Tagged: Tampa Bay Rays

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The Yankees are five games away from complete postseason elimination, yet have somehow hung in the AL Wild Card race just enough to have a microscopic chance at a run. Every player on the roster not named Derek Jeter, surely, would love to give The Captain one last go at some autumn baseball in New York.

While it doesn’t appear likely at the moment, and Jeter’s baseball career will probably end on enemy soil at Fenway Park a week from Sunday, last night the Yanks emerged walk-off winners for the eighth time this year, beating the Blue Jays 3-2.

Tied 2-2 in the ninth, Chris Young led off with a single to centerfield and was promptly lifted for Antoan Richardson. The speedy pinch-runner swiped second and moved to third on a Brett Gardner sac bunt. Chase Headley, who already had two walk-off hits under his belt as a Yankee this year, then delivered the death blow with a sharp liner past Adam Lind at first base for the win.

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Headley may have notched the big hit in the ninth – and got to take the “Gardner Gatorade Cooler Challenge” so-to-speak – but the hit everyone buzzed about after the game was Jeter’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. It marked The Captain’s fourth round-tripper of the year, and his first bomb of 2014 at the big ballpark in the Bronx.

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The fans were so amped up after Jeter’s long liner over the wall in left field that everyone on hand stood cheering, hoping he would come out for a curtain call and tip his cap.

Jeter would modestly say postgame, “Mac (Brian McCann) was in the middle of his at-bat, so I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s hitting at the time.”

It was quite a nice way to begin Jeter’s last career homestand, but he isn’t even focused on the finality of it all, and basically said he just wants the Yankees to win out the rest of the way.

“I’m trying not to think about it being the last homestand,” Jeter added. “I’m going to go out there and play hard like I’ve done my entire career until there are no games left.”

The Captain might be trying not to think about the end, but in reality, last night we may have seen the final home run of his legendary career. Jeter has had plenty of significant helpings of
“mashed taters” (if you will) in his lifetime; World Series home runs, a home run in 2001 All-Star Game. He’s clubbed game-winning homers, and who could forget the pitch he sent into the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th hit that beautifully historic July Saturday in 2011.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of it all: Jeter isn’t exactly, and was never, really, a home run hitter. Still, he will finish with 260 homers (barring another home run between now and Sept. 28) and 20 postseason homers – three of which were smacked in the Fall Classic.

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Off the top of my head I was able to personally remember six games I’ve attended over the course of my fandom in which Jeter has homered. All of these homers I’ve seen Jeter hit live were solo home runs – or “2olo 2hots” – in the Bronx. What’s more, each homer tied the game, gave the Yankees a lead, or started them off on a rally.

Indulge me if you will, as I take a stroll down memory lane and share these Jeter home runs I have witnessed firsthand.

June 29, 2002 – vs. the New York Mets

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It was a hot day at the beginning of summer ‘02, as well as the middle game of a Subway Series. Those pesky Mets brought some gusto with them to the Stadium that afternoon, and took a 1-0 lead on Ted Lilly in the first.

But into the box stepped Jeter, batting third that day. The Captain sent Al Leiter’s offering deep and gone to knot the time game up 1-1 right away.

Lilly however couldn’t keep his team in it. Mike Piazza, Vance Wilson and Mo Vaughn each hit homers of their own, and the Yankees didn’t muster much more offense, making this the only game the Yanks lost in which I beheld a Jeter home run.

Final: Mets 11, Yankees 2.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2002: 18

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June 21, 2005 – vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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This particular game was almost a lost cause. Randy Johnson made the start for the Yanks, and was fully expected to give the Devil Rays hell. That couldn’t have been further from what happened, as the likes of Damon Hollins, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford and Johnny Gomes turned the Big Unit into a small component.

Believe it or not, the Yankees trailed 10-2 in the fourth inning.

Yet, you can never count them out. Jeter kick started his boys in the sixth inning, knocking a solo homer off Chad Orvella, who was on in relief of washed up Tampa Bay starting pitcher Hideo Nomo.

The Yankees chopped it to 11-7 going into the bottom of the eighth and scored 13 (yes, 13!) runs in the bottom half of the frame, going on to win. Thirteen runs by the Yankees in a single inning of a game was indeed possible at one point in time, although it is hard to believe now, given the foibles of the offense these past two years.

Balls also left the yard that night off the bats of Gary Sheffield (who in fact smacked two homers that night), Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada.

Final: Yankees 20, Devils Rays 11.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2005: 19

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Aug. 2, 2006 – vs. Toronto Blue Jays

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In a rather delicious dose of irony, Jeter had a chance to get back at Lilly in this game from the June 29, 2002 shellacking by the Mets’ hand. The Yankees had traded Lilly to Oakland after ’02 and in exchange were presented with Jeff Weaver (with Jeremy Bonderman ticketed for Detroit, because it was a three-way deal)…

But anyway, Jeter came up in the third inning and sent Lilly’s delivery out of the park, his eighth homer of ’06, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. They tacked on with more runs later; the additional offense highlighted by a Posada two-run homer in the sixth (also off Lilly) to run away with a win. A lights-out pitching performance by Chien-Ming Wang also contributed to the victory.

