One bad inning sinks Sabathia

For five innings Friday night, CC Sabathia was pitching as the ace that Yankees fans have come to appreciate. With a fastball that was in the 90-miles-per-hour range and a devastating slider, the big lefthander held the Red Sox in check. He limited them to one hit and two walks, struck out six batters and got eight other outs in the infield.

It was not vintage Sabathia from his Cy Young Award days when the fastball was more muscular, but it was a cagier and slyer Sabathia who had Boston hitters guessing and oft times wrong. The lone hit to that point was a leadoff double by Red Sox catcher David Ross in the third inning. Sabathia retired the next three batters on ground balls to prevent Ross from scoring.

Then came the sixth inning, and everything went wrong for the big guy. Jonny Gomes led off with a home run off a 1-0 fastball that tied the score. Alfonso Soriano had given CC a 1-0 lead in the second inning with a home run off Jon Lester.

After striking out Dustin Pedroia, Sabathia gave up a single to David Ortiz on an excuse-me, half-swing of a dribbler to the vacated left side of the infield as the Yankees were employing an over-shift on Big Papi. Mike Napoli singled on a soft line drove to center field, but there was nothing soft about Grady Sizemore’s drive off a hanging slider on 0-1 that reached the second deck in right field for a demoralizing, three-run homer.

“I thought he had good command and threw the ball decent,” manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia. “He hung a slider, and Sizemore did not miss it. One pitch in a tight game sometimes it’s going to beat you.”

No one welcomed the offensive display more than Lester, who before that inning had watched his teammates score merely one run in his first 19 1/3 innings on the mound this year, which explains why he entered the game with a record of 0-2 despite a 2.51 ERA.

The Yankees tried to get Sabathia off the hook with a two-out rally in the seventh but got only one run on a Kelly Johnson single that chased Lester.

Sabathia’s ERA actually came down from 7.50 but is still an unseemly 6.63 after three starts as his record fell to 1-2. His nine strikeouts lifted his total with the Yankees to 1,017, which moved him past Roger Clemens into 10th place on the franchise’s career list. Next up in ninth place at 1,028 is Al Downing.

Winfield to be honored at Negro Leagues Museum

Former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield is among four Hall of Fame players who will make up the inaugural class of the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Game. Lou Brock, Joe Morgan and the late Roberto Clemente will also be honored Saturday in induction ceremonies at the Negro League Baseball Museum and Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo.

The day-long festivities include a press conference, VIP meet-and-greet, reception and dinner at the NLBM — followed by the Hall of Game inductions at the Gem Theater at 8 p.m.

The Hall of Game will annually honor former major league players who best exemplified the spirit and signature style of play that made Negro Leagues baseball a fan favorite. Inductees will also receive permanent recognition as part of the future Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center being developed by the NLBM at the site of the Paseo YMCA where Andrew “Rube” Foster established the Negro National League Feb. 13, 1920.

“This is truly a historic and proud day as we continue our efforts to celebrate the heritage of baseball,” NLBM president Bob Kendrick said. “The Hall of Game celebrates both the style and substance of the Negro Leagues which represented professional baseball at its absolute finest. Our inaugural class of Major League inductees were all, in their unique ways, connected to the Negro Leagues experience. Their play was reflective and reminiscent of that common thread and we’re delighted to welcome them into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”

In 2008, Winfield developed the Major League Baseball honorary draft of Negro League players by all 30 MLB teams. “It was a bridge between baseball’s past and baseball’s present,” said Winfield, who had 465 home runs among his 3,110 career hits over 22 seasons. “For all the surviving players and everyone involved, it was a wonderful day.”

MLB: No discipline against Pineda

In the latest much ado about nothing episode in baseball, Major League Baseball has no plans to discipline Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda for his apparent use of pine tar on his right hand in Thursday night’s victory over the Red Sox.

“The umpires did not observe an application of a foreign substance during the game and the issue was not raised by the Red Sox,” MLB said in a statement. “Given those circumstances, there are no plans to issue a suspension, but we intend to talk to the Yankees regarding what occurred.”

