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Yankees suffer flop at the Trop

After winning three consecutive series and going 7-3 against such contenders as the Orioles, Giants and Astros, the Yankees seemed to place themselves in contention as well, particularly since they were spending this weekend at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla, home of the last-place Rays.

Thud.

That was the sound the Yanks made Friday night as they fell to Tampa Bay, 5-1, failing to take advantage of a Baltimore loss to Toronto, which moved the Blue Jays to a half-game of overtaking the Orioles for first place in the American League East.

The Yankees banged out 10 hits but all were singles, and only one, a two-out knock by Mark Teixeira in the eighth, came with runners in scoring position in nine such at-bats. A bright spot was a pinch-hit single in the ninth by Alex Rodriguez, only his second hit in 24 at-bats since the All-Star break.

A brighter spot was the work of rookie righthander Chad Green, who picked up from starter Ivan Nova in the fifth and pitched the rest of the way. Green’s command occasionally was as shaky as Nova’s (three walks), but he allowed only one hit and struck out five in 3 2/3 innings. Green might actually have been auditioning for a job in the rotation should Nova be dealt before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Nova (7-6, 4.90 ERA) was in trouble from the get-go. He gave up solo home runs to Logan Forsythe and Corey Dickerson on inside fastballs in the first inning. The first five hits the Rays had against Nova were for extra bases. Brad Miller tripled and doubled. Evan Longoria added an RBI double.

Green at least kept the Yankees within striking distance, but they failed for the most part to hit in the clutch. The Yanks got two hits in the first inning off eventual winning pitcher Jake Odorizzi (5-5), which is twice as many as they had over seven innings against him back on May 29 at the Trop. That day, Odorizzi took a no-hitter into the seventh only to lose it and the game on a two-run home run by Starlin Castro, the only hit for the Yankees in the game. Ironically, Castro was the only Yankees player in the lineup Friday night who failed to get a hit.

An off night for Tanaka prevents sweep of Astros

The signs were favorable Wednesday night for the Yankees to make some strides against their competition in the American League East. The Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays all lost while the Yanks had their ace, Masahiro Tanaka, on the mound seeking a sweep of the Astros at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.

The recent stretch of quality work by Yankees starters hit a snag as Tanaka gave up four earned runs and seven hits, including a home run, with two walks and four strikeouts in his five innings in a 4-1 loss. Both walks came in the second inning with one out and led to a Houston run on a single by Carlos Gomez.

Tanaka avoided further damage that inning with a strikeout and a pepper shot but got into immediate trouble in the third as Marwin Gonzalez led off with a single. He crossed to second on an infield out and to third on a wild pitch from where he scored on a single by Carlos Correa. The killer blow came from Colby Rasmus, who had been hitless in his previous 29 at-bats but drove a 2-1 splitter that stayed up for a two-run home run.

The past turn through the rotation the five Yankees starters had combined for a 3-0 record with a 1.62 ERA in 33 1/3 innings.

The Yankees’ only resistance was Brian McCann’s 15th homer leading off the fourth. The Yanks put two runners on with one out, but Lance McCullers Jr. struck out Chase Headley and Aaron Hicks to douse the rally. McCullers, whose father pitched for the Yankees in 1989 and ’90, had 10 strikeouts in his six innings.

The Yanks wound up striking out 15 times as three Astros relief pitchers teamed to retire all nine batters they faced with five Ks. The last 10 Yankees batters in the game went down in order and 17 of the final 18 hitters, 10 on strikes.

Relief pitching was also a positive for the Yankees. Adam Warren, reacquired from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade, pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Luis Severino, recently recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, showed flashes of 2015 with two hitless innings of one-walk, three-strikeout relief.

Both relievers could play major roles the rest of the way. Warren was 3-2 but with a 5.91 ERA for the Cubs and was optioned to Triple A Iowa. Severino was even worse for the Yankees (0-6, 7.46 ERA), but he may have re-found himself at SWB where he was 7-1 with a 3.25 ERA in 10 starts.