Final: Yankees 7, Blue Jays 2.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2006: 14

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April 22, 2009 – vs. Oakland A’s

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Not only was this my first game live at the new Yankee Stadium, it was only the Yankees’ sixth game in the new house built by George Steinbrenner and company.

I guess it was only fitting The Captain offered me a fond memory of my first game across the street.

Jeter came up in the fourth inning and smacked a solo shot over the wall in right-center off Jason Anderson; his fourth home run of the young ‘09 season and his second in the new ballpark. His round-tripper gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, but they didn’t win the game until the 14th inning, when Melky Cabrera sent everyone home happy with a walk-off bomb.

Cabrera also homered in the second inning, as did Matsui; the ball jumping off the bats that blustery day.

Final/14: Yankees 9, A’s 7.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2009: 18

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May 15, 2009 – vs. Minnesota Twins

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Less than a month later I found myself back at the new Yankee Stadium to see the Bombers host the Twins. For the most part it was a battle, the Yanks and Twins trading blows. Justin Morneau homered. Joe Mauer homered. Minnesota led 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth.

Enter Jeter.

The Captain blasted one off Francisco Liriano, cutting the Twinkies’ lead to 3-1. Gardner shocked everyone with an inside-the-park home run in the seventh, and Cabrera came through in the clutch with the game-winning hit, capping a three-run ninth to give the pinstripers a win.

The Yankees would go on to win the following two games against the Twins in walk-off fashion, and beat Minnesota in their final at-bat in Game 2 of the ALDS that October, by way of a Mark Teixeira walk-off homer.

But that night – the night that started it:

Final: Yankees 5, Twins 4.

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April 13, 2010 – vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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It was a day of celebration. Euphoria. Happiness. Rings.

A wonderful ceremony took place before the game; the Yankees being honored for what they had accomplished some five months earlier – beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the ’09 World Series. Jeter was given his fifth ring, while so many others around him were receiving only their first.

After the touching, sentimental moments the ceremony provided, the Yankees had a game to play. They grabbed an early 1-0 lead over the Halos. In the third inning Jeter came up and took Ervin Santana way out and gone for a solo homer, his first of the ’10 season.

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Nick Johnson also homered, but how is this for a nod to the days of old:

Yes, Jeter homered. But Andy Pettitte started the game and recorded the win. Mariano Rivera saved Pettitte (his third save of the year to that point), and Posada went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.

Talk about efficiency from the members of the “Core 4.”

Final: Yankees 7, Angels 5.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2010: 10

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How nice it was, sharing these special moments Jeter gave me.

What are some The Captain gave you…?

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A Bundy-ful birthday gift

It wasn’t exactly a Father’s Day to remember for the Yankees, as they lost 10-5 this afternoon to the A’s. The Bronx Broskis have to do some regrouping this week and thankfully for them, “the savior” (as I’ve dubbed him) Masahiro Tanaka starts their next game on Tuesday night at the big ballpark in the Bronx. It’ll be an important series, with Toronto sitting ahead of them by four and a half games in the AL East.

While was Father’s Day today, it was also my 27th birthday. I spent it at the ballpark – but the minor league ballpark. Specifically, Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades. I’ve covered the Renegades the past two summers, and today I covered my first game of my third summer with them.

And I got quite a little birthday surprise.

The ‘Gades hosted the Aberdeen IronBirds, a MiLB squad affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles. Throwing for Aberdeen was Dylan Bundy – the O’s first round pick of the 2011 draft, and a future ace I’ve heard talked about on MLB Network and by Buster Olney of ESPN.

I got to interview him afterward and got a little story out of it, so I figured since this guy will most likely be facing the Yankees in the not-too-distant future, I’d throw my little story on him up here on the blog.

Note: I also interviewed TB Rays’ 2014 first round pick, first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who smacked a two-run home run for his first hit as a pro ballplayer.

Even though I was indeed thrilled and excited to cover Bundy, I was a little bummed out the P.A. didn’t play Frank Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” as he took his warm-ups. An Al Bundy reference would’ve made my birthday complete.

So, with that being said, here’s my story on Bundy:

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Orioles’ Bundy Makes Solid Rehab Start vs. Hudson Valley

By A.J. Martelli

Although a year off and reconstructive surgery may normally sound like a formula for rust, it wasn’t for starting right-hander Dylan Bundy on Sunday.

The Baltimore Orioles’ 2011 first round draft pick out of Owasso High School (Okla.) made a rehab start against the Hudson Valley Renegades at Dutchess Stadium, pitching for the O’s short season Single-A affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds. It marked the 21-year-old’s first time pitching in a competitive game since 2012, being that Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of last year.

Yet the stud, who has been compared by some to Stephen Strasburg, showed no damaging signs.

He tossed five innings and only let up one earned run after scattering five hits. Bundy walked none and struck out six by taking baby steps – he only threw 65 pitches.

“First outing in almost a year and I was pretty pleased with it,” he said. “I don’t think about (the surgery) at all anymore, and that’s what I’m happy about.”

Bundy gave the Renegades credit for touching him up, though he didn’t feel he made too many mistakes dealing to the Hudson Valley hitters.

“I gave up five hits, but they just made good contact with the ball on what I think were pretty good pitches. They got the bat on the ball and they did a pretty good job. They were hitting the off-speed stuff pretty well, putting it in play.”

