Yankees survive late push by Orioles

Man, did Carlos Beltran ever need that. The slumping slugger with the .187 batting average entering Friday night’s Yankees-Orioles game came through big-time in the third inning with a bases-loaded double to pad the Bombers’ lead to 5-0.

It was a good hitting situation for Beltran. The Yanks had the bases loaded with two out. When the count went to 3-2, there was a chance for a merry-go-round dash if Beltran could find a gap, which he did with a hard line drive to right-center field. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner scored easily on the hit. Brian McCann, who is nowhere near their league as a base burner, gave it the old college try in attempting to score from first base but was thrown out at the plate with catcher counterpart Chad Joseph making a nice swipe tag.

Ellsbury, Gardner and McCann had combined to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the first inning off Miguel Gonzalez. The jack rabbits at the top of the order got things started again as they seem to do almost every night. Ellsbury beat out an infield single (11-game hitting streak), and Gardner doubled to left.

Alex Rodriguez scored Ellsbury with a fly ball to center. After Mark Teixeira lined out for the second out, Gonzalez fell behind 3-0 in the count and served up a meatball to McCann, who drove it into the right field seats for his third home run of the season. Mac has hit 25 homers since joining the Yankees last year, and 21 of them have come at Yankee Stadium.

Adam Warren was coasting along until the fifth inning when the Orioles made their first move thanks to a pair of walks to start the inning. Both runners subsequently scored on a single by Manny Machado and a fielder’s choice. Justin Wilson came in to get the last out of the inning, which removed Warren from consideration for a winning decision.

That left it up to official scorer Jordan Sprechman to decide which reliever was deserving of the victory if the Yankees maintained the lead, which got dicey in the sixth when Jimmy Paredes drove in two runs with a two-out single off Chris Martin.

Sprechman’s choice correctly was Dellin Betances, who got the last out of the seventh and followed that with a 1-2-3 eighth. His record went to 4-0 after Andrew Miller earned his 13th save with a perfect ninth.

The Yankees maintained their three-game lead in the American League East while the Orioles, last year’s division winners, lost their fourth straight game in New York this week to stay in last place.

Front & back combos work again for Yanks

What has become a winning formula for the Yankees — the 1-2 combination at the front of the batting order and the 1-2 combo at the back end of the bullpen — was in evidence again Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner teamed for four hits and three runs, and Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller each pitched a shutout inning. Toss in two RBI apiece by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and a decent if unspectacular start from Nathan Eovaldi and you have a 4-3 victory over the Orioles, who are having a rough week in the big city after having lost a two-game set to the Mets.

Ellsbury, who ran his hitting streak to 10 games, and Gardner each singled and scored the Yankees’ two runs in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez and a single by Teixeira. A-Rod crushed his 661st career home run in the third off Orioles starter Chris Tillman.

Baltimore kept coming back, however, against Eovaldi. Jimmy Paredes had given the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a home run, and after the Yankees went ahead in the bottom half a homer by Caleb Joseph in the third got Baltimore even again. In the fifth, Joseph struck again with an RBI double that once more tied the game. Eovaldi got himself out of further danger with a huge pickoff of Paredes at first base.

Doubles by Gardner and Teixeira in the fifth pushed the Yankees in front for what turned out to be for good. Lefthander Justin Wilson bailed Eovaldi out of a jam in the sixth and followed that with a 1-2-3 seventh.

Now the game was set up for Betances in the eighth and Miller in the ninth. This duo is bringing back memories of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera in similar roles not so long ago. Betances retied the side in order, finishing up with a strikeout of Chris Davis, who took the Golden Sombrero (four Ks).

Miller put the potential tying run on first base with a leadoff walk in the ninth but recovered to get J.J. Hardy on a soft liner to second and pinch hitter Ryan Lavarnway and Joseph on strikes. Miller, who was with the Orioles last year, is now 12-for-12 in saves.

