Bradenton, Fla., March 2, 2023; Yankees 9, Pittsburgh 1 — Yankee fans visiting Lecom Park, formerly McKechnie Field, for a 1 pm Yankees/Pirates game Thursday afternoon didn’t have to wait long to get into the spirit of things, as uber shortstop prospect Matthew Volpe, leading off and playing second this day, homered deep to left on a 2-2 pitch. Yankee offense would come early and late, but attention must be paid to the pitching too, as it was exceptional.
Pittsburgh shortstop Oneil Cruz actually drove Lou Trivino’s 2-2 pitch leading off the bottom of the first well to left center, but young center fielder Michael Hermosillo made a fine running catch. Left fielder Bryan Reynolds, rumored all winter to be a Yankee trade target, followed with a walk. But five straight strike outs established that the Pirates offense faced an uphill battle, as a Rafael Ortega two-run bomb to right in the second had them down 3-0 in what seemed like an instant.
With Spring Training baseball abuzz about a newly instituted pitch clock and other rules addressing pace of play, Yankee Wandy Peralta’s three-strike-out second could hardly have been more emblematic. The Yankees were back on offense in the third six minutes after Pirates DH Ji-Man Choi took Wandy’s first pitch for a strike. Putting emphasis on his dominating inning, the veteran southpaw whiffed second baseman Tucupita Marcano on three pitches in 20 seconds.
Once Clay Holmes hit catcher Jason Delay with a pitch leading off the home third, a succession of relievers would retire the next 12 Pirates batters until James Norwood issued a harmless leadoff walk in the seventh. By that time the Yanks had scored single runs in the fourth and fifth, with the former rally short-circuited when Volpe was doubled up attempting to advance to second on a flyout to center. Nevertheless, the rookie had a good day with a walk and single along with a strike out.
Fellow infield standout Oswald Peraza scored twice and stole a base, though his two times on base were just the result of a hit by pitch and a shortstop throwing error. First baseman Jake Bauers had two singles, Estevan Florial drove in a run with a triple, and Ortega followed up his homer with an rbi three-base hit of his own. On defense, reserve catcher Rodolfo Duran made a superb stop and throw on a potentially wild pitch in the seventh, retiring Mason Martin on an attempted steal of second, with his team down 5-0.
With the Pirates being no-hit 5-0 through eight, things got worse when reliever Tyler Chatwood surrendered a leadoff ninth-inning double to Everson Pereira, back-to-back walks, and a grand slam home run to Andres Chaparro, a guy who may not have a position, but has shown that when he swings a bat, he does not miss. The 9-0 lead seemed all but insurmountable, and Pittsburgh came to bat against free agent signer Matt Bowman in a game that was just 2:17 old.
One oddity that this game had, in a practice that was introduced last Spring Training, the Pirates were allowed to remove starter Mitch Keller with two down in the second, giving way to lefty Tyler Samaniego; then Keller came back to pitch the third. No penalties were issued to the batters and pitchers of either squad due to pitch clock rules, but the game moved along very well once again nonetheless. And we entered the bottom of the ninth with the home team not only being no-hit, but down 9-0, which, oddly, would have been the score had the Pirates simply not shown up, and forfeited the game.
But Pittsburgh was not done, and the home crowd issued a collective sigh of relief when Matt Fletcher bounced an infield single down third. With the no-no gone, a quick 5-4-3 put the shutout within a pitch of completion. Drew Maggi closed that door with a deep home run to left. Bowman then lost the plate, missing with 11 of his next 13 tosses. So the Bucco fans were feeling a lot better when Malcolm Nunez sent us all home 2:26 into this one by striking out. It was a 9-1 final, with the Pirates recording two hits and two walks in the final frame. It was a loss, but it was neither a no-hitter nor a shutout. And it certainly was not at all like,