Making adjustments, Bundy mentioned, also helped him along.

“I focused more when guys were on base,” he said. “Now I’ve got to focus more when guys aren’t on base and do a better job locating my pitches. I’ve been trying to do a better job of that.”

Bundy also talked about how much less pressure it was pitching at “The Dutch” as opposed to a major league stadium like Camden Yards – even though he thought facing the Renegades was just as dangerous as facing a big league team.

“A feel a little bit less pressure pitching here, but there’s still a live batter up there that can hit the ball just as well as someone in the big league. My aim is to just go out there, make pitches, and compete.”

Bundy will make a few more starts before being evaluated, and a plan for his future is drawn up going forward.

“I have a couple more starts; we’ll see how my arm responds tomorrow,” he said. “It should be good. Couple more starts, and we’ll see what we’re going to do after that.”

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Another silly baseball story

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Spring Training is hardly about final scores, which is why the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays ended their game in a 3-3 stalemate today in 10 innings. As we all know, there doesn’t need to be a winner in most exhibitions, as long as everyone gets their necessary work in.

The Rays showed off a great deal of their minor league arms in this afternoon’s spring tune-up, and in watching along as I put the finishing touches on my girls’ hoops articles for the week, I took notice of some recognizable names.

In the eighth inning Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon brought in a lefty by the name of C.J. Riefenhauser – a familiar name if you’re a Westchester County, N.Y. sports buff such as myself. Riefenhauser attended Mahopac High School, and if I’m not mistaken, my editor has written a number of features on him.

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It’s quite possible Riefenhauser makes the big club this year, and I couldn’t be happier to see a product of a school in my newspaper’s coverage area make it to the show, though I never had the chance to interview him personally. Today Riefenhauser threw (I believe) just two pitches in the 1/3 of an inning he tossed and got Ramon Flores to pop out to short, earning a hold in the process.

Making a note of Rifenhauser’s appearance on Twitter seemed to go over well with those who know him. Ten re-tweets, four favorites and counting.

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Before Riefenhauser did his work, as short as it was, another southpaw by the name of Adam Liberatore was on the mound – yet another familiar name. Liberatore pitched for the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2010, a (short season Single A) farm team of the Rays, and a team which longtime readers of Yankee Yapping might remember I interned for.

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Again, it was nice to see a name I recognized get some playing time in Spring Training. Then the Rays called on their final pitcher in the 10th frame. And all the memories – the good memories – raced back to me.

Maddon brought in Merrill Kelly, a 25-year-old right hander, for the last inning. Kelly, like Liberatore, was a member of the 2010 Renegades. Kelly was called up to extended-A Bowling Green in the middle of the Renegades’ 2010 season, but a few weeks before he was promoted, this writer had a rather humorous exchange with him.

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It was a Sunday in July at Dutchess Stadium – which meant it was kids’ day; children were picked out of the crowd for the wacky activities on the field, in between innings. Then at the end of the game, the kids in attendance were permitted to step onto the diamond and run the bases.

My cousin Thomas (16 at the time, yet short in terms of height for his age), who I went with to the Yankees’ home opener earlier that year, was at the game. I had greeted him when he got to the ballpark but soon after, he ventured off with his friends, while I (doing my duty as an intern) helped set things up for the daffy entertainment in between innings.

A little while later before the game started, I was on the field near the first base dugout and saw Thomas – from the front row of the stands – talking to Kelly. I walked over to see him, only to hear an apparent argument going on between my cousin and the reliever.

“Yes I am!” Thomas kept saying.

“Dude, no you’re not,” Kelly retorted.

“Yes, I AM!” Thomas persisted.

“NO, you’re NOT,” Kelly answered.

Confused, I asked what was going on.

“A.J., tell this guy I’m 16! He doesn’t believe me!” Thomas defiantly said.

Being Thomas’s cousin, knowing he was telling the truth, I was able to vouch for him.

“He is 16, Merrill – I’m his cousin,” I calmly told Kelly.

The cleat/shoe was certainly on the other foot, as Kelly examined me, looked back at Thomas and said to him, “Dude. You’re going to get carded for the rest of your life!” before walking into the dugout.

It was one of the funnier moments of the day, probably second to Thomas participating in the fun in between innings, playing the “dizzy bats” game as part of kids’ day.

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again now – I’d really be interested in writing a book about that summer, interning for the Renegades; include all the fun shenanigans and hoopla that ensued that summer. At the moment I’m not exactly sure how to go about pursuing such a project. Hopefully I can find out and go after it, because I think a lot of folks who enjoy the child-like aspect of baseball would appreciate it.

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Good luck, DD

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On Tuesday night the Yankees were shut down and shutout 2-0 by the Colorado Rockies in Denver, in what was another dead effort in run scoring. Going into last night’s game the Yanks were 17th in the majors with 133 runs scored for the year, their wins being mostly one or two-run games. Case in point: last night’s ugly 3-2 victory over the Rockies to even the series up 1-1, scoring and stranding baserunners being two issues for the Bronx Bombers.

In the last three games alone the Yankees have left 36 men on base (18 in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Oakland, 11 Tuesday night, eight last night), clearly struggling to generate runs and bring runners to the plate.