The incident was spurred by social media as photos of Pineda’s hand circulated across the Internet. Boston manager John Farrell said before Friday night’s game that the Red Sox were made aware of the situation, but by the time they knew about it Pineda had washed off the substance.

Pitchers often resort to using pine tar in cold weather to improve their grip. The Red Sox had two separate incidents last year of their pitchers putting foreign substances on the ball.

Derek Jeter’s two hits Thursday night moved him past Joe DiMaggio into third place on the Yankees’ career hit list against the Red Sox. DJ entered play Friday night with 324 career hits against Boston pitching, one more than Joe D. The only Yankees players with more career hits against the Red Sox than Jeter not surprisingly are Babe Ruth with 404 and Lou Gehrig with 347.

Happy Birthday to Mark Teixeira, who turned 34.

Pineda comeback gaining momentum

It certainly looks as if Michael Pineda is the real deal. The Yankees had to wait it out for the righthander to recover fully from shoulder surgery in May 2012, only four months after he was acquired in a trade from the Mariners that sent catching prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to Seattle.

Pineda did not pitch in the major leagues last year or the season before, a long wait for the Yankees to find out if the trade was to their benefit. He pitched in 40 2/3 innings in three minor-league stops in the Yankees’ system in 2013. But with Montero lingering in the minor leagues and Noesi released by the Mariners, the swap is leaning in the Yankees’ favor.

Pineda turned in another solid outing Thursday night and earned his first victory since 2011 as the Yankees turned back the Red Sox, 4-1. Pineda took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the defending World Series champions and lasted two batters into the seventh before manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen.

Through two starts covering 12 innings, Pineda is pitching to a 1.50 ERA. He did not allow a hit Thursday night until the fifth inning when Xander Bogaerts led off with a single to left and held Boston scoreless until the seventh when Daniel Nava led off with his first home run of the season. Bogaerts followed with a single up the middle, which brought Girardi to the mound.

The manager was delighted at what he saw for six-plus innings from Pineda, an imposing 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds who walked two batters and struck out seven. The Yankees gave him the lead with two unearned runs off Clay Buchholz in the fourth inning and tacked on two runs in the fifth, including second baseman Dean Anna’s first career home run.

“We’re very encouraged,” Girardi said of Pineda. “He threw first-pitch strikes and gave us length, which we really needed.”

Girardi was hit with post-game questions about video replays circulated on social media showing a substance in Pineda’s right hand. On cold nights, it is not uncommon for pitchers to use pine tar to improve their grip. I saw Buchholz reach back at a spot on his neck to touch something, which was probably the same thing. Pineda made no secret of whatever it was to umpires as he exposed his palm numerous times.

In his first game against his old team, Jacoby Ellsbury had 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI. Derek Jeter raised his batting average to .290 with a single and a double. David Phelps earned his first career save with 2 1/3 innings of hitless, three-strikeout relief.

Ellsbury draws blood vs. Red Sox

Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his old team Thursday night as the Yankees and Red Sox renewed their ancient rivalry in the opener of a four-game series. Ellsbury, who departed Boston where he was a member of two World Series champions to sign a seven-year contract with the Yankees, drove in a run in the fifth inning with a single

The hit scored Derek Jeter, who had doubled with two out. Ellsbury, who had been expected to be the Yankees’ leadoff hitter, has proved valuable in the 3-hole where he can take advantage of RBI situations. The injury to Mark Teixeira (strained right hamstring) prompted manager Joe Girardi to toy with his lineup as he moved Brett Gardner to leadoff and dropped Ellsbury to third.

Dean Anna opened the fifth for the Yankees with his first major-league home run, taking Clay Buchholz deep on a 1-1 pitch. Anna started at second base in place of slimping Brian Roberts. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade from the Padres. Playing with San Diego’s Triple A Tucson affiliate last year, Anna led the Pacific Coast League in batting with a .331 average. The Yanks liked his versatility in the infield this spring.

