Tanaka benefits from huge run support

The Yankees took much of the heat off teammate Masahiro Tanaka Sunday night with their first-inning explosion against the Red Sox and Clay Buchholz. Tanaka pitched with leads of 7-0 and 10-4 in his five innings, which created a comfort zone that the righthander surely needed.

The atmosphere surrounding Tanaka following his Opening Day loss has been tense to say the least. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has grown weary of questions regarding the deep dip in Tanaka’s velocity as he pitches with a slight ligament tear in his elbow that doctors said would respond to off-season rest rather than having him undergo Tommy John surgery.

Before a national television audience on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, Tanaka showed the country his 2015 version as he once again relied on cut fastballs and sliders to get ahead in the count and his devastating split-finger fastball to finish off hitters. The mid-90s four-seam fastballs that were part of his repertoire are few and far between these days.

The results were, well, just okay. Tanaka gave up four runs (three earned), four hits and three walks with four strikeouts and two wild pitches in a 79-pitch outing that was frankly only marginally better than his first start. He did chalk up his first victory due largely to the welcomed overwhelming offensive support, but through two starts Tanaka’s earned run average is an unappetizing 7.00.

With their first imposing surge of offense this season to fashion a 14-4 victory, the Yankees pushed Tanaka to the side of the storyline for this game. Concern about their ability to score was growing daily for a team that went into Sunday night’s game batting a collective .193 and averaging 3.4 runs per game.

“Obviously, it takes a lot of pressure off the starting pitcher,” Girardi said. “I thought [Tanaka’s] fastball was better than the first game, but he had trouble throwing his breaking balls for strikes, which was the opposite of his first game. His location was better with his fastball down in the zone, but he wasn’t as sharp with his slider.”

The Yanks staked Tanaka to a 7-0 lead in a first inning highlighted by a three-run double by Alex Rodriguez and back-to-back home runs by Chase Headley and Stephen Drew. They kept it up against Buchholz, who departed in the fourth after allowing 10 runs (nine earned) and nine hits.

By the sixth inning, everyone in the Yankees’ starting lineup had gotten at least one hit and scored at least one run. A-Rod picked up a fourth RBI with a bases-loaded walk in the three-run sixth against lefthander Tommy Layne. Headley finished with three RBI and Drew and Brett Gardner two apiece.

Brian McCann scored three runs and had two hits, including the 200th home run of his career, a solo shot in the eighth inning off Edward Mujica. The victory was vital what with the Yankees embarking on a 10-game, 11-day trip that starts Monday night at Baltimore.

Hot bats atone for wobbly defense

The Yankees’ defensive woes continued as their ninth error of the season helped fuel a three-run Boston rally in the fourth inning Sunday night.

Masahiro Tanaka also contributed to the ugly frame with two wild pitches following a leadoff walk to David Ortiz that put the Red Sox designated hitter on third base with none out. Hanley Ramirez got him home with a fly ball to right-center.

The Red Sox restarted the rally with a single by Pablo Sandoval and a walk to Mike Napoli. Tanaka got what appeared a potential double-play ball by Shane Victorino on a grounder to the right side, but second baseman Stephen Drew threw wildly past shortstop Didi Gregorius for an error that loaded the bases.

Zander Bogaerts followed with a double down the left field line that scored two runs. Tanaka held firm after that and struck out Ryan Hanigan and Mookie Betts on split-fingered fastballs, still his best pitch in a decidedly lower-velocity arsenal from last year.

The lively bats offset the wobbly glove work as the Yankees continued their assault against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, who was mugged for seven runs in the first inning, and knocked him out of the game before the fourth inning was over. They strung together four straight singles and a sacrifice fly to return to their seven-run advantage. At this point with a 10-3 lead, all nine Yankees in the starting lineup had scored at least one run.

It has been by all means a team effort.

