Yanks to honor Orlando dead in homestand opener

The Yankees opened their last homestand before the All-Star break Tuesday night with the first game of a two-game series against the Rockies that concludes Wednesday afternoon, followed by a three-game set against the Twins Friday night, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and then a four-game series against the American League West-leading Rangers Monday through Wednesday nights and Thursday afternoon next week. After the June 30 game, the Yankees will not play at Yankee Stadium again until July 15.

Prior to the Yankees-Rockies game Tuesday night, the victims of the recent mass killing in Orlando, Fla., will be recognized in an on-field ceremony. Preceding a moment of silence, players from both teams will line up on each baseline as managers Joe Girardi of the Yankees and Walt Weiss of the Rockies lay a rainbow wreath at the plate in memoriam.

The Rockies are coming off a 5-3 victory Monday night at Miami in which all eight runs were scored on solo home runs, the highest run total in a major league game in which all the runs came on solo homers. Mark Reynolds, who played for the Yankees in 2013, hit two of the Rockies’ five homers. The others were by Nick Hundley, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. The Marlins got two home runs from Marcell Ozuna and one from Giancarlo Stanton. Each home run was hit with the bases empty.

Mickey Mantle Triple Crown Bobblehead Night will take place Friday, June 24. The first 18,000 in attendance will receive a bobblehead, courtesy of AT&T.

The Mantle bobblehead marks the return of limited-edition collectible player bobbleheads, presented by AT&T. The set of four — Mickey Mantle Triple Crown June 24, Didi Gregorius Aug. 7, Dellin Betances Sept. 10 and Roger Maris Oct. 1 — is the fourth series in a collection of Yankees bobbleheads. The Mantle bobblehead distribution comes 60 years after his 1956 Triple Crown-winning season. The Maris bobblehead falls on the 55th anniversary of his 61st home run in 1961 season to establish a then-major league single-season home run record that stood for 37 years.

The Hard Rock Cafe will present Friday, June 24, the first of Little Steven’s Underground Garage Concert Series, powered by JBL, from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Pepsi Food Court on the third-base side of the Field Level with Wyldlife. Cameras will also display the show on televisions throughout the Stadium. Admission to the pregame concert is included with a valid game ticket for that date. Future acts are currently scheduled to perform throughout the summer. More information on the series can be found at http://www.yankees.com/bands.

Ticket specials will run Tuesday, June 21 (Military Personnel Game), Wednesday, June 22 (MasterCard Half-Price, Military Personnel Game, Senior Citizen, Student and Youth Game), Saturday, June 25 (Youth Game), Sunday, June 26 (Youth Game), Monday, June 27 (Military Personnel Game), Tuesday, June 28 (Military Personnel Game), Wednesday, June 29 (Military Personnel and Student Game) and Thursday, June 30 (MasterCard Half-Price, Military Personnel, Senior Citizen and 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:

Saturday, June 25 – Yankees vs. Twins, 1:05 p.m. Commemorative Masahiro Tanaka Baseball Card Day, presented by Topps, to all in attendance.

Sunday, June 26 – Yankees vs. Twins, 1:05 p.m. Brian McCann Figurine Day, presented by NewYork Presbyterian Hospital, to first 18,000 in attendance.

Wednesday, June 29 – Yankees vs. Rangers, 7:05 p.m. Cap Night, presented by Pepsi, to first 18,000 in attendance.

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.

For information on parking and public transportation options to Yankee Stadium, please visit http://www.yankees.com and click on the Yankee Stadium tab at the top of the page.

Yanks’ trip smoothing out after ‘rocky’ start

After the disappointment of getting swept in a two-game series at Denver, the Yankees are on the verge of trumping that with a four-game sweep at Minneapolis. They are three-quarters of the way there with very impressive victories over the Twins heading into a Father’s Day finale Sunday with Nathan Eovaldi opposing Minnesota’s Ervin Santana.

