Wild Wild West Florida

Tampa, Fla., March 1, 2017; Yankees 8, Atlanta 7 — The Yankees managed to survive a one-run win hosting the Braves in their first night game of 2017 Wednesday in a game almost comical for its dramatic turns. The home team blew out the visitors 8-0 over the first six frames, and the Braves won the last three innings 7-0: thus, the 8-7 final.

Despite the three-home-run, two-error seventh and eight innings in which the young Braves were able to storm from way back, there was a lot more positive than negative for Yankee fans to take from this one. Bryan Mitchell, certainly in the mix for a rotation spot in the Bronx this summer, was dominant throwing three frames, with Starlin Castro’s first-inning error when he couldn’t get Jace Peterson’s grounder out of his glove being the only blemish; Bryan struck out two, walked one, and got five ground-ball outs. And finally with all the hoopla and drama of a surreal arbitration experience behind him, Dellin Betances debuted with a scoreless fourth, surrendering a walk but striking out catcher Tyler Flowers swinging to end the frame.

A glance at the box score might not seem to indicate this, but perhaps the most overwhelming positive of the evening was the work of young lefty Jordan Montgomery, seemingly being groomed for the starting rotation at AAA Scranton-Wilkes/Barre. Victimized by an error in his lone Spring performance that allowed two runs to score over two frames on Friday, Montgomery was stung yet again this day. He had two strike outs while allowing a single and a walk through this evening’s fifth and sixth innings. But having already thrown 31 pitches (Mitchell, the lone three-inning thrower in Yankee camp so far, threw 36 in the first three innings), Montgomery looked solid in pitching in the seventh. He got a groundout, but the Braves followed with back-to back singles, the second barely getting past Ronald Torreyes at short. After a ball, Jordan pounded Dustin Peterson with four straight strikes until the Braves outfielder stroked a grounder toward left. Third baseman Donavan Solano made a great stab, but then threw past second and into center field, as the first Atlanta run scored.

Although it was surprising that the Yankees had allowed Montgomery to throw 50 pitches on March 1, he really did appear to be in control. But from that point the game morphed from laugher to nail-biter. Righthander J.P. Feyereisen relieved. He had a solid two-inning outing Saturday, but this contest couldn’t have careened off path any more dramatically than if Wily Coyote had come on to pitch. Johan Camargo, one of just two guys who played this game from start to finish, and who started the game at third and moved to short in the sixth, promptly homered for three runs. And Micah Johnson, Johan’s teammate and the other complete-game guy, followed with a singleton shot. It was 8-5.

The Yankee response over their last two frames was just two walks, which became a problem, because Dylan Moore reached on another error by Solano to start the eighth. Truth be told, first sacker Ji-Man Choi, who dropped an easy throw against Philly on Friday, probably should have been able to corral the third baseman’s throw. But however you parse the blame, DH Adam Walker followed with a home run, and we had an 8-7 game. Walker hit this ball off Travis Hissong, called in from minor league camp to buttress the pen, but this young righty quickly righted the ship, striking out two to get the game to the ninth, where the Yanks not only continued their winning ways but, more importantly, avoided what would have been an embarrassing loss.

Attention needs to be paid to how the Yanks opened their big lead in the first place. Jacoby Ellsbury homered for a 1-0 lead in the first, then followed a Brett Gardner infield single in the third with a booming double to right center. Three more hits and a sac fly accounted for three runs, even if the onslaught highlighted a curious string of decisions by third base coach Joe Espada. With the speedy Gardner burning it from first on Ellsbury’s double, Joe stopped Brett at third. When Starlin Castro followed with a hard single into the left center field gap, Joe put the brakes on Ellsbury, steaming around third from second. And when Matt Holiday boomed a double to right, Castro got the stop sign at third as well. Then, following a strike out and sac fly for run No. 3, Austin Romine singled to center. And aging DH Holliday got the first green light of the inning, and he was easily pegged out at home.

Although the Yanks achieved the absolute minimum out of their five-hit, sac-fly third, it seemed a moot point after a four-run sixth, which of course it would not be. With the Yanks not playing until 6:30, we had headed 40 minutes West and caught a Detroit/Toronto game in Dunedin, Fla., Wednesday afternoon. Another one-run contest, it was won by the visiting Tigers, 5-4. This one was the antithesis of the later craziness in Tampa, with the two teams scoring on a scratch single here, a booming double there, even a miscue or two, but neither squad ever opened a more-than-two-run lead. It stood tied at 3-3 after six. Perhaps of some interest to Yankee — and baseball — fans, ex-Bomber infielder Brendan Ryan turned a brilliant double play at short for Detroit, though he did not hit. And coaching, also for the Tigers, retired defensive whiz Omar Vizguel made a beautiful bare-hand grab past the third base coaching box, and handed his prize to a little girl in the second row in the same motion.

The Rays won a Spring game on Tuesday, 19-0, and we witnessed two, one-run games Wednesday, totally different from one another in how they unfolded. Actor Robert Conrad, who starred in a few TV series over his career, turned 82 this day. It is with Mr. Conrad in mind that I gladly characterize what has been happening along the Gulf Coast of Florida in the last week as,

Wild Wild West Florida