Yankees roll ‘7’ in first inning

The Yankees went into Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox having played 55 innings of baseball this season and had the lead in only one of them. They made it two with a huge first inning that handed Masahiro Tanaka a 7-0 advantage.

It was encouraging to see the Yankees’ somewhat sluggish offense put together a sustained attack, aided by a lackluster Clay Buchholz, Boston’s starting pitcher, and uncertain defense by first baseman Mike Napoli.

As if to spark the stodginess of the Yankees’ offense this past week, manager Joe Girardi rolled the dice a bit in the first after Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a walk. Forcing the action, Girardi called for a hit-and-run and struck paydirt when Brett Gardner lined a single to left-center against an overshift that sent Ellsbury on an easy course to third base.

Napoli could only get one out at second base — and barely that — on a chopper by Carlos Beltran as Ellsbury crossed the plate for that rare Yankees lead. Mark Teixeira walked on a 3-2 pitch, and Napoli fumbled another grounder by Brian McCann, which filled the bases.

Alex Rodriguez jumped on a first-pitch cut fastball from Buchholz and drove a liner to left center for a double that cleared the bags. Chase Headley followed with his second home run in three days, a two-run shot to right off a 2-2 pitch. Stephen Drew made it back-to-back long balls with another drive to right for his first home run.

In one inning, the Yankees had scored more runs than in their previous 22 innings combined.

Sunday Night Baseball to honor Little Leaguers

A team from the Harlem Little League was on the field before the game to meet with Yankees players before Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. The youngsters got to watch batting practice from in front of the dugout and chat with players as they walked up to the cage.

The group was provided tickets to the game. It is all part of an initiative by Major League Baseball and ESPN to bring attention to Little League programs around the country. Local teams will be highlighted throughout the season on the “Sunday Night Baseball” cablecasts.

The Yankees-Red Sox series finale is the first Sunday Night Baseball game of the season. The Yankees have four Sunday night games on ESPN before the end of May. When they return from the upcoming trip to Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Yankees will have their first Subway Series against the Mets at the Stadium with the Sunday game April 26 scheduled for 8:05 p.m.

The next time the Yankees and the Red Sox hook up for a series at Fenway Park the Sunday game May 3 will have an 8:05 p.m. start. The Yankees’ May 24 game at home against the Rangers is also a Sunday night game.

Clubs are limited to six appearances on Sunday Night Baseball, so the Yankees will have no more than two such games after May. Sunday games for the Yankees that do yet have announced starting times are June 14 at Baltimore, June 21 at home against the Tigers, July 26 at Minneapolis, Aug. 23 at Cleveland, Aug. 30 at Atlanta, Sept. 20 against the Mets at Citi Field and Sept. 27 at home against the White Sox.

Yanks stagger Saturday after Friday marathon loss

Saturday’s 8-4 loss to the Red Sox had all the trappings of a classic hangover game for the Yankees. Less than 12 hours after they were beaten, 6-5, in 19 innings, the Yankees were back at Yankee Stadium for another joust with Boston and looked very much like a team that was sleep-walking.

Granted, the Red Sox were on the field for the same six hours, xx minutes that the Yankees were Friday night into Saturday morning, but Boston had a major advantage – the uplifting feeling any victory gives a team. When you play a game for that long, you want to end out on top, which the Red Sox did despite allowing the Yankees to tie the score three times.

It was the longest home game (in terms of time) in franchise history and the second-longest overall, behind only their seven-hour, 9-7, 22-inning victory June 24, 1962 at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. Friday PM/Saturday AM was the Yankees’ longest game (in terms of innings) since a 5-4, 19-inning victory Aug. 25, 1976 over the Twins at Yankee Stadium. It marked the sixth game of at least 19 innings in franchise history. It was the longest game in terms of time for the Red Sox, whose previous longest was six hours, 35 minutes in an 18-inning game Aug. 25, 2001 at Texas. Boston also used 21 players, everyone on the 25-man roster except outfielder Brock Holt and starting pitchers Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson.

