Results tagged ‘ Joe Girardi ’

Judge gets back to making contact

In earning American League Player of the Week honors each of the past two weeks, catcher Gary Sanchez has made it seem easy to break into the major leagues. Conversely, outfielder Aaron Judge has been an example of how tough it can be for a player to make the leap from minors to majors.

Judge got off to an impressive start with a monster home run off to center field at Yankee Stadium in his first major-league at-bat and home runs in each of his first two games. But the going got rough after that.

Entering play Tuesday night at Kansas City, Mo., Judge was in stretches of 4-for-30 (.133) and 2-for-25 (.080). He had struck out 22 times in 46 at-bats, at least once in 14 of his 15 games for the Yankees and had multiple strikeouts in seven games.

With a player who stands 6-foot-7, the strike zone is much larger than most players. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has displayed patience by playing Judge regularly and near the bottom of the lineup to relieve pressure.

The Yankees can live with the strikeouts if Judge does what he did Tuesday night by clocking a two-run home run in the second inning off Edinson Volquez to provide Mashiro Tanaka an early lead.

With a single in the third inning, Didi Gregorius extended his hitting streak to 11 games, the longest for the Yankees this year. Brian McCann had hit in 10 straight twice. Before the rain delay, left fielder Brett Gardner came to Tanaka’s rescue with two terrific plays. He made an accurate throw to second base to cut down Alcides Escobar trying for a double and followed that with a leaping catch at the wall of a drive by Christian Colon.

Congratulations to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre outfielder Ben Gamel, who was named the 2016 International League Player of the Year. Gamel, 24, has a slash line of .309/.366/.422 with 78 runs, 26 doubles, five triples, six home runs, 51 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 115 games and 479 at-bats for the RailRiders. Gamel leads the IL in runs and ranks third in hits, fifth in steals and sixth in batting average. Gamel was one of four RailRiders to make the IL Postseason All-Star Team, along with Sanchez, Judge and second baseman Donovan Solano. Al Pedrique was named IL Manager of the Year for leading the RailRiders to an 84-52 (.618) record and a postseason berth.

The Yankees added two more prospects with the acquisition of outfielder Tito Polo and pitcher Stephen Tarpley, the players to be named that completed the Aug. 1 trade of pitcher Ivan Nova to the Pirates.

Polo, 22, hit .289 with 86 runs, 17 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs, 65 RBI, 37 stolen bases, a .360 on-base percentage and an .811 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in 109 games and 439 at-bats combined between two Class A teams, Bradenton (55 games) and West Virginia (54) this season and was selected as a South Atlantic League Midseason All-Star. Originally signed by Pittsburgh as a non-drafted free agent March 12, 2012, the right-handed hitter led all Pirates minor leaguers with 46 stolen bases in 2015. In 355 career minor league games and 1,249 at-bats, the San Andres Islas, Colombia, native has hit .271 with 223 runs, 55 doubles, 15 triples, 26 homers, 158 RBI, 130 stolen bases and a .352 on-base percentage.

Tarpley, 23, was 6-4 with a 4.32 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 100 innings in 20 starts with Bradenton. Over four minor league seasons, the lefthander has a 20-14 record with a 3.32 ERA and 280 strikeouts in 303 1/3 innings in 60 games (59 starts). Tapley was originally selected by the Orioles in the third round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and was acquired by the Pirates, along with left-handed pitcher Steven Brault, in exchange for outfielder Travis Snider Jan. 27, 2015.

Yanks cannot overcome Pineda’s poor 1st inning

Too bad Monday night’s game did not start until the second inning for Michael Pineda. After a miserable first inning, the righthander settled in and was lights out through the sixth. It was another one of those Jekyll-and-Hyde outings for Pineda, whose record fell to 6-11 in the 8-5 loss to the Royals.

The Yankees are on a trip to Kansas City and Baltimore against two of the clubs they are chasing for the second wild-card slot and have a great opportunity to work themselves up the standings, so Monday night’s loss to KC and its fifth starter, Dillon Gee, was a major disappointment. The Orioles and the Mariners also lost, but the Royals, Tigers and Astros all won, so the Yankees remained 3 1/2 games back in the wild-card race.

