Thursday, June 28, 2012

More Native Americans to battle

             Fresh off the honeymoon of taking two out of three against the Mets in Queens, another team named after Native Americans, put their warpaint on for a visit to Yankee Stadium. After facing the Braves twice in as many weeks, this tribe was the Cleveland Indians. Even though the Yanks used their weapon of choice lately, the sweep, to fend off these warriors, news surrounding the team took a damper as two of the Yankees top starters were placed on the injury shelf. 

             The Yankees wasted no time in getting to Indians starter Josh Tomlin in the opening game when in the bottom of the 1st, Robinson Cano kept the hitting with runners in scoring position trend lately with the Yanks alive by smoking a 2 RBI double to put his team up 2-0. Cano himself was tagged out on the play trying to make it to 3rd base because of a throw to home first in which Teixeira was safe. An inning later, in quite a shocker, Dewayne Wise who was playing centerfield to give Grandy a night off, smacked his first homerun of the season (he would also add an RBI triple in the 6th as well). In the 3rd inning both Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher kept their longball magic from Sunday night by going back-to-back on solo shots in the 3rd inning.

             Old friend Johnny Damon, who joined the Indians a few weeks ago, was greeting kindly by the Yankee Stadium crowd, especially when he took his spot out in left. Yankee fans were also happy Damon did nothing threatening in the game as Hiroki Kuroda cruised along and was absolutely brilliant in 7 innings of shutout baseball to lead to his 7th victory of the season. Leading 7-0 in the 9th, the Yankees bullpen gave up a mercy run and then shut it down from there for the 7-1 win.

             Looking to bounce back from an awful start in 100 degree weather last week, Phil Hughes took the ball in the next game and picked up where Kuroda left off the night before. Facing Hughes was Justin Masterson and his array of heavy sinkers which has rendered tough on the Yanks in the past. Chris Stewart had a puzzling at-bat in the 2nd inning with a runner on third. After failing to bunt for a hit twice to put himself into an 0-2 count, Stewart a few pitches later flared one which hit off the 3rd baseman's glove and allowed the run to score to make it 1-0 Yanks. Up 4-0 in the 7th with Masterson out of the game, Alex Rodriguez crushed a solo homerun into the second deck out in the left field stands to add to the lead at 5-0. Hughes didn't allow a single run through his eight innings on the mound and left things to Cory Wade in the 9th to finish out.

             The Indians decided to wait till final inning to actually make a contest out of it. Wade, who hasn't been reliable in his past few appearances, was smacked around for four hits, including a 3-run homer to Jose Lopez, that made it 6-4. Even though Wade was able to get two outs, Girardi used the save situation to bring out his closer Rafael Soriano to get the final out for his sweet 16th save of the season.

             With the Yankees riding high with the best record in baseball and Andy Pettitte on the mound for the sweep against the cupcake Indian lineup, Wednesday had the makings of the perfect day. Things took a damper early when it was announced before the game that the ace CC Sabathia pulled an abductor muscle during his last outing against the Mets (which would explain his bad control and low velocity on Sunday night) and would have to go onto the 15-day DL. Missing 2-3 of CC's starts is one thing, but in the 4th inning and leading 2-1 thanks to a 2 RBI double from Eric Chavez off of Ubaldo Jimenez, Andy Pettitte took a hard liner off his ankle from the bat of the well-traveled Casey Kotchman. Pettitte tried to stay in the game, but in the first official pitch after that, a sharp pain shot into his foot and he needed to take himself out. An x-ray showed a fracture in the ankle which wouldn't require surgery, but would keep Pettitte out for at least two month. With Pettitte's arrival came more consistency from the starters and a better rested bullpen, now the rest of the staff will need to keep that going without their two lefties.

             The gritty game continued and the Indians took the lead in the 5th after a mishmash of pitching changes from Joe Girardi. Freddy Garcia was finally brought to get out of a jam and keep the score held at only 3-2 Indians. Jimenez looked untouchable at times during the afternoon, but the Yankees finally managed to get a few more of him in the 6th. After an A-Rod excuse me double to right field, Robinson Cano flicked an outside pitch with his wrists and the ball traveled far over the left field wall for a 2-run homer. Garcia gave 2.1 innings to earn his 2nd win of the season, and Eric Chavez already with 2 RBIs on the day, had another RBI from a single in the bottom of the 8th which would actually end up being a lifesaver. Rafael Soriano was brought into the 9th to close it out as always, but his heavy workload during the Mets and Indians series seemed to take their toll on him. Soriano wasn't sharp and had loaded the bases loaded with one out and Johnny Damon at the plate as a pinch hitter. Damon did his former team a favor and struck out, but Soriano walked in Michael Brantley thereafter and made the score 5-4 with the bags left loaded. Looking at a terrible disaster of a blown game on top of losing CC and Pettitte for the day, the next hitter Asdrubal Cabrera flied out to left and let the stadium crowd breath a sigh of relief.

                Instead of an old friend, an old enemy in Kevin Youklilis and his new team the Chicago White Sox are next to visit Yankee Stadium to start a rare 4-game set while the Yanks figured out how to get by without their two stud lefties.....

Monday, June 25, 2012

If there was any doubt

             As much as the Yankees organization dreads it, they had to pack the equipment and head over to Queens for the next installment of the 'no-win' situation against the Mets in their updated CitiField. If the Yanks win, well, they're supposed to beat the Mets, they're the Yankees. If they ever lose, how could you lose to your weaker hometown rival? With CitiField an absolute failure of a designed ballpark, during the off-season the fences were brought in to pull more homeruns from the weak-hitting Mets' teeth. These shorter dimensions could also serve to benefit visiting ball clubs who like to whack them out, and that's exactly happened with the Yankees.

             Things got interesting before a pitch was even thrown when Mets (unreliable) closer Frank Francisco stated that the Yankee hitters were a bunch of chickens and he couldn't wait to strike them out. Then when asked to clarify his statements, he changed his tune to say the Yankees are a bunch of crybabies, as if going from chickens to crybabies softens the blow.

             The Yankees played it down, of course, and focused to getting to business with Andy Pettitte on the mound against Jonathan Niese. If there was any anger to make Francisco eat his words, the Yanks didn't show it in the first inning. After failing to get a hit with two runners on in the top of the 1st, the Mets pounced on Pettitte and gave him perhaps one of the worst starts in his career. A clutch two-out hit by Justin Turner with bases loaded followed by a 3-run homer by Ike Davis which barely went over the right-field wall and dodged Swisher's glove, put the Mets up 5-0. Pettitte was able to settle down and give the team 6 innings as a way to not tax the bullpen. The Yanks chipped away with solo shots from Alex Rodriguez and Andrew Jones, and when the Mets added a run to make it 6-2, Robinson Cano added a 2-run homer in the 8th to put the score at 6-4. With the save situation for the Mets and the drama too good to be true, Francisco went out in the 9th to shut the door on the team he earlier referred to as chickens.

             Russell Martin lead off the inning with a booming shot to center that would've easily been a double, had not for a great running catch by Andres Torres. Pinch hitter Jayson Nix drew a walk, Derek Jeter then hit a single, and the Yankees were set up to make Francisco eat his words with two on, one out, and the heart of the order coming up. As rain started to drip from the skies, Francisco collected himself and punched-out Curtis Granderson looking at a called strike three fastball right down the plate, and then then got Teixeira to hit an infield pop-up. Frank Francisco had escaped the danger of putting his foot in his mouth and lowered his commanding ERA to 4.97.

             Maybe things weren't that great for Francisco because the next day he had to take himself out of being available when he complained on a pulled muscle on his side. Perhaps over extending himself the night before in order to backup his 'chicken' comment had cost him and the Mets in the long run. The Yanks sent Ivan Nova to even the series and up against him was Mets starter Chris Young. Kirk Nieuwenhuis got things started off for the Mets in the 3rd with an opposite field homerun which dunked over the wall in left. An error by Alex Rodriguez and Nova serving up an RBI single to the opposing pitcher of all people increased the Mets lead to 3-0. Although solid enough, Nova was only able to go 5.2 innings and needed Rapada to finish the 6th. The Yankees finally got to work in the 7th with a borderline called walk to Mark Teixeira, then a hit by Swisher which rightfielder Lucas Duda misplayed which put two Yankees on. Raul Ibanez, who has been very quiet lately, came up roses and slapped a Chris Young pitch into a line drive homerun that scooted over the right field wall and just like that the game was tied 3-3. In the same inning, with Jon Rauch in to pitch and pinch-hitter Eric Chavez up at the plate, Chavez hit a solo homer to the opposite field as well, nearly where Nieuwenhuis hit his previously in the game, and the Yanks took the 4-3 advantage. The Yankees bullpen held down the fort and Rafael Soriano closed it out to even the series and put and end to the Yankees 3-game skid.

