Green Acres Is the Place to Be

Bronx, N.Y., April 22; Yankees 5, Toronto 1 — When you have a starting pitcher on the mound who routinely gives just one, or even no, runs, a first-inning home run by one of your players sets you up for a delightful day. And when it occurs on a genuine Spring afternoon on a field bathed in bright sunshine, well, pilgrim, this is why you go to ballgames. Riding offense from Didi Gregorius — the aforementioned homer hitter — and third baseman Miguel Andujar, along with staff ace Luis Severino’s dominant pitching, the Yankees beat visiting Toronto 5-1 in front of a crowd that, early at least, was as relaxed and happy as if they were watching a TV sitcom.

Staff ace Luis Severino had already struck out two in a one-two-three first before Sir Didi gave us a quick 1-0 lead, and catcher Austin Romine scored two with a double to right following a top of the second where Luis repeated his results from the first. The quick 3-0 lead felt bigger than it was. But then again, we didn’t know the home team wouldn’t continue to score in every frame.

The relaxed feeling dissipated a bit almost immediately. Severino was very good all day, but the Blue Jays pushed him to a 27-pitch third once the first two reached on a single and a walk. And 17 more throws in a fourth inning begun when Aaron Hicks failed in his valiant attempt to make a catch of a Justin Smoak drive to deep center; Hicks bounced off the center field wall and landed hard on the warning track, as did the ball. The superb Severino pitched his way out of both threats, but the lead held at just three runs through the third, fourth, and fifth, until Toronto cut it to 3-1 with Teoscar Hernandez’s homer to left with one down in the sixth.

Feeling our pain, perhaps, the Yanks got that one back right away, with rookie Andujar delivering Gary Sanchez, who had doubled with one down, with yet another laser to the wall. I want to say that Miguel hits everything hard, but I’d be lying, because his fourth (!) hit this day was an infield squibbler.

Andujar was followed in the order by Gleyber Torres, the second baseman who had the crowd buzzing pregame, on this, his much anticipated MLB debut. A fanbase that has been full-on merciless to a team off to a mediocre start, largely due to a raft of early injuries, ineffectiveness, and nightmare-bad weather was actually quite classy to the kid, giving him a standing ovation when he strode to the plate for the first time in the second. I could have been writing a somber drama column, rather than a sitcom, had a different script unfolded, but it was largely not an issue that Torres failed to deliver a run, even though he came to the plate with an rbi opportunity his first three times up. He went 0-for-4, with a strike out and a double play grounder, but three weeks ago fans were scratching their heads over Andujar, who back then couldn’t buy a base hit. Torres will be fine.

In a move that will take you back a decade maybe, if not to 1959, Severino was trusted with the ball to start the seventh after having already tossed 97 balls to the plate. On this day 48 years ago, Whitey Ford struck out 15 and beat the Senators 1-0, going the distance in 14 innings! That doesn’t happen in 2018, and hasn’t since Nolan Ryan retired, but Severino’s eventual seven-inning, 112-pitch outing is a mark of a pitcher set apart, like a handful of others this year. He pitched the seventh around a two-out hit by pitch of center fielder Kevin Pillar, and by the time David Robertson (in the eighth) and Aroldis Chapman (the ninth) took the mound, the score was 5-1, courtesy of Didi’s sac fly in the home seventh, scoring Hicks following a single, steal of second, and throwing error.

In the home eighth, the spirit of the sitcom returned, or would have had the bewildering incompetence of the replay booth not enraged so many of us in the stands. In as clear a case of a first baseman being pulled [way] off the bag as you’ll ever see — seriously, YouTube it — Ted Barrett’s out call of Tyler Austin was upheld even though Smoak caught the ball a full foot beyond first base. The theory is that they could not have had a view of the shot we saw on the Scoreboard; I don’t care, in my mind it was clear in any view.

I’d like to say it mattered not at all, but it’s not true. Andujar’s following single would have ushered in two on with one out, and who knows what transpires? Ten minutes later, Chapman walked two with one out in the ninth, and the Jays were a grand slam away from a tied game. Aroldis toughened, striking out Pillar on three pitches and Austin made a fine grab of a Lourdes Gurriel hotshot and raced to the bag to end the game.

So a game many hoped would be that memorable day Gleyber Torres took major league baseball by storm had a happy ending for the home team after all. And by winning three out of four, the Yanks are perched to wrench second place in the East from Toronto going forward. The Gregorius and Andujar contributions notwithstanding, this one belongs to Severino, who allowed but three hits and two walks the entire day. He coaxed 18 swings and misses to garner six strike outs, all swinging, and pounded 69 of 112 pitches for strikes. The only true rescue from his defense was a fine Giancarlo Stanton running catch of a Gurriel liner to the left field wall to end the fifth.

That play evokes yet another humorous take on this one, as nine pitches earlier, Stanton, who has taken some criticism from a spoiled and whiny fanbase on his defense, held onto a Pillar high fly, stumbling to see — and then hold onto — the ball in a mercilessly high sky as he did. Given the early runs, the dominating Severino turn, the Keystone Kops quality of the replay booth in the home eighth, along with the bright and beautiful field on which it all played out, it turns out fitting that it occurred on what would have been Eddie Albert’s 110th birthday. Also tied into all this is a certain sitcom theme song they play on the Stadium sound system as we gaze at the green expanse in front of us in between innings. You know, because,

Green Acres Is the Place to Be