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Yanks make Price pay this time

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.

Yankees triple their pleasure behind CC

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.

McCann thwarts Maddon’s strategy

Yes!

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.

Yanks’ 4th & 5th starters pitching like aces

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.

Tanaka proving a wise investment for Yankees

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).

Yanks to honor Mandela with plaque

Nelson Mandela Plaque
Nelson Mandela Plaque (NY Yankees)

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.

Jeter plenty rested for Wednesday night game

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.

Yanks’ bench growing short with injuries

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.”

Aggressive play on bases proves costly

The Yankees ran themselves out of a potentially big inning in the first Sunday night and did so with two of their best base runners. Carlos Beltran, who singled with one out, was at third base and Jacoby Ellsbury, who followed with a double, was on second when Alfonso Soriano hit a fly ball to center field.

It appeared to be a routine sacrifice fly as Beltran trotted toward the plate. As it turned out, it would have been better if Beltran ran a bit harder. Ellsbury also tried to tag up, and that was where the run was lost.

Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. made a strong throw to third base that cut down Ellsbury before Beltran crossed the plate, nullifying the run the Yankees thought they had. In hindsight, Ellsbury might have been better off staying at second base. That way, Beltran would have scored easily with Bradley throwing to third base. Yet aggressiveness on the bases is a big part of Ellsbury’s game. It took a perfect throw to get him. Bradley unfortunately unleashed one.

While the Yankees were playing without Derek Jeter, the Red Sox were without their spark plug, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who returned to Boston to have his painful left wrist examined. Pedroia jammed the wrist last week. The condition worsened to the point that he could not complete batting practice before the game and was scratched from the lineup.

Jeter riding the pine again

Yankees fans coming to see Derek Jeter play Sunday night at Yankee Stadium were disappointed again. For the second straight game, Jeter was on the bench as rookie back-up infielder Dean Anna was the shortstop for the Yankees in the four-game series finale against the Red Sox on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi intended to play Jeter Sunday night but decided to be caution because the Captain has a strained right quad. The area tightened up on him Friday night. Jeter did not play Saturday. Girardi reasoned that with an open date Monday Jeter will have sufficient time for the injury to heal and be ready to play Tuesday night against the Cubs in an inter-league game at the Stadium.

“He’s not real happy,” Girardi said of Jeter, who is batting .286 in 35 at-bats. “I told him missing one game is better than missing four to six weeks, if something were to happen.”

Jeter has a history of hating the bench, and with this being his final season following an injury-riddled 2013 season that reduced his output to 17 games he is all the more anxious to play.

“He has been that way since Day 1,’ Girardi said. “He used to fight Joe [Torre]. ‘How am I going to break Cal’s [Ripken Jr.'s] record if you keep doing this to me?’ he would say. It is never a real comfortable situation when you tell him you are going to give him a day. I think he understands what I’m trying to do. In his heart he just wants to be out there. He’s 39 years old. I think you have to be smart about it. There are times where you are going to have to give him a day off.”

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