A-Rod gets a mulligan for homer No. 661

You remember the old adage — if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. That applied to Alex Rodriguez Thursday night against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium where in his second at-bat he moved ahead of Willie Mays on the career home run list with No. 661.

That the blow came off Baltimore pitcher Chris Tillman should not be surprising. Rodriguez entered the game 5-for-10 (.500) with three home runs in his career against the righthander. And A-Rod nearly hit his 661st home run off Tillman in the first inning.

After Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner did their customary bit of getting on base with singles, Rodriguez stepped in and hit a drive to deep right field. As fans prepared to cheer what seemed to be a home run, right fielder Delmon Young timed his leap perfectly and caught the ball at the top of the wall. The potential three-run home run instead became a sacrifice fly that tied the score. The Yanks made it 2-1 on a rare single by Mark Teixeira that scored Gardner.

Rodriguez got another chance against Tillman in the third with two out and the score 2-2. This time no outfielder could glove A-Rod’s drive off a 1-1 pitch from Tillman. The ball landed just to the left of Monument Park in left-center field. Teixeira delayed his at-bat so that Rodriguez could make a curtain call to acknowledge the fans’ standing ovation.

W’s continue to elude CC

If nothing else, CC Sabathia gave the Yankees length Wednesday night. Other than that, quite frankly, there was nothing else.

Sabathia pitched one out into the seventh inning, but once again he came up empty, even against longtime Yankees patsy Mark Buerhrle. The Yankees have not given Sabathia much run support this year, and while manager Joe Girardi claims CC could have two or three victories by now that 5.45 ERA says otherwise. It has gotten to the point that the Yankees need to score six runs for CC to win a game. True. It can happen. Look at Buerhle. His record is 4-2 despite a 6.00 ERA.

Toronto leads the league in runs scored, and the Blue Jays had their hitting cleats on again with 12 knocks in a 5-1 victory that ended several streaks. The big one from the Jays’ point of view was the 12-game losing streak Buehrle had going against the Yankees over the past 11 seasons. The lefthander allowed one run over five innings and is now 2-12 in his career against them.

The big one from the Yankees’ point of view was that of five straight winning series by dropping two of three in Toronto. It was still a good trip overall at 4-2 but somewhat dissatisfying because the Yankees were 3-0 at one point leaving Boston. They kept their hold on first place for the 14th straight day since April 23.

Another streak stopped was the lossless stretch by the rotation as Sabathia became the first Yankees starter to suffer a losing decision since he was beaten by the Mets April 25 10 games ago. The rotation had been 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the past seven starts since Masahiro Tanaka went on the disabled list.

Sabathia’s record now stands at 0-5 as he has gone winless for 13 months. The lefthander took the mound with a 1-0 lead, but he gave it up in the second inning by hanging a breaking ball to 9-hole hitter Ezequiel Carrera, who grounded a two-run single to right field.

A balk by Sabathia in the fourth inning led directly to another run on a single by Chris Colabello, the Triple A Buffalo call-up who had four hits Wednesday night and was 6-for-8 in the series.

Russell Martin, a one-time batterymate of Sabathia, had an even more productive series against his former team. He homered in the seventh inning in his second straight 3-for-4 game. Martin also had the game-winning hit as a pinch hitter Monday night. He was 7-for-9 in the series with two doubles, two home runs and three RBI. Martin, who also scored three runs and stole a base, entered the series batting .227 and finished it hitting .286.

The only positive streak that continued for the Yankees was that of Jacoby Ellsbury (1-for-4), who has hit in nine straight games. Infielder Jose Pirela, who sustained a concussion in spring training, was activated and doubled and singled his first two times up. Pirela took the place of fellow infielder Gregorio Petit, who was placed on the DL because of a bruised right hand, a result of being hit by a pitch Tuesday night.

Buckeyes grid coach to toss 1st pitch Friday

Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, who directed the Buckeyes to a 42-20 victory over Oregon in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Friday’s 7:05 p.m. Yankees-Orioles game at Yankee Stadium.

