Bradenton, Fla., February 24, 2018; Yankees 4, Pirates 1 — What better way to spend the second day of Spring Training than by attending two ballgames? Having traveled to Bradenton, Fla., to see the Yanks visit the Pirates at LECOM Park (known as McKechnie Field for decades before a recent makeover), we decided to make a day of it by slipping over to nearby Sarasota, where the Orioles were hosting the Twins. What started as a hot, sunny day in the mid-eighties morphed into a perfect summer-like evening under a mostly clear sky, with each game clocking in at roughly three hours.
A word or two about game two, in which the Twins took an early 1-0 lead. The Orioles tied it on catcher Austin Wynns’s seventh-inning home run. Despite furious attempts to win it, the O’s twice left the bases loaded, and three times ended an inning with two on. Early in the 1-1, nine-inning tie, it became clear that at least in their Florida home, Baltimore fans are still in Mannny Machado’s corner, and he rewarded them with two hits. And twice during the contest, spectators, seeing that I was scoring this game, interrupted me to ask if I was a Yankee scout. And for the record, we are counting this game as a win.
But as to the Yankees, while held to just six hits at home by the Tigers on Friday in a 3-1 win, their bats started to come alive, with 11 safeties carrying them to a 4-1 win in the first game. But the offense is hardly clicking, nor should it be expected to this early. Eight of those hits found them in a flat 1-1 tie through eight frames. With five hits and three walks through the first four innings, they barely eked out a 1-0 lead on backup catcher Eric Kratz’s two-out single, his second hit. Some of the problem was inconsistency, but poor baserunning played a part as well.
Two of the better performers in the Friday win, second baseman Tyler Wade and first baseman Tyler Austin, crashed this day, each striking out twice and going 0-for-3. Ronald Torreyes, playing short, singled with one down in second, and Clint Frazier led off the fourth with a one-base hit. Each was removed on the next pitch, Toe on an attempted steal, and Red Thunder on a prompt pickoff. But Pittsburgh righty Clay Holmes followed the latter with back-to-back walks, and Kratz gave the visitors their 1-0 lead.
Despite solid pitching throughout, the lead did not last, as Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco reached 23-year-old Dillon Tate for a long home run in the fifth. And this came after righthander Michael Feliz had struck out the Yanks one-two-three in the top half. But the pinstriped offense returned to its threatening ways. Young blue-chip center fielder Estevan Florial had struck out his first two trips to the plate, but he made all the other players on the field look like they were standing still when he legged out a standup triple with two outs in the sixth. He wouldn’t score, nor would the Yanks despite putting two on in both the seventh and the eighth.
The Pirates, on the other hand, had loaded the bases in the first off Domingo German with just a 40-foot ground ball single following a walk and a hit by pitch. And they had chances to score after another infield single in the second, and following a double in the fourth. But on both occasions, Frazier exhibited his “thunder” on defense in left field, corralling long flies both times, while stumbling in the attempts. The former off the bat of catcher Ryan Lavarnway was quite the play.
But those were the lone threats they mounted, and the standout work by righty J.P. Feyereisen, considered perhaps the least significant piece of the four-player prize the Yanks received from Cleveland for Andrew Miller in 2016, fully deserved the win for shutting them down six in a row over the seventh and eighth. Which brought the ninth, and the Yankee threat that would not be denied. A walk and a Miguel Andujar single set it up. Exactly 363 days ago, lefty outfielder (and now a first baseman too) Billy McKinney contributed a two-run homer to a 7-2 drubbing of the Blue Jays, as he enjoyed a solid Spring in 2017. The three-run home run he hit today following the Andujar hit gave New York the win, and singles McKinney out yet again as a player to be watched.