             The Mets had some news about their mouthy closer Frank Francisco before the rubber game, apparently the injury he had was serious enough to put him on the 15-day DL. The game itself was to be a pitcher's duel between Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia and R.A. Dickey, who is off to a Cy Young caliber type of season with a 11-1 record and had just come off of throwing back-to-back complete game 1-hitters. Unfortunately for Dickey, that streak would end as the knuckleballer was erratic with his control and served up a massive 3-run homer to Nick Swisher towards right-center which gave the Yanks a 4-0 lead by the 3rd inning. A credit to the Mets, they battled back against Sabathia, who wasn't sharp and didn't have good velocity on his fastball. With the help of some sloppy Yanks defense and the Mets propensity to hit singles, the Mets knocked Sabathia out before the 6th ended and tied the game against reliever Cory Wade. R.A. Dickey was taken off the loss hanger and it was now a new game.

              A managerial decision by Mets skipper Terry Collins helped give the Yankees the lead when Robinson Cano lead off the 8th inning. Miguel Batista was on his second inning of relief and had given up a homerun to Cano just two nights before, but Collins left him in to pitch instead of going to his left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak, and Cano launched a bomb deep over the centerfield wall, nearly missing the Mets Apple, which gave the Yankees a lead again at 6-5. Rain started to come down in the 9th inning with Rafael Soriano on the mound to try to close it out for the Yankees. Soriano gave up a single and Ike Davis came to pinch-hit with two outs in which one big swing could win it for the Mets, but Davis flied out to Swisher to preserve the win and Soriano's 15th save of the season. The win had given the Yankees a 5-1 series against the Mets in 2012 in a true display of chickendom.

              With interleague play in the rearview mirror for the Yankees at 43-28, the Yankees make the long journey back from Queens to the Bronx to host old friend Johnny Damon and the Cleveland Indians....

Friday, June 22, 2012

The party-poopers

             For scheduling reasons only some MLB head office janitor would know, the Yankees had to face the Atlanta Braves for a second time this season during this interleague phase. Although facing NL teams seems to be a delight to the Yanks, this time the NL struck back and in addition to snapping their fun 10-game win streak, the Yankees were also slapped around at home.

             Things got off to a good start with a rematch of last week's lefty match-up of CC Sabathia and Mike Minor. Previously in Atlanta, Minor had been cruising to the 7th inning with a 4-0 lead, when the walls crumbled on the Braves bullpen and the Yankees reversed it to a 6-4 win. Parallel in this game, Minor had been doing fine with a 2-0 by the 5th inning, when things slipped away again as soon as he reached near the 100-pitch mark. The Yankees in the bottom of the 5th had cut the score 2-1 and had the bases loaded with Derek Jeter at the plate. The Yankee Captain delivered with a 2-RBI single to give the Yankees the lead 3-2. That was more than enough for CC Sabathia who went the distance for his 9th win with a complete game performance that included 10 strikeouts. More runs were tacked on later by the Yanks thanks to longballs from Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano which ran the score up to its 6-2 final.

             The next rematch from last week featured Hiroki Kuroda, who has been on a pitching tear lately, against Tim Hudson. The Yankees had to have been feeling good in the 2nd inning when Nick Swisher hit a double which scored 2 runs, but the Braves answered back in the 3rd with an RBI groundout, and then scored 2 more runs to take the 3-2 leads. Thanks to some sloppy Braves defense, the Yanks were able to tie the score 3-3 on Russell Martin grounder misplayed by Chipper Jones in the bottom of the 4th. Tim Hudson was squeezed on the mound by the homeplate umpire which allowed Derek Jeter to walk to load the bases. On the ropes and about to get knocked out by Curtis Granderson, Hudson got out of the jam with a 3-pitch strikeout.

