Astros’ strikeout machine jolts D-Rob

There is no other way to look at it — Monday’s loss was a bad one. Not that any loss is ever good, but some are just worse than others. And the 7-4 setback to an Astros team fighting to stay out of last place in the American League West was as plug ugly as it gets.

Coming off two sound victories at St. Petersburg, Fla., the Yanks were poised for a promising homestand against the Astros and White Sox, two fourth-place clubs playing out the string and trying to avoid finishing at the bottom of their respective divisions. So to lose the first game in such horrible fashion was not the ideal way to get the homestand started.

Houston batters combined to strike out 15 times yet the Astros ended up winning the seesaw contest. The Yankees squandered a 2-0 lead and then came back from a 4-2 deficit to tie the score in the sixth inning. Questionable base running cost them in the eighth, but the real ugliness lay ahead and from a very surprising source.

David Robertson is amid a stretch of 21 consecutive saves, a streak that remains intact despite what happened Monday night when he gave up the three-run home run in the ninth to swing-and-miss specialist Chris Carter that created the final score.

D-Rob got himself in trouble even before Carter stepped to the plate by walking Robbie Grossman and Jose Altuve with one out. Grossman had stolen second base during the Altuve at bat when catcher Brian McCann’s throw struck the runner in the back.

Carter is about as feast or famine a hitter as there is in the major leagues these days. He had struck out in each of his first four at-bats that ran his season total to 133 strikeouts in 386 at-bats. The platinum sombrero — a fifth strikeout — could have been easily anticipated until Robertson fell behind 3-0 in the count, which is probably not a count Carter has seen much this year. As one of the writers sitting near me said, “He probably hasn’t seen many 3-ball counts of any kind.”

The last thing a pitcher wants to do there is throw a get-it-over meatball, not to a hitter of Carter’s power when he makes contact. Oh, man, did he ever make contact on the 90-mph cut fastball that Robertson delivered. The ball landed somewhere half-way up the bleachers in left-center for Carter’s 30th home run, a crushing blow.

The Yankees’ offense had shown some signs of life for a change. Brian McCann slugged his 14th home run in the fourth to put the Yanks up 2-0. Martin Prado, who scored on McCann’s homer, had three hits, including a two-run double in the sixth that knotted the score. In all, the Yankees had nine hits.

One was a leadoff single in the eighth by Jacoby Ellsbury, who ended up at third base with one out after a steal and an errant throw by catcher Jason Castro. The Astros brought the infield in against Carlos Beltran, who hit a hard, one-hopper to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez. Running on contact, Ellsbury was a dead duck at the plate as Gonzalez threw a pea to the plate. Prado singled to put another runner in scoring position at second, but McCann flied out to deep center.

To make matters worse, former Yankees pitcher Chad Qualls, now Houston’s closer, earned his 14th save with a perfect ninth to conclude a perfectly unattractive loss.

Scoring decision changes historic hits

Most fans may not realize that on a nightly basis there are gripes galore about official scorers’ decisions. The compromise reached in the recent collective bargaining agreement that allows players (and/or their agents) to call for review of questionable calls rather than the clubs alone is proving to be a major headache and could be under review during the next CBA talks.

Routinely, calls come before executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre for review, which I am sure have become a major nuisance. The latest example was the infield single Derek Jeter got in the first inning Aug. 8 against the Indians at Yankee Stadium that we all thought was the hit that tied him with Hall of Famer Honus Wagner for sixth place on the career list. It turns out that the play was reversed with an error charged to Cleveland’s shortstop, Jose Ramirez.

Jeter did not get all that bent out of shape about the whole thing. After all, he has long since passed Wagner and appears to be in position to be sixth on the all-time list for quite a long time. Jeter has the ball that he thought tied Wagner and the ball that did tie Wagner, plus the ball that passed Wagner. It is all ancient history as far as DJ is concerned.

But how chintzy was Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer to take issue with what was a borderline call on an historic play. Granted, the ruling change meant that only two of the runs he gave up in that game were earned instead of all five (in 3 1/3 innings yet; let’s face it, it was not his day).

Complaining about official scorers’ calls is as old as the game. I know of coaches who habitually berated official scorers during and after games. Perhaps the most famous example was the father of a shortstop who was charged with only three errors in 161 games of the 1990 season and was a coach on his son’s team (you will not need more than one guess).

