Results tagged ‘ Triple A ’

Injuries piling up down the stretch for Yankees

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had something of a makeshift lineup for Sunday night’s finale of the four-game series at Fenway Park where they hoped to avoid a sweep. Three of the players in the Yankees’ batting order were not even on the club a week ago.

Injuries to second baseman Starlin Castro and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury sustained in Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Red Sox forced Girardi to improvise. Mason Williams, who was recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last week, started in center field. At second base was Donovan Solano, who was called up Sunday morning. At first base was Billy Butler, who was released by the Athletics two weeks and signed by the Yankees last week.

Also out of the lineup was third baseman Chase Headley, who has a stiff lower back. Ronald Torreyes started in his place.

Castro’s injury is the most serious, a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring. He pulled up lame while running out a double in the fifth inning. Such ailment often takes two weeks to recover from, and that is all that is left of the Yankees’ season. His loss comes at a time when he has been hot with 12 hits, including a home run and three doubles, in his past 24 at-bats.

Ellsbury bruised his right knee sliding into the fence in right-center field while tracking a double by Xander Bogaerts that started the two-run rally in which the Red Sox overtook the Yankees and knocked them behind four clubs in pursuit of the second American League Wild Card slot in the playoffs. Luis Severino was charged with his first earned run in 20 innings as a reliever as the Red Sox tied the score. They got the winning run on a wild pitch by Adam Warren.

Castro and Ellsbury underwent MRI exams Sunday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and were treated by Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team physician. Both players are expected to rejoin the club in St. Petersburg, Fla., by Tuesday night when the Yanks open a three-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Yankees get over the three-game series sweep hump

Finally.

The Yankees found a way to sweep a three-game series — just make sure the other team does not score. Wednesday night marked the eighth time this season that the Yankees went into the finale of a three-game series after having won the first two games and the first time they completed a sweep.

They have had two sweeps of four games and one of two games this season, but it took me them until their 34th three-game series of the season to sweep an opponent, and not just any opponent but the team that came to town Monday night in first place in the American League East.

The Yankees cost the Blue Jays sole possession of the top spot earlier in the series as the Red Sox moved into a first-place tie. A possible Boston victory later Wednesday night at San Diego could have shoved Toronto into second place.

Meanwhile, up, up, up go the Yankees in the AL East standings and the wild card race. Should the Red Sox have also lost, the Yanks would have been only 3 1/2 games out of first place. As for the wild card scenario, the Orioles, Tigers and Astros all lost, so the Yankees trail Baltimore by 2 1/2 games, Detroit by 1 1/2 and Houston by 1/2. Tight, tight, tight.

The Yankees have won 10 of their past 14 games, 17 of their past 26 and are 29-21 since the All-Star break. Not bad for a club that dealt its three best players before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trading deadline and bid three-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez farewell Aug. 12. The Yankees are 14-9 in the post-A-Rod era.

The vacancies have been filled by energetic pitchers and hitters up from the organization-wide success in the minor leagues. Two of the youth corps, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino, combined for eight scoreless innings in Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory.

The Yankees got both runs after two were out in the third off Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman. Starlin Castro slammed his 20th home run of the season. Didi Gregorius doubled into the left field corner and scored following a walk to Mark Teixeira on a single by Brian McCann. Castro’s homer was hits 20th, a career high. He is the fourth Yankees second baseman with a 20-homer season. Robinson Cano did it five times, Hall of Famer Joe Gordon four and Alfonso Soriano two.

Mitchell probably would have broken camp with the Yankees in April, but a left toe tear kept him on the disabled list until last month when he worked his way back with Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The righthander pitched one batter into the sixth and allowed four hits and two walks with two strikeouts before turning matters over to Severino.

Yankees officials still consider Severino a starter, but he has been far more effective as a reliever this year. The numbers do not lie. With three more scoreless, one-hit, one-walk, three-strikeout innings, Severino is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 14 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. As a starter, Severino was 0-8 with an 8.58 ERA in 43 innings.

Manager Joe Girardi’s plan was to have Severino available to support Mitchell (1-0), and it worked perfectly. Tyler Clippard worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his second save.

