A Fun Day With Gumby

Bronx, N.Y., April 21, 2018; Yankees 9, Toronto 1 — Fans who hear that the Yankees beat the visiting Blue Jays 9-1 Saturday afternoon might be surprised to hear that for much of the day, this was a spine-tingling, edge-of-your-seat pitchers’ duel, one the Yanks would have been losing but for the extraordinary talent of the young man holding down right field in the Bronx. On the very first Spring-like day (approaching 60 degrees and sunny will have to do) the Bombers have played on in 2018, the home team delighted a big crowd much of the day.

Toronto’s Marcus Stroman and Pinstriper Jordan Montgomery between them retired 12 of the first 13 batters on 42 pitches in 24 breezy minutes, with the one blemish being a five-pitch walk Stroman issued to Didi Gregorius in the first. And it was a second mini-bout with wildness that would cost the diminutive righthander in the third. Stroman had the Yankees pounding his fastballs, sliders, and curves into the ground, as he retired the first eight of nine on routine grounders around a called strike out of Austin Romine leading off the bottom of the fateful frame. With two down, Marcus got two called strikes on Brett Gardner, then missed the zone on seven consecutive pitches, the final three to all-world standout Aaron Judge, once Gardner strode to first with his free pass. The next pitch found the zone, as in almost a different time zone, as His Honor lifted the ball high and deep and several feet inside the left field foul pole, for a sudden 2-0 Yankee lead.

Montgomery, meanwhile, had just survived a shaky third of his own. Off to a good start this season but for an atrocious outing against Baltimore in which he failed to hold a 5-0 first-inning lead, starting the third the sophomore southpaw found himself facing a bases-loaded, one-out challenge on an infield single and two walks around a fielder’s choice ground ball. But he came back strong, surviving an eight-pitch battle with left fielder Teoscar Hernandez with a swinging strike out, then closing the worrisome frame with a popup to short. And he pitched around a leadoff Kendrys Morales single in the fourth, with a strike out of Kevin Pillar before second baseman Ronald Torreyes roamed deep into short center field to snag catcher Luke Maile’s short fly on a ball on which center fielder Aaron Hicks appeared to get a poor read.

Toronto halved the Yankee lead in the fifth, and Monty, whose nickname is Gumby, truly proved his mettle during the Jays’ third, and most challenging, threat. Following a leadoff walk to right fielder Randall Grichuk, rookie Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., who has the look of a born hitter, singled sharply to left. Perhaps surprised by Grichuk’s daring dash to third, Gardner made a rare mistake, throwing [poorly, though a good throw would not have gotten the out] to third, with Gurriel reaching second. When one-time Yankee Steve Pearce rolled a ground single to left, Grichuk scored, and the Jays had a run in, with the tying run on third with no outs. Not a typical strike out pitcher, Gumby whiffed Hernandez swinging yet again, then coaxed a relatively short fly to right (very few will challenge Judge’s arm now), and a grounder to short.

With new life, tough competitor Stroman, a boy local to this area, responded with a 10-pitch bottom half, helped immensely by his blind, over-his-head grab of a Romine hopper to start a 1-4-3 double play. With Monty’s pitch count at 84, however, he responded with a six-pitch sixth, on two grounders to short and a three-pitch strike out of Maile. Then the game changed, and Stroman’s fine day, and any Toronto chance, quickly disappeared.

The home sixth started promisingly, but quietly, with a Gardner opposite-field single to left, and a four pitch walk to Judge. Didi restored the two-run lead with an rbi single to right, Stanton walked to load the bases, and Hicks’s soft hopper toward the mound, on which Stroman pounced with an effective flip to home, was more bad news for Marcus, as catcher Maile could not hold on with Judge bearing down on him. Neal Walker took a third strike, but if any Toronto fan was lamenting that all this damage had been done without the Yanks showing much firepower, third baseman Miguel Andujar put that thought to bed with a missile to the wall over Hernandez in the left. Now 7-1 as Stroman departed, a walk, sac fly and two singles forged the 9-1 final score.

Montgomery’s outing was more than solid, not because he threw one-two-three innings in the first, second, and sixth, but because he withstood challenges in his three other frames. His 54/36 strikes/balls ratio was not ideal; neither was just 13 first-pitch strikes to 25 batters. But three of his strike outs, all swinging, were huge in his survival, and he got outs in all kinds of other ways: five ground outs, three flies, and two popups and two liners to infielders.

Rbi honors are shared by Judge, who added a walk and an rbi single to his third-inning blast, and Andujar, whose bases-clearing double looked to be hit just as hard as he was drilling balls all over west Florida six weeks ago. Chasen Shreve and Jonathan Holder, recalled before this game as reliever Adam Warren became yet another ’18 Yankee to land on the Disabled List, finished up. Despite the 35-minute Yankee onslaught in the sixth, festivities were concluded in just 2:50, something that would have been a welcome factor in the four bone-chilling night games that preceded this one. An even better day is anticipated tomorrow, with one-time Yankee (briefly) Jaime Garcia facing staff ace Luis Severino. The Bronx is abuzz that this game may feature the pinstriped debut of Gleyber Torres. It will be hard to sleep thinking of that tonight.

Manager Aaron Boone, who has certainly taken plenty of criticism for his handling of the club in his first month, filled out an effective lineup card on this day, given the long line of attrition the Blue Jays faced in the bottom of the sixth. It was on this day in 1977 (a Championship year!) that manager Billy Martin, with his club mired in a 2-8 slump, chose his lineup by drawing player names from a hat, an exploit that amazingly got him a win his team badly needed.

We started this one at 8-8, now 9-8, not at all the desperate straits of 1977, a glorious year in the history, as it would turn out. No, a lot of Yankee fan despair and frustration notwithstanding, we were able, this Saturday, to have a,

Fun Day With Gumby