Maybe a crash course in “Run Scoring 101” is in order. That, or just actually hitting with runners in scoring position.

Either way this Yankee team, which sometimes looks more like a team you’d see in the final inning of a Spring Training game, will look to take the series from Colorado this afternoon; CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.31 ERA) trying to get back on track after a slew of starts that have been unlike the typical, dominant outings we normally see from him.

Throughout it all the Yanks (19-13) are still hanging in, numerically in second place in the AL East (behind Boston and Baltimore, who are tied for first) and just one game out of first place in the division – a stark contrast from the Miami Marlins, who are 10-25, in dead last in the NL East.

Over the winter the Marlins made a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays: Yunel Escobar for a name I recognized – infielder Derek Dietrich. The fledgling Marlins called Dietrich up yesterday morning, and later that day he made his MLB debut in Miami’s game in San Diego vs. the Padres. Dietrich started at second base, although all the times I saw him play, he was a shortstop and spent some time at third.

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Over the summer of 2010 (as most regular readers know) I interned for the Hudson Valley Renegades, the short-season Single-A affiliate of the Rays. Dietrich was on the team that season, climbing his way up the minor league rungs, and now he’s made it.

Always one to be pithy, I have a great story about the Marlins’ new second baseman.

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As an intern, one of our many jobs was to help entertain the fans in between innings – and if you’ve ever been to a minor league baseball game, you know it’s commonplace for wacky, tacky games to be played to keep the crowd interested while the players warm up.

We usually kept everything theme-oriented. For example one night our theme was “Groundhog Day” and in honor of the classic and quotable Billy Murray movie, we played the same exact game every inning, in accordance with the déjà vu Murray’s character Phil Connors experiences in the film. At the end of the night we had a groundhog mascot come out and dance on the field – suffice it to say, it was fun for everyone involved.

And that’s just one example. There were plenty of more nights similar to the Groundhog Day game.

One particular game was deemed “Rain Delay Night.” The cheesy, wacky tacky games in between innings involved us squirting each other with super soakers, and pretending the games in between innings were “rained out.” A blue pool tarp was even laid down in foul territory where we usually held these games.

Yeah, that’s how far we took it. Give us credit for committing to the bit, though.

At any rate, as we were stationed in the first base pit next to the Renegades’ dugout, Dietrich apparently thought our shenanigans were quite amusing, because he joined in on the action. I vividly remember him sitting near the edge of the dugout; on the top step plotting his course.

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He went over to the water cooler in the dugout and poured himself a cup. But instead of drinking it, he ran by and splashed the water on us, leaving us standing there like some puzzled, wet ducks on a rainy day.

Dietrich 1, interns 0. But we got our revenge.

In the top of the eighth he walked past us down the right field line towards the bullpen with an ear-to-ear grin; almost begging us to shoot him with our water guns and retaliate. I remember leaning over to another intern, Anthony, (who we called “Yeti” because he was tall and large, like the Yeti) and asking him if Dietrich was coming back to the dugout. I’ll never forget his answer:

“If he comes back down this way, he’s a dead man,” he playfully responded, cocking back his super soaker.

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Eventually the Renegades won the game and Dietrich came back from the bullpen – and right to the first base pit. Not even stopping to take congratulations on the field with the team, he came right up to us and turned his back, as all of us pulled our triggers and fired at will.

On second thought, in reality, we “watered” at will; completely drenched him. When I say we got him good, we got him good – good enough for two points in the water war, I’d say.

Interns 2, Dietrich 1.

The image of the damp “3” and “2” on the back of his (#32) jersey will forever be burnt into my brain. The laughter that ensued by us and Dietrich is also burnt into my brain – truly a fun and lighthearted moment between a player and the ballclub interns.

In his MLB debut today Dietrich went 1-for-3, collecting his first big league hit on a line drive single to right field to lead off the top of the third inning.

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Bear in mind, this is just one story involving one player. There were countless other exchanges and moments during my internship with the Renegades that were just as funny and memorable. In my mind I’ve kicked around the idea of writing a book about that summer and telling a lot of the stories similar to the water war with Dietrich.

I think it’d be a fun read. Wouldn’t you…?

In the meantime, I’m wishing the absolute best of luck to Dietrich in his MLB career. Just know, I was part of a team that once beat him in a water fight…we totally won.

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A Minor Assignment

Yesterday afternoon was almost awesome for the Yankees, in their series finale vs. the Los Angeles Angels. But what’s that old saying? “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

With the tying run on second base, the potential winning run on first base, and two outs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez had a chance to channel his inner 2007 and walk off the Yankee Stadium field a hero. Instead he came up short, popping the ball up behind first base; the cowhide falling into waiting glove of Albert Pujols for a 10-8 loss.

Nonetheless, the Yankees still own the best record in baseball at 54-34, and remain in first place in the AL East, a cool eight games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles.

While the Yankees were taking two games out of three from the Angels this weekend, I had the opportunity to cover the same minor league team I interned for in 2010, the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are connected to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since the high school sports scene is obviously voided for summer vacation, my editor thought it might be fun for me to cover some Renegades games, just to give me some work and a chance to cover some professional baseball.

