After dropping the final two games of the recent homestand, the Yankees need to take advantage of a sliding Angels club to get back into contention. The Yankees, who open a three-game set at Anaheim Friday night, swept the Angels in a four-game series at Yankee Stadium June 6-9, the Bombers’ first four-game sweep of the Halos since July 21-24, 1994.
The Yankees are 16-5 in the last 21 games between the teams since June 16, 2013 and have won or split their last eight season series against the Angels since 2009 with a 35-24 record in that span. The Yanks are 4-3 in their past seven games at Angel Stadium ut 9-12 in Orange County since 2010. Their 16-30 record at the Big ‘A’ since 2005 is their worst (.348) at any American League yard in that span. The Yankees have lost 12 of 15 series in Anaheim since 2005, including seven straight series losses from July 21, 2005 through July 12, 2009.
Rookie catcher Gary Sanchez, who batted cleanup Wednesday afternoon, was moved into the 3-hole Friday night. Sanchez has three home runs in his past two games and four homers over his past four games. He had multiple hits in all three games against the Blue Jays in which he had 7-for-10 with three runs, three homers, five RBI and two walks. In his past seven games, Sanchez has a slash line of .481/.517/1.037 with seven runs, five homers and eight RBI in 27 at-bats.
Batting cleanup Wednesday for the first time in his career, Sanchez hit a solo home run. At 23 years, 259 days old, he was only the third Yankees player since 1975 to start in the cleanup spot before turning 24, joining Jay Buhner (23 years, 52 days) Oct. 4, 1987 against the Orioles and Don Mattingly (23years, 102 days) July 31, 1984 against the Brewers. The YES Network noted that Sanchez was the youngest Yankees player to homer out of the No. 4 spot in the starting lineup since Bobby Murcer (23 years, 101 days) Aug. 29, 1969.
In the cleanup spot Friday night was Brian McCann as the designated hitter. McCann entered play having hit safely in 15 consecutive road games and batting .350 with five homers and nine RBI in 60 at-bats during the streak, the longest by a Yankees player since the franchise record 44-gamer on the road by Derek Jeter from Aug. 20, 2006 through May 28, 2007.
Rookie right fielder Aaron Judge has a slash line of .389/.450/.778 with three runs, one double, two homers and four RBI in his first five major league games totaling 18 at-bats.
There was a time until last month when the Yankees might have easily put away Tuesday night’s game even after the Blue Jays had cut a 6-0 deficit to 6-4 in the sixth inning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi could have turned to his No Runs DMC formula of having Dellin Betances come on in the seventh, Andrew Miller in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.
That setup became history when the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs and Miller to the Indians to acquire needed prospects to help bolster the farm system and bring promise to the future. The Yankees brought Adam Warren back to the organization from the Cubs in the Chapman deal. Warren had pitched very well since returning to the Yankees until Tuesday night when he experienced a nightmare of an eighth inning that propelled the Blue Jays to a come-from-behind 12-6 victory.
If only it had kept raining back between halves of the fifth inning when a severe thunderstorm halted play for 42 minutes. With the Yankees ahead 5-0 at the time, it would have been an official game had the rain not subsided. The Yankees actually added to their lead when play resumed on a two-out, RBI single by Didi Gregorius, who had also driven in their first run with a home run (No. 16) in the first inning. That pushed the shortstop past Brian McCann for the club lead in homers.
Speaking of the long ball, rookie catcher Gary Sanchez whacked two home runs, a solo shot in the second and a three-run bomb in the fourth.
All that offense looked safe in the hands of Michael Pineda, who pitched five scoreless innings with four hits allowed, no walks and two strikeouts in sinking his season ERA below 5.00 (4.89) for the first time all year. Pineda was victimized by the storm as Girardi had to go to his bullpen which was not up to the task. On a night when they were primed to beat Toronto and with Baltimore also losing, the Yankees lost a major opportunity to gain ground in the American League East standings and wild-card chase.
Anthony Swarzak was stung by home runs to Troy Tulowitzki, who was 4-for-5, and Russell Martin, in the sixth as Toronto closed to 6-4. But it was the eighth inning that was a true disaster.
Warren entered the game having pitched 11 shutout innings since rejoining the Yanks. He was in trouble from the beginning as Josh Donaldson won a 12-pitch duel in drawing a leadoff walk. Edwin Encarnacion then tied the score with his 34th home run, a tracer’s bullet to left field.