Alex Rodriguez spent his 41st birthday on the bench with no chance to improve on his .206 batting average, which has quite frankly placed him where he is.

Yanks’ recent surge may continue without Chapman

Calm down, Yankees fans, Monday’s trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for Adam Warren and three prospects is not the start of a fire sale.

No pun intended.

The debate about whether the Yankees will be buyers or sellers come the non-waiver trade deadline Aug. 1 can continue to rage while the club keeps trying to prove it will be a contender for post-season play.

Chapman won over Yankees fans with his triple-digit fastball readings, zooming as high as 105 miles per hour last week, but this was a deal general manager Brian Cashman had to make. He had a player who cost him relatively nothing (four lower-level prospects) and was highly sought after by contenders in need of a quality closer. The Yankees had an able successor to Chapman in Andrew Miller, who of course was also his predecessor and won the Mariano Rivera Award as the American League’s best reliever in 2015.

So Cashman had a huge chip in Chapman, who was 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 29 saves. The lefthander made it clear to the front office that he intended to enter free agency at the end of the 2016 season, so the Yankees had good reason to shop him. They had made incorrect calculations about second baseman Robinson Cano and reliever David Robertson in recent years and watched them bolt New York without getting anything in return.

No one can be sure how good a trade is until all the players involved make it to the majors, but Cashman appears to have acquired plenty of talent in the swap. Warren, of course, is known to Yankees fans as an able swing man who was a vital cog on the 2015 staff. I frankly admit that I did not like his being traded to the Cubs, although any deal that brings an everyday position player such as a Starlin Castro for a pitcher is a plus.

Warren did not pitch especially well for the Cubs and had been optioned to Triple A, but I believe his reunion with Yanks pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be beneficial.

The key ingredient in the deal from the Yankees’ standpoint is shortstop Gleyber Torres, the consensus top prospect in the Cubs organization. The Yankees currently have a solid shortstop in Didi Gregorius with Jorge Mateo highly touted in the organization, but players often shift off shortstop in the minors. By the time Torres is ready for the big time, a position will be found for him. The Yanks already have the example of Rob Refsnyder.

The Yankees had keen interest in the native Venezuelan three years ago but were outbid by the Cubs. Torres will remain on the Class A level for now as he was assigned to Tampa as was Rashad Crawford, one of two outfielders in the deal, along with Billy McKinney.

Crawford is similar to Gregorius in that as a left-handed batter he did better this year at Class A Myrtle Beach against left-handed pitching (.321 in 81 at-bats) than against right-handed pitching (.234 in 248 at-bats).

McKinney, who was assigned to Double A Trenton, is a former first-round draft pick of the Athletics who went to the Cubs two years ago in the multi-player trade for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Dan Straily. Also going from Oakland to Chicago in that deal was Addison Russell, now the Cubs’ regular shortstop who was voted on to the National League All-Star team this year by fans. Such progress is what the Yankees are hoping will come out of this trade, but there are no guarantees.

Remember something else. Chapman, who said he loved playing in New York, could always come back to the Yankees as a free agent. So in many ways this is a win-win deal for the Yanks.

They have done fine without Chapman the first two nights of a three-game series at Houston with Miller closing out both victories, 6-3 Tuesday night and 2-1 Monday night.

Dellin Betances had to do a dance act in the eighth when he came in and walked two batters to load the bases but ended the threat with a strikeout. Miller surrendered a one-out double but followed that up with two strikeouts to put the Astros away.

CC Sabathia pitched into the seventh and had a strong outing in ending a personal four-game losing streak with his first victory in seven starts since June 16. Sabathia was touched for solo home runs by Marwin Gonzalez in the first and Evan Gattis in the seventh but allowed only two other hits over 6 2/3 innings. All three Houston runs in this series have come on homers.

Yankees hitters have been kept in the yard both nights, but they banged out 13 hits Tuesday night, including three by slumping Jacoby Ellsbury and two apiece by Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Castro.

Monday night, the Yanks overcame tormentor Dallas Keuchel. There were some tense moments in the bottom of the ninth when Houston had runners on first and second with one out before Miller got Carlos Gomez on a game-ending double play.

