It’s the same story ever year when it comes to the first Spring Training game.
The Yankees play the first game in their home pinstripes, but every game after that sport their navy blue batting practice jerseys. There are critics who say, “It’s Spring Training. Who cares? These games don’t matter.” Then there are so-called “marks” (like me) who say, “Baseball is back. It’s not exactly Opening Day, but we are watching a Yankee baseball game in the winter.”
There are players wearing numbers in the high 90s and contrary to regular season games, Spring Training games can end in ties. What’s more, by the time the game reaches the sixth inning, there’s usually no one but minor leaguers on the field.
Still, it’s baseball. And a lot of people remain interested in these exhibitions.
Today the Yanks began their Spring Training journey with a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies…or basically Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Raul Ibanez and a whole bunch of Phillies who will either be backups or start the 2011 regular season in the minors.
Most of the Yankee regulars played today, aside from Russell Martin–his knee is still recovering from surgery and according to Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, he might be behind the plate catching live by the end of next week.
Francisco Cervelli started at catcher today and got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the second. After Robinson Cano reached on an error (originally ruled a base hit) Cervelli laced a double down the left field line to knot the game at one.
Mark Teixeira looked good in his first game with an RBI triple in the fifth to score Eduardo Nunez.
Minor Leaguer Jorge Vazquez had two hits, one being a bomb. Vazquez smashed a two-run home run over the batter’s eye in centerfield, which gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Unfortunately their lead was short-lived.
A blooper by Dan Sardinha in the top of the eighth off Eric Wordekemper plated two runs for the Phils and gave them a 5-4 lead.
The Phillies previously scored two runs in the fifth off reliever and 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, David Phelps. Pete Orr doubled to score Wilson Valdez and Orr later came to the plate on an RBI single by Ross Gload.
Jeff Larish grounded into a 6-4-3 double play which scored Ben Francisco to give the Phils a 1-0 lead in the top half of the second. Francisco tripled to reach third on a ball Nick Swisher could have played for a single.
Was it an ugly game? Yes, but most Spring Training games are. Are the Yankees looking to win? Yes and no. It’s more to get a feel for the season and to prepare, and even the most jaded fan can tell they are not “loading up with big bullets and guns,” so-to-speak.
Bartolo Colon got the nod to start by Girardi, who felt Colon would be ready to pitch since he played winter ball. Colon’s line wasn’t terrible: two innings pitched, two hits, an earned run, a walk and no strikeouts. He only tossed 36 pitches.
For Philly, Hamels made the start and his line was almost identical to Colon’s: two innings pitched, one hit, an earned run, a walk, and two Ks.
The Yanks and Phillies will travel across Tampa Bay and play again at the Phillies’ home base in Clearwater tomorrow afternoon.
Notes & Things to Out Look For
· The Yankees honored the late George Steinbrenner with a ceremony before their first Spring Training game today. Only fitting, considering it was their first preseason game without their boss. It was a beautiful gesture and I am sure the Steinbrenner family is appreciative of all the love the Yankees are showing their fallen boss.
· Ken Singleton of the YES Network said A.J. Burnett threw to hitters during live batting practice the other day and looked exceptional. According to Singy, Burnett’s fastball was “crackling,” his curveball had tilt, and his delivery “has been re-visited.” It sounds as if new Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild has helped him a lot and the season hasn’t even started yet. He will pitch Wednesday March 2 vs. the Houston Astros.
· It’s already been established that Joba Chamberlain will be a bullpen pitcher this season. He does look heavier, but he was pretty good in relief today. Chamberlain pitched a 1-2-3 third inning with one strikeout. He topped out on the speed gun in the mid-90s.
· David Robertson pitched a scoreless fourth inning with two strikeouts, no hits, and a walk. He and Chamberlain might be battling this spring for the primary middle relief role, what with Rafael Soriano in the eighth inning role. Either way, the Yankee bullpen will shape out. I think they will be a solid corps of relievers and probably be at the top of the league.
· Top pitching prospects Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Manuel Banuelos have been nicknamed “The Killer B’s.” All will be starting 2011 in the minors but can make that push for the bigs. Girardi said Banuelos is “way ahead of his age” (only being 19, but will turn 20 on March 13).
· David Phelps is a 14th round draft pick out of Notre Dame and the Yankees’ Pitcher of the Year for 2010. He didn’t really impress me much today, giving up two earned runs on three hits. But it’s only the first game. Lucky for him, he has time to impress.
· Alex Rodriguez hit a double today but didn’t score. He looks good and I expect him to have a typical “A-Rod season,” if you will. No need to overanalyze him.
· Andruw Jones played in pinstripes for the first time today. He drew two walks and struck out, and was also picked off at first base. He isn’t as fast as he used to be, but he will definitely be a better defensive player than Marcus Thames. Jones is wearing Johnny Damon’s old number, 18.
· The end of the top of the seventh inning today ended in style. Outfielder Justin Maxwell, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the off-season, made a sweet diving catch to end the frame. Very nice work from Maxwell; he could be a great asset to the Yanks. Or trade bait. Today I read Francisco Liriano is on the Yankees’ radar.
· When I said that Jorge Vazquez’s home run was a bomb, I meant it. He crushed the ball over the batter’s eye in centerfield–not a cheap home run. He also had a base hit in the ninth to keep the Yankees’ little rally alive, although they couldn’t finish it. If that isn’t making a great first impression, I don’t know what is. Finally, a guy named Vazquez doing something positive for the Yankees…
· Bartolo Colon is fat. We all know.
Tied at two in the top of the seventh inning of tonight’s game, Minnesota Twins’ starter Carl Pavano pumped a 91mph fastball right over the plate to Yankees’ designated hitter Lance Berkman on a 1-2 count. Pavano took a few steps off the mound, expecting home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt to ring Berkman up.
No such luck.
The pitch was called a ball and then, with a 2-2 count, Berkman doubled in Jorge Posada, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead. New York added two more runs after the botched call and went on to win the game 5-2 and take a two games-to-none lead over the Twins in American League Division Series.
“It was a tough pitch,” Berkman told the media after the game.
“I thought it was in and off the plate. The umpire was not giving much inside all night and he was pretty consistent with that. I really thought it was in, that’s why I didn’t swing.”
Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire, who is said to have a troubled relationship with Wendelstedt, was run from the game after arguing the call. Despite their rocky history, Gardenhire stated after the game that he spoke with Wendelstedt and they have “cleared the air.”
In addition to his RBI double in the seventh, Berkman broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth with a solo home run, an opposite-field blast that landed in the Twins’ bullpen behind the left-centerfield wall.
Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter contributed to the Yankee scoring, both with RBI singles. Granderson drove in Brett Gardner in the seventh while Jeter padded the Yankees’ lead in the ninth, driving in Berkman.
Alex Rodriguez initially got the Yanks on the board with a sacrifice fly in the fourth, driving in Granderson.
Minnesota only managed two runs off postseason stud Andy Pettitte. In the bottom of the second, Danny Valencia drove in Delmon Young with a sacrifice fly to right field. Later in the sixth Orlando Hudson got around on a hanging, inside curve ball and drove it into the left field stands for a solo home run that knotted the game at two.
Aside from those two hiccups, Pettitte was dealing. He tossed seven strong innings of work and scattered five hits while walking one batter and striking out seven. With the win, Pettitte now has 19 career playoff victories, the most of any pitcher in baseball history.
Backing Pettitte was Kerry Wood, who tossed a perfect eighth inning out of ‘pen. Mariano Rivera nailed it down in the ninth for his 41st career postseason save and second in as many nights. Rivera also lowered his postseason earned run average to 0.73, which is the lowest all-time among any pitcher.
Pettitte and Rivera seem to be a dynamic postseason duo.
The Yankees have now beaten the Twins in eight consecutive postseason games dating back to 2004 and will look for their ninth win in a row on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.
If you want my honest opinion, the blown call really wasn’t fair. Much like Francisco Liriano last night, Carl Pavano was holding his own for the better part of the game. He finished the night with six innings pitched, he scattered 10 hits, gave up four earned runs, only walked one batter, and struck out three.
Pavano didn’t pitch poorly and he caught a bad break on that blown call. That almost personifies his whole career–a bad call; a bad break. I would have rather had Berkman strike out looking and win the game another way, not by a bad call by the home plate ump.
I hate to say it…
But I don’t think the Twins have it in them. I don’t think they will ever be a team built strong enough for the playoffs. They have not won a postseason game since 2004 and the Yankees have just had their number for the better part of the past 10-12 years. When you really think about it:
· The Yankees eliminated them from postseason contention three times in the last seven years, and potentially could eliminate them four times in eight years if they win this year’s ALDS.