One out later, Tulwotzski singled for his fourth hit and Martin cranked his second homer of the game. Chasen Shreve came on and faced five batters, all of whom reached base (two hits, two walks, one hit batter) and all but one scored. Michael Saunders’ double to drive in the eighth run of the 47-minute half inning meant that the entire lineup reached base during the frame, which is not something you see every day.
The Yankees hope they never see it again.
The injury that forced Nathan Eovaldi out of his last start in the first inning a week ago at Boston proved very serious. Eovaldi has torn the flexor tendon in his right, pitching arm off the bone and damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow to the extent that he will require Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career.
What that means for the Yankees is that Eovaldi is not likely to pitch for them again until 2018. The rehabilitation period for flexor tendon surgery is three to six months but coupled with a second Tommy John surgery Eovaldi will be looking at a recovery stint of up to 18 months.
“It’s a huge blow,” Eovaldi said before Tuesday night’s Yankees-Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium. “It’s my second one, so it’s a big deal. Hopefully everything goes well with the surgery and I work hard to get back.”
Eovaldi’s contract is under the Yankees’ control through 2017 when he is arbitration-eligible.
“It wasn’t a particular pitch or something like that,” Eovaldi said of his most recent injury. “I just felt a little pinch every time I threw a fastball. After the first inning [last week], my velocity was down a little bit, but I didn’t feel like there was anything to really worry about. But then I got the MRI, and when I got the results, I was really surprised to see that I had torn the flexor tendon off the bone and damaged my UCL.”
Eovaldi, who had his first Tommy John surgery nine years ago when he was 17 years old and in high school, had one victory since May 29. He was 6-2 with a 3.71 ERA 10 starts into the season but watched his record drop to 9-8 with a 4.76 ERA.
The Yankees are trying to convince their American League East rivals that they are not out of contention. The Yanks made a very convincing argument Monday night in a 1-0 victory over the first-place Blue Jays.
OK, maybe convincing is overstating it a mite. The Yankees had a miserable night of it with runners in scoring position (2-for-18) and left 14 runners on base. It was their highest number of runners left on base in a 1-0 victory since July 4, 1925 when they stranded 15 against the Philadelphia Athletics. But in games like this, pitching becomes paramount, and pitching the Yankees got.
One night after Luis Severino struggled against the Rays, another young pitcher, Chad Green, had a terrific outing. The righthander flirted with a perfect game into the fifth inning when he lost it but pitched out of a jam to maintain the one-run lead.
Troy Tulowitzki broke up the perfecto bid with a single to left field. Darrell Ceciliani then ripped a double into the right field corner, which put Green into trouble for the first time. He handled it with authority by striking out Justin Smoak and Melvin Upton Jr.
That was the only inning the Blue Jays reached base against Green (2-2), who retired the side in order in his other five innings. He got three strikeouts apiece in three innings and totaled 11 in his six innings. The Yankees got 1-2-3 innings from Tyler Clippard in the seventh and Adam Warren in the eighth before Dellin Betances (fifth save) walked the wire in the ninth.
A leadoff walk to .155-batting, 9-hole hitter Josh Thole and a one-out single by Josh Donaldson gave Toronto runners on the corners with one out and the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion (33 home runs, 97 RBI) at the plate. Encarnacion made solid contact on the first pitch, but his hard ground ball to third baseman Chase Headley was turned into a game-ending, around-the-horn double play.
Talk about walking the wire, R.A. Dickey did the same in his five innings of work. The knuckleballer gave up four hits and four walks but repeatedly worked out of danger. The Yankees had the first two batters on base in both the first and second innings and could not get them home.
They finally broke through in the fourth when Aaron Judge followed two walks with a double to right-center. Judge is the first player in Yankees history to get an extra-base hit in each of his first three career games.
The Yankees posed another threat in the fifth when Headley led off with a double, but Dickey (8-13) once again turned them away. Against the Toronto bullpen, the Yanks failed to capitalize on bases-loaded situations in the sixth and the eighth. They had three at-bats with runners in scoring position in six different innings and were successful only twice with one of the hits failing to drive in a run.
The victory put the Yankees 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, although they remained 4 1/2 games behind for the second wild-card berth as the Red Sox also won in Cleveland. Still, the addition of the new, young talent has had an uplift on the field and in the clubhouse. The Yankees are showing some bite in the dog days of August.