Saturday evening I made my way to up Dutchess Stadium, much like I did every game day two years ago, to cover the Renegades’ game vs. the Mahoning Valley Scrappers – a minor league team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.

It was a different feeling on the way to the ballpark, however, knowing I’d be sitting up in the press box rather than setting up for the game and handling all the oftentimes unpleasant tasks interns have to do. Like this…

When I walked into the Stadium, it felt surreal. Not having been there in two years and having so many memories – and all those memories coming back to me in that moment – was a little overwhelming. All of the players (including Robinson Cano’s cousin Burt Reynolds) and interns who were there in 2010 have moved on; it was so strange looking around and not seeing all the familiar faces.

Wearing my press pass, I made my way up to the breezeway, past the luxury boxes and into the press box, where a number of MiLB personnel and beat writers were.

A group of them were conversing about the recent draft, and speculating about which players were going to make an impact in the future. They also shared with each other some stories about traveling, going from city to city following their respective teams. It was a little intimidating for me, knowing these reporters are the real deal; not that I’m not the real deal, but they are writers that get to experience professional baseball on a daily basis.

I guess it was only natural to feel intimidated; me being just a fresh, relatively new high school sports reporter who was given an assignment – they being writers with years of experience in the business. I’ll admit I was nervous – nervous, but not scared. Believe it or not, a Tweet from one of my former co-workers at the Renegades put my mind at ease.

Thanks, Dan.

The other writers eventually left though, and took seats down the left field line in a designated area for press members. I elected to remain in the press box with another reporter, the official scorer, and the girl who runs the Renegades’ Twitter page. The group of us shared a lot of laughs and banter throughout the game.

Before the game started, I kind of soaked it in; took in the view.

The Renegades led off the bottom of the first with a home run from their center fielder Joey Rickard. They then took a 2-0 lead after two innings when their left fielder, DeShun Dixon, led off the bottom of the second with a home run.

Dixon would knock in a run on an RBI single in the third after an RBI single off the bat of Renegades’ shortstop Ryan Dunn (Yes, Ryan Dunn. I’m aware he shares the same name as Bam Margera’s late friend).

Leading 4-0 heading into the fourth, the Scrappers put up two runs on back-to-back RBI doubles off reliever Brandon Henderson. Renegades’ starter, 19-year-old Taylor Guerrieri – who was Tampa Bay’s top pick out of Columbia, S.C. a year ago – left the game after three innings, using up a lot of his pitches.  

Following the back-to-back RBI doubles, the ‘Gades bent but didn’t break. They held the score until the seventh when second baseman Tommy Coyle blasted a two-run homer, the Renegades’ third round-tripper of the night.

Trailing 6-2, the Scrappers threatened in the ninth. Mahoning Valley loaded the bases with nobody out, but again, the Renegades refused to fold. Reliever Ryan Garton induced a 6-4-3 double play, which allowed a run to come home, before notching the last out.

Final score: Renegades 6, Scrappers 3

It marked the Renegades’ eighth win at home this year, and they are only a game out of first place in their division behind the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ farm team.

I left the press box and went to the clubhouse where I caught up with Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ manager, ex-Devil Ray, and nephew of famed Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. I had to ask him what makes his team so good when they’re playing at home.

“We get the last at-bats, we make it exciting, and we get the chance to put on a show for the home crowd,” he said.

“The crowd comes out and supports us every night, with 4,000-plus, and it’s fun to play in front of a big crowd. They get behind us and it’s good energy.”

I then questioned him about the home runs, seeing as how a power surge led to the win. He admitted the long ball raised his eyebrows.

 “We haven’t hit many homers this year, so it was a little bit of a surprise,” he said.

“It was also good to see because guys aren’t trying to hit home runs and they’re hitting home runs. Any time Joey Rickard can lead off the game with a homer and give us that boost, that’s nice, and then DeShun Dixon hits a two-run homer with a flick of the bat. Then obviously Tommy Coyle’s late home run gave us some breathing room.”

With the top pick on the mound, and a decent job from the relief corps, I inquired about how well the Renegades’ pitching has been anchoring the team.

“The pitching is keeping our season going in the right direction,” Sandberg said.

“We can lean on the pitchers right now because they’re throwing strikes and competing extremely well. The team is playing relaxed but we’re going out there competing every night and that’s what a manager wants.”

Overall I was extremely satisfied with how it went. My editor thought I did a great job with the story, and I hope this is just serving as a warm-up; the start of what I pray is a long career covering pro baseball.

Perhaps I’ll be one of those beat writers in the press box, talking about the new draft picks and sharing stories about life on the road, covering pro baseball teams.

Maybe someday. Until then, I have this story: getting the chance to cover a pro baseball game for the first time.

Bottom line: I loved it.

Base-Running Diary

Good evening fellow Yankee Yappers…

Instead of simply Tweeting the game tonight, I figured I would try something different. I’ll post what’s happening here on the blog as it is happening, giving everyone the fun experience of following me on Twitter, or just watching a game with me; complete with coverage and wise remarks, inside jokes, and obscure references.

Basically, it’s what we journalists call a running diary. Or in keeping with the baseball theme, maybe more appropriately, a “base-running diary.”