In three seasons as head coach at Ohio State, Meyer has a 38-3 record. He is the only head coach in college football history to have won a national championship as part of two different conferences – the Big Ten and the SEC. Along with Nick Saban, Meyer is also only one of two Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) head coaches to have won national titles at two different schools (also in 2006 and ‘08 while at Florida).

As part of the celebration, a special ticket offer with savings of up to 50 percent on select seats for Friday’s game is now available for all Ohio State alumni, fans and supporters. For complete details on the offer, fans should visit http://www.yankees.com/osu15. Please note that all ticket specials are subject to availability.

In a pregame ceremony prior to Friday’s game, Meyer will be presented with an autographed base signed by all of the members of the current Yankees active roster. Making the presentation to Meyer will be Yankees general partner/vice chairperson Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.

The Yankees and New Era Pinstripe Bowl began their eight-year affiliation with the Big Ten in 2014, between the two legendary brands features the Big Ten’s commitment to play in the annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl through 2021.

Established in 2010, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl has had increased attendance in each of its first five years of existence. In 2014, a record sellout crowd of 49,012 watched Penn State defeat Boston College and establish the bowl’s highest all-time attendance figure.

The 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 26, at a to-be-determined kickoff time. The game will mark the second consecutive year that the bowl will feature a team from the Big Ten and the ACC. The Big Ten’s partnership with the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is the conference’s first ever bowl game tie-in on the East Coast.

Tickets for the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will be made available in the near future. For up-to-the-moment information regarding the game, fans are encouraged to visit http://www.pinstripebowl.com, the official Web site of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and follow the bowl game’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts – @PinstripeBowl.

Yanks’ starters picking up slack since Tanaka loss

All this talk warranted that it may be about the Yankees’ bullpen has obscured somewhat the work of the rotation. That sense of doom a lot of fans may have felt when Masahiro Tanaka went on the disabled list a week ago must be eased by the work since by the starting unit.

Yankees starters have not lost a game since Tanaka’s departure. Michael Pineda pitched eight brilliant shutout innings at Toronto Tuesday night and in retrospect it might have been better if the righthander had been allowed to go for the compete game. It was a rare blowup by the bullpen that presented unwanted drama for the Yankees.

Manager Joe Girardi had to call on closer Andrew Miller to get his 11th save after David Carpenter allowed the Blue Jays to halve a 6-0 deficit. Former Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who had the game-winning hit Monday night and two doubles earlier Tuesday night, led off the ninth with a home run, and Carpenter gave up two-out, RBI hits to Chris Colabello and Ryan Goins. The Blue Jays eventually brought the potential tying run to the plate before Miller ended it by getting Devon Travis on a fly ball.

The Blue Jays did nothing dramatic against Pineda, who raised his record to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.97. Can you spell ace? Pineda gave up five hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings and held Toronto hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position.

It was yet another first-rate effort by a Yankees starter since the bad news on Tanaka was announced. Over the past seven games the Yankees’ rotation has compiled a 4-0 record with a 2.25 ERA in 44 innings and is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. Yankees starters have not allowed a run over 15 innings in the first two games of the series against the Jays that concludes Wednesday night.

The Yankees provided Pineda a two-run lead before he took the mound from the first three batters, a single by Jacoby Ellsbury and doubles by Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez. Ellsbury, who had three hits and is batting .358, added a two-out, RBI single in the second inning. Mark Teixeira made it 5-0 in the fifth with his 10th home run of the season, and the Yankees got another two-out run in the eighth on a single by Didi Gregorius.

All that offense did not seem necessary when Pineda was on the mound but was very welcome when Carpenter struggled to get through the ninth. Girardi would have preferred not to use Miller on a night when Dellin Betances was also unavailable but events dictated otherwise.

Tex climbing up switch-hitter HR list

A nagging lat injury that kept Mark Teixeira out of the lineup Monday night at Toronto did not get in the way of his moving up the list of switch-hitting home run hitters Tuesday night.