The first extra-innings game in the American League this season also was the first extra-innings game between the Yankees and the Red Sox since Sept. 5, 2013, a 9-8, 10-inning Boston victory at the Stadium. It was the longest extra-innings game between the clubs since a 20-inning, 4-3 Yankees victory in the second game of an Aug. 29, 1967 doubleheader at the Stadium.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi used all but four of his players in the game – starting pitchers CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Adam Warren, the latter of whom was sent home after the ninth inning to be well rested for Saturday’s start. Indeed, Warren pitched fairly well Saturday (one earned run, five hits, two walks, one strikeout in 5 1/3 innings) but had to absorb the loss because of his teammates’ failures with their bats and gloves.

Chase Headley sent the game into extras with a two-out, solo home run in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Teixeira also hit a game-tying home run, in the 16th, by which time the clock had gone past midnight and it was Tex’s 35th birthday. It marked the latest a Yankees player homered in a game since Alfonso Soriano and Jorge Posada both went deep in the top of the 17th inning of a 10-9 victory June 1, 2003 at Detroit’s Comerica Park

Esmil Rogers, the last Yankees pitcher used, went 4 2/3 innings, just one day after working 2 1/3 innings of relief Thursday night against the Blue Jays. Girardi said if the game had done beyond the 19th, Garret Jones would have pitched for the first time since high school. Jones, a first baseman by trade, entered the game as a pinch runner for Alex Rodriguez in the 11th inning and remained in the game as the designated hitter.

Rodriguez was supposed to have Saturday off, but since he did not play the final eight innings of the previous game made his first major-league start at first base and somewhat set the tone of the game by committing an error in the second inning that led to an unearned run off Warren. A-Rod also failed to keep his foot on the bag reaching for an errant throw by Headley for what should have been the third out of the eighth inning when the Red Sox rallied to load the bases and scored three runs on a bases-clearing double by Holt, who had four hits.

The Yankees, who were expected to be stronger defensively this year than last, had three errors in the game and now have eight in the first five games, the most in the league. Catcher John Ryan Murphy had a throwing error and was also charged with a passed ball. Jones in right field with Rodriguez at first base and left fielder Brett Gardner failed to glove catchable balls that fell for run-scoring hits. Shortstop Didi Gregorius inexplicably held the ball instead of relaying home on Holt’s double that might have prevented the third run scored by catcher Ryan Hanigan.

The Yanks did no better at the plate. They had only one hit through the first seven innings off Red Sox starter Joe Kelly, who got himself in trouble only in the second when he threw a wild pitch, walked two batters and allowed a single to Rodriguez, who eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Gregorius.

Kelly retired the last 17 batters he faced. The streak went to 19 before Gregorio Petit and Gardner singled with two down in the eighth off Alexi Ogando. Both scored on Chris Young’s first home run of the season and the first of six Yankees homers this year that accounted for more than one run.

Yanks, Red Sox rekindle rivalry

There was a very nice gesture by the New York Chapter of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences before the Yankees-Red Sox game Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees radio voice John Sterling was presented with replacements of his 12 Emmy Awards that had been destroyed in a fire at his home in Fairview, N.J., over the winter. Sterling lost all his valuables in the blaze.

Friday night’s game was televised on WPIX, Channel 11, which has the over-the-air broadcast rights to 21 Yankees games during the 2015 season. It is a return to old times for the Yankees. PIX11 was the broadcast home of the Yankees from 1951 through 1998. The YES Network remains the exclusive local television rights holder for the Yankees and will televise approximately 125 Yankees games this season.

The Yankees and the Red Sox paired off for the 2,119th time in series history. The Yankees hold a 1,150-954-14 advantage all-time, including 618-431-7 at home.

Friday night’s game marks the 1,300th of Joe Girardi’s major league managerial career. The skipper has a 727-572 (.560) record overall, including 649-488 (.571) with the Yankees and 78-84 (.481) with the Marlins.

