Tampa, Fla., February 28, 2019; Yankees 8, Pittsburgh 6 — The annual search for the perfect day to attend a Spring Training game in Tampa has been suspended, because it arrived today, Thursday afternoon. J.A. Happ got the start against the visiting Pirates, and the teams scored seemingly at will early, with the Yankee end-of-game replacements eventually pulling out an exciting 8-6 victory.
First among the highlights has to be to the continued resurgence of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who delivered a first-inning home run in his second consecutive start. The three-run jack eclipsed an early 1-0 Pittsburgh lead, recorded via a Jo Hung Kang homer to left in the top of the first. Giancarlo Stanton, playing left field in this one, followed an Aaron Judge one-out double off the wall by walking, and Tulo’s bomb came on a full count pitch. Continuing a hot Spring, Greg Bird followed one out later with a single down the third base line, and doubled to left center in the third, both against a defense overshifted to right field, though neither safety would figure in the scoring.
The Pirates responded immediately on a JB Shuck homer to right, and the Yanks made the least of an extraordinary opportunity when visiting lefty starter Steven Breault walked the bases loaded with no outs in the second. A go-ahead run scored when Judge bounced into a 5-5-3 double play, but the team had to rue the lost opportunity once Pittsburgh retook the lead on a two-run Patrick Kivlehan double in the third. Tyler Wade continued his unexpected offensive surge by homering for the tie in the fourth, another frame in which the home team scored the minimum on a bases-loaded situation, but Stanton came oh so close on a long drive to left with two on and two down, or it would have been a very different game.
At that point this back-and-forth scorer morphed into a defensive battle, featuring five straight scoreless half innings. Pirates righthander Alex McRae retired six around a hit by pitch in the fifth and sixth, while pinstriped lefty Nestor Cortez electrified the crowd as he struck out the side in the fifth. He did run into trouble in the sixth, however, loading the bases on a single and two walks, but Jonathan Holder coaxed a fielder’s choice ground out at the plate, then retired four more to get the game to the bottom of the seventh, still tied 5-5.
The Yanks needed a big hit following a base hit and hit by pitch around two outs in the bottom of the seventh, and minor league infielder L.J. Mazzilli, son of major league vet Lee Mazzilli, came through with it, a two-run double to left center, for a 7-5 Yankee lead. Prospect Thairo Estrada, who had opened eyes with his play last Spring, only to lose much of his 2018 season to a gunshot injury during a robbery attempt [sometimes what happens makes me feel like I'm writing pulp novel dramas], drove in an insurance run in the eighth. Visiting shortstop Pablo Reyes, facing minor league righty Adonis Rosa, who would record the last six outs, homered in the ninth, forging the final score, 8-6 Yankees.
Fans managed to experience the perfect Spring afternoon game one day before the Yankees host the Baltimore Orioles in their first night game of the session. We know that the majority of games in the coming season will be played under the stars, so that’s important. But experiencing day baseball is important too, the game we love the way it was always played in the beginning. How many fans back then must have uttered those three key words:
Good Day, Sunshine!