce a sweep.
For a while there Wednesday, it appeared that Masahiro Tanaka might have pitched a tainted no-hitter. The Cubs’ only hit through the first six innings off the Japanese righthander came in the second inning on a bunt single by Junior Lake, which originally had been called an out but was a single after a replay review.
Except for Lake himself, the happiest guy in the yard about the hit may have been Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who did not have to wrestle with himself later in the game about keeping Tanaka in an early-season game with a mounting pitch count working on a no-hitter. Managers do not like to put stress on pitchers this early in the schedule, but pulling a pitcher during a no-hitter is something they know fans dislike.
It all became academic when Anthony Rizzo dumped a bunt single down the third base line leading off the seventh inning against an over-shift. I for one was glad to see some hitter take what the defense is giving him in this year when over-shifting in the infield has become so prevalent.
It drove me crazy in the Yankees’ sixth inning when Brian McCann led off and made no attempt to hit the ball to the left side where one player was stationed. I know, I know, hitters do not want to mess up their swing by going the other way, but in a low-scoring game why not go for the easy hit and get a really started?
The over-shift was first employed in the late 1940s by Indians shortstop-manager Lou Boudreau against Ted Williams. The Splinter stubbornly refused to change his swing and always tried to hit through the shift, but he was Teddy Ballgame, a career .344 hitter and six-time American League batting champion. These guys that won’t attempt to cross up the defense are good hitters, but they are not Ted Williams. How many outs are hitters going to make on ground balls to right field before they wake up?
I have been harping on this since Jason Giambi was with the Yankees and have kept it up watching Mark Teixeira make outs into the shift. A Chicago writer told me that Rizzo has bunted for hits against the shift three times already this year. Good for him, not that it do him much good Wednesday because the Cubs did not get anyone else on base that inning. Another challenge by Cubs manager Rick Renteria on an out at first base was not reversed.
Tanaka certainly had no-hit stuff. Two bunt singles were all the Cubs could muster against Tanaka, who walked one batter and struck out 10 in his eight innings to improve his record to 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA.
“He had outstanding command of his splitter and slider and threw some curves to get ahead in the count,” Girardi said. “He was tremendous.”
The Cubs got only three runners as far as second base and none beyond. Shawn Kelley pitched the ninth and earned his fourth save.
The only run the Yankees would need came in the first inning on Carlos Beltran’s fourth home run. The Yankees added a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Dean Anna and another in the fifth in an unusual way.
With Brett Gardner at third base and one out, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a dribbler in front of the plate. Cubs catcher John Baker collided with Ellsbury while fielding the ball and was called for interference as he threw the ball to first base while Gardner crossed the plate.
Plate umpire Jim Reynolds originally sent Gardner back to third base and instructed Ellsbury to stay on first base before Girardi came out of the dugout to point out a seldom-seen rule. In such cases, the manager has the option to take the completed play. That meant Ellsbury was out at first base and Gardner scored.
Girardi remembered a game in 1990 when he was catching for the Cubs and the Pirates’ Bobby Bonilla hit a three-run home run. Girardi was called for interfering with Bonilla’s swing but was told the home run counted because the Pittsburgh manager had the option to accept the play.
“Had there been no outs, I might have let the call stand,” Girardi said, “but with one out, I thought it would be better to take the run.”
It certainly was not needed by Tanaka, whose 28 strikeouts are the most for any Yankees pitcher in his first three career starts, surpassing by three the total Al Leiter had in 1987. Leiter was in the YES television booth for Wednesday’s game. Tanaka also became the first Yankees starter to pitch at least eight innings while striking out at least 10 batters and allowing two or fewer hits since Randy Johnson July 26, 2005 at the Stadium against the Red Sox (8 innings, 2 hits, 11 strikeouts).
The Yankees will honor the late Nelson Mandela with a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park in ceremonies prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Cubs as part of the Jackie Robinson Day tribute in which all players will don uniform No. 42.