More AL East competition is coming up with the last-place Rays coming to Yankee Stadium for a four-game set starting Thursday night. And just when the Yanks were getting a hand of this three-game series stuff.

Gardner Yanks’ nominee for Clemente Award

Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award and will be recognized before Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium as part of the 15th annual Roberto Clemente Day.

The award has been presented annually since 1971 and named for the Hall of Fame outfielder two years later after his death in a plane crash while on a mission to Nicaragua to aid victims of an earthquake. The Roberto Clemente Award recognizes a player from each major league club who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”

Gardner was a charter member of the Taylor Hooton Foundation’s Advisory Board to educate youth about performance-enhancing drugs. The left fielder’s extensive community outreach also notably includes heavy involvement with the Ronald McDonald House in both New York and his home state of South Carolina.

Yankees winners of the award were Derek Jeter in 2009, Don Baylor in 1985 and Ron Guidry in 1984.

The Yankees’ top-five minor league affiliates all qualified for the 2016 postseason in their respective leagues: Triple-A Scranton/WB (91-52), Double-A Trenton (87-55), Single-A Tampa (77-58), Single-A Charleston (76-63) and Short-season Single-A Staten Island (44-31). The Yankees are one of two organizations whose minor league affiliates qualified for the postseason at all four full-season levels. The other is the Mariners. The Yankees’ four Yankees affiliates combined for a 331-228 (.592) record.

Gamel traded, Young obtained in minor league deals

One day after being named the International League Player of the Year, outfielder Ben Gamel was traded by the Yankees to Seattle for right-handed pitchers Juan De Paula and Jio Orozco. They also acquired outfielder Eric Young Jr. from Milwaukee for cash considerations and assigned him to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

De Paula, 18, was 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 41 innings over 11 games, including seven starts, for the Rookie-level Arizona League Mariners this year. Originally signed as a non-drafted free agent July 2, 2014, the 6-foot-3, 165-pounder is in his second minor league season after pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2015. Overall, the Santo Domingo native has a 6-6 minor league record with a 2.58 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings in 25 games (21 starts).

Orozco, 19, was 2-2 with a 4.07 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings in 12 games, including five starts, for the Arizona League Mariners. Originally drafted in the 14th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, the 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound native of Tucson, Ariz., has played both his minor league seasons with the AZL Mariners and has an overall record of 5-3 with a 3.73 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 70 innings in 20 games (eight starts).

Gamel, 24, made his major-league debut with the Yankees this year and had 1-for-8 (.125) with a walk in six games. His IL MVP season at SWB featured his hitting .308 was named the International League MVP this season after hitting .308 (149-for-483) with 80 runs, 26 doubles, five triples, six home runs, 51 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 116 games and 483 at-bats. In 660 games over seven minor league seasons, Gamel is a .288 hitter with 349 runs, 160 doubles, 32 triples, 26 homers, 311 RBI and 94 stolen bases in 2,617 at-bats. He was originally selected by the Yankees in the 10th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Young, 31, played in 116 games this year with Triple-A Colorado Springs and batted .263 with 48 runs, nine doubles, two triples, three home runs, 30 RBI, 30 walks, 23 steals and a .338 on-base percentage in 289 at-bats. Originally selected in the 30th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, the switch-hitting outfielder has played in seven major-league seasons and hit .247 with 237 runs, 58 doubles, 20 triples, eight home runs, 88 RBI and 144 stolen bases in 557 games and 1,505 at-bats combined with the Rockies (2009-13), Mets (2013-15) and Braves (2015). In 2013, Young led the National League in stolen bases with 46.

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.

Second verse same as the first

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez became the first rookie in major league history to win the Player of the Week Award in consecutive weeks Monday as he was named American League Player of the Week again for the period ending Aug. 28.

Sanchez batted .522 with seven runs, three doubles, five home runs and nine RBI over six games and 23 at-bats to claim his second straight weekly honor. He was the first player to win the award in successive weeks since the White Sox’ Albert Belle in 1998 (July 6-12 and July 13-19). Sanchez is the fourth Yankees player to win consecutive awards. The others were Don Mattingly in 1987 (July 6-12 and July 13-19), Dave Winfield in 1983 (Aug. 1-7 and Aug. 8-14) and Graig Nettles in 1974 (April 8-14 and April 15-21). Sanchez has already won the award as often as the only other Yankees catcher honored, Thurman Munson, another two-time winner.

Sanchez finished the period first in extra-base hits (eight), slugging percentage (1.304) and total bases (30); tied for first in home runs; second in batting average, on-base percentage (.607) and RBI; tied for third in runs; tied for fourth in hits and tied for sixth in doubles and walks (five).

Sanchez began his award-winning week last Monday night with a two-homer game against the Mariners at Seattle’s Safeco Field, his second career two-homer game after also hitting two jacks Aug. 16 against the Blue Jays. The Dominican Republic native became the first player in franchise history with two multi-homer games within his first 19 career games.

Saturday against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, Sanchez hit his third home run in three days and the 11th of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the right-handed-swinging, 23-year-old Triple A call-up became the first Yankees player since Tino Martinez (April 5-15, 2005) to club nine home runs in a 10-game span, dating back to Aug. 16.

In his 23rd career game, Sanchez became the quickest player in major league history to hit his first 11 home runs. Additionally, his 11-homer month extended his Yankees rookie record for home runs in a calendar month. The Brewers’ Ryan Braun was the previous bug-league rookie to launch 11 homers in a calendar month, in July of his 2007 National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award-winning season.

Sanchez was the AL Player of the Week for Aug. 8-15 when he had a slash line of .524/.600/1.190 with four runs, two doubles, four homers, six RBI, four walks and one stolen base in 25 plate appearances.

Teammate Starlin Castro (.370, 6 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI) was also in contention for last week’s award, along with Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (.391, 9 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI); Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 13 IP, 11 K), Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (.394, 13 H, 3 HR, 7 RBI); Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.600, .643 OBP, 15 H, 2 SB); Red Sox pitcher David Price (2-0, 1.29 ERA, 14 IP, 15 K); Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (.435, .739 SLG, 10 H, 4 2B) and Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (.462, 5 R, 12 H, 2 HR).

A former teammate of Sanchez was also honored Monday. Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s Jonathan Holder was named International League Pitcher of the Week for Aug. 22-28 after posting two saves and striking out 16-of-20 batters over three scoreless appearances in which the righthander allowed two hits in six innings. In Sunday’s victory over Rochester that clinched a postseason berth for the RailRiders, Holder struck out 12-of-13 batters in four scoreless innings, including 11 K’s in a row. In 12 appearances at Triple-A, Holder is 2-0 with six saves and a 0.89 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings.

Sanchez (who else?) leads Yankees’ charge

The Yankees finally made it to five games over .500 for the first time this season in pushing their record to 66-61. Four times previously, they came within one game of that mark only to lose the next game. The Yanks made sure that did not happen again Friday night as they let the Orioles know they have them in their sights.

The Yankees also got over the monotony of a scoreboard line of five runs, nine hits and no errors, which is what it was in each of the three games of their prior series at Seattle. The only match this time was no errors because the Yankees cranked out 14 runs and 18 hits.

This will probably come as no big surprise, but Gary Sanchez had another big night for the Yankees. The catcher, who is putting himself in possible contention for the Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year Award, drove in four runs with a home run, a double and a single. The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre call-up continues to rake at a .403 clip with 10 home runs and 20 RBI in 20 games and 77 at-bats.

This is Willie McCovey stuff.

What do I mean by that? In their second season in San Francisco, the Giants brought up McCovey, the future Hall of Fame first baseman, July 30, 1959. He went 4-for-4 with two triples and two RBI and kept right on hitting to where he batted .354 with nine doubles, five triples, 13 home runs and 38 RBI and was the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year winner despite playing in only 52 games and totaling 192 at-bats. Sanchez is on a similar pace with 35 games remaining in the regular season.

“He seems to center ball he hits,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It has been exciting to watch.”

Sanchez, who has eight home runs in his past nine games, became the third player in major league history to hit 10 homers in his first 22 career games. The others were the Rockies’ Trevor Story this year and the Red Sox’ George Scott in 1966. Sanchez’s 20 RBI in his first 22 big-league games is the third most in club history. Joe DiMaggio had 22 in 1936 and Hideki Matsui 21 in 2003. With 10 homers in 19 games this month, Sanchez set a franchise rookie record for home runs in a single month. They are the most in a month by any Yankees player since Alfonso Soriano hit 13 homers in August 2013.

Of the nine players in the Yankees’ starting lineup, seven had multiple hits in the game. In addition to Sanchez’s trio of knocks, Starlin Castro also had three with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley and Ronald Torreyes chiming in with two apiece. Teixeira and Headley joined Sanchez in the home run column. Tex and Gardner each had three RBI. All nine starters had hits and eight scored.

There was more good news on the mound for the Yankees as Luis Cessa improved his record to 4-0 by winning his second straight start. If not for Manny Machado, who drove in all three Orioles runs off Cessa, the righthander would have been working on a shutout. He gave up only three other hits and a walk with five strikeouts in six innings. After pitching to a 5.30 ERA in 17 relief outings totaling 18 2/3 innings, Cessa is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings in his first two big-league starts.

The Yankees’ 14-4 victory over Baltimore also sliced a game off the deficit between them and the Orioles for the second wild card slot. The Yanks trail the O’s by only 3 1/2 games.

Mac, Gardy join youth corps to beat Angels again

The Yankees’ youth movement continued to pay early dividends Saturday night in a 5-1 victory over the Angels, although not all the faces who made important contributions were that fresh. Some hearty veterans did their part as well.

The Yanks came within an inning of their second straight shutout against an Angels club lingering in last place in the American League West. The Angels finally got on the board when Albert Pujols hit the first pitch Dellin Betances offered in the bottom of the ninth inning to left field for his 583rd career home run, which tied him with former Cardinals teammate Mark McGwire for 10th place on the all-time list.

That has been the only run given up in Anaheim by the Yankees, who have a chance not only to sweep this series in the finale Sunday but also the season series. They swept the Halos in a four-game set at Yankee Stadium in early June.

Luis Cessa limited the Angels to two hits, both singles, in pitching one batter into the seventh inning in his first major-league start. Obtained with fellow rookie Chad Green, who will start Sunday, from the Tigers in an off-season traded for reliever Justin Wilson, Cessa walked only one batter and struck out five to boost his record to 3-0 and lower his earned run average from 5.30 to 4.01.

The Yankees provided Cessa a 3-0 lead before he took the mound beginning with a solo home run by his catcher, Gary Sanchez, that started a two-out rally against Angels starter Ricky Nolasco. Youthful veterans Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro kept the line moving with a single and double, respectively, before the more grizzled vet Brian McCann, who has settled in nicely as the designated hitter, drove both runners home with a single.

Big Mac was also part of the Yankees’ two-run sixth in which he put himself into scoring position with a stolen base, a first since 2012 for the weary-legged catcher by trade. After his single sent Castro, who had also singled, to third base, McCann took off to the surprise of Nolasco and swiped second. And Big Mac was not finished running. He barreled his way home on a single to right field by Aaron Judge, another newcomer from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre who has made a positive early impression.

McCann has been used as the DH to give the Yanks a long look at Sanchez behind the plate. He worked smoothly with Cessa and also showed off his strong arm by throwing out Kole Calhoun at first base in the sixth inning when the Angels right fielder drifted too far off the bag.

The fielding gem of the game, however, came from left fielder Brett Gardner, who had a brutal game offensively (0-for-5) but more than made up for it with his circus catch in the seventh to rob C.J. Cron of a home run. Gardner leaped high, reached over the wall and had to contend with two glove-wearing fans to haul in Cron’s drive and somehow kept his balance by leaning his lower back across the top of the fence.

It was a remarkable play on another remarkable night in Anaheim for a Yankees team trying awfully hard to get back into playoff contention.

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.