Friday night, the Yankees struck early with four first-inning runs on the way to an 8-2 victory behind Masahiro Tanaka (4-2), who was sharp as a tack (one run, seven hits, no walks, five strikeouts) over eight innings. Carlos Beltran, who missed both games against the Rockies, whacked a two-run home run in that first inning to stop a 0-for-12 slump.

Beltran added another two-run homer at a more clutch moment Saturday. The opposite-field blow to left off righthander Kevin Jepsen tied the score with one down in the eighth inning. The Yankees continued their comeback against the Twins’ ragged bullpen with three runs in the ninth, then had to hold their breath somewhat when Aroldis Chapman gave up back-to-back homers to Eduardo Escobar and pinch hitter Kurt Suzuki to survive, 7-6.

Give Suzuki credit. He fouled off four consecutive 102-mph fastballs from Chapman before connecting on yet another 102-mph heater. But most of the credit Saturday went to the Yankees, who had fallen into a 4-0 hole against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, who had a four-hit shutout working through six innings.

Leading off the seventh, Beltran got one of his rare leg hits these days with a dribbler to the left side on which Eduardo Nunez could not make a bare-handed play. Alex Rodriguez, who had a three-homer game at Target Field in late July last year, followed with a drive to right off a 1-2 fastball for his eighth home run of the season and career No. 695.

The Yankees got two more hits that inning but pushed across no more runs. With one out in the eighth, another infield single, this time by Brett Gardner, preceded a home run, Beltran’s 18th of the season. Gardner had been hitless in his previous 14 at-bats and was 1-for-15 on the trip.

Lefthander Fernando Abad, who was having a fine season out of the bullpen until the Yankees came to town, got the last out of the eighth, which turned out to be the only one he would get in the game. He began the ninth with a walk to Chase Headley. You could always hear the uh-oh coming out of Twins manager Paul Molitor’s mouth in the dugout.

Didi Gregorius, who has broken a 1-1 score with a three-run home run off a first-pitch fastball from Abad Thursday night, dropped down a beauty of a bunt for a single. After a Juan Centeno passed ball advanced the runners, Rob Refsnyder was walked intentionally to load the bases.

Righthander Ryan Pressly came on and struck out pinch hitter Starlin Castro but fell into a full count with Jacoby Ellsbury and had to come in with a fastball which Ellsbury knocked into right-center for a two-run single. A wild pitch by Pressly moved crucial as it turned out. It moved Refsnyder to third from where he scored on a fly ball by Gardner. That run proved vital when Chapman gave up the two homers after he had struck out the first two batters.

So it was a shaky 13th save for Chapman that preserved the winning decision for Andrew Miller (4-0), who had shut down Minnesota with two strikeouts in the eighth. Anthony Swarzak also played a big part in the game with a 1 2/3 hitless innings of two-strikeout relief.

The Yankees’ late rallies took Michael Pineda off the hook. The righthander had another of his weird games where he was overpowering (nine strikeouts) but unable to pick up key third outs of innings. Three of the Twins’ four runs off Pineda in 5 1/3 innings were scored after two were out on an RBI single by Escobar in the second and a two-run homer by Korean slugger Byung Ho Park in the fourth. An error by Pineda in the sixth led to a run on a sacrifice fly by Park.

With 55 hits, including a dozen Saturday, the Yankees are averaging 11 hits per game on the trip. Beltran and Gregorius had three hits apiece Saturday. Beltran has homered in six of his past 13 games, eight of 19 and 13 of 36. Gregorius has had a huge trip with 10-for-20 (.500), two homers, six runs and nine RBI. The bunt single off Abad increased Didi’s batting average against left-handed pitching to .383 in 60 at-bats. He is hitting .287 overall.

Headley, who could not get off the Interstate for the first two months, has his average up to .260 while batting .471 in 17 at-bats on the trip and .417 in his seven-game hitting streak. Now if only the Yankees could get Brian McCann re-started. The catcher took an 0-for-4 collar Saturday, is hitless in his past 12 at-bats and in a 4-for-32 (.125) rut that has shrunken his season average to .207.

