For What It’s Worth

Dunedin, Fla., March 3, 2017 — The Yankees lost for the second time in their 2017 Spring campaign Friday afternoon. As was the case with their first loss, last Saturday, it was a game played on the road (losing to Philadelphia in Clearwater); they lost by one run; they staged a game-tying rally in the top of the ninth, only to lose when their opponents rallied with one out. Oh, and the pitcher giving up the run was lefty Joe Mantiply.

It’s been a given in these reports that there is a lot to like about this team, and today was no exception. But we start with a question. The Yankees were behind in this game from the very beginning because old “friend” Jose Bautista, a virtual god in Dunedin, Fla., crushed a 3-1 pitch from Luis Severino to right center field for two runs in the bottom of the first. So how did Severino pitch? There is no absolute unambiguous answer to that question. As he has in two years, and specifically in 2016, he displayed solid — even excellent — pitching, but he made mistakes too. After striking out Kevin Pillar swinging to start the bottom of the first, he went up 1-2 on the count to one-time Yank Russell Martin, coaxed a foul ball, then threw five straight off the plate. Not only did this put Martin on first, it had Luis behind Bautista 2-0 in the count. He got a swing and miss, then fell to 3-1, then delivered the pitch that Bautista jettisoned over the wall. Then he struck out two straight on seven pitches.

Severino would give up a single in the second, and two one-base hits in the third. With the 22-pitch first inning, he would be relieved with one down after that third single having thrown 44 pitches. But a closer look at the first tells a more complete story. He only threw eight balls, four in the walk to Martin. And he threw 14 strikes. Two — two! — of them hit bats, the Martin foul before Luis lost the zone, and the Bautista blast. He managed to get four called strikes and got eight swings and misses too. Pretty powerful work, but a losing inning after all.

Johnny Barbato relieved and hit Kendrys Morales with a pitch to load the bases, but two short flies closed the third. Barbato, lefties J.R. Graham and Evan Rutckyj, and righthander Brady Lail proceeded to record 17 outs while surrendering just two hits, both against Lail in the bottom of the eighth. But given all that time, the Yankee offense could mount but one challenge, an unsuccessful one. They were not only held to four singles and no runs by starter Francisco Liriano and four relievers; they hit just seven fly balls, the last two in the eighth when Ruben Tejada forced right fielder Darrell Ciciliani to reach up with his back to the right field wall to haul in his home run bid.

The only other successful hitters were Aaron Judge who, although he did strike out for just the second time in six games, got two hits, and Austin Romine, who singled sharply in the second and lined deep to right in the fourth. So it was with some hope that the Yankee fans in attendance cheered in the sixth when two, two-out singles and a walk were followed by Romine striding to the plate. Alas, he topped a meek one hopper to third baseman Jake Elmore, who barely beat the charging Judge to the third base bag.

And then the top of the ninth came and, with the field announcer urging the Dunedin crowd to cheer now that “the Blue Jays are about to win their second game of the Spring,” my desire that the Yanks would prove him wrong received a boost it did not need. All game I had thought that perhaps the best Yankee chance would come late, because some very solid and hot hitters were replacing the starters in the bottom of the sixth. (And kudos to Joe Girardi from game scorers, as he replaced all nine men in the lineup with defenders in the same positions in the sixth inning, and even Wilkin Castillo ran for DH Chris Carter that frame.) But I was wrong about the players from whom the sudden offense would come. Castillo started the rally with a one-out single in the ninth, and catcher Francisco Diaz doubled him to third. And Ji-Man Choi, in at first, blooped a single over second by throwing his bat at a 1-2 pitch, and we had a tie game. Miguel Andujar followed with a sharp grounder to third, and Shane Opitz’s high throw to second forced Jon Berti to leap to make the catch, but umpire Ronnie Teague (?) called the runner out anyway. (I objected from the stands, and not one Blue Jays fan disagreed with me.) Gleyber Torres popped out and the half inning was over.

Joe Mantiply came on, coaxed a popout, but a guy named Ryan McBroom — who sounds like a guy who should be hitting a walkoff some day to close a series sweep — crushed a 2-2 pitch to left and the game was over.

So a hoped-upon starter struggled while pitching great. A line of following pitchers did well. Veteran and kid batters alike struggled to hit, while guys not likely to be in the majors anytime soon staged an uplifting rally. Aaron Judge looks to be a guy comfortable in right field, and at bat, against any type of pitcher. The Yankees are 7-2. They lost, 3-2 on March 3, the same day in 1966 that Stephen Stills, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer, Richie Furay, and Neil Young came together to form the group Buffalo Springfield. Just thought I should sum up the day with all the quick hits listed in this last paragraph. You know,

For What It’s Worth