The Power of Zeroes

March 19, 2022, Sarasota, Fla.; Yankees 3, Orioles 3 — The Yankees, who bunched three of their five hits and all three of their runs in a Friday loss to the Pirates in the first and ninth innings, compressed their offense even further on Saturday. Playing under even sunnier and hotter skies, this time devoid of wind, they battled the Orioles to a 3-3 tie in Baltimore’s Spring home, Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. And this time all three of both their hits and runs came in a five-at-bat chunk of the top of the third inning.

They did this in what many consider typical “Bomber” fashion: booming double, out, home run, out, home run. The first two shots came off the bats of guys not likely to make the trip North in three-plus weeks: utility man Phillip Evans and catcher David Freitas, playing first base and designated hitter, respectively. The third boomer was considerably more significant, as it was the first hit and home run of third baseman Josh Donaldson’s Yankee career.

Although the sudden offense came in the third, it felt very much like the beginning of the contest, as lefties Oriole Ryan Hartman and Yankee Ken Waldechuk had each faced and retired six straight batters, Hartman on 31 pitches, and Waldechuk just 15. But showing no sense of the moment, Evans crushed the first toss of the third just to the left of center over a turning Cedric Mullins, and it scaled the fence on its first hop for a grounds-rule double. A strike out later, Freitas lined a homer over the left field wall, 2-0 Yankees. DJ LeMahieu followed with a sharp line out to center, sending Hartman to the showers. Then Donaldson drilled righthander Garrett Farmer’s first pitch over the same wall, perhaps 10 or 15 feet deeper, 3-0 New York.

Perhaps due to his minuscule pitch count, Waldichuk would pitch the whole third, but not as effectively. One-out doubles by Rylan Bannon and Jacob Nottingham plated one, and veteran DH Trey Mancini flicked a 2-2 pitch just fair down first for run No. two. An infield single went for naught, as the Yankee southpaw escaped the frame on a busted steal attempt, with Mancini eventually being retired at home on a 2-3-4-1-2 play, 3-2 Yankees. Later, Ryan Mountcastle, who had been caught off first in the play that ended the third, followed a fifth-inning walk and single with an infield base hit, pushing across the tying run when Oswaldo Cabrera’s game grab and throw from third base was just a hair late at first base.

Baltimore threatened off righty Jhony Brito in the sixth, following a single with two walks, but when 2020 first-round pick Colton Cowser lined toward right, New York second sacker Cristian Perez made what turned out to be a game-saving leap and grab. Countering that fine second-base play with one of their own, Baltimore’s Terrin Vayra caught Jose Peraza’s fifth-inning pop to short right over his shoulder running full speed toward the right field wall. Perez of the Yankees stole second base following a walk in the top of the seventh, and Max McDowell’s strong throw to Sweeney nailed Vayra out trying to steal in the ninth, turning Zach Greene’s strike out of Cowser into a double play.

The Yankee highlights of the day were Donaldson’s blast that crowned the team’s three-run third, and the dominant two-strike-out fourth inning turned in by righthanded reliever Clay Holmes, the only front-line New York pitcher (of 11) we’ve seen in the first two games. Holmes is incorrectly charged with a blown save in mlb’s box score, as they missed him being replaced by Brito, who gave up the tying run in the fifth. (Anyone familiar with Holmes’s work would know that most of his outings — and certainly his first of the year — would be for one inning.)

If you find it concerning that the Yankees have collected but eight hits through two games, consider that six of those hits (three of them home runs) produced all six of their runs. If you want something to be annoyed by, however, this game had one source, in spades.

In a quirk I have never witnessed before in well over 1,000 games attended, it became apparent as the game progressed that the scoreboard personnel at Ed White Field were putting up a “zero” at the BEGINNING of every half inning, rather than after each team batted. Not only did this confuse people wondering what inning was being played at points during the game, it was frustrating to those scoring on their own. To illustrate the absurdity of this approach, the Orioles came to bat in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-3 tie with a zero already placed on the board for the bottom of the frame. It was, or appeared to be, a 3-3 final before the last three outs were recorded.