True Grit

Bronx, N.Y., July 8, 2017; Yankees 5, Milwaukee 3 — It seemed that young Yankee starter, and new All Star, Luis Severino would be saddled with a loss for a shaky start on Saturday afternoon on a hot, sunny day in the Bronx. Which would have been too bad, because from innings two through seven, he was not only dominant, he pitched with a confidence rarely seen in one so new to pitching on the major league level.

Having surrendered a first-inning double between two swinging strike outs, he was on the losing end of what seemed a dubious ruling on a review of whether or not his 0-1 pitch had grazed Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw’s uniform. There was no sign of the cloth moving in several angles, but the decision must have been that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field: hit by pitch. When Domingo Santana followed one pitch later with a liner inside the foul pole in right, the Yankees were down 3-0.

When the big blow came, Luis had missed the zone on first pitches two of five times. He would find the mark 23 times to the next 25 batters. He struck out three in the pivotal first, and 10 over seven innings. Even though the early trouble found him with a pitch count of 41 through two innings, he would use frames of seven, 12, and nine pitches to hold the visiting Brewers right where they were, only throwing 101 times to do so. But was it a case of too little, too late? With several members of the daunting Yankee offense disabled for weeks now, the team fell Friday night, with just four hits, despite Mikwaukee virtually begging them to take the contest with five errors.

And Brewers southpaw Brent Suter, coming into this game with the “reliever” tag, not only continued that pitching dominance, he did so into the seventh inning. Having allowed just two singles and a walk through six, Suter’s 82nd pitch yielded a Chase Headley double to right center with one down in the seventh, stirring 40,000 from almost two hours of lethargy into on-your-feet screaming fanness. Jacoby Ellsbury’s following single brought the tying run to the plate in the person of left fielder Clint Frazier. This rookie electrified much of the fanbase one week ago when he homered and doubled in his major league debut in a huge comeback in a game in Houston, a game that the Yankee pen unfortunately failed to cash in.

Instant fame and success rarely come without missteps, and Clint’s at bats have been less successful in the ensuing days, with his batting average drifting down to the mid-100′s, although he showed a flash in Friday’s loss with a triple off the left field wall. Before he saw a pitch in this at bat, Suter made an errant pickoff throw to first, scoring Headley. And one pitch later, Frazier hit the left field wall again, scoring Ellsbury with a three-bagger, and closing the score to 3-2. The Milwaukee pen delivered, however, and righty Jared Hughes pinned Frazier at third while recording two outs. Then the vaunted back of the Yankee pen came on and did what they are supposed to, as Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman retired six of six, five on strike outs (bringing the pinstriped K total to 15 on the day).

The Brewers pen continued to succeed, at least initially, as Jacob Barnes retired the top of the Yankee order one-two-three in the bottom of the eighth. But closer Corey Knebel rain into trouble in the ninth, walking both Didi Gregorius and Ellsbury around a Headley six-pitch strike out, and bringing — you guessed it — Frazier up to the plate. Clint, who had two of five Yankee hits to that point, took a ball. When you are rooting for a young player, your eyes can play tricks on you. Twice in the last 15 hours I had witnessed Frazier drive a ball to the left field wall, only to see the ball fail to clear, and result in a triple. And with two on in this case, a triple would have sufficed. But once Clint stroked Knebel’s 1-0 pitch, there was no doubt.

One of the Yankees’ youngest stars, and one garnered in some brilliant Brian Cashman maneuvering just a little more than one year ago, helped put a stop to the losing, at least for one day. A young star came to the fore several decades ago, as well, as actress Kim Darby, playing an orphaned girl in search of revenge, purchased the services of Rooster Cogburn, played by the late John Wayne in one of his most beloved roles, in the film True Grit. Ms. Darby turned 70 years old today.

In her honor, we’re issuing True Grit awards for performances in today’s game. We start with the starter, as Luis Severino refused to let a bad first inning ruin his chance to excel. And we’ll even throw in a word for Chase Headley, the pull-happy, much maligned third sacker who stroked an opposite-field double to get the comeback started. But we all know who gets first star in this competition:

Down(town) Goes Frazier!