The Royals jumped on Pineda for three runs in the first, a rally fueled by two stolen bases and three straight two-out singles. Opposing hitters are batting .341 with two outs against Pineda, which has been his Achilles heel all season. His catcher, Gary Sanchez, got the third out of that inning by throwing out Alex Gordon attempting to steal second base.

Pineda then proceeded to retire 15 batters in a row, including seven on strikeouts, before the Royals got another base runner on a leadoff single in the seventh by Kendrys Morales. Salvador Perez followed with a single, which ended Pineda’s night. Tommy Layne got an out, but Blake Parker took the Yankees out of the game by giving up a three-run home run to Alcides Escobar and two more runs on three singles.

The Yankees, who got a run in the fourth on back-to-back, two-out doubles by Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, batted around in the eighth to get back in the game against an erratic Chris Young with only two hits in an inning that featured a catcher’s interference (in another Jacoby Ellsbury at-bat), a hit batter and two walks. Kelvin Herrera quieted the Yanks and went on to a four-out save.

The frustration of the game got to manager Joe Girardi, who has issues with plate umpire Brian O’Nora throughout the game and was ejected in the eighth during an at-bat by Gregorius, who then smoked a two-run double.

The Yankees emphasized the importance of winning this game when rookies Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin were both lifted for pinch hitters, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira, respectively, in the eighth-inning rally.

3-game sweep keeps eluding Yankees

Maybe the Yankees just wore themselves out the previous two games. After combining for 27 runs and 36 hits Friday night and Saturday, the Yanks came out flat against the Orioles Sunday and were shut out in failing once again to sweep a three-game series.

It marked the seventh time this season that the Yankees won the first two games of a series but could not complete the sweep. Overall in three-game series this year, the Yankees have won 14 and lost 16. They have been swept in three-game sets four times but have not yet done so themselves. Oddly, they have two four-game series sweeps and one two-game series sweep.

CC Sabathia put the Yankees in position to get over this hump until the seventh inning when a strange hit set up what proved a decision blow. With a runner on first and two out, Nolan Reimold hit a spinning bloop of a liner that bounced past Starlin Castro, who was also distracted by the runner, Jonathan Schoop, coming into the area.

Sabathia then sealed his own fate in the game with a walk to 9-hole hitter Hyun Soo Kim that loaded the bases. Manager Joe Girardi called on righthander Adam Warren to face righty-swinging Steve Pearce, who lined a 2-2 fastball through the middle for a two-run single that pushed Baltimore’s lead to 3-0. Pearce had broken the scoreless tie the inning before with his 12th home run.

Pearce, who was reacquired by the Orioles Aug. 1 in a trade from the Rays, helped douse a promising Yankees rally in the third inning by throwing out Gary Sanchez at third base for the first out, a cardinal sin. Sanchez, who had two more hits and is batting .405, led off the inning with a single. On a single to right by Mark Teixeira, Sanchez noticed no one was at third base and made a break for it. Third baseman Manny Machado, however, made a quick recovery, took Pearce’s strong, accurate throw and tagged out Sanchez. Didi Gregorius followed with a single, but the rally died when Castro grounded into a force on another nice play by Machado and Brian McCann struck out.

This turned out to be another fruitless game for the Yanks against Orioles righthander Kevin Gausman, who shut them out on seven hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings. Gausman is 1-1 with an ERA of 0.99 in 27 2/3 innings against the Yankees this year but is 5-9 with a 4.41 ERA against everyone else.

The Orioles padded their lead in the eighth when major league home run leader Mark Trumbo, who had struck out twice and grounded into a double play, belted a two-run shot (No. 40) to left off rookie Ben Heller.

