The Right Stuff

Tampa, Fla., March 2, 2018; Yankees 5, Atlanta 4 — Strongly copying what took place last March, the Yanks started the second week of Spring Training games today with their second walkoff, achieving a 7-1 record on Tyler Austin’s second home run in two days. Masahiro Tanaka’s shaky start had the team down 4-0 to the visiting Braves in the second inning, a deficit it took all day to overcome.

A succession of five pitchers kept Atlanta off the board. Chasen Shreve not only denied the Braves a fifth run, already in scoring position, with his pitches, he made a canny play tossing to Didi Gregorius at second to erase the lead runner when Jaff Decker bounced back to the box on his fifth pitch. Atlanta got a runner to second base four times in the following innings, but once Didl’s peg to Miguel Andujar at third retired DH Austin Riley for the second out, no Braves player would reach third base in the coming frames.

A Brett Garner leadoff single in the home third was removed on a double play, but when a Greg Bird one-out walk and Didi’s second of three singles set up the red-hot Miguel Andujar in the fourth, the young third sacker did not disappoint, doubling both runners home on a drive to deep left center. A strike out and walk followed Miguel’s big hit on this, his 23rd birthday, but Gardy bounced to short for a 4-2 score. In the fifth, Giancarlo Stanton’s second booming double to right center with one down turned into run No. 3 when Didi singled him home three batters later. But stalled at 4-3 down, the Yankee offense would produce nothing but two walks through the eighth inning.

Still, kudos go out to southpaw starter Jordan Montgomery, originally scheduled to go innings three through five, but who did a dynamite job in stifling the visitors in the fourth, fifth, and sixth. Rocked by nonroster catcher Alex Jackson’s double to left center on his first pitch, Monty struck out the next two, and four over his three frames. A scratch single and Didi’s error rushing for a dp in the fifth were the only other baserunners on Jordan’s watch. Tommy Kahnle pitched around a seventh-inning double and walk, and Jonathan Loaisiga and J. P. Feyereisen got the Bombers to the bottom of the ninth still down just the one run.

Meanwhile, former Yankee righthander Jose Ramirez and lefty Sam Freeman held the Yankees, and southpaw Philip Pfeifer came out for the save in the ninth, facing lefty hitting Tyler Wade. But the wily (and speedy) Wade, who dropped a perfect bunt to start a five-run eighth-inning rally in Dunedin three days ago, pushed the first pitch past Pfeifer toward second, and easily legged it out. Gleyber Torres grounded up the middle, but a wild relay throw denied the Braves a double play, and first baseman Austin blasted a 2-0 pitch barely over the wall in dead center.

Brian Cashman, rookie manager Aaron Boone, and his staff have serious decisions to make in the next three weeks. Andujar, who has four home runs and two rbi doubles in the last four games, but needs to prove his “D,” played third today, and he made a decent play on a tough chance down the line in the fifth. And Wade, who struggled in minimal at bats in 2017, has not only shown great speed and defense, but the propensity to come up with what’s needed on offense when the game is on the line.

Tyler Austin, first in line in the battle for the critical first base backup role — a gap in last year’s roster that killed the team — when the campaign began, hit two booming outs a week ago, but very little since. That is, until he homered yesterday, and came through with today’s walkoff. These guys, and any number of players competing for bullpen roles, including Ben Heller, who did so well yesterday, need to be evaluated as to how they fit this club. Which are the ones who need more seasoning in the minors? Are some perhaps ready for the big time, but not on this team, at this time? Novelist Tom Wolfe, who turns 87 this day, wrote a seminal book about a group of men who answered a great call just when they were needed. Who among these players assembled in Tampa in this month have …

The Right Stuff