Whistle a Happy Tune

Bronx, N.Y., October 1, 2017; Toronto 2, Yankees 1 — The Yankees dropped a game that didn’t really matter Sunday afternoon while, in the silliest way possible, won one too. With their Wild Card position already settled, they lost 2-1 to the visiting Blue Jays, even though four pinstriped hurlers allowed but two hits. On the other hand, for those of us trying to find things that mattered about the 2017 season’s final day, consider this: With all 15 games starting at roughly the same time, the one in the Bronx was over first.

It was both a shame and a deserved mark on his line that for much of the game, young southpaw Jordan Montgomery stood to take the loss. He pitched very well, and with dispatch, with inning counts of six, 10, and 12 pitches. He struck out just two (the first two batters he faced), but coaxed eight ground ball outs, while surrendering just two hits and one walk. On the other hand, they were the only two hits, and the lone walk scored the run he allowed over 5.33 innings.

DH Matt Holliday, who through issues with health had a disappointing year, removed the “L” from Monty’s line by homering off righty Luis Santos with one down in the seventh. The frame represented the home team’s best chance, because Chase Headley then walked and third baseman Miguel Andujar, another young player who can clearly hit, followed with a double to the gap in left center. But Austin Romine grounded out to a drawn-in third baseman. Had Clint Frazier’s ensuing ground ball up the middle been against that infield configuration, the second run would have scored. But isn’t that always the way?

Both managers sat some starters, but the Yanks did more so; while Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin didn’t play for Toronto, Joe Girardi not only sat Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury, both Starlin Castro and Todd Frazier left the game immediately after their first at bat. Toronto scored in the fifth on a one-out walk, a ground single to right center (that barely eluded Tyler Wade’s attempt) and a Jose Bautista sac fly. Bautista had stroked the Jays’ first hit leading off the second — a liner off the left field wall in the corner — but Clint Frazier’s quick response kept Jose at first, where he was promptly erased on a 4-6-3.

Aside from their failed attempt to take the lead in the seventh, the Yankees did get two other batters to third base, following leadoff singles by Aaron Hicks and Headley in the first and fifth innings, respectively. Wade had a one-out single in the fourth and appeared to have made second on a pickoff attempt, but he was ruled out on a dubious replay review. He did touch up against Darwin Barney’s foot and not the bag, it’s true, but it didn’t seem clear [enough to turn over a call on the field] that a tag was applied before he did touch second.

The fair thing to do is to credit Toronto. They manufactured the winning run with the sixth through ninth batters in their lineup — all somewhat light hitters — off Domingo German in the top of the eighth, with no struck ball traveling more than a few feet. Ex-Yank Rob Refsnyder struck out on a 3-2 pitch leading off, but ironically (given all the grief starter Sanchez gets about failing to stop balls in the dirt), strike three was a wild pitch Romine could not collect and throw to first in time to get the out. A seven-pitch walk undid German then, much as a free pass had done to Montgomery. Barney came through with a gutsy two-strike sac bunt, and Ryan Goins’s topped roller toward first scored the run as Romine easily threw him out.

The Yanks had no reply, going six up, six down to Ryan Tepera and Roberto Osuna. But though it was a loss, it was a much more pleasant day than Saturday: not a cloud in the sky, mid-60s temps, amid an unending series of thank you messages from the players on the big board on this, Fan Appreciation Day. Upon entering, each ticket holder received a voucher for two free tickets to a 2018 game and, even though we did not get to see favorite son Aaron Judge on the field, he did come out to receive a Waterford crystal gavel from Brian Cashman and Damon Oppenheimer before the game. This was in honor of his being the first rookie to stroke 50 home runs, all of which were shown to the delight of all who weren’t still on concession lines at the time. I’ve not seen a fireworks show that could top it.

Of course, there were fans in attendance who were there for one of just a few games a year, and although I mused on the way in how nice it would be to watch a game that was not a must-win, each and every one of us (except for some Toronto fans) rooted hard for a win until the very last minute. But my friends and I did have some fun with the phenomenon of 15 games starting simultaneously. What game would have the first score, which would be scoreless the longest? And, of course, which would finish first? I had San Diego at San Fran, but seeing as the Pads were the first to score on the day, my chances faded quickly. The early — and long-time — leader was Seattle at Anaheim, for the simple reason that the game remained scoreless into the seventh, but the Bronx game blew by them as the Angels put up six, and with a hits total of seven, we easily won this battle with a game time of 2:24. This day represents a plethora of gambling opportunities, something I hope is exercised to the max in coming years. It’s fun.

But as to the loss, well, I hated it. I always want the Yanks to win — and somewhere deep in my most demented subconscious, they always do. But that wasn’t the front line Yankee team out there today. And although I expect to get little sleep over the next 47 hours or so until the Wild Card game begins, we all need to keep in mind how much we like this team, and all the entertainment they have given us already.

Think happy thoughts. Consider the 13-3 home record in September (and certainly not the 0-1 October mark). It’s warmer still in New York tomorrow. Eat ice cream, catch a movie. Take to standing and rising at least once a waking hour. October 1 is the birthday of stage and screen actress Julie Andrews, a number of years ago that I will certainly not divulge. In one of the highest grossing movies of all time, The Sound of Music, she sang a song recommended to dispell all unease and concern. Do it, Yankee fans, for the next two days.

Whistle a Happy Tune