Didi no longer an easy out against lefties

Opposing managers should be thinking twice about now about bringing in left-handed relievers to face Didi Gregorius. The book on the shortstop a year ago when he joined the Yankees was that he struggled against left-handed pitching. Gregorius has reversed that this season and because of that the Yankees were able to end their four-game losing streak Thursday night with a 4-1 victory over the Twins.

Twins manager Paul Molitor, who has already suffered plenty with his 20-46 club, made the old-book move in the seventh inning by replacing starter Kyle Gibson with lefthander Fernando Abad to face Gregorius with runners on second and third and one out in a 1-1 game.

One pitch later, Molitor came to regret his move. Gregorius got all of the first-pitch fastball for a three-run home run in the middle of the right field stands. The timing could not have been better since manager Joe Girardi could go with Formula A out of the bullpen, using Dellin Betances in the seventh (no runs, one hit, one strikeout), Andrew Miller in the eighth (no runs, no hits, two strikeouts) and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth (no runs, no hits, one strikeout, 12th save). The Yankees are 9-0 when all three of those relievers appear in the same game.

Gregorius is batting .368 in 57 at-bats against left-handed pitching, the highest average of any left-handed hitter in the major leagues, but until Thursday night he had not hit for much power. Only three of his 21 hits off lefties were for extra bases, all doubles. His sixth home run of the year was his first off a southpaw.

The timing of Gregorius’ homer was also beneficial to CC Sabathia, who was able to get the winning decision that improved his record to 5-4 with a 2.20 ERA. It did not come easy for Sabathia, who pitched with runners on base in four of his six innings. The Twins stranded nine runners with only two hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position against him.

One of those hits was a two-out, RBI single by former teammate Eduardo Nunez that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Sabathia had worked out of jams in the first and second innings and did so again in the fifth even after he lost a double play on a reverse of an umpiring call.

Meanwhile, Gibson, who entered the game with a 10.72 career ERA against the Yankees, pitched to the minimum number of batters through five innings. The Yankees had two hits, but the runners were erased. Alex Rodriguez erased himself by getting thrown out at second trying to stretch, and Chase Headley was out on the front end of a double play the Twins turned against Ike Davis.

Gibson started coming apart in the sixth, but the Yankees did not take full advantage of it. They loaded the bases with none out on a single by Gregorius, a double by Headley and a four-pitch walk to Davis. Jacoby Ellsbury singled to center, but only one run scored. Brett Gardner then popped out to second, and Carlos Beltran, back in the lineup after a sore left knee kept him out of the two-game series at Denver, grounded into a double play.

The Yankees kept putting runners on base in the seventh. Rodriguez led off with an infield single, and Brian McCann walked. Starlin Castro sacrificed the runners up a base each before Molitor made the fatal move for a lefty reliever to face Gregorius, one Yankees hitter who is enjoying this trip (.545 with two home runs and seven RBI in 11 at-bats).

Sabathia kept his hot streak in place. Over his past seven starts, he is 4-2 with a 0.82 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 44 innings. In seven starts on the road this season, CC is 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 42 innings. In his past 14 starts against the Twins, Sabathia is 10-1 with a 2.66 ERA.

Then again, Target Field has been a friendly venue for the Yankees. They are 17-5 in the Minneapolis yard that opened in 2010.

Rarified air does not help Yankees

The two-game trip to Denver was supposed to be a soft spot in the Yankees’ schedule. Yeah, right. Despite facing starting pitchers with earned run averages as high as the altitude in Colorado, the Yankees lost both games. Rockies starters Jorge De La Rosa and Chad Bettis were clearly more effective than the Yankees’ Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova.

The Yanks put up a good fight Tuesday night. After falling behind by nine runs through seven innings, the Yankees exploded with a seven-run eighth against the underbelly of the Colorado bullpen, but their own relief corps got roughed up as well in a 13-10 loss, a typical Coors Field score. The Rockies kept it up Wednesday with a 13-hit assault to win, 6-3.