Sabathia became the 39th pitcher in American League history to achieve the 3,000 plateau in career innings (3,002). . .It was career victory No. 1,411 for Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who moved past Al Lopez into 26th place on the all-time list. . .Ronald Torreyes had 2-for-3 with a double in extending his hitting streak to seven games during which he is batting .538 with six runs, six doubles, one home run and four RBI in 26 at-bats to boost his season average to .298. . .Sanchez was the AL Player of the Week for the period ending last Sunday and is a candidate again for the period ending this Sunday. The rookie catcher had a slash line of .522/.604/1.250 with seven runs, three doubles, five home runs and nine RBI this past week.

30 of final 36 games for Yanks vs. AL East

Friday night at Yankee Stadium the Yankees began a stretch in which they will play American League East opponents 30 times over the final 36 games of the regular season. A trip to Kansas City next week and an inter-league series at the Stadium next month against the Dodgers are the only games the Yanks have left against clubs outside their division.

The Yankees began play Friday night against the Orioles 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East and also 5 1/2 games behind for the second wild card slot. The Red Sox and the Blue Jays were tied for first in the division with the Orioles 1 1/2 games behind. The Yanks’ record against divisional opponents is 19-27 (.413).

Yankees manager Joe Girardi talked before the game about his club’s need to keep winning series to gain ground, but that alone will not get the Yankees back into serious contention for a playoff berth. Joe said that if the Yankees continue to win two out of three games they will gain ground because most of their opponents are those they are trying to catch.

Simple math explains, however, that if a team wins two of three games in a series it gains only one game in the standings. With about six weeks left on the schedule, the Yankees are going to need to pick up that pace.

Take the case of the defending World Series champion Royals, whom the Yanks will play next week. KC got back into the wild-card and AL Central races with a nine-game winning streak. That is the sort of stretch the Yankees will need to make foes tremble. The Yanks have not won more than five games in a row this year and have had only two five-game winning streaks all season.

The Orioles have presented a hurdle for the Yankees recently. The clubs have divided 10 games this season, but the Yankees have sustained five-game losing streaks against Baltimore each of the past three seasons (Sept. 8, 2015-May 3, 2016, July 13-Sept. 12, 2014, May 21-June 30, 2013) after having lost no more than four in a row to the O’s from 1998 through 2012. 

The Yanks are 18-26 in the past 44 meetings since June 21, 2014. They are 199-125-2 against Baltimore since the beginning of 1998, their most victories over any opponent in that span (next: 191-134 against the Rays). In 2015, the Yankees were 9-10 against the Orioles (7-3 at the Stadium, 2-7 at Camden Yards. The Yanks won five straight games from June 14-Sept. 7 before losing their final five match-ups beginning Sept. 8.

Between 2015 and 2014 (6-13), the Yankees lost consecutive season series to Baltimore for the first time since dropping three straight from 1980-82. It follows a streak of 16 consecutive non-losing seasons against the Birds from 1998-2013 (14-0-2), which was the longest active such streak for one team over another at the time, according to the Elias Sport Bureau.

Another Tanaka gem gets Girardi 800th Yankees win

Joe Girardi has been insisting since Alex Rodriguez was released nearly two weeks ago that the Yankees “have a shot,” which has been his way of saying his team can contend for a playoff berth. In chalking up his 800th victory as Yankees manager Wednesday at Seattle, Girardi got his club closer to that goal.

It is still a tall order, yet the Yanks’ 5-0 victory over the Mariners that completed a 4-2 trip to the West Coast was encouraging. The Yankees got back to their season-high four games over .500 and won a series over one of the club’s ahead of them in the race for the second wild-card slot.

Another contender, Baltimore, will come to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series starting Friday night to give the Yankees another opportunity to gain ground. All but three of the Yankees’ remaining 36 games are against American League East teams.

All year long, Girardi has fielded questions about how much better Masahiro Tanaka is when he gets extra rest. Well, Tanaka pitched on regular rest Wednesday and could not have been better. The righthander shut out the Mariners on six hits and a walk (his only one in his past 36 innings) with five strikeouts in winning his fourth straight start. Over that period Tanaka has pitched to a 1.63 ERA with 22 hits allowed, one walk and 25 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings. He also improve his career mark against the Mariners to 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings.

