Ninth Innings Count

Tampa, Fla., February 24, 2020; Yankees 3, Pittsburgh 3 — We caught more than six hours of baseball Monday, and both games had their final outcomes decided at the very end. No shortcuts would have worked. The Orioles fell 8-7 to the homestanding Phillies in Clearwater despite a furious comeback from 7-1 down after six. And in Tampa, the Yankees failed to notch their first win of the Spring when the Pirates scratched together the tying run in the top of the ninth.

George M. Steinbrenner Field hosted a big crowd in this day’s night game, as new ace Gerrit Cole was making his Yankee debut. And a two-out walk (issued to shortstop Cole Tucker after an 0-2 count) notwithstanding, the hard thrower did not disappoint. He got the Yankee pitching off to a great start with two swinging strike outs, and the seven hurlers who followed him kept it going: The staff punched out 14 Pittsburgh batters on the night. Jordan Montgomery, continuing to return from surgery, and seriously considered as rotation material given recent injuries, followed Cole and looked strong. He struck out three and walked one in two innings.

Most of the hurlers did well, particularly Adonis Rosa, whom few will remember from his one appearance in the Bronx last year, in which he pitched the last two innings in a Domingo German 8-3 win over the Orioles in August. Rosa retired six of seven that night, and struck out two, but Renato Nunez reached him for a home run in the ninth. In this evening’s contest he came on after the Bombers scored three in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead, and threw a dominant eighth inning, something that righty Glen Otto unfortunately could not do in the ninth. Adonis coaxed six swings and misses and struck out the side. Otto, on the other hand, immediately issued a leadoff walk, and it cost him. Despite pounding two more Yankee strike outs, he gave up the tying run on the second of two following singles.

The late game action became necessary because the Yankee offensive starters struggled mightily. They received four walks through five, but stroked just two hits, with each being erased on a double play by the following batter. Clint Frazier was the latter culprit, but only because he hit the ball hard. Clint, stoking memories of his offensive prowess early last year, hit the ball well, as he had in Saturday’s opener. It took a superb running catch by center fielder Guillermo Heredia to corral his missile to dead center in the second.

All the nonscoring caught up to the home team in the sixth. Jose Gil did a good job to escape a first-and-third, no-outs trap on a hit by pitch and single by allowing one run on a double play. Even though Luis Medina followed by allowing just one run in the seventh — and that on a wild pitch — he did not pitch well, and was saved by his defense. Shortstop Kyle Holder made two fantastic plays up the middle, each turning seeming sure singles into force plays at second. It was a good day at shortstop for the Yanks on this, what would have been the 146th birthday of one of the best ever, Hall of Famer Honus Wagner. Holder added a single to his defensive heroics, and Gleyber Torres stroked a one-base hit from the position earlier as well.

The one scoring inning the home team managed resembled the four-run sixth they had put together in Port Charlotte Sunday, as four singles netted these three runs. And sadly they could have stretched their lead in the eighth. Having taken over at DH for Giancarlo Stanton, one-time Mets (and Blue Jay, briefly) catcher Josh Thole stroked what appeared to be a one-out double into the left field corner. The Pirates retrieved the ball and set up their relay throw to third base, conceding the double, but Thole misread the situation and stopped at first. Holder’s two-out single could have plated the insurance run, making him a double hero, but both guys died on base. Otto couldn’t hold the one-run lead, and the Yankees had to settle for a tie.

I’m going to confess that we left the Clearwater game before the Phillies rallied for their late win. And much of the GMS crowd, largely in attendance to see Cole, filed out happily once the Yanks took this evening’s late lead. So the baseball lesson on this day, served up twice for emphasis, is,

Ninth Innings Count