The holes in the batting order did not help. With no designated hitter in a National League park, Alex Rodriguez was reduced to one at-bat as a pinch hitter Tuesday night. With no Carlos Beltran, out with a sore left knee that was drained, or Mark Teixeira, on the 15-day disabled list due to a right knee cartilage tear, the Yankees’ lineup Wednesday featured as its cleanup hitter Chase Headley, who has hit all of three home runs.

All seven of the Yankees’ hits Wednesday were singles. They have just seven extra-base hits (five doubles, one triple, one home run) over their past five games after totaling 21 extra-bases hits (12 doubles, nine homers) in the four-game sweep of the Angels last week.

Coors Field is a place where struggling hitters can improve their statistics, which the Yankees certainly did Tuesday night but less so Wednesday. But for those who thought the Rockies would be easy pickings, it should be pointed out that both clubs entered play Wednesday with the same record — 31-33 — and Colorado is now one game better.

Manager Joe Girardi was justified in getting annoyed with media reports about the 11-game, home-and-home swing this week and next against the Rockies and Twins being a chance for the Yankees to gain ground against sub-par competition. Minnesota may have the worst record in the American League, but that does not mean the Twins intend to roll over and play dead the next four days in Minneapolis or next weekend at Yankee Stadium.

Girardi is correct when he says if the Yankees do not play well it does not matter who the opponent is. And after the recent five-game winning streak at home, the Yankees have now lost four games in a row. In three of those games, starting pitchers allowed five or more runs. Considering the shape of the Yankees’ batting order these days, that is too much to overcome on a regular basis.

Anyone who thought the Rockies were pushover knows nothing about the first five hitters in that lineup. Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story combined to go 22-for-43 (.512) with four doubles, one triple, three home runs and 14 RBI with an .860 slugging percentage in the series. Gonzalez’s home run in the eighth inning Tuesday night off Andrew Miller was the first extra-base hit the lefthander has allowed to a left-handed batter all season. The Rockies also scored a run off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning Wednesday.

The key to beating Colorado is to bash their pitchers. The Yanks did score 13 runs in two games, but their pitchers could not contain the Rockies, who scored in nine of the 16 innings they batted in the series.

Nova had a string of 24 scoreless innings in inter-league play end when he gave up a run in the third inning. The Yankees took the lead in the fourth on four singles and a throwing error by Rockies catchers Tony Wolters, but Nova was touched for four runs in the fourth that featured a walk and a stolen base by Blackmon, a run-scoring single by LeMahieu, a two-run home run by Arenado, a double by Story, and a two-out, RBI single by Mark Reynolds. Nova had a six-game winning streak in inter-play stopped and is now 8-2 against NL competition.

One bright spot about going to Minneapolis is that the Yankees will be back in the AL with Rodriguez available as the DH. Perhaps Beltran’s knee will allow him to return to the lineup as well. CC Sabathia, who has been the Yankees’ most consistent starting pitcher, draws the first assignment of the series Thursday night at Target Field.

Beltran scratched with swollen left knee

With no designated hitter allowed in Denver, a National League city, it was no surprise that Alex Rodriguez was not in the Yankees’ starting lineup Tuesday night. But no Carlos Beltran? Now that was a surprise.

Beltran was scratched because of a swollen left knee, which raised some caution flags for the Yankees. Beltran has a long history of problems with his right knee, but this was the first time his left knee was an issue. The Yankees spent their open date Monday in Denver after flying there Sunday night. Beltran said he had dinner five blocks away from the hotel that night and did not experience any difficulty until he awoke Tuesday morning and felt stiffness due to swelling.

Aaron Hicks started in right field in place of Beltran, and second baseman Starlin Castro was moved into the third spot in the batting order. The loss of Beltran, no pun intended, hurts. He has been the Yanks’ most productive hitter with club-high totals in home runs (16) and RBI (44) that has put him in place as a possible choice for the American League All-Star team.