Tanaka’s pairing with Hisashi Iwakuma was a marquee event in Seattle that drew a crowd of 41,546 to Safeco Field and was broadcast to Japan. Tanaka prevailed against his former teammate for the second time this season. The other occasion was a 4-3 Yankees victory April 17 at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka and Iwakuma played together for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles from 2007-11.

It marked the 13th game in major league history featuring two Japanese-born starting pitchers and the sixth time that the Yankees have been involved in such a matchup, the most of any team. The Yanks are 5-1 in those games). It is the fifth such game involving Seattle. The Yankees and Mariners were also involved in the very first meeting between Japanese starters May 7, 1999 when Hideki Irabu and the Yankees defeated Mac Suzuki and the Mariners, 10-1, at the Stadium.

Tanaka’s catcher, rookie Gary Sanchez, continued his torrid hitting with a solo home run in the first inning that staked his pitcher to a 1-0 lead. Sachez also doubled and drew two intentional walks to complete a trip in which he batted .455 with three doubles, four home runs and five RBI in 22 at-bats.

There were contributions up and down the lineup as every Yankees player reached base. Tyler Austin ended a 0-for-13 slump with an RBI single that scored Aaron Judge, who had been hit by a pitch but ended up with a brutal game (three strikeouts, one ground into double play). Brett Gardner celebrated his 33rd birthday by driving in a run and scoring two. Ronald Torreyes singled, his ninth hit in 16 at-bats (.563) with four doubles, one homer and three RBI on the trip. Mark Teixeira drove in a run with a single and Starlin Castro with a sacrifice fly. Dellin Betances bailed Tyler Clippard out of a jam in the eighth and notched his sixth save.

All of that helped Girardi become the sixth manager in Yankees history to reach the 800-victory mark. He joined Joe McCarthy (1,460), Joe Torre (1,173), Casey Stengel (1,149), Miller Huggins (1,067) and Ralph Houk (944).

Yankees lose home run derby to Mariners

The day he was notified that he was the American League Player of the Week for the games that ended Sunday night Gary Sanchez went out and campaigned for winning the award again this week. The rookie catcher continued the impressive start to his major league career Monday night, although his performance was not sufficient to prevent the Yankees from dropping a 7-5 decision to the Mariners in a game in which all the runs were the result of home runs, an unusual sight in spacious Safeco Field.

Sanchez cranked two home runs, which made him the first player in club history to total eight dingers in his first 19 major-league games. He connected for a solo home run off Seattle starter Cody Martin with two out in the first inning. Then after Kyle Seager put the Mariners ahead, 3-2, with a three-run home run off Michael Pineda in the fourth inning, Sanchez regained the lead for the Yanks with a two-run bomb over the center field wall in the sixth.

Two batters after Sanchez’s two home runs were a couple of solo shots by Starlin Castro, which marked the first time two Yankees teammates homered twice in the same game since Oct. 3, 2012 by Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.

Cano now plays second base for the Mariners and had three hits Monday night. He nearly had a 4-for-4 game, but Jacoby Ellsbury robbed Cano of a potential extra-base hit with a dazzling, running catch in right-center in the eighth inning. The next batter, Nelson Cruz, homered to left off Kirby Yates for the seventh round-tripper of the night. On his 32nd home run of the season, Cruz broke his bat and the Yankees’ backs.

They threatened in the ninth against a shaky Edwin Diaz, who walked Brian McCann on four pitches to start the inning, gave up a one-out single to Chase Headley and then balked the potential tying runs into scoring position before recovering to retire pinch hitter Mark Teixeira on a fly ball and Brett Gardner on a grounder.

The key blow came in the bottom of the sixth when Yankees manager Joe Girardi made a quick hook of Pineda after he walked Seager with two out. Pineda had thrown only 82 pitches to that point, but Girardi called on lefthander Tommy Layne to face lefty-swinging Adam Lind, who popped up for the second out.

Girardi then brought in righthander Anthony Swarzak to face righty-swinging Mike Zunino. This did not turn out as well. The Mariners catcher drove a 3-2 slider into the right field seats that as it turned out put Seattle ahead for good.

