Bronx, N.Y., March 30, 2019; Baltimore 5, Yankees 3 — James Paxton pitched well in his Yankee debut, but not good enough to avoid taking the 5-3 loss. The southpaw throws hard, pounding heat up to 97 mph, mixing in a slider, and a (very) occasional slow curve. He’s a strike thrower; James threw 21 of 24 first pitches for strikes, and 57 strikes and just 24 balls.
He struck out five, including three straight in the fifth inning. That actually may have been his undoing, as he seemed to tire in sixth. Up 1-0 and throwing a one-hitter entering the frame, he surrendered hits to the eighth and ninth batters in the order, then another following a hard line out to center. The liner could have turned the game in the Yanks’ favor, as Brett Gardner almost caught catcher Jesus Sucre advancing to third, but D.J. LeMahieu’s sweeping tag attempt just missed.
A Dwight Smith, Jr. single scored one run and another crossed after Gleyber Torres couldn’t block Gary Sanchez’s one-hop throw on a double steal. Troy Tulowitzki saved another run on a fine throw home on a slow grounder, but the second tally would make Paxton, who was replaced at this point by Adam Ottavino, the loser in the game. The rally put some spark in Baltimore bats. Rookie Rio Ruiz reached Chad Green, in for the seventh, for a just fair double down the left field line with one down. Green would close the inning with two swinging strike outs, but not before Sucre, who had three hits, singled to deep right to score Ruiz.
Even then, as it would turn out, things could have worked out, but Jonathan Holder was reached for two scores in the ninth. It was set up by a doubly disturbing leadoff two-base error on a Joey Ricard grounder toward third. The error was on LeMahieu, a career second baseman with skills the Yanks have decided can translate to playing third and first as well. He made a superb stop on a ball almost past him (inept official scoring denied Ricard the hit he surely earned), but D.J.’s throw to first bounced and was a bit off line. On the other end, Luke Voit’s failure to pick up his teammate by at least stopping it adds to the growing evidence that his superior bat is teamed with his somewhat pedestrian glove. Luke could also have been expected to make the catch on a short fly over his head that became the second hit of the pivotal sixth inning. As it was, ome out later in the ninth, a single, then double stretched the O’s lead to 5-1.
This made a stirring ninth-inning rally too little, too late. The Yanks had squandered yet another bases loaded situation way back in the first when Miguel Andujar, DHing on a day when he looked horrible at the plate, bounced into a 1-2-3 double play. Singles in the second and third went for naught, but a LeMahieu single following a one-base hit and walk in the fourth finally got a run home. Three went down swinging in the eighth around a Sanchez hit to left that he (wisely) did not try to run into a double. Gary came to the plate hearing a few murmurs from the crowd, as his average had skipped below .200, but he actually looks great with a bat in his hands. He just missed a homer that went foul in the fourth, then lined a 400-foot out to center. And one thing that stands out about his Thursday at bat that resulted in the infield fly rule debacle is that he swung 11 times in that 13-pitch battle and hit the ball all 11 times.
Which brings us to the late rally try. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Tulo went down 0-2, then homered to right on a ball that, easily out, still carried further than expected. LeMahieu then doubled and, following a Gardner line out to center, Aaron Judge singled him to third. But Giancarlo Stanton, who had singled and walked twice to this point, struck out swinging before Voit restored hope with a pop fly rbi single to right. Andujar had actually had an infield single in the sixth, but he simply topped the ball and it died on the infield grass. Following his double play grounder to the pitcher in the first, he fouled out to the catcher. But now, as the go-ahead run, he had checked swing strikes on two balls out of the zone. After a ball it should have been 3-0, but when he swung and missed at the next pitch, the out that ended the game, it was at a 1-2 throw. Maybe he doesn’t adjust well to the DH role. He certainly hit well all month, and in Thursday’s opener.
So the team falls to a 1-1 record, and plays an early disappointing game against the overmatched Orioles, against whom they started poorly last year. Sure, it’s one loss in a season that will surely have more than 50 of them, but they have a weak schedule starting the season, and need to win a lot of games out of the gate. But on the other hand, we got to watch a ballgame in genuinely moderate conditions, a joy after a months-long wait. Although Paxton stumbled slightly, his early-game work was encouraging. And the offense, which underperformed much of the day, gave us a 20-minute thrill at the end.
Yesterday, I mentioned that the Stadium introduced a feature called Eighties in the 8th last year, during which they play a song from that freaky decade in the eighth inning. Although hardly thrilled much of the day, the 42,000-plus enjoyed that entertainment, and had a rollicking time in the ninth. They stood, applauded, and cheered. After the cold, cold winter, baseball is back! Come to a game. Root on the team. “All rise” when Judge comes to the plate. Do what musical group Quiet Riot advised in the eighth:
Cum on Feel the Noize