· The Yankees threw a perfect game against Minnesota (David Wells; May 17, 1998)
· Under Ron Gardenhire, the Yankees are now 56-18 against the Twins.
· The Twins have been outscored 63-34 in all postseason games since winning Game One of the 2004 ALDS vs. the Yankees.
· The Twins have now lost 11 straight postseason games. Eight of those losses have come at the hands of the Yankees.
· Going back to last season (including the 2009 and ’10 postseasons) the Twins are 2-14 in their last 16 meetings with the Yankees. Both of their wins came this past regular season (May 16 and May 27 this year)
I refuse to say that the Twins are done right now. In 2004, I repeatedly stated that the Red Sox were done after losing three straight American League Championship Series game to the Yankees and…well…everyone knows what happened. They made history, won four in a row, came from behind, won the pennant, embarrassed the Yankees….
Yeah. It was not pretty. In fact it was my worst sports experience.
However, it will be extremely difficult for them to come back and win. The Twins would have to win two games in Yankee Stadium, then come home and win the final game in order to advance. Considering how well CC Sabathia responds in big games and how dominant Pettitte was tonight, things are not looking up for the Twins.
Not saying it can’t be done…but it will be tough for them.
See you after Saturday night’s game.
Around the seventh inning of tonight’s game, Buster Olney tweeted this:
“I know it’s the postseason, but Joe Girardi looks tortured by all this, as he did all the way down the stretch. It looks like no fun for him.”
It may not have been fun for the Yankee skipper at the time, but at the end of the night, he probably breathed a huge sigh of relief, as the Yankees battled back from a three-run deficit to beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4 in Game One of the American League Division Series.
The difference in the game came off the bat of Mark Teixeira in seventh inning, the very inning Olney noted Girardi’s stressed out body language. With the game knotted at four, the Yankee first baseman blasted a tie-breaking, two-run homer inside the right field foul pole off Jesse Crain to give the Yankees all the run support they needed.
Teixeira ignited the Yankee offense in the sixth inning, crushing a one out double and eventually coming around to score on a base hit by Robinson Cano. Jorge Posada later singled to drive in Alex Rodriguez, and now has 40 career postseason RBIs.
Curtis Granderson capped off the sixth with a monster triple to score Cano and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the frame. The lead was short-lived however, as Yankee starter CC Sabathia walked Jim Thome with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth to knot the game up at four.
Sabathia battled through six innings of work tonight, but hit a few bumps on the way to a win. Michael Cuddyer took the Yankee ace deep in the bottom of the second for a two-run home run, and a passed ball allowed Orlando Hudson to score from third, giving the Twins a 3-0 lead after the first three innings of the game.
Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Kerry Wood held the Twins scoreless after Sabathia’s departure while Mariano Rivera nailed down his 40th career postseason save. The Great Rivera is the all-time postseason saves leader and no one else even comes close to 40 career postseason saves.
In fact Brad Lidge, who is second on the postseason saves list, only has 16.
Francisco Liriano held his own for the better part of the game, mowing over the Yankees until he reached the sixth inning. He finished the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched and he allowed four earned runs on six hits.
Liriano walked three batters and struck out seven.
Despite Liriano’s effort, it all came crashing down on the Twins, as it has so many times when they have played the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have now won their last seven postseason games against the Twins, dating back to the 2004 ALDS.
With the win tonight, the Yankees have also taken Home Field advantage away from the Twins.
Tomorrow night Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA) will take on former Yankee Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA) in a rematch of Game Three of the 2009 ALDS. Pettitte will be making his 41st career postseason start and he stated today that, despite how he has been pitching lately, “everything feels different when the playoffs begin.”
Pettitte has not won a game since July 8 and has only made three starts since coming back from the disabled list. In those three starts, he is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA.
On the other hand, Pavano has had little success against a pair of the Yankees’ key hitters. Derek Jeter owns a .429 lifetime batting average against the Twins’ Game Two starter. Tonight’s hero Teixeira has five RBIs and a home run lifetime against Pavano, along with a .333 career batting average against him.
It’s no secret that Game Two is a must-win for Minnesota. If they cannot get it done tomorrow night, it is obvious their chances of advancing to the next round of the postseason are slim.
Meanwhile the Yankees will look to keep on rolling over the Twins.
Chill out, Girardi.