If only CC could avoid the one bad inning

Thursday night was another one of those “one bad inning” games for CC Sabathia. All eyes were on the lefthander who had a rough time of it in spring training and was passed over for the Opening Day start for the first time since he joined the Yankees in 2009.

His pitching line over 5 2/3 innings in the Yankees’ 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays was both good (no walks, eight strikeouts) and not so good (five runs [four earned], eight hits), but nearly all of the bad stuff happened in one inning, the second, as Toronto scored four runs with five hits, four of those in succession at the start of the inning.

But while Sabathia hit a lot of bats that inning he also missed a good many over the course of his outing as the eight punchouts suggest. The fifth run off CC came in the sixth inning and was not earned due to an error by right fielder Carlos Beltran, whose throw to third base hit the runner, Josh Donaldson, and allowed him to score.

“I thought he pitched pretty well, better than his line indicated,” manager Joe Girard said of Sabathia. “He didn’t give up a lot of hard-hit balls, but they found a lot of holes. He kept the ball in the park and on the ground. If CC is going to be hit like that every time out I’ll take it.”

Sabathia blamed himself for the second-inning problems but was encouraged by his work in the other innings and that he felt fine with no knee issues.

“I felt great and think [the outing] was something to build on — no walks and not a lot of contact,” Sabathia said. “I got away from pounding the ball inside in the second inning. I have to control both sides of the plate.”

The Yankees fought back against lefthander Daniel Norris and cut the deficit to 5-3 in the sixth on solo home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. The Yankees’ first run came in the fourth inning when Didi Gregorius singled home John Ryan Murphy, who led off with one of his two doubles. Unfortunately, Gregorius rounded the bag at first base too widely and was tagged out trying to get back, marking the second time in three games he has been thrown out on the bases.

Edwin Encarnacion’s impressive home run off the wall behind the visitors’ bullpen in left field off Esmil Rogers in the eighth was the Blue Jays’ response to the Yankees’ attempted comeback. Toronto was able to win two of three games against the Yankees despite Jose Bautista going hitless in 13 plate appearances with eight strikeouts.

Girardi toys with batting order vs. lefty

With the Blue Jays starting a lefthander, Daniel Norris, Yankees manager Joe Girardi made the first significant change in the batting order Thursday night. Left-handed batting Brett Gardner, Brian McCann and Stephen Drew were all on the bench.

Girardi noted that Gardner’s not starting had nothing to do with his getting hit by a pitch in Wednesday night’s victory over Toronto. The manager plans to rest Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury but not both against left-handed starting pitching. Chris Young, whose double began the eighth-inning rally Tuesday night, started in left field.

McCann also was hit by a pitch the night before but was just given a blow that allowed backup John Ryan Murphy a start. Gregorio Petit got his first start for the Yankees at second base in place of Drew. Didi Gregorius, who struggles against lefthanders, was kept in the lineup at shortstop and drove in the Yankees’ first run with a single to center field in the fifth inning.

Another major change in the lineup was the move of designated hitter Alex Rodriguez from seventh to second, which might have gotten him an extra at-bat. Girardi has liked the way A-Rod has swung the bat over the first two games.

Hey, a rally is a rally

It was not exactly a rally to write home about, but considering the conditions and circumstances the Yankees will take it. The only hard hit ball of the inning was a single by Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base four times in the game. Still, the three runs wiped out a 3-1 deficit and sent them to their first victory of the season, 4-3.

They used a wind-blown, bloop double by pinch hitter Chris Young, the Ellsbury single, a wild pitch, an intentional walk to Mark Teixeira, two hit batters (Brett Gardner and Brian McCann) and an infield single by Chase Headley to steal the game away from the Blue Jays bullpen.

By contrast, the Yankees’ pen had another good game. Dellin Betances, charged with an unearned run in the eighth inning due to an error by Brian McCann, turned out the winning pitcher as the result of the Yanks’ three-run bottom of the eighth.