Back at first base for the Yankees, Tex drove a first-pitch fastball off Blue Jays righthander Marco Estrada to right-center field for a two-run home run in the fifth inning that pushed the Yankees’ lead to 5-0 behind Michael Pineda.

The dinger was career number 373 for Teixeira, who tied teammate Carlos Beltran for fifth place on the career list of home runs by switch hitters. The only players ahead of the Yanks duo are Chipper Jones at 468, Eddie Murray at 504 and all-time leader Mickey Mantle at 536. All of the Mick’s were with the Yankees, so Teixeira and Beltran are nowhere near the club record. Teixeira has 170 home runs with the Yankees and Beltran 15.

Tex’s latest homer continued his extra-base hit trend this season. He has 18 hits, of which 15 are for extra bases — five doubles and 10 home runs. A notoriously slow starter, Teixeira has traditionally heated up in May (.281 career average), so despite a less than robust .205 batting average he is well ahead of his usual offensive pace.

Ellsbury & Gardner ideal table setters

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner both reached base to begin the Yankees’ game against the Blue Jays Tuesday night, and they both scored. So what else is new? Ellsbury and Gardner have been the most effective top-of-the-order hitters in the majors.

Remember last year when manager Joe Girardi tried numerous lineups to figure out the best way to utilize each’s skills? For quite a spell, Girardi used Gardner in the leadoff spot and Ellsbury in the 3-hole with since-retired Derek Jeter positioned between them. That gave Ellsbury RBI opportunities but was a deterrent to his stealing bases with the meat of the order right behind him.

For the times Ellsbury batted leadoff, Girard put Gardner at the bottom of the order. Almost never did the two of them together. Part of that was the resistance to moving Jeter lower in the order, but the major factor was that Girardi was uncomfortable having two left-handed hitters back to back.

One of the best 1-2 combos at the top of the order that I recall was that of Vince Coleman and Willie McGee with the Cardinals in the 1980s. What made it easy for Whitey Herzog to leave them where they were each game is that they were both switch hitters.

Yet Ellsbury and Gardner have proved not to be the sort of left-handed batters that are overly vulnerable to left-handed pitching. Ellsbury entered this season with a .294 career batting average overall and .292 against lefties and Gardner .266 overall and .260 against lefties.

So there was not a great risk in experimenting with the two side by side atop the order. If anything, it has worked perfectly. Let managers bring in lefties late in the game against them. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, Ellsbury was hitting .419 in 31 at-bats against lefthanders and Gardner .400 in 25 at-bats vs. lefties.

Tuesday night’s starter for the Blue Jays was righthander Marco Estrada, a reliever getting a shot in the rotation, and Ellsbury and Gardner wasted no time in driving the pitcher crazy. Ellsbury ran his hitting streak to eight games with a single through the middle. He got a workout on several hit-and-run trots as Gardner fouled off Estrada offerings to extend the at-bat to 11 pitches. Brett’s last swing of the at-bat produced a liner to right-center on another hit-and-run play that got Ellsbury to third base with Gardner hustling all the way into second for a double.

The Yanks’ table setters did their job for Alex Rodriguez, who responded in kind with a double to left field for a 2-0 lead. A-Rod was caught off second on a tapper to the mound by Mark Teixeira that thwarted any continued scoring that inning.

Ain’t that a shame

The Yankees’ 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays Monday night falls into the “damn shame” category.

It was a damn shame that Chase Whitley, who pitched seven shutout innings, could not register a winning decision.

It was a damn shame that third baseman Chase Headley, who made a remarkable play just to stop Russell Martin’s grounder behind third base in the eighth inning, had to be charged with an error on his subsequent, hurried throw to first base that bounced in front of Garrett Jones, who failed to scoop it for what would have been the final out.