Michael Pineda gave up a leadoff home run to George Springer on the righthander’s first pitch of the game but limited the Stros to four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts through the seventh.

Keuchel, who is not having the AL Cy Young Award season he had a year ago, had a one-hit shutout working with two out in the fifth when Gregorius doubled and Chase Headley tied the score with a flare single to center field, which made the Yankees’ third baseman the all-time hits leader among players from Colorado.

Headley singled to right leading off the eighth and scored the go-ahead run on a booming double to center by Austin Romine. Betances pitched a perfect, three-strikeout eighth before Miller earned his eighth save.

The victories pushed the Yankees’ record four games over .500 for the first time this year. They have won eight of their past 10 games and 10 of their past 14. Their record has improved every calendar month (8-14 in April, 16-15 in May, 15-12 in June, 13-9 in July). If this keeps up, the Yankees may seek help in trades rather than trying to help others.

Buyers? Sellers? How about winners?

Take heart, Yankees fans, your club may just get in this race for a post-season berth after all. All this debate about whether they Yankees should be buyers or sellers at the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline could rage for another two weeks.

For the second straight night, the Yanks showed Baltimore they are not ready to be buried in the standings. A 7-1 victory pushed the Yanks’ record above .500 at 47-46 and within 6 1/2 games of the Orioles in the American League East standings. That is not an insurmountable deficit with 10 weeks remaining on the schedule.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, if the Yankees were going to be taken seriously as a contender they had to start playing better within their division. Three straight victories over AL East clubs on this homestand is a nice start.

The Yanks’ keystone combination of second baseman Starlin Castro and shortstop Didi Gregorius were the chief architects of this victory. Each had two hits and scored two runs with Castro driving in four runs.

Gregorius had a premium at-bat with two out in the second inning against Orioles starter Vance Worley. After falling behind 0-2, Gregorius worked the count full and won a 10-pitch duel with a walk. Castro then crushed a 3-1 pitch to left field for his 11th home run. The Yankees pushed their lead to 3-0 in the fifth on an RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury, but he was thrown out at third base later in the inning trying to advance all the way to third base from first base on a ball that eluded catcher Caleb Joseph.

An extra run would have come in handy in the sixth when the wheels fell off for Nathan Eovaldi, who had been banished to the bullpen two weeks ago but worked his way back into the rotation with 7 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Eovaldi was pretty effective for the most part Tuesday night. He got 12 outs in a row before he walked Ryan Flaherty with one down in the sixth.

A single up the middle by Adam Jones and a well-struck double to left by Joey Rickard produced a run and spelled major trouble for Eovaldi, who then walked Manny Machado to load the bases for major-league home run leader Mark Trumbo.

Anthony Swarzak came on and got two foul pop-ups to get the Yankees out of the jam. First baseman Rob Refsnyder made a dazzling catch down the right field line of Trumbo’s towering fly. Gregorius ran down Jonathan Schoop’s floater down the left field line.

“He made quality pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said of Swarzak. “He went right after hitters.”

Gregorius and Castro were at it again in the bottom of the sixth as the Yankees added two more runs. One out after a leadoff walk to Brian McCann by Orioles reliever Odrisamer Despaigne, Gregorius lined a single to left. Castro followed with a smoking liner to right-center for a two-run double.

Chase Headley put on the finishing touch with a two-run home run in the eighth off Mychal Givens.

The Yankees clearly won the bullpen game in this one and did so without having to use Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman. While the Orioles’ pen allowed four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings, the Yankees’ Swarzak and Nick Goody combined for 3 2/3 hitless innings with five strikeouts.

Chapman lighting up jugs gun in record figures

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman had the Yankee Stadium crowd ooing and ahhing in the ninth inning of Monday night’s 2-1 victory over the Orioles as he threw the five fastest pitches ever tracked by MLB Statcast. They ranged in speeds of 104.0 to 105.1 miles per hour.

