A Bear Poked

Lakeland, Fla., February 24, 2024; Yankees 22, Tigers 10 — The 2023 Yankees barely posted a .500 record, garnered a fourth place finish, and missed the playoffs altogether. A not pretty season to be sure, but it was uglier than that. In both August and September 2023, this team suffered losses in nine different games in which they failed to score as many as three runs.

OFFENSE was, no doubt, the biggest problem that needed fixing. So they traded a bushel of young pitching for a hitting star, traded for two other outfielders, and started their 2024 Spring campaign vs the Tigers. And they walloped Detroit, plating multiple runs in five different innings; they scored no runs in just two frames. Granted, Tigers pitching did their part, issuing 14 walks, and hitting five more batters with pitches. But the Bombers did slam 15 hits, among them four home runs, and this with virtually none of their new or older firepower in the ballpark.

Outfielder Trent Grisham, acquired with super stud Juan Soto (who will not make his debut in pinstripes until Sunday), carries a good-field, no-hit rep, but he gave the visiting New Yorkers a lead with a three-run shot in the second. And an even younger player who is prized more for his glovework than his bat, second baseman Jorbit Vivas, walked twice and hit the team’s first home run of the fifth inning. That gave the team an 8-2 lead, and two outs later uber prospect Spencer Jones cleared the right center field wall with a 470-foot blast. Jones’s offense surprises no one. As Yankee fans howled when Baltimore pried pitcher Corbin Burnes out of Milwaukee, most cared not at all that it was Jones the Brewers insisted on getting in any trade.

Jones had come on to play center for Grisham, and following his monster drive, he reached safely in three more at bats. In the eighth inning he fouled off seven straight pitches, whacking every offering hard, then singled for a run. He singled for two more in the team’s eight-run ninth.

Veteran catching backup Luis Torrens, battling for a job, DH’d this game, and did well, with an rbi single and a solo home run of his own. Anthony Volpe singled leading off the game with the kind of at bat it is hoped and planned he’ll have often in 2024.

Luis Gil, returning from Tommy John surgery in 2021, started well, though he did surrender a home run, the Tigers’ lone hit until there was an out in the fifth inning. Gil struck out three in his two innings, as did hard-throwing Clayton Beeter, a reliever who pitched briefly for the club in 2023, and could be an option this year. The score, and box score, will show that Yankee pitching yielded 10 runs, not a good number, but that was impacted seriously by the bizarre four-run ninth, a frame in which visiting hurlers plunked three Tigers batters. And that is a tale in itself.

At least one of these hbp’s (and possibly all three) was in retaliation for Detroit pitching that had hit five Yankees, including Jones in his first at bat after his mammoth homer. It’s pretty clear that manager Aaron Boone had seen enough with the five errant throws that found his hitters’ bodies. So a 16-run lead closed to 12 runs by the time the ninth inning — and game — ended, but it was a price easily paid to restore some sanity to the pitching mound.

So, was it pretty? Of course not. But it WAS beautiful. I’ve attended in excess of 1,000 games over many decades, and I’m fond of saying that I continue to see things that I’ve never seen before. That was certainly the case Saturday in Lakeland.

The 2023 Yankee team was a failure, and in particular their offense. The team, the players, the fans were all angered and embarrassed by it. I like to think that much like the Yankees retaliated for a five-hit-by-pitch game by plunking three hitters in the ninth, this team was making a statement about how 2024 will NOT play out. Are they short in pitching? Maybe. But their offense will rise.

Don’t Poke This Bear!