The Yankees’ first two runs, in the fourth inning, were unearned. An error by third baseman Jonathan Herrera on a grounder by Ellsbury opened the gate for the Yankees. After Carlos Beltran singled to right field, Brian McCann ended a 0-for-14 slump with a single over first base and down the right field line that scored Ellsbury and sent Beltran to third. Beltran scored the second run as Alfonso Soriano grounded into a double play.

Ellsbury on Yanks’ side of the rivalry

Thursday night marked Jacoby Ellsbury’s first game for the Yankees against his former Red Sox teammates. Ellsbury, who started in center field and batted third, became the latest player to jump to the other side of the American League’s longest rivalry, joining the likes of Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing, Sparky Lyle, Mike Torrez, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon.

“I always thought it was a decent possibility,” Ellsbury said of changing uniforms. “I think of the Yankees as a top-flight organization, world class. I think of the championships, the history, the great players who play here and when I signed over here those were reasons why I did it. Derek [Jeter] called me and said, ‘You are going to enjoy it here, it is a first-class organization. It is a special place to play.’ From then on, I had the highest expectations and they’ve met them and exceeded them. I spent nine years in the [Boston] organization, seven years in the big leagues, roughly a third of my life. I left it all on the field for the Red Sox.”

Grady Sizemore was signed by the Red Sox to take Ellsbury’s place in center field, but he found himself in left field Thursday night as Jackie Bradley Jr. was inserted in center. At Fenway Park, Sizemore has been in center field and Bradley in right field. Red Sox manager John Farrell said he preferred a different alignment at Yankee Stadium because of the expanse in left-center field as opposed to that in right-center at Fenway.

Tanaka off to record start with strikeouts

Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ latest Japanese import, has gotten off to something of an historic start in the United States. The righthander, who has a 1-0 record and 3.21 ERA through his first two starts, tied one club record and set another with his strikeout totals from those games.

The Elias Sports Bureau reports that with eight strikeouts April 4 at Toronto and 10 K’s Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles Tanaka became the second Yankees pitcher to strike out at least eight batters in each of his first two major league starts. The other was Allen Russell in 1915 when the Yankees were based at the Polo Grounds.

In addition, Tanaka’s combined 18 strikeouts are the most for any pitcher in his first two Yankees starts. The previous record was 17 set in April 1955 by Bob Turley and matched by Dennis Rasmussen in May 1984 and Charles Hudson in April 1987.

Elias also notes that outfielder-designated hitter Alfonso Soriano has 18 home runs and 52 RBI in 66 games since he rejoined the Yankees July 26 last year. Those are the most homers in the majors over that stretch and tied with the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday for the second highest RBI total behind only the 53 of the Diamondbacks’ Mark Trumbo.

Rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte continues to be impressive in the early going. He has hit safely in his first seven career starts, becoming the first Yankees player to do so since Hideki Matsui hit safely in his first seven career starts from March 31 through April 4, 2003. The last Yankees hitter with a longer such streak was Mike Heath, who hit safely in his first 13 starts from June 28 to July 23, 1978. Solarte is tied for the major-league lead (with the Rays’ Desmond Jennings) with six doubles and is the first player since 1900 with at least six doubles through his first seven career games. Solarte ranks third in the American League in on-base percentage (.484) and fifth in batting (.429). He leads the Yankees in total bases (18), doubles (6), extra-base hits (6), RBI (7), batting average and OBP and is tied for the team lead in hits with Jacoby Ellsbury (12 apiece).

Tanaka impressive in tough Yanks loss

Masahiro Tanaka’s first appearance before the home crowd at Yankee Stadium was a measured success. It could have been better, of course, if he had come away with a winning decision or the Yankees had won the game. Nevertheless, Tanaka pitched well enough to win and kept his team in the game, which is the primary responsibility of a starting pitcher.

With a press box jammed with Japanese media, Tanaka gave his countrymen and women plenty to write home about. A Stadium crowd of 39,412 gave him a standing ovation when he walked to the dugout at the end of the seventh inning as the fans sensed his night was over after having thrown 101 pitches, many of them quality.