Chapman’s 105.1-mph fastball, on the sixth pitch to J.J. Hardy, matched his major-league-record 105.1-mph fastball that was clocked by FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x Sept. 24, 2010 with the Reds against the Padres at San Diego’s Petco Park. Statcast reports that Chapman has a majors-leading 217 pitches of at least 100 mph this season. The next most is 73 by the Braves’ Mauricio Cabrera. According to Statcast, 46.1 percent of Chapman’s 471 total pitches have hit triple digits.

One of Chapman’s No Runs DMC partners, Andrew Miller, had his franchise record streak of consecutive relief appearances with at least one strikeout end at 28, the longest by a major-league reliever since the Indians’ Cody Allen had 29 in a row from Sept. 29 through July 8 last year.

Miller pitched the eighth inning Monday night and retired Manny Machado on a tap to the mound, gave up a single to right-center by Mark Trumbo and got Matt Wieters on a 6-4-3 double play. The DP may be a pitcher’s best friend, but in this case it cost Miller a chance to extend his streak. He will just have to start a new one.

The trio of Chapman, Miller and Dellin Betances has combined for a 2.02 ERA with 26 walks and 191 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings.
The Yankees are 18-1 when all three pitch in the same game. In those 19 games, No Runs DMC has teamed to post a 1.21 ERA with 16 walks and 90 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings and held hitters to a .138 batting average in 203 at-bats.

Carlos Beltran went 3-for-4 Monday night, his ninth game this season with at least three hits. He has had three such games in his past 10 games and six his past past 24. Beltran has a slash line of .379/.419/.552 (33- for-87) with 10 runs, six doubles my three home runs, 14 RBI, five walks and a hit by pitch in 24 games and 87 at-bats since April 20.

One off Beltran’s three hits Monday night was a double, career No. 523 to tie Hall of Famer Willie Mays for 45th place on the all- time list. Next up at 524 is Ken Griffey Jr., who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this coming weekend. In 43rd place at 525 is yet another Hall of Famer, Ted Williams. Beltran has 15 seasons with at least 20 doubles, which is tied with Chili Davis for fifth most by a switch hitter in the modern era. The only switch hitters with more such seasons are Eddie Murray (20), Chipper Jones and Pete Rose (18 each) and Roberto Alomar (16).

Alex Rodriguez’s ninth home run of the season and 696th of his career was his 1,758th hit with the Yankees, which broke a tie with Wally Pipp for 17th place on the franchise’s career hit list. A-Rod has 69 career home runs against the Orioles, his second most against any opponent, topped only by the 70 he has slugged against the Angels.

Nathan Eovaldi, back in the rotation to start Tuesday night, is averaging 97.1 mph on his fastball this season, according to FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x, which is the highest average velocity in the American League and the second highest in the majors only to the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard (98.1). Eovaldi earned his way back into the rotation by pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings in three relief outings.

Gregorius Yanks’ nominee for Heart & Hustle Award

Didi Gregorius is the Yankees’ nominee for the 2016 Heart and Hustle Award presented annually by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. The organization announced the 30 nominees, one from each club, Tuesday for the award which honors active players who demonstrate a passion for baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game. The award is also the only award in MLB that is voted on by former players. Voting is conducted prior to the All-Star break.

Gregorius is enjoying a breakout season this year. In his second season with the Yankees, who acquired him in a three-club trade from the Diamondbacks which sent pitcher Shane Greene to the Tigers, Gregorius entered play Tuesday night against the Orioles batting .296 with 18 doubles, one triple, 11 home runs and 41 RBI. Over his past 28 games since June 14, Gregorius has hit .352 with 21 runs, eight doubles, one triple, seven homers and 20 RBI in 108 at-bats to raise his season batting average 30 points. He is batting .370 in 81 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, the highest average in the majors for a left-handed batter against lefty pitching.

The MLBPAA formed 30 committees, comprised of Alumni players with established relationships to each team. One player from each major league club is chosen by the committees based on their passion, desire and work ethic demonstrated both on and off the field. These players will be recognized prior to an upcoming home game.