The bullpen, which has been a major strength for the Yankees, came up short this time in trying to protect a 1-0 lead that the Yankees were able to scratch off R.A. Dickey, the knuckleballer who gives them fits, especially at Rogers Centre.  Carlos Beltran, who is showing signs of breaking out of his season-long slump, led off the seventh inning against Dickey with a double to right, crossed to third on an infield out and scored on a hot-shot grounder off first baseman Edwin Encarnacion’s glove by Jones.

That single run loomed large for the Yankees, considering the way Whitley was pitching. He tacked on another zero in the seventh before turning matters over to the pen, which has been good as gold much of the season.

Whitley scattered six hits, did not walk a batter ands struck out six in lowering his ERA to 0.75. He worked out of trouble efficiently the few times he got into trouble. One time was of his own making, in the third when he got a poor grip on the ball fielding a grounder and threw wildly past first base, which put Ezequiel Carrera on third base with one out. Whitley came back to strike out Devon Travis and get Josh Donaldson on a ground ball.

Travis led off the sixth with a single, and Donaldson followed with a double. Whitley held firm again. He kept Jose Bautista in the infield with a grounder to third, struck out Encarnacion and got Kevin Pillar on an infield pop.

The Yankees managed only three hits plus three walks off Dickey, who ended up the winning pitcher for the first time this season, thanks to his teammates’ upsetting the Yankees’ bullpen plan. Manager Joe Girardi did not want to use closer Andrew Miller, who had a lengthy outing Sunday night at Boston, and intended to use Dellin Betances for a four- or five-out save, if ncessary.

It proved necessary when Chris Martin gave up one-out singles to Donaldson and Bautista in the eighth. Betances  came on and gave up a double down the left field line by Encarnacion that tied the score. Pillar made the second out on an infield fly before Russell Martin came up as a pinch hitter. Martin, the Yankees’ regular catcher in 2012 and ’13, hit a hard grounder ticketed for left field before Headley made one of his patented, back-handed stops. That he even had a chance to make a play at first base was miraculous.

It was a damn shame that Jones could not handle the throw as two runs scored on the play.

Dickey improved his career record against the Yankees to 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA. Even more impressive, the former National League Cy Young Award winner (2013 with the Mets) is 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA against the Yankees at Rogers Centre. To have to face him in Toronto is always a damn shame for the Yankees.

Yanks’ Honorary Bat Girl: Rebecca Doolen

Major League Baseball announced Monday the winners of the 2015 Honorary Bat Girl contest, which recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and who demonstrate a commitment to eradicating the disease.

The Honorary Bat Girl for the Yankees is Rebecca Doolen of Utica, N.Y., who will be recognized in an on-field ceremony Sunday at Yankee Stadium before the Yankees-Orioles game.

Doolen, 43, a mother of four, has been battling stage IV metastatic breast cancer since she was diagnosed last year. An avid Yankees fan, Rebecca has used her love for baseball to maintain a sense of normalcy for herself and her family. On top of raising her children and battling cancer, she has stayed active in her community and has made time to fundraise for breast cancer awareness and research by participating in the walk hosted by “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.”

The Honorary Bat Girl program was introduced in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” initiative celebrated on Mother’s
Day. In seven years, thousands of unique testimonials have been submitted and more than two million fan votes have been cast. Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer is a Major League Baseball initiative supported by MLB charitable partners, Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen. This initiative raises awareness about the breast cancer cause, while also raising funds to support breast cancer research.

On Mother’s Day, players and on-field personnel will wear the symbolic pink ribbon on their uniforms along with pink wrist bands. Commemorative base jewels and dugout lineup cards also will be pink. Games will feature a pink-stitched Rawlings baseball, the official ball of MLB, as the official game ball. Many MLB players also will use pink bats, and pink Louisville Slugger bats, MLB’s official bat, will be stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo. Many authenticated, game-used Louisville Slugger pink bats from Mother’s Day games will be auctioned exclusively on MLB.com to benefit the fight against breast cancer.

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