Occasionally an official scorer would review his decision and make a correction. He or she may have been coerced, but it was not to the level it has become under current conditions. Now every agent in the big leagues can pick up a phone and talk his client into lodging a protest over a questionable decision. While I am all in favor of an appellate court to sort out such disputes, the volume under the new system has proved troublesome.

Even the Major League Players Association, which pushed for this system, is starting to have second thoughts, largely because the beefs often pit teammates against each other. For every pitcher protective of his earned run average is a fielder protective of his reputation as a defender. In most cases, one player is appeased while two are miffed. In this case, Bauer is happy, but Jeter and Ramirez are not.

How can that be a good thing?

Torre tribute to highlight homestand

Joe Torre will have his uniform number retired Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Joe Torre will have his uniform number retired Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

A tribute to former manager and new Hall of Famer Joe Torre, whose uniform No. 6 will be retired, will be at the center of the Yankees’ homestand that began Tuesday night with the opener of a three-game series against the Astros to be followed by a three-game set against the White Sox.

Joe Torre Day is scheduled for Saturday. Torre will not only have his number uniform retired but also will be honored with a plaque in Monument Park, the fourth new one this year joining Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill. Family members, former players and other guests are expected to participate. Fans are encouraged to arrive early and be in their seats by noon.

Torre spent 12 seasons as Yankees manager from 1996 through 2007. He led the team to six World Series appearances (1996, ’98-2001, ’03) and four championships (1996, ’98-2000). He compiled a regular-season record of 1,173-767-2 (.605), a postseason mark of 76-47 (.618) and guided the club to the playoffs in each of his managerial seasons. Torre’s Yankees teams went 21-11 in the World Series, 27-14 in the American League Championship Series and 28-22 in the AL Division Series. His regular-season victory total is second in club history to Joe McCarthy, who had a 1,460-867 (.627) record over 16 seasons.

Ticket specials will run Tuesday, (Military Personnel Game), Wednesday, (Military Personnel and Student Game), Thursday, (MasterCard half-price, Military Personnel and Senior Citizen Game) and Saturday (Youth Game).

For a complete list of ticket specials, including game dates, seating locations, and terms and conditions, fans should visit http://www.yankees.com/ticketspecials. Please note that all ticket specials are subject to availability.

The homestand will also feature the following promotional items and dates:

Tuesday, August 19 – Yankees vs. Astros, 7:05 p.m.
Yankees USB Car Charger Night, presented by Avis, to first 18,000 customers, 21 and older.

Wednesday, August 20 – Yankees vs. Astros, 7:05 p.m.
Joe Girardi Bobblehead Night, presented by AT&T, to first 18,000 customers.

Thursday, August 21 – Yankees vs. Astros, 1:05 p.m.
Masahiro Tanaka Poster Day, presented by Catch 24 Advertising, to first 18,000 customers, 14 and younger.

Friday, August 22 – Yankees vs. White Sox, 7:05 p.m.
Yankees Water Bottle Night, presented by Budweiser, to first 18,000 customers, 21 and older.

Sunday, August 24 – Yankees vs. White Sox, 1:05 p.m.
Yankees Hello Kitty Bobblehead Day, presented to first 18,000 customers, 14 and younger.

Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.yankees.com, http://www.yankeesbeisbol.com, at the Yankee Stadium Ticket Office, via Ticketmaster phone at 877-469-9849, Ticketmaster TTY at 800-943-4327 and at all Ticket Offices located within Yankees Clubhouse Shops. Tickets may also be purchased on Yankees Ticket Exchange at http://www.yankees.com/yte, the only official online resale marketplace for Yankees fans to purchase and resell tickets to Yankees games. Fans with questions may call 212-YANKEES (926-5337) or email tickets@yankees.com.

Yanks end bumpy trip on upbeat note

So when is a 2-3 trip considered good? When it starts out 0-3.

That was the situation with the Yankees at the end of a somewhat bumpy ride through Baltimore and St. Petersburg. They finished in an upbeat fashion Sunday with a 4-2 victory that included a semblance of a sustained offense and an encouraging outing by Hiroki Kuroda.

The victory also lifted the Yankees back into second place in the American League East, albeit a distant second since they trail the first-place Orioles by seven games. The Yanks are also 3 1/2 games behind in the chase for the second wild-card berth.

Kuroda was working on extra rest, which is something Yankees manager Joe Girardi intends to do as often as he can in the season’s final six weeks to prevent the fade the Japanese righthander sustained in the second half of the 2013 season. He certainly seemed to benefit from the extra time off.

