End of the Road

Tampa, Fla., March 4, 2017; Tampa Rays 9, Yankees 1 — Well, eight wins in nine Yankee games, and 10 wins (because we considered all nonYankee games we attended wins) overall, came to a shattering halt in Tampa Sunday afternoon. Following a sting of easy — and unlikely — victories, it all came crashing down In a game where almost nothing went well for the home team. For us, the day started unhappily, because we dragged ourselves to the park a bit early, only to be informed upon arrival that today there would be no batting practice.

This may seem a minor annoyance, but to any one who has attended the first few games of this Spring season, it came as an existential threat. Any Tampa day I can’t be rewarded because of an offhand glance at my phone by being hit in the head with a home run ball isn’t a day worth living. Still, we got to see the guys stretch and warm up, and watch Tampa’s Chris Archer run around the entire field five times. I was exhausted for the first of many times on the day.

Yankee pitching was good enough … almost … all day. Chad Green threw hard through two frames, tossing 36 pitches, but he needed all four punch outs, three swinging, to get past three hits. Aroldis Chapman hit 100 on the gun starting the third,, but after hitting Jake Gronenworth to start, left fielder Mallex Smith’s second of three straight hits contributed to the game’s first run being charged to him.

Ben Heller, who entered Thursday’s game with men on second and third and no outs in the eighth only to retire six straight, came on next. And following a fly ball, he struck out three in a row, only to surrender three runs on a walk, three hits and an error. Raynel Espinal, Wade LeBlanc, Giovanny Gallegos, and Cale Coshow followed. All were threatened, and three of them were scored upon.

But had Chaoman not hit a batter, had Heller been able to build on his multi-strike out work, the Yankee chances were slim at best, because they could mount nothing on offense. An Aaron Judge double off one-time Yankee Nate Eovaldi in the first would be followed by a succession of five singles, all in different innings. The three-run rally off Heller in the fourth all but ended the game.

So unlucky pitching, and spotty offense set the team up for failure. But where the team suffered most was defense, a strength through the first nine games. Aaron Boone experimented today, shifting Espinosa to third and McKinney to first, and twice the two contributed on plays that not only resulted in errors; the first, if crisply played, would have prevented the three-run fourth. And further, Giancarlo Stanton, a right fielder by trade pressed into action in left, on three occasions lost catchable balls in the sun. Granted that most 2018 games will be played under the lights. A team with two right fielders has adjustments that need to be made.

But we’ve been here now for 10 days of games, and saw 12 during that time. We’ve witnessed baseball in Tampa, in Bradenton, in Sarasota, in Clearwater, in Port Charlotte, in Dunedin, and in Ft. Myers. The Yanks have won eight of 10; we’ve won 10 of 12. And we’re headed North tomorrow. And all I have is two things to say. First, Have batting practice!

And the second has to do with the fact that Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol, author of, among others, “Dead Souls,” died on March 4, 1852. These 12 days have been a total blast. We cooked through 84-degree heat during the first eight or nine, and now hang out under cloudless skies with temperatures in the mid-70s. I haven’t experienced precipitation, or driven through a pothole, since I left New York. It’s time to go back. The Yankees, today notwithstanding, look to be world beaters. But it’s time to rest up from vacation, and prepare for the long season.

Hard to believe, but more exhilarating, though more tiring, days are coming. Too tired (and broke) to go on, we’ll be there March 29, or at home watching, hopefully rested, because we’re pretty tired. In fact, we feel, right now, like,

Dead Souls