In addition, Denver’s Coors Field has been one of Beltran’s favorite stops dating back to his NL days with the Astros, Mets, Giants and Cardinals. He has a .526 career slugging percentage there and had his only career three-homer game at Coors Field May 12, 2011 with the Mets when he was 3-for-5 with three runs and six RBI. Beltran held out the possibility that he might be able to come off the bench as a pinch hitter and perhaps return to the lineup for Wednesday’s afternoon game.

With Mark Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list because of torn cartilage in his right knee, the Yankees signed former Mets first baseman Ike Davis, who was released from the Rangers’ Triple A affiliate and will be in a platoon with Rob Refsnyder, who started Tuesday night against lefthander Jorge De La Rosa. Davis is a second-generation Yankee. His father, relief pitcher Ron Davis, spent the first four of his 11 seasons in the major leagues with the Yankees from 1978-81.

Yankees’ 2016 First Year Player Draft List

Here is the Yankees’ list of players selected in Major League Baseball’s 2016 First Year Player Draft.

No.-(Overall pick)-Name-Position-School-Bats/Throws-Height/Weight-Date of birth
1 (#18) Blake Rutherford OF Chaminade College Prep HS (Calif.) L/R 6’3”/195 5/2/97
2 (#62) Nick Solak 2B University of Louisville R/R 5’11”/180 1/11/95
3 (#98) Nolan Martinez RHP Culver City HS (Calif.) R/R 6’2”/175 6/30/98
4 (#128) Nick Nelson RHP Gulf Coast State College (Fla.) R/R 6’1”/205 12/5/95
5 (#158) Dom Thompson-Williams CF University of South Carolina L/L 6’0”/190 4/21/95
6 (#188) Brooks Kriske RHP University of Southern California R/R 6’3”/190 2/3/94
7 (#218) Keith Skinner C University of North Florida L/R 6’1”/200 4/14/94
8 (#248) Dalton Blaser 1B Cal. State-Fullerton L/L 6’1”/200 1/31/94
9 (#278) Tim Lynch 1B University of Southern Mississippi L/R 6’2”/220 6/3/93
10 (#308) Trevor Lane LHP University of Illinois-Chicago L/L 5’11”/185 4/26/94
11 (#338) Connor Jones LHP University of Georgia R/L 6’3”/190 11/17/94
12 (#368) Taylor Widener RHP University of South Carolina L/R 6’0”/195 10/24/94
13 (#398) Brian Trieglaff RHP TCU R/R 6’1”/190 6/13/94
14 (#428) Jordan Scott CF IMG Academy (Fla.) S/R 6’0”/210 5/23/97
15 (#458) Tony Hernandez LHP Monroe College (N.Y.) L/L 6’2”/215 8/8/96
16 (#488) Zach Linginfelter RHP Sevier County HS (Tenn.) L/R 6’5”/215 4/10/97
17 (#518) Mandy Alvarez 3B Eastern Kentucky University R/R 6’1”/205 7/14/94
18 (#548) Greg Weissert RHP Fordham University R/R 6’2”/215 2/4/95
19 (#578) Evan Alexander CF Hebron HS (Tex.) L/L 6’2”/175 2/26/98
20 (#608) Miles Chambers RHP Cal. State-Fullerton R/R 6’2”/205 10/22/93
21 (#638) Timothy Robinson CF USC R/R 6’1”/225 6/17/94
22 (#668) Blair Henley RHP Arlington Heights HS (Tex.) R/R 6’3”/175 5/14/97
23 (#698) Braden Bristo RHP Louisiana Tech R/R 6’0”/180 11/1/94
24 (#728) Joe Burton OF Harford Community College (Md.) R/R 6’4”/240 12/18/95
25 (#758) Edel Luaces CF None R/R 6’5”/205 5/14/94
26 (#788) Gage Burland RHP Gonzaga University R/R 6’3”/220 6/27/95
27 (#818) Phillip Diehl LHP Louisiana Tech L/L 6’2”/180 7/16/94
28 (#848) William Jones RHP Lander University (S.C.) R/R 6’1”/195 3/15/93
29 (#878) Bo Weiss RHP Regis Jesuit HS (Colo.) R/R 6’3”/175 7/24/97
30 (#908) Ben Ruta OF Wagner College (N.Y.) R/L 6’3”/195 6/8/94
31 (#938) Miles Sandum LHP Granite Hills HS (Calif.) L/L 6’3”/215 7/2/97
32 (#968) Juan Cabrera RHP North Canyon HS (Ariz.) R/R 6’0”/175 4/19/97
33 (#998) Bryson Bowman OF Western Carolina University (N.C.) R/R 5’11”/200 5/2/94
34 (#1028) D.C. Clawson C Dana Hills HS (Calif.) L/R 6’1”/180 5/20/97
35 (#1058) Zack Hess RHP Liberty Christian Academy (Va.) R/R 6’6”/200 2/25/97
36 (#1088) Tyler Honahan LHP SUNY-Stony Brook R/L 6’3”/195 1/5/94
37 (#1118) Corey Dempster CF USC R/R 6’0”/180 3/17/95
38 (#1148) Sam Ferri C Notre Dame College Prep HS (Ill.) R/R 5’11”/180 1/4/98
39 (#1178) Brian Keller RHP University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee R/R 6’3”/190 6/21/94
40 (#1208) Nate Brown RHP Arrowhead Union HS (Wisc.) R/R 6’2”/185 1/15/98