Never before at his best against the Rays (2-4, 6.07 ERA) or at Tropicana Field (1-2, 6.94 ERA), Kuroda was in first-half form with 6 2/3 innings in which he allowed two runs and four hits. Pitching to contact (one walk, one strikeout), Kuroda retired 17 batters in a row from the first through the sixth innings.

Kuroda gave up a run in the first inning, and that run looked quite large when Rays righthander Jeremy Hellickson, who has pitched only since last month after undergoing arthroscopic right elbow surgery in January, took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and got the first two out then rather easily.

A walk to Stephen Drew was the beginning of a sloppy inning for Hellickson, his last in the game, as the Yankees strung together four hits — a double by Martin Prado, a two-run single by Brett Gardner that gave the Yankees the lead, followed by singles by Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury resulting in another run. The hit by Ellsbury was his only one on the trip in 20 at-bats but came at a good time. Prado also had a superlative game defensively at second base with eight assists and one putout.

Evan Longoria’s RBI single in the seventh off a tiring Kuroda cut the Yanks’ lead to 3-2, but Shawn Kelley stranded a runner at third before turning matters over to Dellin Betances in the eighth and David Robertson (33rd save) in the ninth, which has become a can’t-miss tandem.

Mark Teixeira made it 4-2 in the eighth with his 20th home run of the season and career No. 361, which tied him with Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio on the all-time list. Nice company that.

So the trip’s finish was far better than the start. The Yankees’ offense continues to be a concern. They averaged merely 2.6 runs per game on the trip and have been outscored by 37 runs this season.

But they come home with some momentum and have a chance to make some headway on the upcoming homestand against the also-ran Astros and White Sox.

Jeter’s clutch hit helps Yanks end 5-game losing streak

The Yankees ended a disturbing pattern on this trip in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Rays that stopped a five-game losing streak. In the two games at Baltimore that began the trip, the Yankees scored early but failed to add to their lead while the Orioles came back to take each game.

Friday night was different but not in a good way. The Yankees did not give up the lead because they never had one. In fact, they did not score at all.

Saturday was looking like the same thing for a while. The Yanks jumped ahead 2-0 in the second inning against lefthander Drew Smyly on Martin Prado’s sixth home run of the season. Inning after inning went by without the Yankees extending the lead for Shane Greene, who was brilliant with 10 strikeouts in six-plus innings. The Rays scored single runs in the sixth and seventh to tie the score and hang Greene with a no-decision. He was kicking himself for hitting a batter with a pitch to start the seventh. A pinch runner eventually came around to score the tying run.

Then came the ninth, and things started going the Yankees’ way. Brett Gardner led off with an infield single and continued to second base on an errant throw by second baseman Logan Fosythe.

Derek Jeter attempted to bunt Gardner to third base but could not handle lefthander Jake McGee’s high octane gas as the count went to 2-2. Tampa Bay kept its infield tight with the idea that DJ still might bunt despite having two strikes. Nope. The Captain swung away and lined a 99-mph fastball past a diving Forsythe for a single to right-center that brought Gardner home with what proved the winning run.

Pitching for the first time in nine days, David Robertson notched his 32nd save to preserve the victory for Dellin Betances (5-0), who pitched a perfect eighth inning. Shawn Kelley also pitched a shutout seventh as the bullpen had its first strong performance on the trip.

The loss dropped the Rays back under .500 (61-62) after they had gotten to the level level with Friday night’s 5-0 victory, quite a feat for a team that was once 18 games under .500. The last major-league team to go from 18-under to .500 in the same season was the Marlins in 2006 when they were managed by current Yankees skipper Joe Girardi.

He picked a perfect game to put Carlos Beltran back in right field for the first time since May 11 because the way Greene pitched nobody hit the ball to Beltran, who did not have a fielding chance until he caught a drive by Evan Longoria for the first out of the eighth inning.

Beltran’s return to the outfield permits Girardi to go back to his preference of using the designated hitter spot as a way to give players a half-game off. Saturday’s hero, Jeter, was the DH in this one.

Girardi decided against using Brian McCann, who came off the 7-day concussion list, and had Francisco Cervelli behind the plate. McCann had a lackluster workout Friday, so Girardi chose to wait at least one more day before getting his regular catcher back in the mix.

The much-needed victory also guaranteed the Yankees will leave St. Petersburg after Sunday’s game no deeper than third place in the American League East. After the shutout loss Friday night, it created a situation where the Rays could have jumped over the Yankees in the standings this weekend, a prognosis that fell apart with Saturday’s comeback victory.