Andrew Miller was used in the closer role for his Yankees debut and pitched a perfect ninth for his first save. Manager Joe Girardi has talked about closing out games based on match-ups, and this one called for Betances in the eighth and Miller in the ninth. Another night it could be the reverse.

By the eighth inning, temperatures had dropped into the 30s with a wicked wind picking up and blowing a mist around the Stadium. The conditions were brutal and were reflected in the game with a pair of hit batters and a couple of errors. It was not picture perfect baseball.

One of the keys to the victory was Girardi using Young to bat for Didi Gregorius to start the eighth. Grigorius has a history of being vulnerable against left-handed pitching. With lefty Aaron Loup on the mound for the Blue Jays, Girardi made the call to Young. In all honesty, Young’s fly ball near the right field line likely would have been caught on a milder night, but the wind played havoc by that point in the game.

Hey, a break is a break. Give Young credit for busting it out of the box and getting in position to turn the hit into a double. Ellsbury followed with a dart to center field, and those remaining in the Yankee Stadium crowd of 31,020 began to sense it was a good idea after all to stick around.

The Yanks cut the deficit to 3-2 when Young scored from third on a wild pitch by Loup, who then hit Gardner with a fastball, a big ouch on a night like this. One out and an intentional pass later, McCann took oner off the wrist from lefthander Brett Cecil, and the game was tied. Headley put the Yankees ahead with a shot off Cecil’s glove for a single.

The rally would not qualify for any highlight film but not all have to be patterned after Murderers’ Row or the Bronx Bombers. A team that has major offensive issues a year ago took a small first step in showing its ability to dig itself out of a hole.

Pineda weathers cold minus pine tar

Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium was one of those early-season games when a pitcher could really use some pine tar to help him grip the ball. Except that to do so is illegal, which the Yankees’ Michael Pineda discovered infamously last year.

The righthander drew a suspension for using the substance that was smeared on his neck during an April 2014 game at Fenway Park, which got him tossed from the game. Pineda learned his lesson and weathered the 42-degree climate against the Blue Jays without anything beyond the talent contained in his right arm. His 96-pitch effort over six innings was a solid first start, but the Yankees did not get him any run support until his last inning.

Pineda gave up two runs, six hits and a walk with six strikeouts against a Toronto lineup that can be dangerous. Half of his K’s came against slugger Jose Bautista, including in the third inning when the Jays threatened to break the game open.

Toronto used two infield singles and a double to get its first run and had runners on first and second with none out when Pineda retired Jose Reyes on a fly ball to right and struck out Russell Martin and Bautista. Another infield hit played a factor in the Blue Jays’ second run that came home on a sacrifice fly by Martin in the fifth.

Meanwhile, the Yankees struggled against R.A. Dickey. Just what the Yankees did not need after a one-run, three-hit performance in the opener was to have to face a knuckleballer. It is hard to break out of a slump against that pitch.

Switch hitter Mark Teixeira chose to bat right-handed against the right-handed Dickey. It worked Tex’s first time up as he lashed a double to left field, but the Yankees could not get him past third base.

Jacoby Ellsbury was the main cog in manufacturing a run in the sixth. He led off with a single and promptly stole second base. A grounder to first by Brett Gardner advanced Ellsbury to third from where he scored on a lineout to center field by Carlos Beltran.

Yankees fans got their first 2015 look at Dellin Betances, who worked the eighth inning after Chris Martin pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. Martin has retired all six batters he has faced in the Yankees’ first two games.

Betances was not especially sharp. He gave up a single and two walks, but he should have gotten through the eighth unscathed except that an errant pickoff attempt by catcher Brian McCann to first base went down the right field line allowing a run to score for a 3-1 Toronto lead and putting runners on second and third with one out. Betances avoided further damage by getting the next two hitters on grounders to the mound.

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