The Yankees tried to get Sanchez an at-bat in the ninth, but the rally ended two batters before his next turn. He had another solid night back of the plate as well as Sanchez threw out another base runner to end the seventh inning.

Bullpen breakdown costs Yanks chance to advance

There was a time until last month when the Yankees might have easily put away Tuesday night’s game even after the Blue Jays had cut a 6-0 deficit to 6-4 in the sixth inning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi could have turned to his No Runs DMC formula of having Dellin Betances come on in the seventh, Andrew Miller in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.

That setup became history when the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs and Miller to the Indians to acquire needed prospects to help bolster the farm system and bring promise to the future. The Yankees brought Adam Warren back to the organization from the Cubs in the Chapman deal. Warren had pitched very well since returning to the Yankees until Tuesday night when he experienced a nightmare of an eighth inning that propelled the Blue Jays to a come-from-behind 12-6 victory.

If only it had kept raining back between halves of the fifth inning when a severe thunderstorm halted play for 42 minutes. With the Yankees ahead 5-0 at the time, it would have been an official game had the rain not subsided. The Yankees actually added to their lead when play resumed on a two-out, RBI single by Didi Gregorius, who had also driven in their first run with a home run (No. 16) in the first inning. That pushed the shortstop past Brian McCann for the club lead in homers.

Speaking of the long ball, rookie catcher Gary Sanchez whacked two home runs, a solo shot in the second and a three-run bomb in the fourth.

All that offense looked safe in the hands of Michael Pineda, who pitched five scoreless innings with four hits allowed, no walks and two strikeouts in sinking his season ERA below 5.00 (4.89) for the first time all year. Pineda was victimized by the storm as Girardi had to go to his bullpen which was not up to the task. On a night when they were primed to beat Toronto and with Baltimore also losing, the Yankees lost a major opportunity to gain ground in the American League East standings and wild-card chase.

Anthony Swarzak was stung by home runs to Troy Tulowitzki, who was 4-for-5, and Russell Martin, in the sixth as Toronto closed to 6-4. But it was the eighth inning that was a true disaster.

Warren entered the game having pitched 11 shutout innings since rejoining the Yanks. He was in trouble from the beginning as Josh Donaldson won a 12-pitch duel in drawing a leadoff walk. Edwin Encarnacion then tied the score with his 34th home run, a tracer’s bullet to left field.

One out later, Tulwotzski singled for his fourth hit and Martin cranked his second homer of the game. Chasen Shreve came on and faced five batters, all of whom reached base (two hits, two walks, one hit batter) and all but one scored. Michael Saunders’ double to drive in the eighth run of the 47-minute half inning meant that the entire lineup reached base during the frame, which is not something you see every day.

The Yankees hope they never see it again.

Severino should learn from Rivera’s example

It would have been an ideal situation if Dellin Betances came to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday to nail down a save on the same day Major League Baseball’s career saves leader, Mariano Rivera, was honored by the Yankees with a plaque in Monument Park.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, there was nowhere near a save situation for Betances as they lost a chance to pay the Rays back for that sweep in St. Petersburg, Fla., two weekend ago with a 12-3 loss that fell under the category of growing pains.

It certainly was a painful start for Luis Severino, whose record fell to 1-7 with a 7.19 ERA, in an erratic outing. He struck out seven batters in 3 2/3 innings but also allowed eight hits, including two home runs, and seven earned runs. Minutes after the game’s end, the Yankees optioned the righthander to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to continue to sort out his problems.

In watching Severino struggle, I could not help but see a possible connection to Rivera, who also had trying moments as a starter for the Yankees early in his career before finding a home in the back end of the bullpen. In three relief outings over 8 1/3 innings, Severino has allowed one run, and it was not earned. His ERA as a starter is 8.58. Could his future be in the pen?

“We are still looking at him as a starter,” manager Joe Girardi said, “but time will tell.”

It was not a good time for anyone named Luis Sunday. Luis Cessa was rocked for five earned runs and five hits in three innings. It was a much different picture for the youth corps from Saturday’s uplifting victory. Aaron Judge hit another home run, and Gary Sanchez also went deep, but it was a subdued day for the Yanks overall.