           The Yankees had a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the 5th when Nick Swisher doubled with Mark Teixeira standing on second base, but the ball was hit hard enough to reach right fielder Jayson Wayward, who gunned the slow-footed Teixeira at home to end the inning. The big out must have energized the Braves, because Brian McCann lead off the 6th with a double off of Kuroda and would eventually come around to score and give the Braves the 4-3 lead. The Yankees had one final shot to get a run and it looked promising when Granderson and Rodriguez reached to put 2 runners on first and second with no outs. Cano moved them over with a sacrifice ground out, then next hitter Teixeira hit a sharp grounder to Chipper Jones who was able to throw out Granderson trying to score at home, and last hitter Ibanez struckout, as he continues to wear down from overuse due to Gardner's injury. In the 9th, the Braves sent out their superman unnecessary hunched-over closer Craig Kimbrel with his 99mph fastball mixed in with 89mph breaking stuff and he made the Yankees first three hitters look childish as he saved the 4-3 game without problems.

             For the rubber match it came down to a pair of pitchers who did not face eachother last week; Phil Hughes and Tommy Hanson. With a heatwave hovering over New York and temperatures at Yankee Stadium reaching 95 degrees, Phil Hughes must have had his brain fried because he simply didn't have it. Already down 1-0 in the first inning, Hughes gave up a 2-run shot to Francisco Freeman to give the Braves a 3-0 lead. Derek Jeter struck back immediately by depositing the first pitch from Tommy Hanson over the right field wall to get one back for the Yankees, but Hughes gave it back in the 4th inning with a solo homer from Martin Prado. Just for good measure Hughes gave up two more homers to Jayson Heyward and even 9th-place hitter David Ross that increased the Braves lead to 6-1. Hughes couldn't even finish the 5th and Girardi had to come and get him out of the sun.

             The hot air helped the Yankee hitters as well as they started to mount their comeback with homeruns from Eric Chavez in the 5th inning, then Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano back-to-back in the 6th to cut the lead 6-4. In the bottom of the 7th, the Yanks had a golden opportunity to tie the score. The Yankees had cut the Braves lead to 6-5 and had runners on first and third with one out and A-Rod at the plate. A sacrifice fly or groundout would tie the score, but instead he did the absolute worst thing he could in that situation, he grounded into a double-play that ended the inning. In the top of the 8th, Boone Logan was on the mound with one out and a runner at first and third for the Braves this time. A ball was hit hard to Chavez (filling in for Teixeira who didn't start) and what would've been a double-play ball to end the threat, the ball was booted by Chavez and the runner scored from third to make it 7-5 Braves. Afterwards, Jayson Heyward ended it essentially with a 2-run bomb to right field that made it 9-5, and the game ended at 10-5 in a homer happy heat drenched afternoon.

             With the 10-game winning streak seemingly like a long distant memory after two frustrating losses, the 41-27 Yankees go for one final NL match-up, this time a rematch against the Mets, hoping the don''t turn things around like the Braves did....

Monday, June 18, 2012

Taking the nation by storm

             The Yankees cemented themselves as the hottest team in baseball after yet another sweep, a first place team this time, in the Washington Nationals. The nation's capital was the sight of the match-up as the Yanks wrapped up their road trip against the former Montreal Expos.

             Luck was bestowed on the Yanks before a pitch was even thrown as they would miss facing phenom starter Steven Strasburg due to the fact he pitched in the Nationals' previous game in Toronto. The Yanks would get a look at their other big-named player getting alot of attention lately, nineteen year-old centerfielder Bryce Harper. Winners of six games in a row themselves, the Nationals instead sent Gio Gonzalez, part of their revamped rotation in 2012, out to open against Phil Hughes. Gio looked sharp early after he struck out Jeter and Granderson to start the game, but soon enough the Yankee machine applied pressure and got his pitch count up. By the 3rd inning, singles by Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher with runners on put the Yanks up 2-0. In the bottom of the 3rd the National would stage a little rally of their own by loading the bases and hitting a single to even score a run to cut the lead in half, but then Hughes buckled down to get Ian Desmond to ground into a double-play to end the threat. Desmond would end up being the Yankees best friend throughout the weekend.