As the season draws to a close, all Alumni and active players will vote to select the final winner from the 30 team representatives. The previous overall winners were David Eckstein (2005), Craig Biggio (2006, 2007), Grady Sizemore (2008), Albert Pujols (2009), Roy Halladay (2010), Torii Hunter (2011), Mike Trout (2012), Dustin Pedroia (2013), Josh Harrison (2014) and Anthony Rizzo (2015).

The final winner will be announced Nov. 15 at the 17th annual Legends for Youth Dinner in New York. This event is the primary fundraiser for the series of free Legends for Youth Baseball Clinics. These clinics impact more than 15,000 children each year at 150 clinics, allowing them the opportunity to interact with and learn from players who have left a lasting impact on the game of baseball.

The 30 individual team winners:
American League
Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
Chicago White Sox: Todd Frazier
Cleveland Indians: Mike Napoli
Detroit Tigers: Ian Kinsler
Houston Astros: George Springer
Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Kole Calhoun
Minnesota Twins: Eduardo Nuñez
New York Yankees: Didi Gregorius
Oakland Athletics: Marcus Semien
Seattle Mariners: Nelson Cruz
Tampa Bay Rays: Logan Forsythe
Texas Rangers: Ian Desmond
Toronto Blue Jays: Kevin Pillar
National League
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt
Atlanta Braves: Nick Markakis
Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo
Cincinnati Reds: Zack Cozart
Colorado Rockies: Charlie Blackmon
Los Angeles Dodgers: Chase Utley
Miami Marlins: Marcell Ozuna
Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy
New York Mets: Curtis Granderson
Philadelphia Phillies: Andres Blanco
Pittsburgh Pirates: David Freese
San Diego Padres: Jon Jay
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Crawford
St. Louis Cardinals: Stephen Piscotty
Washington Nationals: Daniel Murphy

Who’s on 1st? Ref, not A-Rod, while Tex is hurt

Any plans Alex Rodriguez may have had taking grounders at first base before Monday night’s scheduled game at Yankee Stadium were washed away as batting practice had to be canceled due to severe thunderstorm activity.

Then again, it might have been just a waste of time for A-Rod, who has stated a desire to play the position if it will get him into the lineup more often. Another injury to Mark Teixeira has opened up first base again, but manager Joe Girardi clearly prefers to use rookie Rob Refsnyder there if Tex is not available.

Teixeira, who has missed time this season because of right knee and neck issues, was out of the starting lineup Monday night for the second straight game. He fouled a ball off the area above his left ankle Saturday. A CT scan after the game was negative, but the area is very swollen. Girardi said he did not anticipate being able to use Teixeira Monday or Tuesday nights.

Rodriguez was in the lineup as the designated hitter against the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman and did what will keep him in the lineup, which was to hit a home run. His blow into the left field bleachers off a 2-0 meatball from Gausman in the second inning was A-Rod’s ninth home run of the season and career No. 696.

Before the thunderstorms hit, Rodriguez was able to hit into a BP session and banged several balls into the seats, so he was able to take that into the game.

A-Rod lost playing time at DH against right-handed pitching when Girardi used Carlos Beltran while he was recovering from a hamstring strain. Beltran was back in right field Monday night.

The Orioles tied the score in the third on a solo homer by Jonathan Schoop off Ivan Nova. Beltran helped build the run in the bottom of that inning that turned out to be the decider for the Yanks. Beltran went against the shift with a single to left field that pushed Brett Gardner to third base from where he scored on a fly ball by Brian McCann.

Nova got the Yankees to the seventh inning when Girardi began the merry-go-round of Dellin Betances in the seventh, Andrew Miller in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth for three more scoreless innings that ran the bullpen’s current shutout string to 22. Chapman had the Yankee Stadium crowd of 31,102 buzzing while pitching to J.J. Hardy when one pitch zoomed in at 105 miles per hour, the fastest pitch thrown ib the major leagues this season.

Rodriguez did not take well to playing first base last year when the Yankees asked him to work out at the position early in the season. He played poorly there and seemed content to be a permanent DH rather than have to wear a glove again, which he did with distinction as a Gold Glove winner at shortstop and third base.

