Tampa, Fla., March 3, 2019; Yankees 7, Detroit 1 — Masahiro Tanaka made his first game start of the 2019 spring season today, on Sunday afternoon. With three-plus weeks to go in camp, he already looked ready to go.
Not that a largely B squad level of Detroit Tigers didn’t try to challenge him. Center fielder Dax Cameron took his third pitch and drilled a deep line drive to center field. Young Estevan Florial got turned the wrong way, but still almost caught the ball, but it carried over his glove. By the time the ball made it into the infield, Cameron was standing on third base with no one out. But using all of his pitches, Tanaka rose to the challenge. Getting six of 12 strikes on swings and misses, he used his fastball, split finger, and slider to strike out the next two, then get a meek fly to short center.
The Yanks spent no time letting the visitors stay in this one. Leading off the bottom of the first, Brett Gardner took southpaw Derek Norris’s second pitch over the wall in right for a 1-0 lead. And the home team never looked back. Second up in the inning, Aaron Judge, DH’ing this day, fouled off four 1-1 pitches before also lining a home run over the fence down the line in right. While Tanaka was retiring nine straight to close out his three-inning, 40-pitch outing, Gardner homered yet again in the second, and Gary Sanchez took one just inside the left field foul pole in the third.
With Norris driven from the mound in the second after being extended to 48 pitches to get five outs, righty Spencer Turnbill followed Drew VerHagen to the mound in the fourth by retiring three straight. But he hit Gardner with a pitch leading off the fifth, and Judge hit what may have been the hardest liner of the day (no exit velo being tracked in ST), even if it likely would not have cleared the fence had it not caromed off right fielder Victor Reyes’s glove on the way. This gave New York a 6-1 lead, because Detroit second baseman Ronny Rodriguez had greeted Aroldis Chapman’s first pitch of the top of the fifth by homering to left center.
Aside from that momentary glitch, the stellar Yankee relief pitching performed as advertised. Jonathan Holder, Chapman, Chris Britton, and Adam Ottavino breezed through the fourth through the seventh innings while allowing three hits and just that one run. And righty prospect Albert Abreu kept the line moving, setting down six of eight around a hit and an infield error to close it out. By this time the Yanks had extended their lead to 7-1 on a long ball by minor leaguer Isaiah Gillum in the seventh.
Meanwhile, a split squad of Yankees was losing a game 5-2 to the Blue Jays in Dunedin. But even in that one, the Bombers went yard one more time, a shot by first baseman Luke Voit. Come the regular season, New York has been pretty clear about team strategy. They are going to try to bludgeon opposition with a healthy and strong lineup that set a season record for home runs last year. Despite the fact that that the Tigers ran into a buzz saw of mostly Yankee starting position players, the Yanks were able to deploy a plus starting pitcher, followed by a line of quality relievers.
And that is the game plan. The team did have three singles today, and Greg Bird reached on a walk in the first. The only player in that group that moved up a base was Miguel Andujar, who following his first of two infield singles was moved to second by Bird’s walk. It’s not that the team is opposed to moving runners, and scoring them in a variety of ways. And the acquisition of a position player like DJ LeMahieu speaks to that.
But the strength of this team is exactly that, its strength. The idea is to overwhelm the opposition with pitching and power, most often with the long ball. In 1994, a creative group took a 1955 hit movie and reimagined it as a Broadway musical. It opened on the Great White Way on March 3 of that year. What Yankee fans want, what “Lola wanted,” was something making the rest of the American League refer to the Bombers in a certain way: