Tuesday, October 17, 2017

All Rise for Home Sweet Home...

Credit:  Abbie Parr-Getty Images

American League Championship Series
Yankees 8, Astros 1
Astros lead Series, 2-1

CC Sabathia is proving, again and again, that he is the team's prime stopper in 2017. I almost feel bad since I was among those who left CC for dead. I started to buy into Sabathia early in the season, but when he ran into his bump in the road and time on the DL, I was burying the guy again. Yet, here he is on the main stage, being trusted with the ball in the most dire situations and he has not disappointed. Monday, backed by home runs from Todd Frazier and Aaron Judge, Sabathia reeled off his 10th win (against no losses) following a Yankees loss with an elite 1.69 ERA in those situations as the Yankees put the brakes on Houston's march to the World Series.  

Aaron Judge draws the most attention when going yard, but the biggest hit was provided courtesy of Todd Frazier. At the trading deadline when the Yankees acquired Frazier, it felt like he was going to be a two month rental before moving on. However, Frazier is showing how much he enjoys playing in the Bronx and seems to be tailor made for Yankee Stadium. I recognize that Miguel Andujar (or perhaps a free agent signing of Manny Machado after the 2018 season) represents the future at third, but Frazier deserves an encore performance in the Bronx next season.  


Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

While the final line for Astros starter Charlie Morton was not pretty, he was pitching great early. After two strikeouts by Morton to start the game, Didi Gregorius got the first hit for the Yankees with an infield grounder to third, but he was quickly erased for the final out when Morton's pickoff throw to first was a little faster than Didi's sliding hand.  

It looked like Morton, who grew up as a Yankees fan in Connecticut, was going to have a very good game in this pitching-strong series. Like the first inning, Morton got two quick outs to start the second inning...a line out to center by Gary Sanchez, who jumped on the first pitch, and a strike out of Greg Bird. Then, Starlin Castro hit a weak squibbler toward third that third baseman Alex Bregman tried unsuccessfully to barehand. Carlos Correa retrieved the ball and threw to first, but Castro had already crossed the bag. Aaron Hicks followed with a high fly to left that dropped in for a single. The Yankees had runners at first and second, but those were two hard earned hits so you couldn't really fault Morton. On Morton's third pitch to Todd Frazier, he threw a good outside fastball but Frazier reached out and got enough of the bat on the ball with a one-handed swing to power it over the right field wall. The Yankees were up, 3-0.


Credit:  Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Staked to a three-run lead, CC Sabathia appeared to wobble in the top of the 3rd inning. After getting two outs, he walked George Springer. Alex Bregman singled to deep left, but a great throw by Brett Gardner to second base held the runners at the corners. The very dangerous Jose Altuve was up next and Sabathia pitched very cautiously to him before losing him on four balls. The bases were loaded for the Astros, the best hitting team in baseball with runners in scoring position. However, Sabathia got Carlos Correa to pop out to short for the final out. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. Excellent job by Sabathia to get out of the inning unscathed.

Greg Bird led off the bottom of the 4th with a fly to left that bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. Left fielder Cameron Maybin came running up to catch the ball but then pulled up at the last moment before the ball hit the ground and became a souvenir in the seats. After Starlin Castro grounded out to third, Aaron Hicks hit a fly to right which Josh Reddick caught on the warning track but Bird was able to tag and move to third. Todd Frazier walked to bring up Chase Headley. Headley hit a grounder to second baseman Jose Altuve in shallow right and reached when Altuve bobbled the ball. Frazier was safe at second and Bird scored on the play. Brett Gardner was hit by a pitch on the left knee to load the bases, which brought Astros manager A.J. Hinch out of the dugout with a call to the bullpen. He brought in Will Harris to replace Morton. With Aaron Judge batting, Harris threw a wild pitch and the runners advanced, pushing Frazier across home plate to score the Yankees' fifth run. Judge finally broke out of his ALCS slump when he blasted a line drive into the left field seats for three more runs. The Yankees had increased their lead to 8-0.


Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The Astros threatened again in the top of the 6th inning. Carlos Correa started the inning with a hard grounder that deflected off the glove of Didi Gregorius to safely reach first base. After Sabathia recorded two outs, Marwin Gonzalez hit a grounder to Gregorius and reached base when Didi lost his footing and overthrew Greg Bird at first. Correa moved to third. After a visit to the mound by Larry Rothschild, Sabathia got Josh Reddick to hit a soft grounder back to the pitching mound that CC was able to field and throw to first for the final out. The shutout remained intact for the great 37-year-old Yankees lefty.

For Sabathia, his day was finished. Adam Warren took over in the top of the 7th. It didn't start well when he walked his first batter, but he settled in and retired the next three batters to push the game to the 8th inning. Warren was back out for the 8th and retired the Astros in order.


Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

It was inevitable that we'd see Dellin Betances at some point and Joe Girardi decided his time was the top of the 9th inning to seal the deal for the Yankees. It was a great opportunity for Betances to earn redemption and show that he can be a trusted arm for the duration of the playoffs. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity for Betances who walked the first two batters he faced and was pulled.  


Credit:  Getty Images

Tommy Kahnle was brought in. Cameron Maybin greeted Kahnle with a single to left to load the bases. Kahnle struck out George Springer for the first out but then he walked Alex Bregman which pushed Marwin Gonzalez across the plate for the Astros' first run (a run charged to Betances). Bases still loaded for likely AL MVP Jose Altuve and only one out. Kahnle came up big when Altuve hit a grounder to second baseman Starlin Castro, who stepped on second and threw to Greg Bird at first to complete the double play. Game over. Yankees win!

Granted, Judge's home run was huge. While I still feel that Frazier's bomb was the difference-maker (offensively), the play of the game occurred in the top of the 4th inning when Marwin Gonzalez led off with a fly to right that took Aaron Judge to the wall. Judge reached up to catch the ball as he crashed into the wall and fall to the ground. It was an incredible catch to rob Gonzalez of a potential home run. Of course, it brought the obligatory questions of who was hurt the most...Judge or the wall...but it was the play of the game in my opinion. The Yankees were holding the three-run lead at that point courtesy of the Frazier home run, and a rally by the Astros in that spot would have made it a much different game.  


Credit:  Elsa-Getty Images

Judge, proving his glove is as powerful as his bat, also made a diving catch of a line drive hit by Cameron Maybin in the fifth inning.


Credit:  Robert Sabo

I can't say enough great things about CC Sabathia. Time and again, he has proven to be a crafty veteran who simply knows how to win. He's faced his share of adversity but continues to overcome. Like Frazier, I think that CC Sabathia was earned a spot on the 2018 Yankees.  


Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The Yankees now turn Game 4 over to the forgotten Sonny Gray. Like Betances (who failed his ALCS audition), this is a chance for redemption for Gray. We know that he will be a huge part of future Yankee teams but this is his time to grab the moment and make his mark in New York. Gray (10-12, 3.55 ERA) will be opposed by Lance McCullers, Jr (7-4, 4.25 ERA). Don't let the ERA fool you, McCullers, the son of a former Yankee, has been very tough on the Pinstripers.  This game should be a classic. Hopefully, Sonny Gray rises to the challenge to craft an exciting first chapter of his Yankees post-season career.  

Odds & Ends...

I missed the weekend game (Game 2) due to a preplanned trip. The Yankees failed to tell me that they were going to make it to the American League Championship series earlier in the year when I made plans. A heartbreaking loss is not fun to write about, but I really appreciated the way that Astros catcher stood up for Gary Sanchez after the game. McCann could easily join the throngs who love to bash the Yankees but he's been nothing but the professional that we came to love during his days in the Bronx.  

I keep reading so many articles that speculate whether or not Manager Joe Girardi will return and how he seems to be edgier around friends and family. Personally, I think he'd be foolish to leave at the dawn of a new era in Yankees baseball.  I think he'll come to an agreement with the Yankees after the season is over to help the Baby Bombers strive for greater heights over the next few years. Honestly, I do not see any viable alternatives and nothing against Yankee coaches like Tony Pena or Rob Thomsen but I think, despite his faults, Joe Girardi is the best man for the job.

Have a great Tuesday! Like Joe Girardi and Joe Torre before him have said, let's just win one game today. We believe. Go Yankees!

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