But that was two hip surgeries ago for Rodriguez, who will turn 41 later this month. His .216 batting average is 79 points below his career mark. He is 2-for-13 (.154) on the homestand.

Refsnyder, who was an outfielder in college and an infielder in the minor leagues, has done a decent job at first base and has given the Yankees consistent if unspectacular offense. He is batting .269 with eight doubles and 10 RBI in 93 at-bats.

“He has just had the one day of work, so I’m not ready to commit to that yet,” Girardi said. “Right now I’m going with Ref there. Alex is DHing tonight so I’m going with Ref there. It’s something that we’ll continue to talk about but we’ll stick for Ref for now.”

The Yankees need to win games and not be giving auditions for an important position at this stage of the season. A-Rod had his chance to be a factor at first base and did not work hard enough when the Yankees needed him. Now that playing time as the DH is threatened, he picks up a first base glove. Girardi is making the right call here.

Yanks’ best pitching combo avoids sweep by Bosox

If the Yankees are going to make a real run for a postseason berth, they are going to have to start doing better against clubs in their own division. Sunday night was a good start, a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox to avoid getting swept at home against their traditional rival.

It has been rough going for the Yankees in the American League East this year. Sunday night’s victory improved their record in the division to 11-19, including 2-6 against the Red Sox. Against the rest of the major leagues, the Yanks’ record is 34-27.

Coming off his briefest start of the year July 10 at Cleveland, Masahiro Tanaka again pitched well following a Yankees loss in out-dueling David Price and ending Boston’s six-game winning streak. Dustin Pedroia took Tanaka deep with one out in the first inning, but that would be all the Red Sox would score all night as they were stymied by Tanaka and No Runs DMC, the best possible pitching combination for the Yankees.

Tanaka went six innings, allowed only two other hits and one walk with seven strikeouts to improve his season record to 7-2 with a 3.15 ERA. It is even better when he starts on extra rest. The righthander was pitching on six days’ rest Sunday night. His record when he starts on five or more days’ rest is 6-0 with a 1.64 ERA.

That is fitting with Japanese baseball scheduling in which starting pitchers seldom work more than once a week. That cannot always be worked out in the major leagues, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi has tried whenever possible to get an extra day here or there for Tanaka, whose record after Yankees losses is 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA. He is unbeaten in his past six starts (4-0 with a 3.29 ERA in 38 1/3 innings).

The Yankees have given Price a hard time this year (1-2 with a 7.79 ERA in three starts totaling 17 1/3 innings). They finally got to him in the fourth inning when they scored all their runs on five of their 11 hits in the game.

Didi Gregorius kept up his torrid hitting against left-handed pitching with a one-out single to center to start the rally. He scored the tying run on a double to left by Starlin Castro. After Rob Refsnyder struck out, Austin Romine put the Yankees ahead with a single to center. Singles by Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury accounted for the third run. Ellsbury got a second hit off Price in the sixth to raise his career average against him to .357.

Gregorius added a double off Price in the fifth and is now batting .370 off lefties in 81 at-bats. Going into this season, Gregorius was a .214 hitter against lefthanders. He, Gardner and Ellsbury, the three left-handed hitters in the Yankees’ lineup, combined to go 6-for-11 against Price, who gave up the most hits to left-handed batters in a game in his career.

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman worked their usual magic over the last three innings, each putting up a zero to extend the bulllpen’s scoreless streak to 19 innings. Chapman walked David Ortiz with one out in the ninth but got Hanley Ramirez to ground into a double play in picking up his 18th save.

Yankees disappointing capacity crowds

The paid crowd of 48,329 Saturday at Yankee Stadium was the largest of the season. The night before there was another sellout audience of 47,439. It is definitely a sign of summer and that the Red Sox are in town.

It is also the time when you want your ball club to be at its best, to convince those in the stands to come back again. That is part of the frustration the Yankees as an organization feels about losing to Boston in the first two games of what is most definitely a crucial homestand for them.