The plaque will celebrate the former South African leader and commemorate his June 21, 1990 visit and address at the Stadium. On that historic day, Yankee Stadium was opened to fans, who were treated to musical performances from Richie Havens, Tracy Chapman, Mighty Sparrow and Judy Collins.
Mandela arrived at the Stadium at the end of the concert, following a day of meeting and addressing New Yorkers in various locations around the city. He spoke to the assembled crowd, then donned a Yankees cap and Yankees jacket and said, “You know who I am. I am a Yankee.” At the time of his appearance, Mandela was just four months removed from having spent 27 years in prison.
Scheduled to be on hand for a late-afternoon press conference at the Stadium were Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine, entertainer-activist Harry Belafonte, Zondwa Mandela (grandson of Nelson Mandela), George Monyemangene (South Africa Consul General), Sharon Robinson (daughter of Jackie Robinson) and Rev. Al Sharpton. Commissioner Bud Selig was to have attended the news conference, but he returned to Milwaukee after the originally scheduled ceremony was postponed due to Tuesday night’s rainout.
The Yankees’ first African-American player was Elston Howard, who made his major-league debut 59 years ago this week. He had 1-for-1 with one run batted in April 14, 1955 in an 8-4 loss at Boston.
Do not panic, Yankees fans. Derek Jeter’s absence from the lineup in Wednesday night’s matinee portion of the split-admission doubleheader against the Cubs was not injury-related. Jeter did not play Saturday or Sunday night against the Red Sox while resting a tight right quad. The Captain was not in the lineup for the afternoon game because manager Joe Girardi wanted to limit him to one game and preferred to start him in the night game against a lefthander, Travis Wood.
Girardi has made no secret of being cautious with Jeter, who at 39 and coming off an injury-riddled 2013 season is past the time when he can be expected to play every day. Jeter has not lost his sense of humor. The Yankees had their first off day Monday and with Tuesday’s scheduled game rained out Jeter said he felt that with four straight days off it was like an early All-Star Game break.
The Cubs were playing at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2005 and became the 25th different opponent to play in the current Stadium. The Yankees are 19-5 in an opponent’s first-ever game at the Stadium since its opening in 2009. They won all three such contests in 2013 — April 16 over the Diamondbacks, 4-2; June 19 over the Dodgers, 6-4, and Sept. 20 over the Giants, 5-1.
The Yankees and Cubs will play each other again at Wrigley Field May 20-22 as a part of a weeklong trip to Chicago that includes a stop at U.S. Cellular Field May 23-25 against the White Sox.
The Yankees played their first doubleheader of the season today. They swept one doubleheader and split two last year. Since 2000, the Yanks have swept 15 doubleheaders, split 18 and were swept once (Sept. 17, 2006 by the Red Sox at the Stadium.
The Yankees went with an eight-man bullpen to get through the four-game series against the Red Sox, but it left them with a shallow bench that was pretty hollow in Sunday night’s finale when injuries mounted.
Francisco Cervelli, who started at first base, had to come out of the game in the fourth inning when he hurt his right hamstring trying to avoid hitting into a double play. A DP call was overturned through replay, which so infuriated Red Sox manager John Farrell that he was ejected for arguing the call, the change of which gave the Yankees a run for a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Cervelli was exiting the field as Ichiro Suzuki took over as a pinch runner. Suzuki stayed in the game in right field with Carlos Beltran, who hit a two-run home run in the third inning, coming in to play first base for the first time in his major-league career. Other than an occasional game as a designated hitter, Beltran has only played the outfield.
With Mark Texeira on the disabled list, Kelly Johnson has played first base, but he was needed at third base Sunday night because Yangervis Solarte had to play second base with Brian Roberts nursing a sore back. Dean Anna was at shortstop for Derek Jeter, who was out with a tight right quad.
Once Ichiro got in the game, it left the ailing Jeter and Roberts as the only position players on the bench. And with Cervelli gone, the Yanks were without their backup catcher. Manager Joe Girardi told the ESPN crew that his third-string catcher was Anna, “although he doesn’t know it yet.”