I’ll need feedback after this one: if you, the readers, like this concept, please let me know. If it receives a “vote of no confidence,” so-to-speak, it’ll only be a one-time deal.

Without any further ado, here’s my insight from tonight’s game, as the action unfolded…

  • Alright, 21 minute rain delay is over. Hopefully the leprechaun got the gold at the end of that rainbow. Many thanks to Roy G. Biv. Now let’s play some baseball! (7:32 p.m.)
  • CC makes quick work of Elliot Johnson, Ben Zobrist, and Desmond Jennings. Three up, three down. (7:40 p.m.)
  • Ugh. Jose Lobaton with a bloop RBI single to RF after B.J. Upton’s double to deep left-center. 1-0 Rays. I swear, I thought Michael Kay said “Toblerone” when he first said Lobaton’s last name. (7:55 p.m.)
  • Whack-a-doodle play right there. Wild pitch, Nick Swisher goes to third from second, Andruw Jones tries to advance from first to second, but stays put – while the Rays throw the ball past first base. Nuts. (8:07 p.m.)
  • Jayson Nix K’s for one out, Chris Stewart with an excuse me check swing; he’s out at first, Swisher scores. We got ourselves a 1-1 game. (8:10 p.m.)
  • Virgil…errrm…David Price whiffs Curtis Granderson to end the second. Knotted up at one. (8:17 p.m.)
  • Error on A-Rod, Johnson reaches first. Who does he think he is? The entire Rays team? I believe Tampa Bay is one of the league leaders in unearned runs… (8:21 p.m.)
  • Speaking of unearned runs, there’s one for the Yankees. RBI single for Ben Zobrist, Johnson scores, 2-1 Rays. (8:22 p.m.)
  • Right away, another hit. Jennings with a double, Rays are set up, second and third with one out. Buckle down, ace. (8:24 p.m.)
  • Sac fly for Upton, Rays go up 3-1. (8:26 p.m.)
  • Virgil gets the Yanks 1-2-3 in the third. (8:37 p.m.)
  • I should clarify that David Price eerily resembles Virgil, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s bodyguard from the old WWF days. (8:38 p.m.)

 

  • Drew Sutton with a two-run double off the LF wall. 5-1 Rays. Not looking like a sweep. (8:47 p.m.)
  • Bases chucked in the fifth for the Yanks, one out. They created a chance, now they have to cash in. (9:18 p.m.)
  • Virgil Price just hit 97 mph on the speed gun, his 94th pitch of the night. Still firing bullets with a high pitch count. (9:20 p.m.)
  • Whoa. A-Rod strikes out swinging with the bases loaded for the second out of the fifth. An 11-pitch battle which Price won; went off-speed on him. That one hurt. (9:25 p.m.)
  • Virgil gets Robinson Cano to bounce into a 4-3 putout. Price wiggles out of danger, Rays up 5-1 at the end of five. (9:30 p.m.)
  • Into the Ray’s bullpen – and down go the Yanks, quietly. No problems for Tampa’s ‘pen…yet. (9:47 p.m.)
  • CC with 12 Ks…and the poor guy is losing. Are you kidding me? (9:52 p.m.)
  • Granderson is going shopping after the game for a specific hat: a golden sombrero. Struck out by former Hudson Valley Renegade Wade Davis to end the seventh, his fourth K of the night. Ouch. (10:05 p.m.)

 

  •  Yankees have six outs to get four runs for the tie. Perfect time for “Mystique” and “Aura” to appear. (10:15 p.m.)

 

  • A one-out walk for A-Rod and a single by Cano; forces a Rays’ pitching change. Hmmm… (10:19 p.m.)
  • Swisher strikes out on a pitch up, out of the zone, but pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez knocks in A-Rod with a single through the right hole. 5-2 Rays in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, runners on the corners. (10:29 p.m.)
  • Tying run at the plate in the place of Eric Chavez, but he beats it into the dirt; grounds it right to first base. Got one back, at least (10:32 p.m.)
  • Aaaaaand the Yanks give it right back. Sutton with a line drive to RF, Swisher boots it, allowing Matt Joyce to come around to score. E9 on Swisher, 6-2 Rays. (10:43 p.m.)
  • Very next batter Johnson knocks Sutton in with an RBI double, 7-2 Rays. I think they have successfully avoided the sweep.  (10:44 p.m.)
  • I think I picked the wrong night for this little blog experiment. It’d be more fun if the Yanks were winning. (10:45 p.m.)
  • Bottom of the ninth. Last licks for the Bombers. (10:50 p.m.)
  • Russell the Muscle! Martin with a solo homer, his sixth of the year. He went oppo over the right-centerfield wall to leadoff the ninth. 7-3 Rays. (10:52 p.m.)

 

  • Derek Jeter grounds out, Granderson avoids a platinum sombrero with a 2-3 putout, and Teixeira…gets plunked by J.P. Howell. Game’s still not over. A-Rod is due up and closer Fernando Rodney is coming in. (10:58 p.m.)
  • Rodriguez pops it up to right field, Joyce puts it away, ballgame [mercifully] over. Final: Rays 7, Yankees 3. Bombers’ three-game win streak snapped. (11:02 p.m.)