It appears that the 46,459 people who attended Friday night’s game at Yankee Stadium did indeed witness Alex Rodriguez’s final game of the 2016 season. Whether he try to resume his playing career next season and join a team in spring training is still a possibility I suppose, but a spokesman for A-Rod made it clear Monday that the three-time American League Most Valuable Player is done for this season.
Ron Berkowitz, Rodriguez’s publicist, issued a statement that read: “I want to put all this talk to rest about Alex playing for any team this season. It’s not happening. Like he said Friday night, he is happy and he is going to take some time to relax and hang with his family and friends.”
There had been speculation that the Marlins might be interested in signing Rodriguez, a Miami native and resident, following the loss of slugger Giancarlo Stanton likely for the rest of the season because of a groin injury. A-Rod never used the word “retire” in his press conferences before and after Friday night’s game, which fueled talk that he might seek to hook up with another team. The Yankees granted Rodriguez his unconditional release after Friday night’s game for the purpose of his agreeing to work next year as a consultant with young players in the organization.
It would have been an ideal situation if Dellin Betances came to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday to nail down a save on the same day Major League Baseball’s career saves leader, Mariano Rivera, was honored by the Yankees with a plaque in Monument Park.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, there was nowhere near a save situation for Betances as they lost a chance to pay the Rays back for that sweep in St. Petersburg, Fla., two weekend ago with a 12-3 loss that fell under the category of growing pains.
It certainly was a painful start for Luis Severino, whose record fell to 1-7 with a 7.19 ERA, in an erratic outing. He struck out seven batters in 3 2/3 innings but also allowed eight hits, including two home runs, and seven earned runs. Minutes after the game’s end, the Yankees optioned the righthander to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to continue to sort out his problems.
In watching Severino struggle, I could not help but see a possible connection to Rivera, who also had trying moments as a starter for the Yankees early in his career before finding a home in the back end of the bullpen. In three relief outings over 8 1/3 innings, Severino has allowed one run, and it was not earned. His ERA as a starter is 8.58. Could his future be in the pen?
“We are still looking at him as a starter,” manager Joe Girardi said, “but time will tell.”
It was not a good time for anyone named Luis Sunday. Luis Cessa was rocked for five earned runs and five hits in three innings. It was a much different picture for the youth corps from Saturday’s uplifting victory. Aaron Judge hit another home run, and Gary Sanchez also went deep, but it was a subdued day for the Yanks overall.
The positive aspect for the crowd of 41,473 at Yankee Stadium was the ceremony for Rivera, who joined other team immortals in Monument Park. Former teammates David Cone, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Paul O’Neill and Jorge Posada; former manager Joe Torre; former pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre; former trainer Gene Monahan and current trainer Steve Donohue took part in the ceremony along with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, his wife Cristina and sister Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.
“Some closers are great, but nobody was like that,” Steinbrenner said in the hallway outside the clubhouse. “So to have kind of a sure thing was something that we never took for granted, but we certainly became comfortable with it, then all of the sudden he retires, and it’s a whole different world.”
Among accomplishments listed on Mo’s plaque was his records for saves (652) and games finished (952) and a remarkable postseason earned run average of 0.70 in 141 innings and an appropriate total of saves, 42, matching his uniform number that was retired last year.
“It’s amazing, thinking about all of the people out there in Monument Park, starting with Babe Ruth,” Rivera said after the ceremony. “You have Mickey [Mantle], you have Mr. Joe DiMaggio and my favorite Yogi Berra, and the list is going on and on. And then me, a humble guy from Puerto Caimito, Panama, being in that group of men means a lot.”
Rivera is the ninth pitcher to have a plaque in Monument Park. He joined Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing and Goose Gossage, along with Stottlemyre, Pettitte, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds.
As he was leaving the clubhouse area to rejoin his family, Mo told me a story I had never heard before. It seems that about a month after the Yankees won the 1998 World Series to complete that dominant 125-50 season (counting their 11-2 postseason mark), Rivera went to the Instructional League in Tampa to work with Stottlemyre.
“Mel wanted to help me work on using fewer pitches to get through innings,” Rivera said. “He emphasized me not trying to strike everybody out but to move the ball around the strike zone to get ahead in the count and make the hitters take more defensive swings. Mel was a great influence on my career.”
That episode in Rivera’s career says all there needs to be said about his devotion to his craft. The Yankees had just completed one of the most incredible seasons any team put together, and there was one of the club’s most important figures going back to the drawing board to make himself even better. That is why Mo earned that plaque.