BY SCHOOLING: College – 26, High School – 13, No school – 1.
BY POSITION: Pitchers – 23 (17-RHP/ 6-LHP), Catchers – 3, Infielders – 4, Outfielders – 10.

Successful homestand ends on a down note

On the face of it, a 5-2 homestand is a good thing. Except that it does not seem like such a good think considering the Yanks’ record was once 5-0.

After a four-game sweep of the Angels, the Yankees won the opener of a three-game series against the Tigers on a shutout, but they dropped the next two games and scored only one run in each. Sunday in front of an Old Timer’s Day crowd of 47,474 at Yankee Stadium they ran into a hot, young pitcher in Michael Fulmer, who improved his record to 7-1 while shutting out the Yankees on two hits through six innings.

Fulmer was one of the players the Tigers got from the Mets last year in the trade for Yoenis Cespdes. The pitching-rich Mets knew they had to give up some talent to get a player of Cespedes’ quality and losing Fulmer was one of the prices they paid for getting to the World Series.

Suzyn Waldman told me a nice story about Fulmer. He is an Oklahoma native and was excited about being here on Old Timer’s Day weekend so he could meet Kay Murcer, the widow of Bobby Murcer, a fellow Okie.

Michael Pineda battled Fulmer for six innings and got a pain in the butt along the way on a single off his rump by Victory Martinez in the fourth inning when Detroit scored its first run on a sacrifice fly by Nick Castellanos. Hey, it could have been worse. The Tigers loaded the bases with none out and came away with merely one run. Pineda finished the inning with a flourish in retiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a line drive to shortstop Didi Gregorius and a strikeout of Mike Aviles.

The Tigers struck early again in the sixth inning with a walk and a single putting runners on first and third with none out. Victor Martinez got a run home with an infield out, but Pineda held the damage to that by striking out J.D. Martinez.

It was a mostly positive outing from Pineda, who nevertheless took the loss as his record fell to 3-7. Ian Kinsler, who drove in five runs in the Tigers’ 6-1 victory Saturday, belted his second home run of the series, a two-run shot, in the seventh off Anthony Swarzack to give Detroit a comfort zone.

The Yankees wasted leadoff doubles in the third and fifth innings and mounted a threat in the seventh when they had the bases loaded with two out against lefthanders Justin Wilson, their teammate last year. Gregorius hit the ball on the screws, but Detroit center fielder Cameron Maybin put it away. Gregorius has hit left-handed pitching well all season (.370 in 54 at-bats), so manager Joe Girardi was justified in letting him hit there rather than going to his bench for a pinch hitter.