             Gio Gonzalez started the 7th inning, but after giving up a leadoff single, Nationals manager Davey Johnson of 1986 Mets World Championship fame brought in Brad Lidge to make things even worse. After a couple more walks, one intentional, the bases were loaded for Derek Jeter who plated two run thanks to an infield single and throwing error by their shortstop Ian Desmond. Johnson then went to lefty Mike Gonzalez, but Curtis Granderson went opposite field for a double to score two more runs and the usually solid Nats bullpen had surrendered 4 runs. Hughes gave six good innings and Girardi had the bullpen close out the final three innings. Curtis Granderson tacked on a solo homer in the 9th to make it 7-1 Yankees and David Robertson made his return in the 9th from his DL stint to give a run back and finish off the game 7-2.

             Saturday afternoon turned out to be a five-hour marathon affair with both managers emptying out their bullpens and it would take the Yankees a whole fourteen innings to cap off their eighth win in a row. It begun simple enough as Andy Pettitte took the hill against the Nationals other Zimmermann, Jordan Zimmermann (with two N's at the end instead of one). The Nats grabbed an early 2-0 thanks to a broken-bat double by Jesus Flores that carried deep to the left field wall. Other than that, Pettitte was solid and made youngster Bryce Harper look ugly on three strikeouts, and Harper himself would strikeout five times during the long afternoon.

             In the 4th inning, an error by Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond allowed Russell Martin to score to make it 2-1 Nationals, and then in the 6th a sacrifice groundout by Raul Ibanez and a long double by Eric Chavez made it now 3-2 Yankees. Before the Chavez double, Swisher tried scoring on a Martin infield single, but was thrown out at home and suffered a leg contusion on the collision that would take him out for the rest of the series. Cory Wade came out to start the eighth after Pettitte's seven innings of work, and Ian Desmond made some amends by knocking a solo homer to left to tie the game at 3-3 to put a blemish on this time the usually reliable Yankees bullpen. Things could've gotten worse in the bottom of the 8th for the Yankees with Boone Logan, relieving Wade, came on to face pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche. A single by LaRoche with Tyler Moore at second put the Yanks in danger of falling behind, but the ball was hit hard enough to right that Dewyane Wise, actually doing something significant for the first time in pinstripes, threw Moore out at home trying to score. Luckily for the Yankees, the homeplate umpire had blown the call as replays showed Moore's hand on the plate before the tag.

             With the score 3-3 in the 9th inning and through the extra frames, it was blown opportunity after blown opportunity for both teams. The managers were running out of pitchers and Girardi was forced to let Freddy Garcia to just stay out there until they take a lead or just lose. Turns out the Yanks finally grabbed at lead and hit with RISP thanks to a 2-run double in the top of the 14th by Mark Teixeira off of Brad Lidge again which plated Jayson Nix (also doing something big in a Yankee uniform for the first time with a leadoff single) and Derek Jeter that put the Yankees up 5-3. After the game, the second poor outing in a row by Lidge caused the Nationals to release him. With the lead, Girardi was able to go to closer Rafael Soriano and instead of putting an end to the never-ending game, Soriano made it very interesting with allowing two singles to put the game in the hands of phenom hitter Bryce Harper with two-outs that he could win the game with a walk-off homer. It wouldn't be that day Harper as he quietly grounded out to second to avoid the scare and let Soriano untuck his shirt for the 5-3 victory.

              The Yankees must have liked their chances of achieving their third sweep in a row of a NL club when they sent their reliable road warrior Ivan Nova to cap off the third game against the oft-traveled Edwin Jackson, also part of the revamped 2012 Nationals rotation. The Yankees went up 1-0 in the 1st inning from an RBI flyout from Mark Teixeira, but the Nationals answered back in the 2nd with a solo homer from Adam LaRoche. With homeruns being the theme of the game, Curtis Granderson hit his 21st of the season in the 5th inning and Cano hit one in the 7th to make it 3-1 Yankees. Then yet another Nationals error lead to the Yankees' 4th run; on what was seemingly an unintentional-intentional walk to Andruw Jones with Teixeira at third base, catcher Jhonathan Solano allowed the ball to go by him which brought Teixeira in to score. Nova was able to stretch it into the 8th inning with 7.2 innings of one-run ball for his 9th win of the season and Soriano less-dramatically closed it out for his lucky 13th save.

               With a poor May behind them, the Yankees stand at 40-25 that ties them with the Texas Rangers in wins (plus Texas has two more losses) in the AL and the Yanks are only two losses behind the MLB win-leading Dodgers....