Fans go home with as sour a taste in their mouths as the players in the clubhouse after another game of disappointment. And the situation continues to challenge the Yankees, who conclude the series against the Red Sox Sunday night behind Masahiro Tanaka in a marquee pairing against Boston’s David Price.

CC Sabathia tried to turn the tide in the Yankees’ favor Saturday while his teammates hoped to tee off on Eduardo Rodriguez, the lefthander who has struggled mightily this season but who always seems to save his best for the Bombers.

Rodriguez had been optioned to Triple A Pawtucket after giving up nine earned runs and 11 hits in 2 2/3 innings to the Rays June 27 in a 13-7 loss that skyrocketed his ERA to 8.59. After pitching to a 3.08 ERA at Triple A, Rodriguez was recalled Friday to make this start, and make the best of it he did.

A solo home run by Brett Gardner in the third inning was the only run Rodriguez allowed in seven innings. It ended a 180-at-bat homerless stretch for Gardner, who had last gone deep May 18. Gardy proved the only real nemesis for Rodriguez, who also gave up a single and walked the leadoff hitter.

It was a close game for the first five innings. Sabathia gave up an unearned run in the third on a rally started by a throwing error by shortstop Didi Gregorius. A couple of infield hits fueled another small rally in the fourth when the Red Sox went ahead on a two-out single by catcher Sandy Leon.

Boston broke it open in the fourth. Manager Joe Girardi again pointed to soft hits off Sabathia enabling the Red Sox, but there was nothing soft about the three-run shot Leon drove into the left-field bleachers.

It was the fifth straight winless start for Sabathia, whose ERA has grown over that period from 2.20 to 3.94. The big lefthander has allowed 39 hits, including five home runs, with 10 walks and 19 strikeouts over 28 1/3 innings in those starts. His record over that span is 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA.

Conversely, Rodriguez improved his record in five career starts against the Yankees to 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. The Yankees have definitely been vulnerable to left-handed pitching. They are 11-16 in games started by lefties.

No sooner had Rodriguez left the game than Chase Headley launched a home run to right-center off Matt Barnes. No other hits followed that as the Yankees went down meekly against Barnes and closer Koji Uehara (sixth save).

Other than the solo jacks by Gardner and Headley, the only other highlight for the Yankees was scoreless relief work by Anthony Swarzak (2 2/3 innings) and Richard Bleier (one inning). Yankees relievers have shut out opponents over their past 16 innings since June 9 at Cleveland.

Bowl tickets pre-sale for YU members Tuesday

Tickets for the 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl and the 2016 Ram-Crusader Cup will both go on sale to the general public at http://www.yankees.com/football and http://www.ticketmaster.com at 10a.m. Thursday, July 21.

The New Era Pinstripe Bowl is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28, at Yankee Stadium and will pit schools representing the Big Ten Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Ram-Crusader Cup has a 3 p.m. kickoff at the Stadium Saturday, Nov. 12, between the Fordham Rams and the Holy Cross Crusaders.

Yankees Season Ticket Licensees (Premium, Suite, Full and Partial), Yankees Universe members, and Yankees Group Leaders will have the opportunity to take part in a special pre-on-sale for both games beginning Tuesday, July 19, the details of which can be found at http://www.yankees.com/football.

MasterCard cardholders can take advantage of a special MasterCard exclusive pre-on-sale for each game from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 20. MasterCard is the preferred card of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Established in 2010, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl has featured some of the most memorable moments in recent college football history. This year’s game will be nationally televised by ESPN, which has also secured national and local radio rights for ESPN Radio.

For up-to-the-moment information regarding the game, fans are encouraged to visit http://www.pinstripebowl.com, the official website of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and follow the Bowl game’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts – @PinstripeBowl.

The 31st Ram-Crusader Cup will be the first to take place at the current Stadium. The schools previously met once at the original Stadium Nov. 10, 1923 with Holy Cross defeating Fordham, 23-7.

This year’s game will mark Fordham’s 22nd appearance in the Stadium and first since 1946, having gone 12-8-1 at the prior venue. For Holy Cross, it will be their first appearance at the Stadium since 1940, previously amassing a 2-0-1 record at the original location.

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