 

  • W: Price (8-3) L: Sabathia (7-3) (11:05 p.m.)
  • Moving on. New York bragging rights start tomorrow with the first Subway Series of 2012 at Yankee Stadium. Yanks will be heading into tomorrow night’s game vs. the Mets with tonight’s loss; the Mets beat the Nationals 3-1 this afternoon. (11:08 p.m.)

Breathing Down Our Necks

The 2012 MLB season is just about three weeks away. Players are currently in camp fighting for roster spots, getting in shape, and preparing for what will be a summer-long grind.

29 teams have the mentality of, “let’s put a good team together and have a fun season.”

The Yankees on the other hand have the mentality of, “when camp breaks we need to win the division, win the pennant, and then win the World Series.”

Good logic.

And as usual, it won’t be easy. A number of teams have bettered themselves during the off-season, and will pose huge threats to the Yankees bringing title number 28 home to the Bronx in October. A few teams will be breathing down the Yankees’ neck and they need to keep a sharp eye on them.

The top five are…

The Rays

When the Tampa Bay Rays first entered the league, they were almost a laughingstock; a joke that always finished at the bottom of the AL East. But in 2008 they came out of nowhere, capturing the division over the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and then going on to win the AL pennant.

Since then, the Rays have been pests; a team that won’t go away, no matter how many times a knockout blow is delivered to them. Last year they swiped the AL Wild Card from underneath Boston’s nose, and have been to the playoffs three of the last four years.

On offense this season, Tampa Bay might be under the microscope, at least a little bit. The Rays didn’t re-sign Johnny Damon in the off-season, but signed Luke Scott – who hit just .220 last year – to supplant him. After a year with the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays – and he only averaged .225 at the dish in 2011.

One of the only true powerhouses the Rays have at the plate is Evan Longoria, who only batted .244 last year, yet clubbed 31 homers.

With their seemingly thin offense, one might get to thinking, why are the Rays such a threat?

The answer is their starting pitching.

Number one man James Shields went the distance last year, tossing 11 complete games to lead the league in that category. He also threw four shutouts to lead the league, winning 16 games along the way.

Behind him is the pride of Vanderbilt, southpaw David Price. Last year Price compiled a 12-13 record; not the best numerically, but he was an All-Star and was coming off a season in which he won 19 games. He did prove to be a workhorse despite his uneven record, logging 224.1 innings and making 34 starts, which led the league.

Behind the 1-2 punch of Shields and Price is a supporting cast of excellent arms. 24-year-old Jeremy Hellickson is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. He threw 189 innings in ’11, won 13 games, and notched an ERA of 2.95.

Jeff Niemann won 11 games last year, as did Wade Davis, giving the Rays five pitchers with double digit wins.

If a team has that kind of efficiency out of their starting five, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Red Sox

Boston seems to be in a little bit of a state of flux. This off-season was busy in Beantown, as they let go of revered manager Terry Francona and signed on the ever-colorful Bobby Valentine to be their skipper. They allowed closer Jonathan Papelbon to walk, as he took his flame-throwing arm to Philadelphia to be the Phillies’ closer.

Two of their big-ticket starters, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, have undergone Tommy John surgery. Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season and Dice-K will be out until at least June or July, leaving the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their top starters.

Other than Beckett and Lester, the Red Sox have a ton of questions marks as far as their rotation in concerned. How will Daniel Bard make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation? Is Clay Buchholz going to perform at a high level?

Will Felix Doubront be a factor? What about Alfredo Aceves, who has had back problems in the past?

The starting pitching is not the only part of the team under scrutiny. Boston signed Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon in the closer role, and will insert former Yankee Mark Melancon into the setup spot, supplanting Bard.

How will Bailey handle closing in Boston as opposed to Oakland? Will Melancon rise to challenge of setting him up in close-game situations?

All of these questions won’t be answered until the season commences, but if the Red Sox score runs – and they are capable of scoring runs – it won’t be a problem. Although Boston got off to a horrendous start and a fatal finish, they still scored 875 runs, which was good enough to lead the majors in ‘11.

And they always seem to give the Yankees a hard time.

Last June Boston swept the Bombers in three games at Yankee Stadium, being led by Yankee killer David Ortiz. Big Papi smacked two homers in the series, and stirred up controversy when he flipped his bat in what many felt was a move to show up the Yanks.

Bottom line: Ortiz proved he still has it when it comes to making the Yankees’ lives miserable.

Along with Ortiz, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will undoubtedly be swinging a hot bat this year, as will All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .338 last season with 27 homers and 117 RBIs.

Like the pitching, speedy left fielder Carl Crawford and butch third baseman Kevin Youkilis are question marks. Crawford is dealing with a wrist injury that many analysts say caused a decline in his numbers last year. Youkilis had season-ending thumb surgery last August.  

If Crawford and Youkilis come back – and return to form – the Yankees, and all American League pitchers for that matter, need to look out. These two sluggers have the potential to cause major problems for the Yankees when they are at 100%.

All things considered, the Red Sox will have a potent lineup. And no matter what anyone says, the Red Sox are always in the back of the Yankees’ minds. Always.

The Tigers

Last October the Detroit Tigers dashed the Yankees’ hopes and dreams of winning the World Series, eliminating the Bronx Bombers in five games in the ALDS. New York was forced to watch the Tigers celebrate on their soil, as the team from the Motor City proved to be too much for the Yankees to handle.

