Kissimmee, FL, March 3 — The Yankees experienced their first significant drawback to 2008 Spring Training when Mike Mussina failed to record an out in the third inning of a 7-6 win over the Astros in Kissimmee. A less than glowing subplot involved some shaky play at first base, the most unsettled defensive position on the team.
Moose’s numbers through two frames were not good, but with some sharper play afield, it could have gone much smoother. Morgan Ensberg, in another audition at first base, failed to handle Lance Berkman’s two-hopper for an error wih two down in the first. But DH Carlos Lee flied to left on a full count, and the Yanks took a 1-0 lead off southpaw Wandy Rodriguez following Ensberg’s leadoff double in the second. Then Astros right fielder Hunter Pence stroked the first of two doubles to the left field wall with one down in the second. Ty Wigginton flied out, and Jose Cruz, Jr. singled past first to score Pence. It’s not certain that Ensberg could have flagged the Cruz bouncer two strides to his left, but he failed to cut Jason Lane’s throw toward the plate, Cruz advanced to second, and a Humberto Quintero single plated an unearned run to give the ‘stros the lead.
Mussina appeared to be attempting to utilize the same assemblage of pitches and throw angles that he used to middling results last year. The Yanks had given him a 4-2 lead with four straight one-out singles in the top of the third. It is perhaps to Mike’s credit that he ignored any chance that he might be fighting for a job, and rather than working the count against the Houston hitters, he threw a preponderance of strikes. He seemed to be trying to make each pitch better than the one before rather than trying to set hitters up. Thirty-three of his 40 throws were strikes. Kaz Matsui stroked an infield single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to start the bottom of the third, and Berkman pulled a hit and run single over Cano on the next pitch. Moose missed with his first pitch to the slugger Lee, as he had in the first, two of the three balls he threw on first pitches vs. 10 strikes. But he came right at Lee then, busting an outside fastball and a change of pace for called strikes. The ensuing circle change almost got Lee, who barely nicked the ball with a big swing. But it was enough to see another pitch, a not quick enough fast ball that Lee drove 400-feet-plus to left field for a 5-4 Houston lead.
Yankee offense continues apace, with Monday’s seven runs tying for their lowest output to this (early) point. Cabrera’s single to start the three-run third was his second of two hits; he walked later and scored twice. Sleeping offensive giant Robbie Cano slashed three straight singles, scored once, and knocked in two. DH Shelley Duncan had two hits and two rbi’s as well, and Ensberg capped the three-run third with his second hit. The Yanks capped their scoring with their fourth three-run frame in three days, as catcher Francisco Cervelli and shortstop Chris Woodward got things started in the visiting seventh. After a caught stealing Johnny Damon singled and Cabrera walked to load the bases, Cano singled for two off the first baseman’s glove, and Duncan singled in what turned out to be the game-winner.
But Shelley’s run qualified as a winner for one reason only, the work of potential 2008 long man Jeff Karstens, who was simply superb in stifling the home team for three innings. Replacing Moose with the no one out or on in the third, he pitched around Pence’s second double. Wilson Betemit handled a Quintero hot smash at third to start the fourth, and speedy Michael Bourn dropped a bunt single toward third, though it’s possible it might have gone foul had Betemit let it roll. But Joe Girardi pulled the right string with a second-pitch pitchout, and Cervelli pegged Bourn out. Karstens retired the next four, helping the Yanks to come back with the winning seventh-inning rally.
The line score in Tuesday’s paper will show the Yanks with four errors, and from my perspective the three that really were miscues involved the unsettled situation at first base. Edwar Ramirez replaced Karstens in the sixth and retired Pence on a grounder to second. Kissimmee’s Osceola County Stadium drags their infield with ATVs pulling screens and the results are spotty to say the least. Wigginton’s ensuing bouncer to short struck something in the dirt and it took a high hard hop right at shortstop Alberto Gonzalez’s throat. The facts are that he made an astounding grab, that the sharp carom handcuffed him, and that he threw too high to first. Cruz followed with a hard double over first to close it to 7-6. The scorer’s call allowed Ramirez to escape without allowing an earned run, but Gonzalez deserved a medal for his efforts, not an “e6.”
Three young Yankees held the Astros right there, and the Yanks had a win. Dan Geise pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, and Dan McCutcheoon stiffened after a leadoff Matt Manzella single in the eighth. There was a little drama to Mark Melancon’s save in the ninth. After a fly to left, Cody Ransom bobbled Nick Gorneault’s bouncer to first, the third error involving first-base play. Veteran Tomas Perez fouled seven Melancon pitches until working the count to 3-2. The result of Perez’s determined work, however, was that Gonzalez got yet another chance to shine. With Gorneault off on the pitch, second baseman Bernie Castro’s throw beat the runner to second by a half a step, and Alberto stepped to the side and calmly completed the 4-6-3 with an accurate throw to first.
There was a moment of interest at the game’s end. The Astros sent veteran Mike Dejean, a nonroster invitee attempting to land a spot in their pen after a 2007 season largely lost to injury, out to hold the Yanks in the ninth. And he turned in a 1-2-3 inning. Mike has a Yankee twist to his background. He was drafted by the team way back in 1992, in the 24th round of the amateur draft. He was signed on June 7, 1992. But then in November 1995 he was traded to the Colorado Rockies for an obscure catcher. That player’s name? Joe Girardi.
So the Yanks are 3-0-1 now, 2-0-1 if you don’t count the win over University of South Florida. Two veteran starters look great, as do three young ones, but there is more to see on the status of Mike Mussina. The offense has been unrelenting; they’ve scored 32 runs in 35 turns at plate. And the defense was decent until today. And most of the young pitchers clamoring for a role in the 2008 Yankee pen, and future Yankee pitching staffs in the next few years, are staking their claims with solid outings.
On this date in 1966, the rock and roll supergroup Buffalo Springfield was formed when Steven Stills, Neil Young, Jim Messina, et al came together. The opening line of their biggest and most famous hit, For What It’s Worth, has something to say about the shape of the 2008 Yankees on March 3:
There’s Something Happenin’ Here.