Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bye-Bye Birdie, Hello Playoffs...

Credit:  Tom Szczerbowski-Getty Images
Yankees 5, Blue Jays 1...

What a difference a day makes! Put Sonny Gray on the mound, give him a few runs and all is better in the world as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays and secured a post-season berth.  

On paper, Sonny Gray versus Joe Biagini seems like a mismatch. But early, Biagini was the better pitcher. Biagini breezed through the first three innings facing only the minimum number of batters (thanks to a double play in the second inning which eliminated the only Yankee baserunner). Meanwhile, Gray had a runner in scoring position in the first inning (which he escaped) and then allowed a third inning home run to Teoscar Hernandez which gave the Blue Jays the early 1-0 lead. Hernandez absolutely crushed the ball high into the center field stands. It was his second home run against Yankees in as many days.

The Yankees finally broke through against Biagini in the fifth inning. Chase Headley led off the inning with a walk. While Jacoby Ellsbury was batting, Headley successfully stole second. Ells subsequently struck out, but Starlin Castro followed by taking the second walk of the inning. Greg Bird, with a beautiful swing, homered to right center. As John Sterling said, "Bye-bye, Birdie! In the right field seats...the Birdman of New York...and the Yankees promptly take the 3-1 lead".  

Gray was cruising until the sixth inning when he had trouble throwing strikes and had two men on base with free passes with only one out. Kevin Pillar lined a sharp fly to left center on a ball that looked like it might have a chance to drop in but a great running catch by Brett Gardner prevented the potential extra base hit. Gray retired the next  batter, Ryan Goins, on a ground out to get out of the inning.  

Credit:  Tom Szczerbowski-Getty Images

For Gray, his day was done. Chad Green came in for the bottom of the seventh, and did what he does best. Three up, three down...two by strikeout. C-Green will certainly help the Yankees see green (the money) in October.  

Credit:  Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Frazier added an insurance run in the top of the eighth when he hit a solo home run over the center field wall. 4-1, Yankees. David Robertson took over in the bottom of the eighth and repeated Green's performance...three batters, two strikeouts. Wash, rinse, repeat...it works for me.

On to the top of the ninth and the Yankees weren't done. Gary Sanchez led off the inning with a double off the center field wall. Kevin Pillar went to the wall and got his glove on the ball but surprisingly, for Pillar given his strong defense, wasn't able to make the catch. Gary Sanchez hesitated as if he thought the ball was either caught or out of the park but then ran safely to second after realizing it was in play. Moral of the story, always hustle. Chase Headley reached on a one-out walk, but he was erased when Jacoby Ellsbury hit into a fielder's choice that erased Headley at second. But Sanchez was able to move to third. So, runners at the corners and two outs for Starlin Castro.  Castro hit a slow infield grounder that got past the pitcher. Third baseman Josh Donaldson charged the ball but couldn't make the transfer. Runners safe as Sanchez crossed the plate for the Yankees' final run.

Aroldis Chapman took over in the bottom of the 9th. He didn't have the strikeouts of his two predecessors, but he still retired the three batters he faced in the non-save situation for the win. It was appropriate the final out was recorded by former Yankee Robert Refsnyder, pinch-hitting for Ryan Goins, when he hit a grounder to first with Greg Bird stepping on the bag to end the game. The Yankees win!

Credit:  Fred Thornill-AP

The Yankees (86-68) were business-like on the field with hugs and high-fives after the game, but pandemonium broke loose in the clubhouse as the Yankees celebrated their first post-season appearance since 2015.

Credit:  Tom Szczerbowski-Getty Images
Credit:  Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the win, they were unable to make up any ground on the Red Sox and remain four games behind in the AL East. Boston defeated the hapless Cincinnati Reds, 5-0, in a game that featured an inning of relief by Reds reliever Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox manager John Farrell. It would have been poetic justice for the younger Farrell to beat his pop but it was not meant to be.  The Yankees also remain 5 1/2 games up on the Minnesota Twins for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game. The Twins haven't secured their WC spot yet but they continue to win and presently hold a commanding 4 1/2 game edge over the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, and Los Angeles Angels.  

Sonny Gray (10-11) showed what Masahiro Tanaka did not. When the stakes are high, raise the level of your play. Gray may not have had his best stuff on Saturday but he held the Blue Jays to four hits and one run in six innings. He walked three, but that was primarily the two he walked in the sixth when he was tiring. He struck out four.  

Excellent job by the Bullpen. Three innings, no hits, no runs, four strikeouts.  The Bullpen is the October difference-maker. If the Yankees can only get Dellin Betances right, you have to like the team's late inning chances against the game's best teams.     

Odds & Ends...

Magic Numbers:  The Yankees magic number to clinch home-field advantage for the Wild Card game is three (any combination of Yankees wins or Twins losses). The more impossible reach (AL East Championship) stands at five games (any combination of Red Sox wins or Yankees losses). With eight games remaining, the Red Sox do not play a team with a winning record until they entertain the Houston Astros at Fenway Park starting Thursday for the final series of the season. Even then, it's possible that the Astros won't have anything left to play for if the Cleveland Indians secure home field advantage for the play-offs. In other words, I don't see the Red Sox losing anytime soon.

It does seem weird to have a champagne (and beer) celebration for the right to play one game that may or may not be won by the best team. I know, it's better to have some chance than no chance. I personally do not buy into the Yankees' dominance of the Twins as reason for optimism. Too much can happen with a single game and a bad start by the likely starter, Luis Severino, can send the Bombers home for the winter. My excitement will come if the Yankees can win that single game to advance to the expanded play-offs against the division winners.  

Luis Severino was struck by a batted ball before yesterday's game. He was in the outfield playing catch during pre-game warmups when he was hit in the shoulder. The ball was believed to have been hit by Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile. Sevy dropped to the stadium turf but was able to get up to resume playing catch after being checked out by head athletic trainer Steve Donohue.  Fortunately, it was his non-throwing shoulder but it's still scary to see your ace go down.  

Have a great Sunday! Hopefully this is a winning final road game of the regular season kind of day. Go Yankees!

6 comments:

  1. Going to go on a little rant here. I'm tired of the anti Yankee voting for awards. Judge is leading the AL in homeruns, runs, walks, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, yet he doesn't seem to even be in the MVP conversation. It's all about Altuve and Sale. I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but pitchers have their own award, and Judge leads Altuve in everything except batting average and stolen bases. Oh, and doubles. What the hell?

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    1. Some owners and writers have long memories! Many of the money caps and restrictions are because the Yankees were the best for so long and used their money and name to get players.
      Thus, we have the unfair trade demands from other teams...we refuse/accept a huge demand for a player and the other team will make a deal for lesser players from someone else!

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    2. I see "most valuable" take away altuve, they still make playoffs, likely as division winners. Take away judge, we'd be bottom of AL east .

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    3. All great points here. If Judge isn't the AL MVP this season there is seriously something wrong. These writers and voters though tend to look more and more at sabermetric stats right now rather than using the term valuable the way it was intended.

      Only time will tell.

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  2. By the way Scott, love your writing.

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    1. Scott is a hell of a writer. We're truly lucky to have him here with us.

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