On the first day of Yankees baseball without Alex Rodriguez, the franchise turned back the clock to honor its World Series title club of 20 years ago and then offered a glimpse into the future with a starting lineup containing some new names.
And those names, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, made history right away. They became the first teammates to hit home runs in their first major league plate appearances in the same game. On top of that, they did so in successive at-bats.
Austin was still getting high-fived in the dugout after his drive into the lower right field stands when Judge smoked a thunderous clout that hit off the facade above the batter’s eye in dead center field well above Monument Park.
“You can’t draw it up better than that,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We were even able to get both balls back. Austin’s bounced back onto the field, and Aaron’s went into the net. That was special.”
Each newcomer had a 2-for-4 game and displayed electric potential. Less than 24 hours after Yankees fans bid farewell to A-Rod, a new era was emerging before an enthusiastic crowd of 41,682 at Yankee Stadium. The paperwork of granting Rodriguez his unconditional release cleared a roster spot for Austin, who went to work immediately at first base for a resting Mark Teixeira.
After left fielder Brett Gardner, who has hit by a pitch Friday night, notified Girardi that he would not be a player Saturday, the Yankees got word to Judge, who was in upstate Rochester with Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, around midnight. He made the lengthy drive down the Dewey Thruway, hit the city at around 6 a.m. and reported for duty four hours later.
It did not take either rookie long to get into the mix. Each touched the ball in the first inning, which I always think is important for a player making his big-league debut. It gets him in the game from the outset. Austin took a throw at first base from shortstop Didi Gregorius, and Judge made a nice play tracking a fly ball to right field by Evan Longoria.
Look, Friday night was a nice sentimental sendoff to a once great player, but after watching Rodriguez swing behind fastballs for the better part of a .200 season and hit even below that over the past seven calendar months, change was refreshing. Former Scranton teammates Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine were on the field as well. The Yankees are definitely showing off a new look.
Some veterans did their part in the 8-4 victory over the Rays. Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Gregorius, in the unfamiliar role as cleanup hitter, also went deep as the Yankees matched their season high for homers in a game with five. The amazing part of that is that none in the quintet is over the age of 26.
The outburst helped Masahiro Tanaka offset two home runs by Tampa Bay first baseman Phil Miller, which accounted for all the Rays’ runs. Tanaka was pretty effective against everybody else in a no-walk, eight-strikeout effort over seven innings.
Before the game, a reunion of the 1996 World Series champions brought some of that era’s favorites onto the field for a pregame ceremony in which players emerged from the gate between the visitors’ bullpen and Monument Park and walked to their former positions — Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Wade Boggs, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Jimmy Key, Cecil Fielder, David Cone, John Wetteland, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Girardi, among others. Arriving on carts were coaches Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph and Jose Cardenal in one and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre with manager Joe Torre in another. There was also a tribute to the late Don Zimmer on the center field screen.
This was the unit that rebounded from the playoff loss to Seattle the year before to begin a dynastic run that led to in six American League pennants and four World Series titles over eight seasons. As Yankees fans witnessed Saturday, it has to start somewhere.
There was no home run, which would have made the night ideal, but his final game for the Yankees Friday night was all that Alex Rodriguez could have hoped for. He got a run-scoring double his first time up, hit the ball hard in two of his three other at-bats and even got to take the field one last time at third base.
All the while he listened to a capacity crowd of 46,469 at Yankee Stadium shower him with applause, chants of “A-Rod!” and “We want Alex!” throughout the muggy summer evening. Manager Joe Girardi, who has faced criticism for not playing Rodriguez more often this week, broke down in the interview room after the 6-3 victory over the Rays, which indicated that his decision to bench A-Rod was purely based on the 41-year-old’s declining ability and not for any other reason.
It was Girardi who approached Rodriguez after his final at-bat in the seventh inning and asked him if he wanted to wear his glove one more time. The answer was easy for A-Rod. As fans were bellowing “We want A-Rod!” their hero trotted onto the field at the start of the ninth inning. After the first out by Dellin Betances, who struck out the side to earn his fourth save, Girardi sent Ronald Torreyes out to third base, which allowed Rodriguez to receive yet another ovation from the crowd.
“I can’t say enough about the fans,” Rodriguez said. “With all that I have been through, for all those people to be here and show me love was overwhelming.”