The loss pushed the Yankees back under .500 (31-32), and they will get a needed day off Monday before going on the road to Denver and Minneapolis. Sunday finished a 41-day stretch in which the Yanks played 40 games. The Yankees were 23-17 over that period.

Matsui, Cone put on show at Old Timer’s Day

At the annual Yankees Homecoming Dinner this April in which Hideki Matsui was honored for his career he told a story about when he was playing in Japan and was asked if he thought he could compete in the United States.

He told a reporter that he had seen a game in which David Cone was pitching and said, “I can hit that.”

Cone and Matsui have been teasing each other over that for years. So it was inevitable that there would be a confrontation between them. What better environment than Old Timer’s Day, the 70th version of which was celebrated Sunday?

Cone came into the game specifically to pitch to Matsui. The first pitch was over the Japanese slugger’s head. The next delivery was what has become an annual grooved special by Cone in Old Timer’s Day games, right down Broadway, and Matsui jumped all over it and drove it into the second deck in right field.

Cone feigned surprise and embarrassment. Truth be told, it is all an act. Cone knows what the fans want to see on Old Timer’s Day, and that is not a pitcher burning it in to every batter and striking everybody out. I once asked the Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson why he seldom took part in Old Timer’s games, and he told me that all they want is for the pitcher to put the ball over the plate so the hitters can mash it. Gibby was too competitive to play that kind of game.

Coney is a different cat. He knows Old Timer’s games are entertainment, and he aims to please. A few years ago, he grooved a pitch to former teammate Tino Martinez, who went yard. Paul O’Neill also clipped Cone. Sunday was just Matsui’s turn.

Scoring ahead of Matsui on his homer was Reggie Jackson, who had lined a single to left field in the prior at-bat off Scott Kamieniecki. I talked with Reggie Saturday after he spent about half an hour taking batting practice in the indoor cage at Yankee Stadium.

“I don’t want to strike out tomorrow,” he said, laughing.

Gene Michael is the manager for both teams, the Clippers and the Bombers. “That way, I can’t lose,” Stick said.

He had the lineup cards for both teams taped onto the front of his uniform. Roy White saw that he was batting sixth in the Clippers’ lineup and asked Stick how come Lee Mazzilli was batting second in the Bombers’ lineup.

“That’s the Triple-A squad; do you want to play for them,” Michael said.

Next came Mazzilli’s voice from across the room, “Hey, Stick, we can hear every word you are staying.”

The camaraderie among the former players is the best part of Old Timer’s Day. Bernie Williams and John Wetteland and Mariano Duncan and Charlie Hayes exchanged stories about the 1996 team that won the Yankees’ first World Series title in 15 years. Hayes still refers to the area near the third base box seats where he caught the final out against the Braves as “the holy ground.”

Williams was still beaming over graduating from Manhattan College of Music. “I completed the four years in three,” said Bernie, who is having a second career as a guitarist. “It was quite an experience. I thought I knew a lot about music until I realized that I didn’t.”

In addition to “Mr. October,” other Hall of Famers on hand were Whitey Ford, Rickey Henderson, Goose Gossage and Joe Torre. Eddie Robinson, at 95 the oldest living former Yankees player, and 1956 World Series perfect game author Don Larsen, 86, were also in attendance.

Sadly missing was the catcher who leaped into Larsen’s arms at the end of that game. Yogi Berra was a rookie in 1947 when the Yankees honored Babe Ruth to begin the Old Timer’s Day tradition and was a staple of the event over the years. He was there in spirit, however, as the Yankees used jeweled bases commemorating his legacy during the game.

Long ball brings Tanaka up short

Just the same, Masahiro Tanaka would have preferred another no-decision. He has had eight of them in his 13 starts this year. An ND is not as good as a victory, but it beats a loss.

Tanaka was hung with an ‘L’ Saturday night as the Yankees fell back to .500 (31-31) and had a five-game winning streak end with a 6-1 setback to the Tigers. Tanaka had not given up a home run in his previous four starts and yielded just six in 12 prior starts, but the long ball did him in this time.