And it may have just gotten more difficult to beat them.

This off-season the Tigers signed power-hitting lefty Prince Fielder, who clobbered 38 home runs and drove in 120 runs last year. The hefty first baseman has twice averaged .299 at the plate (2009, 2011) and in 2007 Fielder led the National League in homers with 50.

It’s what you can expect from a big guy, but don’t let the size fool you.

Despite his heavy, 275-pound frame, Fielder is durable. He has played in all but one game since 2009, appearing in all 162 games in 2011 and 2009. He played in 161 games in 2010.

Fielder will join the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, two powerhouses who have already proven their worth in Detroit. Last season Cabrera led the league in doubles (48) and batting average (.344). Like Fielder he is also durable, as he appeared in 161 games in ’11.

Young dazzled in last year’s ALDS vs. the Yankees, punishing them with a .316 BA while clubbing three homers and posting a .789 slugging percentage. He collected six hits in the five game series and drew two walks, showing his worth when the stakes were high.

Detroit is obviously the front-runner to once again win the AL Central, and behind ace Justin Verlander – the reigning AL Cy Young winner and AL MVP – their chances of taking the central are high. The other teams in that division pose virtually no threat, and potentially the Yankees could face the Tigers in the ALDS again this year.

If a rematch is in the cards, the Yankees have to adjust accordingly. It didn’t work out for them in last year’s postseason.

The Rangers

It’s no secret that Texas is one of the prime teams to beat, as they have represented the American League in the World Series the past two years. The Rangers lost their number one starter C.J. Wilson to a division rival, the LA Angels, but something tells me it’s not going to matter. The Rangers’ pitching will still be top notch.

Colby Lewis won 14 games last year, as did Matt Harrison. If you were to ask manager Ron Washington, he would probably say both Harrison and Lewis possess the stuff to be number one aces.  Alexi Ogando went 13-8 last year with a 3.51 ERA and he’ll be another weapon in the Rangers’ rotation.

Throw Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish into the mix, and you have quite a set of pitchers, although there are some questions surrounding Feliz and Darvish.

Feliz is making a transition from the bullpen to the rotation, so much like Bard in Boston, his performance depends on how well his stuff translates; how well he works being stretched out. If it goes well for him, and he throws as hard as he did working in the closer role, he’ll be a feared pitcher in the American League.

Like Feliz, Darvish is making a transition – but not from the bullpen. He’ll be making the switch from Japan to MLB. In his native country, Darvish was one of the finest and most revered pitchers. Last year alone Darvish struck out 276 batters over 232 innings of work, and won 18 games with a 1.44 ERA.

Those numbers can be deceitful, however.

Ask Matsuzaka, or Hideki Irabu, or Kei Igawa, or any pitcher who sparkled in Japan and fell apart here. Pitching in the states is much different than pitching in the Far East, so Darvish is basically going to be an enigma until we really see what he can do – and we won’t know what he can do until he logs some innings here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

As far as the Rangers’ offense goes, they won’t have many problems if Josh Hamilton stays healthy. Even if he spends time on the disabled list, they have plenty of power to make up for it. Mike Napoli, the Rangers’ catcher, smacked 30 homers and drove in 75 runs last year.

You know you’re going to be alright when you’re getting that kind of production out of the catcher spot.

Along with Hamilton and Napoli, there’s Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young – a perfect combination of veteran and youthful offense.

A message to the Yankees: when you’re in Texas, look behind you. ‘Cause that’s where the Rangers are going to be! (I couldn’t resist the cheesy/obscure Walker, Texas Ranger reference).

The Angels

In recent times the Angels have almost had the Yankees’ number, being the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bronx Bombers. LA’s pesky hitting coupled with their stellar pitching are going to make the Halos one of the best teams in the league this season, if not the best.

And it starts with one of their gigantic off-season acquisitions.

The biggest, obviously, is first baseman Albert Pujols. The slugging 3-time NL MVP signed with the Angels on Dec. 8 – and, as if LA wasn’t hard enough to beat already, they just got that much more difficult; that much deeper.

Pujols adds a surefire power bat to the lineup that already includes scrappy, young hitters like Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu gives the Angels a veteran presence, as do outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Last year LA scored 667 runs. Expect that number to go up in 2012.

Along with their strong offense, the Angels have stacked the deck as far as their pitching is concerned. As noted, the Halos snatched the Rangers’ ace C.J. Wilson over the winter, and he will join Dan Haren and Jered Weaver – who were both in double figures in the wins category last year. Haren notched 16 Ws while Weaver put up 18.

Ervin Santana sealed 11 wins last year with an ERA under four. If he does the same working in the back end of the Angels’ rotation this year, they are going to win a lot of games.

The Angels are pretty much the team that has it all; the complete package. If you were to ask me for my World Series pick, on paper, it would be the LA Angels.

But as Yankee Captain Derek Jeter always says, “on paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

True. But the Angels look awfully dangerous, and have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs twice, in 2002 and 2005. The last time the Yankees and Angels met in October (2009) the Yankees came out on top, beating the Halos in six games.   

They may need to do it again if they want to win number 28.