The positive aspect for the crowd of 41,473 at Yankee Stadium was the ceremony for Rivera, who joined other team immortals in Monument Park. Former teammates David Cone, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Paul O’Neill and Jorge Posada; former manager Joe Torre; former pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre; former trainer Gene Monahan and current trainer Steve Donohue took part in the ceremony along with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, his wife Cristina and sister Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.

“Some closers are great, but nobody was like that,” Steinbrenner said in the hallway outside the clubhouse. “So to have kind of a sure thing was something that we never took for granted, but we certainly became comfortable with it, then all of the sudden he retires, and it’s a whole different world.”

Among accomplishments listed on Mo’s plaque was his records for saves (652) and games finished (952) and a remarkable postseason earned run average of 0.70 in 141 innings and an appropriate total of saves, 42, matching his uniform number that was retired last year.

“It’s amazing, thinking about all of the people out there in Monument Park, starting with Babe Ruth,” Rivera said after the ceremony. “You have Mickey [Mantle], you have Mr. Joe DiMaggio and my favorite Yogi Berra, and the list is going on and on. And then me, a humble guy from Puerto Caimito, Panama, being in that group of men means a lot.”

Rivera is the ninth pitcher to have a plaque in Monument Park. He joined Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing and Goose Gossage, along with Stottlemyre, Pettitte, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds.

As he was leaving the clubhouse area to rejoin his family, Mo told me a story I had never heard before. It seems that about a month after the Yankees won the 1998 World Series to complete that dominant 125-50 season (counting their 11-2 postseason mark), Rivera went to the Instructional League in Tampa to work with Stottlemyre.

“Mel wanted to help me work on using fewer pitches to get through innings,” Rivera said. “He emphasized me not trying to strike everybody out but to move the ball around the strike zone to get ahead in the count and make the hitters take more defensive swings. Mel was a great influence on my career.”

That episode in Rivera’s career says all there needs to be said about his devotion to his craft. The Yankees had just completed one of the most incredible seasons any team put together, and there was one of the club’s most important figures going back to the drawing board to make himself even better. That is why Mo earned that plaque.

Rookie pair take the baton from A-Rod

On the first day of Yankees baseball without Alex Rodriguez, the franchise turned back the clock to honor its World Series title club of 20 years ago and then offered a glimpse into the future with a starting lineup containing some new names.

And those names, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, made history right away. They became the first teammates to hit home runs in their first major league plate appearances in the same game. On top of that, they did so in successive at-bats.

Austin was still getting high-fived in the dugout after his drive into the lower right field stands when Judge smoked a thunderous clout that hit off the facade above the batter’s eye in dead center field well above Monument Park.


Tyler Austin (left) congratulated  for first major-league home run by teammate Aaron Judge, who followed suit minutes later (USA Today photo). 

“You can’t draw it up better than that,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We were even able to get both balls back. Austin’s bounced back onto the field, and Aaron’s went into the net. That was special.”

Each newcomer had a 2-for-4 game and displayed electric potential. Less than 24 hours after Yankees fans bid farewell to A-Rod, a new era was emerging before an enthusiastic crowd of 41,682 at Yankee Stadium. The paperwork of granting Rodriguez his unconditional release cleared a roster spot for Austin, who went to work immediately at first base for a resting Mark Teixeira.

After left fielder Brett Gardner, who has hit by a pitch Friday night, notified Girardi that he would not be a player Saturday, the Yankees got word to Judge, who was in upstate Rochester with Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, around midnight. He made the lengthy drive down the Dewey Thruway, hit the city at around 6 a.m. and reported for duty four hours later.

It did not take either rookie long to get into the mix. Each touched the ball in the first inning, which I always think is important for a player making his big-league debut. It gets him in the game from the outset. Austin took a throw at first base from shortstop Didi Gregorius, and Judge made a nice play tracking a fly ball to right field by Evan Longoria.