There was quite a bit and oooing and ahhing in the stands back in the second inning when Tanaka gave up a thunderous, three-run home run to left field to Orioles third baseman Jonathan Schoop. Tanaka settled in nicely after that and allowed only three singles and a walk through the seventh. He retired the last seven batters he faced and finished with 10 strikeouts.

“He battled after a tough start and made good pitches when he needed them,” manager Joe Girardi said. “His strongest inning make have been his last one.”

That was the seventh when Tanaka struck out two batters and got the other on a come-backer to the mound.

Tanaka also had some fine glovework behind him, notably in the sixth inning when Alfonso Soriano made a belly-flop catch in the dirt cutout near the left-field line and Brian Roberts a deft pickup of a scorching, one-hopper on back-to-back plays.

The Yankees slowly pulled back into the game with solo home runs in the second by Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson and a game-tying run in the fourth on a double by Beltran and two infield outs. The Yanks had a good chance to take the lead in the eighth when Brett Gardner led off with a double to right and was bunted to third base by Derek Jeter, but Jacoby Ellsbury popped out and after an intentional walk to Beltran Brian McCann flied out to deep center.

The game fell apart for the Yanks in the ninth when the Orioles jumped on Shawn Kelley for two runs and four hits. The Yankees got a run back in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Roberts, but Yangervis Solarte grounded into a game-ending double play.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ record under .500 at 4-5, equal to Baltimore’s, with the Red Sox heading to New York for a four-game series beginning Thursday night.

Yankees are finding their home run strokes

Yankees hitters are starting to clear the fences. They did not hit a home run in their first five games and had only one through the first seven games. You could hardly have called them the Bronx Bombers. Yet getting back to the Bronx has obviously helped.

After getting shut out in long balls in the home opener Monday, the Yankees got two home runs Tuesday and added two more in the second inning Wednesday night. Carlos Beltran launched the first home run of his Yankees career leading off the inning and Kelly Johnson two outs later connected for the second consecutive game.

The long balls were necessary to get the Yankees back in the game because the Orioles had taken a 3-0 lead in the top half of the second on a really long ball by third baseman Jonathan Schoop. Masahiro Tanaka, who gave up a home run to the first batter he faced — Melky Cabrera — in his major league debut last week at Toronto, was victimized again in his Yankee Stadium debut when Schoop clocked one high up inside the left field foul pole for as impressive a homer as you will see.

The Yankees underwent scrutiny in recent years for being dependent on the home run ball with some fans calling for more of a small-ball mentality. Funny how during the five-game homer drought panic was setting in when the Yankees were not reaching the fences on a regular basis.

AL reliever award to be named after Rivera

Mariano Rivera’s legacy received some more added cache Wednesday with the announcement by Major League Baseball that from now on the American League Relief Pitcher of the Year Award will be named after him. The corresponding award in the National League will be named after Trevor Hoffman, who was the first reliever to reach the 600-save plateau and whose record of 601 Mo obliterated by running the number to 652.

The new award replaces the Delivery Man of the Year Award that was presented to one reliever every year instead of one in each league as was done previously with the Rolaids Fireman of the Year Award. Rivera won the Delivery Man of the Year Award three times and the Fireman of the Year Award five times. Hoffman was a two-time Rolaids Award winner.

Those awards were based strictly on statistics. The Rivera and Hoffman Awards will be a vote of nine former relief artists. In addition to Rivera and Hoffman, the other committee members will be Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage as well as former closers Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner.

The committee members may vote up to three pitchers in order of preference with a tabulation system awarding five points for first place, three for second and one for third, similar to that of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year Awards.

Other MLB awards named after former players include the Henry Aaron Award for offensive performance and the Edgar Martinez Award for the top designated hitter in the AL. The BBWAA’s Most Valuable Player Award trophy is named for former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The writers’ pitching award is named for Cy Young.

“Both Mariano and Trevor represented our sport magnificently on and off the mound and earned the universal respect of our fans in their legendary careers,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “I believe it is important to redefine an existing award in honor of their contributions to baseball, and I am delighted that many of the most respected relievers decorated relievers in history will select the winners.”


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