Nick Castellanos led off the second inning with a home run to right-center. The Yankees very nearly matched that in the bottom of the inning, but Chase Headley’s drive into the left field corner that struck the fence at the base of the foul pole and caromed off it like a Spaulding off a stoop was not ruled a homer, even though it appeared to have struck the pole. The call was not overruled after a review, so Headley had to settle for a triple. He scored moments later when Rob Refsnyder broke out of a 0-for-12 slump with a single to center field.

Tanaka got help from his defense in the fourth. With J.D. Martinez on first base after a one-out single, Castellanos hit a long drive that Brett Gardner caught on the warning track after a long run. Martinez had rounded second base and tried to scamper back, but shortstop Didi Gregorius’ relay to first base doubled him off to end the inning.

Tanaka had no such luck in the fifth. He was touched for singles by Justin Upton and Jose Iglesias before Ian Kinsler slammed a first-pitch fastball to left for a three-run home run. Jacoby Ellsbury came to Tanaka’s aid in the sixth inning with a dazzling, running catch against the wall in left-center to rob Victor Martinez of an extra-base hit.

Kinsler did more damage in the seventh. After Tanaka departed after giving up a one-out single to James McCann, Kirby Yates allowed an infield single to Iglesias and a two-run double to Kinsler.

Unlike Tanaka, Tigers starter Justin Verlander was not victimized by the long ball, not even by Alex Rodriguez, who had homered off the former American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner five times in his career and in each of his previous four regular-season games against him. That included A-Rod’s 3,000th career hit June 19 last year. Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Verlander Saturday night.

Yankees keep faith during HOPE Week

Not to take anything away from the Yankees’ four-game sweep of the Angels, but it came against a team floundering near the bottom of the American League West and with 10 players on the 15-day disabled list. The Tigers came to town Friday night and offered a more formidable challenge. Then the Yankees went out and treated them like the Angels.

CC Sabathia was masterful again with seven shutout innings and finally got a winning decision to show for his stellar work in the 4-0 victory that moved the Yankees’ record one game over .500 at 31-30 for the first time since April 13 when they were 4-3.

Over his previous three starts Sabathia had allowed only two earned runs in 18 innings (1.00 ERA), yet was 0-2 with a no-decision. Friday night, he limited Detroit to four hits, all singles, and two walks with four strikeouts. He was backed by a double play in the fifth inning after his throwing error put runners on first and third with one out. That was the only time CC had to sweat.

Sabathia has pitched 12 consecutive scoreless innings and has allowed two runs over his past 25 innings (0.72 ERA), which has shrunk his ERA for the season to 2.28 to go with a 4-4 record. The Tigers were hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position against Sabathia.

Yankees outfielders could have stayed in the dugout. There was not a single putout by the Yankees in the outfield.

The Yankees struck early against Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey (1-6), who settled down after the three-run first inning but it was too late. Brett Gardner continued his hot stretch with a one-out single. Carlos Beltran, equally as hot, went against the shift with a single to left.

A walk to Alex Rodriguez loaded the bases and another to Brian McCann forced home a run. Pelfrey got a brief reprieve with a strikeout of Starlin Castro before Didi Gregorius doubled to left for two runs. An errant pickoff at first base by Detroit catcher James McCann (no relation to Brian, although each wears uniform No. 34) led to an unearned run in the third on a single by Beltran.

It has been quite a homestand for Beltran, who has 9-for-19 (.474) with two doubles, three home runs and 11 RBI. He also has 15 hits in his past 38 at-bats, a .395 stretch. Gardner is right with him. He has 9-for-18 (.500) with nine runs, a double and two RBI on the homestand and in his eight-game hitting streak is batting .533 in 30 at-bats to hike his season batting average 50 points to .262.

The Yankees were 5-0 during HOPE Week, which improved their overall record during such weeks since the community-service initiative was begun in 2009 to 28-10 (.737).

“We’re thinking about having HOPE Week again next week,” manager Joe Girardi said.

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