Look, Friday night was a nice sentimental sendoff to a once great player, but after watching Rodriguez swing behind fastballs for the better part of a .200 season and hit even below that over the past seven calendar months, change was refreshing. Former Scranton teammates Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine were on the field as well. The Yankees are definitely showing off a new look.

Some veterans did their part in the 8-4 victory over the Rays. Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Gregorius, in the unfamiliar role as cleanup hitter, also went deep as the Yankees matched their season high for homers in a game with five. The amazing part of that is that none in the quintet is over the age of 26.

The outburst helped Masahiro Tanaka offset two home runs by Tampa Bay first baseman Phil Miller, which accounted for all the Rays’ runs. Tanaka was pretty effective against everybody else in a no-walk, eight-strikeout effort over seven innings.

Before the game, a reunion of the 1996 World Series champions brought some of that era’s favorites onto the field for a pregame ceremony in which players emerged from the gate between the visitors’ bullpen and Monument Park and walked to their former positions — Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Wade Boggs, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Jimmy Key, Cecil Fielder, David Cone, John Wetteland, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Girardi, among others. Arriving on carts were coaches Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph and Jose Cardenal in one and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre with manager Joe Torre in another. There was also a tribute to the late Don Zimmer on the center field screen.

This was the unit that rebounded from the playoff loss to Seattle the year before to begin a dynastic run that led to in six American League pennants and four World Series titles over eight seasons. As Yankees fans witnessed Saturday, it has to start somewhere.

A-Rod has impact in final game with the Yankees

There was no home run, which would have made the night ideal, but his final game for the Yankees Friday night was all that Alex Rodriguez could have hoped for. He got a run-scoring double his first time up, hit the ball hard in two of his three other at-bats and even got to take the field one last time at third base.

All the while he listened to a capacity crowd of 46,469 at Yankee Stadium shower him with applause, chants of “A-Rod!” and “We want Alex!” throughout the muggy summer evening. Manager Joe Girardi, who has faced criticism for not playing Rodriguez more often this week, broke down in the interview room after the 6-3 victory over the Rays, which indicated that his decision to bench A-Rod was purely based on the 41-year-old’s declining ability and not for any other reason.

It was Girardi who approached Rodriguez after his final at-bat in the seventh inning and asked him if he wanted to wear his glove one more time. The answer was easy for A-Rod. As fans were bellowing “We want A-Rod!” their hero trotted onto the field at the start of the ninth inning. After the first out by Dellin Betances, who struck out the side to earn his fourth save, Girardi sent Ronald Torreyes out to third base, which allowed Rodriguez to receive yet another ovation from the crowd.

“I can’t say enough about the fans,” Rodriguez said. “With all that I have been through, for all those people to be here and show me love was overwhelming.”

It is true that for the most part Yankees fans have rallied around Rodriguez, who has tried very hard to win back their support after an ugly period in 2014 when he was suspended for the season for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and went on a campaign to discredit the commissioner’s office, the Yankees, their doctors and even his union, the Major League Players Association.

Since his return in 2015, Rodriguez has apologized profusely for that behavior and has tried hard to make amends. But after a very strong first four months last year, A-Rod fell into a steady decline that continued into this season to the point that he lost at-bats as the designated hitter against right-handed pitching. An agreement with Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner led to Friday night, Rodriguez’s last in a Yankees uniform.

It was a night filled with joy and success. Starlin Castro drove in four runs with a two-run single and a two-run home run. Aaron Hicks, who has struggled himself to win over fans, also homered. CC Sabathia pitched six gutty innings for only his second victory in 10 starts since June 16.

Rodriguez was happy that he was able to contribute to a victory in his last game in pinstripes. Whether it is his last game in any big-league uniform seems to be a matter of conjecture.

“This will be pretty tough to top,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know what else a man can ask for.”

Before leaving the field, Rodriguez walked over to his old third base position, scooped up some dirt and placed it in his pocket. He later put the dirt in a pouch when he changed into civvies.

“It was something I saw Roger Clemens do, and I thought it was cool,” Rodriguez said. “Third base is where I lived in my time with the Yankees. I wanted to take some of that with me.”

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