This Team Has Just Begun

Tampa, Fla., March 2, 2017; Yankees 8, Orioles 1 — As meaningless exhibitions go, Spring Training is the Championship season of the year. Our sojourn along Florida’s West Coast the last week or so began as a decision to pursue baseball, and all that wonderful sport involves, rather than waiting for it to find its way North to us. We know that the outcome of the games doesn’t count, that the fact that the Yankees led the Grapefruit League, for instance, in home runs entering Thursday wouldn’t earn them one win in the 162 following contests that will count. But who are we kidding? We are fans as well, and we’re eager to see perceived strengths in our team confirmed, and to have the array of questions every season brings answered in a positive manner.

But even given all that, we need to look at the Yankees 8-1 win over a split squad of Orioles players Thursday evening with a grain — if not a pillar — of salt. When we attended the New York/Baltimore game in Sarasota three days back, locals were chirping that the Yanks hadn’t brought a representative team South. This is not new; we heard the same complaints when Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Alex Rodriguez would not make road trips just a few years ago. But on Monday, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Aaon Hicks, and Austin Romine started for the Yanks at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. I’m told that, aside from the fact that the O’s were sending just a split squad, the team also lost four players to the WBC this day. And I get it.

Still, the quality of the competition does call into question the meaning of the Yankees victory, even in this one of six weeks’ worth of exhibition games. Orioles righthander Tyler Wilson threw three solid innings against New York, and he left the game after three with the teams tied 1-1 based on singleton home runs, by Yankee DH Matt Holliday in the second, and O’s catcher Caleb Joseph in the third. But young Yankee stars catcher Gary Sanchez and first baseman Greg Bird reached righthander Joe Gunkel for extra base hits leading off the fourth, and either way you look at it, the contest was off the rails from that point on. The Yanks followed starter Adam Warren with Aroldis Chapman, arguably the best closer in the game, then Tyler Clippard and Tommy Layne, solid vets from last year’s team. None of the Orioles relievers were in their class.

And the lineup that attacked the underbelly of the pitching staff Buck Showalter sent to Tampa initially included Sanders and Bird, along with Holliday, but also uber-prospect Clint Frazier. But later additions Jorge Mateo, Billy McInney, and Miguel Andujar kept the Yankee mojo going. No one in the Baltimore lineup tracked to that level, which goes a way toward explaining why the visitors did not get a second hit following the third-inning home run until Erick Salcedo beat out an infield single in the eighth.

Am I delighted that the Yanks are off to a 7-1 mark this year? Yes. Do I know that these games don’t count? Yes, again. But this camp is abuzz with positive vibes. And the lineups do not suffer when, typically, the starters are removed in the middle innings, and more untried players take their place.

Following on the Holliday and Bird homers Thursday night, Mateo doubled to drive in a run; Kyle Higashioka doubled, walked, and scored; Tyler Wade singled for a run; and McInney homered, doubled, drove in three, and scored a run as well. The game was the second game of our back-to-back doubleheaders, seeing Blue Jays games in Dundein at 1:00 pm and Yankee contests in Tampa at 6:30 both Wednesday and Thursday. And when we drive to Dunedin once more to see the Jays host the Yanks Friday, we will have seen 43 innings of baseball in 51 hours. That we’re seeing so much baseball is a gift; that much of it is — winning — Yankee baseball makes it that much better.

Though she would have a sad life, we acknowledge that star vocalist Karen Carpenter, who suffered from depression and anorexia, would have turned 67 this day. A brilliant stylist, she makes the point like no one else can. This Yankee team is carving out a positive niche for themselves. Winning feeds on winning.

This Team has Just Begun