Tampa, Fla., February 28, 2018; Detroit 9, Yankees 6 — The visiting Tigers and the Yankees played what felt like two games Wednesday afternoon, and the home-standing Yanks lost both. The good news is twofold: First, it counts as just one actual loss, setting the Yanks back to a 5-1 record in this Spring campaign; and two, one Yankee won the interim in blinding fashion.
Luis Cessa, who had a tough year last season, pitched well in the Friday opener, and in this day’s first two frames, benefiting when Gary Sanchez homered in the first for a 2-0 lead. If he is to be a factor in the ’18 starting rotation, Cessa needs to string together solid innings, which unfortunately came to a close when he was sent out to pitch the third. A first-pitch single, and then a base hit that ended a nine-pitch battle, put him in immediate trouble, and then he was victimized by a miscue by another Yankee who needs a solid preseason, prospect Gleyber Torres.
The young second baseman made a nice play stopping a sharp grounder up the middle, only to fail when he chose to scoop it with his glove to Didi Gregorius, covering the second base bag. In the first week of baseball, in eight games so far, I’ve seen middle infielders attempt this play at least six times, and all have failed. Gleyber may have lost the chance for a double play had he transferred that ball to his hand for a toss but, as it was, the result was disastrous. Tigers first baseman John Hicks, who burned the Yanks with key rbi hits several times in 2017, promptly homered on a 1-0 pitch, and Cessa was out of the game, down 4-2 with no one out in the third.
Torres would make very good plays on grounders in both the fourth and fifth innings, but the damage was done, because the Yankee offense largely went on hiatus, and on two occasions when they threatened, Detroit defense had an answer. A booming Giancarlo Stanton double to start the home fourth and a one-out walk set it up, but when Didi Gregorius grounded sharply up the middle, fellow shortstop Sergio Alcantara’s dive barely got to it, and he got the force at second, stifling the rally attempt. Stanton, who had two hits, drove the ball to the wall following a leadoff walk in the sixth, but it was caught. Sanchez singled, and Greg Bird lined deep to the right center field gap, only to have one-time Yankee (eight years ago) Chad Huffman make an unreal diving catch. By this time, the Tigers had added a fifth run, and they would score again in the eighth, when the craziness would begin.
Righthander Warwick Suppold had routinely retired the first two Yanks in the eighth when he hit Eric Kratz, in for Sanchez, with a pitch. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases, and Detroit brought in ex-Yank Mark Montgomery to put out the fire. He would face speedy center fielder Estvan Florial, with two blazing triples on his belt the last few days, batting in the Aaron Hicks spot. Florial singled sharply to left center for two runs, closing the gap to 6-4. And breaking for second as Danny Espinosa struck out on what turned out to be a wild pitch scoring run No. 5, he raced all the way to third base. A guy who promises — make that is all but guaranteed — to break up many a game once he takes over center field, he scored on a following wild pitch to unbelievably tie the score.
I have little doubt that Estevan would have broken up this one for good had he come to bat again, but that was not to be. Detroit won the ugly end of the contest as well, immediately plating three off young righty Michael King on a walk, two singles, and a double. The Tigers tried to be good sports by walking the bases around a fly out in the bottom of the ninth. They went so far as to have their first baseman drop a popup, but the rulebook stepped in; Kratz was out regardless via the infield fly rule, rarely seen played out as clearly as it was here.
Estevan Florial. Write it down. Memorize it. He is coming. And when he does, he will startle you. The first 2018 in-game at bats of Aaron Judge’s year were to be this day’s big story. He looked great in bp, but went 0-for-2 as the DH today. He’ll be getting plenty of ink in the coming days and years because he is a star, and also a fine, talented, and modest young man. Ishiro Honda, director of the original iconic monster classic, Godzilla, who produced and directed several followups in the film series, died on this day in 1993. I have no idea what “All Rise,” Florial style, will be, down the road. But although I know he can field and hit, it’s the speed that dazzles me. The honorable and inestimable World Series MVP Hideki Matsui was once called Gonezilla. I’m offering up as Florial’s handle …