Yanks encouraged by Pineda’s work in tough loss

The shot in the arm the Yankees needed Wednesday night came in the right arm of Michael Pineda. Unfortunately, that was not enough to avoid another loss to the Orioles, who again overcame a two-run deficit to sweep the rain-abbreviated series.

The severe rainstorm that caused the postponement of Tuesday night’s game was the only break the Yankees had in their trip to Baltimore. The two losses shoved the Yankees eight games back of the first-place Orioles in the American League East.

Pineda’s start was an example of how important the Yankees considered this series. Originally slated to pitch a minor-league game on injury rehabilitation, Pineda started against the Orioles instead and did a fine job in his first major-league start since April 23 at Boston.The righthander showed no signs of right shoulder problems that kept him on the disabled list for 86 games. Pineda went five innings and did not allow a hit until the fifth when Nelson Cruz led off with a double. He eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Flaherty that cut the Yankees’ lead to 2-1.

Once again, the Yankees grabbed an early lead but could not build on it. Francisco Cervelli ended a 0-for-24 streak by Yankees hitters with runners in scoring position dating to last Friday night when he drove a 3-2 knuckle curve from Chris Tillman to left-center field for his second home run of the season. Scoring ahead of him was Stephen Drew, who had doubled.

But that would be the extend of the Yankees’ scoring. They were hitless from the fifth through the eighth innings. A double by Carlos Beltran led to a run in the ninth on an infield out by Chase Headley, but the Yankees could do no better. Manager Joe Girardi was ejected in the seventh inning for arguing over an interference call against Drew, who was charged with running out of the baseline on the way to first by plate umpire Gerry Davis. Drew appeared to be in the line until he neared the bag, but Girardi lost the argument.

The Yankees had to be encouraged by the work of Pineda, who allowed only two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four.

Another sign of the value the Yanks played on this game was the appearance of Dellin Betances in an outing of more than two innings. Betances had not pitched in five days and with no game Tuesday and an open date Thursday was pushed beyond his usual limit. The righthander pitched two hitless innings with four strikeouts, then one out into the eighth he hung a breaking ball to Joseph Schoop, who slugged his 11th home run that tied the score.

Shawn Kelley put gasoline on the fire after two were out. He gave up a single to Nick Markakis, a walk to Chris Davis and a three-run home run to Adam Jones (No. 23). It was a stunning finish to a disappointing series that extended the Yankees’ losing streak to four games and cost them the chance to give the Orioles a scare.

Yankees blown out by Orioles in series opener

It is still too early to consider a series a must-win, yet that was how the Yankees identified the three-game set against the Orioles that began Monday night with a thud. All the 11-3 loss did was to add more pressure on the Yankees, who need to win the next two games to capture the series.

Based on what happened at Camden Yards Monday night, it is hard to remain optimistic. The Yankees blew a 3-1 lead and were outscored, 9-0, with only one hit, a Derek Jeter double in the fifth, after the second inning. It is easy to say that the bullpen let the game get away from the Yankees, but the offense was also at fault as it failed to tack on runs and force the Orioles out of their game.

Instead, Baltimore remained close enough to strike back and did so in a big way on a two-run home run by Chris Davis off Chris Capuano in the fifth and a three-run bomb by Nelson Cruz in the seventh off Adam Warren. Joseph Schoop added a three-run homer in the eighth off Chase Whitley as the final crusing blown of a 14-hit attack that included eight for extra bases.

Davis, struggling this year after his 53-homer season in 2013, was not even in the starting lineup. He entered the game at third base in place of Manny Machado, who exited in the third inning due to a sprained right knee.

The offensive outburst was a continuation of combustable forces by the Orioles, who have scored 10 or more runs in three of the past four games. What a difference compared to the Yankees, who have reached double figures in runs in only four games all season. Monday night, they got three runs without a run-scoring hit. The runs came on an infield out and a double steal aided by two Baltimore errors.

We all keep waiting for them to turn things around, and there is no better time than now against the first-place team in the American League East. The Yankees now trail the Orioles by seven games. The clubs have nine games remaining against each other, but the Yankees need to make up some ground as early as possible.

High school play nets 2 runs for Yanks

So desperate have the Yankees been to score runs that they resorted to the old high school play in the second inning Monday night at Baltimore and came away with two runs off it, thanks to some wild throws by the Orioles.

