Walk On Walk Off

Tampa, Fla., February 26, 2018; Yankees 4, Phillies 3 — Another glorious Florida baseball day Monday found us doing our second doubleheader, starting with a two-hour drive South to see the Tampa Rays host the Toronto Blue Jays, just a baseball game pitting two AL East rivals. Our seats were tremendous, fifth row behind home plate, where our Yankee gear stood out, and where the sun and the intense heat rendered us bereft of any New York chill; we babbled inanities, and watched both the game and the peculiar dance of the fanbases.

There is a strong Canadian presence on Florida’s Gulf Coast, centered seemingly in Dunedin where the Blue Jays train (we’re there tomorrow), resulting in the crowd loyalty skewing this day toward the visitors. They delighted in a sixth-inning rally that gave the Jays a 3-1 lead, and I couldn’t help feeling that it was right and proper when the Rays stormed back with six runs of their own. it was a 7-4 Rays win, but we were off with them up 7-3 after six.

Baking in the sun is therapeutic, I tell myself, after Northeast winters, a point that could be debated; it is undeniable, however, that once the sun goes down, and you’re having a pleasant summer evening experience in February, well, A-a-a-a-h-h-h! And that was the scene for Phillies/Yankees in Tampa at 6:30. Sonny Gray took the ball for the Yanks, and he did well, though the visitors did hit the ball hard in the first, including young star Rhys Hoskins hammering his second pitch one hop off the wall in the left field corner. This guy can fly, but there was a problem, and Brett Gardner, in midseason form, held him to a single.

Next to the mound was prospect Chance Adams, who battled through the most disappointingly pitched inning of the night. Struggling to throw strikes, he allowed just one hit, but walked two, and surrendered a run on 25 tosses. Two guys who got plenty of major league last year exposure followed. Jonathan Holder escaped a second-and-third, no-outs trap in the fourth, and Ben Heller almost did the same in the fifth. He struck out the side around two walks, but not before a hit by pitch put the Phillies up 2-0.

And they were up easily, because the Yankees, around a booming first-inning double from Gary Sanchez in the first, went 15 up, 14 down , until Brandon Drury drew a two-out walk in fifth. Following an error, though, Tyler Wade’s second hustle double of the early campaign halved the Philly lead to 2-1. The Yanks equaled things on a Drury triple, Miguel Andujar double in the seventh, while unknown minor league hurlers Ken Keller and Cody Carroll held the visitors pretty much through the last four frames.

Held to four hits through seven, the Yanks actually broke on top in the eighth. Handed two walks, nonroster catcher Jorge Saez, who came up with two big hits in a win over the Pirates two days ago, doubled in the run, and Carroll took the mound for his second inning to close it out.

So here’s where it gets special, and weird at the same time. Carroll, whom I have to say has an approach that delights, but can drive you crazy, faced eight batters in the eighth and ninth, and threw a first-pitch ball to all eight of them. He pitched around a one-out walk in the eighth, then quickly got two 2-pitch outs in the ninth, the latter on a stunning play by prospect Gleyber Torres, who scooped a ball that had caromed off the mound and nailed the runner at first. What followed was a nine-pitch battle with shortstop Scott Kingery, who to everyone present seemed to have struck out on a failed attempt to hold his bat up six pitches in, but, given new life by the first-base ump, homered to right to tie the game.

Facing righthander Ranger Suarez, Yanks batters lined to left, and grounded to first. But facing a 2-2 pitch, Andujar, who had entered the game to tie it two innings earlier, lined a home run to left center. You don’t have to be too versed in movies of the last several decades to get the Karate Kid reference. We came to the ninth ready to win, then,

Walk On Walk Off