It is true that for the most part Yankees fans have rallied around Rodriguez, who has tried very hard to win back their support after an ugly period in 2014 when he was suspended for the season for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and went on a campaign to discredit the commissioner’s office, the Yankees, their doctors and even his union, the Major League Players Association.
Since his return in 2015, Rodriguez has apologized profusely for that behavior and has tried hard to make amends. But after a very strong first four months last year, A-Rod fell into a steady decline that continued into this season to the point that he lost at-bats as the designated hitter against right-handed pitching. An agreement with Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner led to Friday night, Rodriguez’s last in a Yankees uniform.
It was a night filled with joy and success. Starlin Castro drove in four runs with a two-run single and a two-run home run. Aaron Hicks, who has struggled himself to win over fans, also homered. CC Sabathia pitched six gutty innings for only his second victory in 10 starts since June 16.
Rodriguez was happy that he was able to contribute to a victory in his last game in pinstripes. Whether it is his last game in any big-league uniform seems to be a matter of conjecture.
“This will be pretty tough to top,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know what else a man can ask for.”
Before leaving the field, Rodriguez walked over to his old third base position, scooped up some dirt and placed it in his pocket. He later put the dirt in a pouch when he changed into civvies.
“It was something I saw Roger Clemens do, and I thought it was cool,” Rodriguez said. “Third base is where I lived in my time with the Yankees. I wanted to take some of that with me.”
It rained all over Alex Rodriguez’s parade Friday night. A fierce thunderstorm with nor’easter winds whipping the rain shortened the pregame ceremony prior to Rodriguez’s last game with the Yankees.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, who worked out an agreement with Rodriguez whereby he will be released Saturday in order to sign a new contract as a consultant, presented A-Rod with a framed jersey No. 13 and a base signed by teammates. Mariano Rivera escorted Rodriguez’s daughters onto the field and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson escorted A-Rod’s mother. Former Yankees outfielder and manager Lou Piniella, who was A-Rod’s first major league manager in Seattle, was featured on a taped message on the center field screen.
Whether Rodriguez intended to make a speech is not known, but he and the rest of the group were forced into the dugout because of the heavy downpour that delayed the start of the game for half an hour.
After the tarpaulin was removed and the grounds crew began working on the field, Rodriguez did wind springs in right field to hearty applause from the sellout crowd. The announcement of his name in the starting lineup for the last time in pinstripes drew the loudest ovation by far.
Views of Alex Rodriguez from those who were around him with the Yankees:
Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, now Major League Baseball’s chief baseball officer: “Alex was a hard worker, a genuine fan of the game and possessed great ability. In our time together, I always knew that the game mattered to him. Baseball teaches all of us at some point, and I think he should be proud of the way he carried himself these last two years. I wish Alex and his family all the best in the future.”
Derek Jeter: “I’ve spent 22 years playing against, playing with and watching Alex from afar, and there are two things that stand out to me the most: the conversations we had when we were young — hoping for the opportunity to play at the Major League level and then somehow finding a way to stick around — and the championship we won together in 2009. That was a season everyone on that team can cherish. What people don’t realize is how much time, effort and work that Alex put in on a daily basis. He lives and breathes baseball. I know it will be difficult for him to not be on the field, but I’m sure he will continue to give back to the game. Congrats, Alex.”
Andy Pettitte: “I had a chance to see Alex as a young player in the league, and I knew immediately he was going to be special. It was always fun competing against Alex, but I really enjoyed having the opportunity to play side-by-side with him in New York. He was a big reason we were able to win the 2009 World Series. I wish Alex and his family nothing but the best moving forward.”
Jorge Posada: “Alex was not only one of the best players in the world, he was also one of the smartest players on the field. It was such a great combination. Please go have fun and enjoy your family — you are an awesome dad. I’m very proud of you.”
Mariano Rivera: “It was a privilege to play with Alex. Through his preparation and work ethic, you saw how much he cared about this game and about helping this team win. I love him — as a friend and as a teammate. He was all you could ask for in both.”
Robinson Cano, now with the Mariners: “He’s one of the best players who ever played. He’s a guy who worked hard. I’ve never seen a guy who worked harder than him. There are three things that I can say. He loves baseball, he’s a guy who works hard and a guy who loved to win. He was a great teammate. For me, he was one of the best teammates I’ve had and a guy who helped me when I first came up and I appreciate all of the things he has done for me.”