On the Road With Thairo

Sarasota, Fla., February 27, 2017; Yankees 4, Orioles 1 — The entertainment level was maintained when the Yankees visited the Orioles in Sarasota on this Monday afternoon, but the weather kicked it up a notch, as we baked under a high blue sky with intermittent puffy clouds; the humidity crept up, as did the temperature, to 87 degrees.

It was a battle of righties to start, with Chad Green opposing Ubaldo Jimenez. Advantage Yankees in the first, as Aaron Judge’s high hopper plated a run following the first of two hard doubles by Greg Bird, DH’ing this day. [Bird would be thrown out at third on the play, as it must be said that he blundered into outs at third after each two-base hit.]

The visitors kept the pressure on in the second, as a Dustin Fowler two-out single and stolen base all but doubled the score, except that Orioles center fielder Adam Jones flashed midseason form (and abandon), diving head first in short center to stab Jorge Mateo’s bid for an rbi single.

The home team would tie it at 1-1 in the third when Jonathan Schoop belted southpaw Evan Rutckyj’s first pitch deep over the wall in left. That was the O’s second hit, and 21 outs later their total stood at four. So the question of the day was: Could the ragtag bunch of Yankee semi-regulars, nonroster invitees, and minor leaguers push across a second or third run? Two midgame failures would make the chances appear bleak.

Leading off against one-time Yankee Vidal Nuno in the fourth, Judge lofted a deep fly to left, totally lost by outfielder Sun-Yoo Kim in the sun. Located easily 30 feet too shallow, Kim stared in the sky helplessly, as Jones sprinted over from center, but by the time the ball was landing on the lip of the warning track, Judge was making his way to third base. Tasked with delivering the tiebreaking run with the infield back, Rob Refsnyder, who was playing first in this one, took the first and third pitches around a foul ball, and umpire Chad Fairfield called him out. Now Baltimore moved its infield in, and two grounders to third later, a golden opportunity had passed.

The ensuing threat presented by Bird’s one-out, sixth-inning double faded more quickly, as Greg was easily erased at third on a nubber to the pitcher. But young Yankee pitching continued to carry the day, with invitee Giuseppe Gonzalez and minor leaguer Matt March throwing two scoreless apiece. Lefty Joe Mantiply, who took the loss in Clearwater on Saturday, pitched a one-two-three eighth, helped by sparkling plays at short and third, turned in respectively by long-time minor leaguers Abiatal Avelino and Cito Culver.

The job of leading off the ninth fell to exciting prospect with the shock of red hair Clint Frazier, who had taken over for Judge in right in the bottom of the sixth. Facing righthander Oliver Drake, he hit an 0-1 pitch hard enough, and located it well enough, in left center to get down. Running with abandon, he reached second easily as the outfielders rushed to get the ball in. Third base coach Joe Espada struggled to hold Frazier at third on a following single to right by nonroster invitee Kellin Deglin. Minor leaguer Thairo Estrada, who hasn’t yet escaped A ball through two professional years, took a pitch, then drilled one hard and long to left. It was not the sac fly Yankee fans were hoping for, but rather a three-run home run.

The fourth installment in the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movies, The Road to Utopia, debuted in New York on this day in 1946. (I’ve been laughing at the ice fishing scene for decades.) So on February 27 of this year, we were more than delighted to go,

On the Road With Thairo