Martin Prado was at the plate with runners on first and third and one out when the Yankees went into motion. It is possible that Prado or Chase Headley, the runner at first base, may have even missed a sign. Both are relatively new to the club, after all.

Headley broke for second base and stopped midway up the line as catcher Caleb Joseph threw to the bag. As Headley retreated toward first base, Carlos Beltran broke from third for home and scored after third baseman Manny Machado’s relay to the plate struck Beltan’s helmet.

Headley went all the way to third on that error and was able to score on pitcher Bud Norris’ errant flip. On that one broken play, the Yankees scored more runs than they did in the two games combined Saturday and Sunday against the Indians at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles closed to 3-2 in the third on a two-out, RBI single by Adam Jones that followed a tough loss for Baltimore. Machado had to be carried off the field after he hurt his knee in the at-bat prior to Jones. Machado fell in the batter’s box and grabbed his right knee after hitting a bat-shattering ground ball to shortstop. Machado was out for half of the 2013 season because of knee surgery on his left knee.

Machado had been hot lately. He doubled and eventually scored in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Nelson Cruz and was 8-for-16 (.500) in the current homestand. This could be a deep wound for the Orioles.

Pineda back in rotation Wednesday night

The Yankees made no secret of the value they place on the three-game series against the American League East-leading Orioles that begins Monday night at Camden Yards. Instead of making one more injury-rehabilitation start for Triple-A Scranton, Michael Pineda will return to the Yankees’ rotation Wednesday night for the finale of the Baltimore set.

It will mark Pineda’s first major-league appearance since April 23 at Boston. The righthander has been on the disabled list since May 6 because of a right shoulder muscle injury and was unavailable for 86 games. He made his second minor league rehab appearance Aug. 8 for Scranton against Columbus and allowed one earned run, six hits and no walks with seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. Before that, Pineda pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings with three hits, a walk and four strikeouts Aug. 3 for Scranton against Syracuse.

Esmail Rogers, who earned his first victory for the Yankees with five strong innings last Friday night at Yankee Stadium against the Indians, had been slated to start Wednesday night. The move to Pineda gives the Yankees another good arm in the bullpen for the Orioles series.

The Yankees avoided a second consecutive shutout Sunday, thanks to Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Yanks were last shut out in consecutive games May 12 (1-0) and 13 (2-0) in 1999 against the Angels and have played 2,512 games since. That marks the longest streak of not being shut out in consecutive games in Major League Baseball history, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. Elias also notes that the second-longest such streak in MLB history belongs to the Cardinals, who had 2,367 games between being blanked in back-to-back games Sept. 24-25, 1995 and July 22-23, 2010.

Derek Jeter was in Monday night’s lineup, which would be his 2,707th career game. That ties him with the Royals’ George Brett for ninth place on the all-time list of games by players with only one team. No. 8 on the list is the Giants’ Mel Ott at 2,730.

Cashman: Retire captaincy with Jeter

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman believes that once Derek Jeter retires, the captaincy of the Yankees should retire as well.

Speaking to the Taylor Hooton Foundation’s fifth annual “Give A Hoot” benefit in a luxury suite at Yankee Stadium Sunday, Cash was asked who should succeed Jeter as team captain after his retirement.

Cashman’s response was “I’m not that big on captains myself. More than one player can lead by example. DJ has had this remarkable career, and I think when this great player retires the captaincy should go with him, but that’s not my call.”

Actually, the Yankees once went more than 35 years without a captain and during that time the team won 12 World Series titles. Lou Gehrig had been the Yankees’ captain for 13 years when he was forced into retirement due to illness in 1939. Then manager Joe McCarthy proclaimed that the Yankees would never again have another captain.

The idea of another Yankees captain was not broached seriously until after George Steinbrenner purchased the club in 1973. Three years later, he recommended Thurman Munson for the role. Told in a meeting of what McCarthy had said 37 years earlier, the Boss said, “I am sure Mr. McCarthy would change his mind if he had met Mr. Munson.”

The catcher served in the role until his death in Aug. 2, 1979. Jeter has been the Yankees’ captain the past 11 years. The previous team captain was Don Mattingly, who retired after the 1995 season. Other former Yankees captains in the Steinbrenner years were Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry and Graig Nettles.

As Cashman pointed out, it is not his call. An owner or a manager or a group of players could well start a campaign for a captain at any time. I am with the GM on this one. You never say never, but I would not mind waiting another 37 years. Jeter’s shoes are just as great to fill as were Gehrig’s.

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