Baltimore are the worst team in Major League Baseball but the Yankees are hardly the best.
Who: New York Yankees
What: Baltimore Orioles @ New York Yankees
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
When: 21 to 23 September 2018
So, the end is near, as some singer or other once said. The last three home games of the regular season and Yankee Stadium is certainly filling up slowly. In fact, in a worst case scenario, these could be the last home games for the Yankees until next year. If they continued to struggle until the end of the season, they could lose home-field advantage to the Oakland A’s for the wild card playoff. And that is only a one game match-up…
But the Yankees’ did reasonably respectably against Buck Showalter’s Orioles. Here’s the batting stats…
|New York Yankees 2018 – Batting – Month – September|
And those of the pitchers…
|New York Yankees 2018 – Pitching – Month – September|
Game 1 saw Yankees veteran CC Sabathia come head-to-head with Yefry Ramirez (1-6). Whilst, Sabathia is no longer the pitcher he once was and has struggled with leg problems in the second half of the season, he would still certainly be expected to have the advantage in this match-up. And so, it was to prove.
Sabathia gave up a walk in the first to second-in-the-lineup, Joey Rickard but otherwise escaped untarnished. Indeed, he completed the inning on a 5-pitch strikeout to Adam Jones. The Yankees’ half of the inning saw them claim a 2-run advantage. First, Aaron Hicks was walked on 6 pitches and then Aaron Judge claimed a single on a short line drive which dropped on the left-field side of centre-field. However, Andrew McCutchen then hit into a 5-4-3 double-play which at least allowed Mr Hicks to advance to third. When Didi Gregorius hit Ramirez over the rightfield wall, this meant there were two runs rather than one.
In the second, Tim Beckham hit a single but the Baltimore team never really looked like scoring as Sabathia struck out two more batters. A walk for Neil Walker and a single for Gardner weren’t enough to allow the Yankees to add to their advantage.
In the third, both teams were taken down in order, but things began to get interesting on an offensive level in the 4th. Jonathan Villar began the inning with a single, but Sabathia induced Adam Jones, who he was clearly dominating, to hit into a double-play. However, he then gave up a single to Trey Mancini and a walk to Chris Davis and was lucky to get out of the inning without letting the O’s back into it. The Yankees took the chance afforded by this to widen the gap. With one out, Neil Walker hit a double and was then scored on Gleyber Torres’ single which went between the shortstop and second baseman. Torres then unsettled Ramirez by cleanly stealing second base and then a passed ball (which on another day might have been called a wild pitch) took him to third. Austin Romine, who was finally getting an opportunity to show his worth in place of Sanchez, grounded out, but this allowed the nippy Torres to advance to home. Another walk followed, this time to Brett Gardner which was capitalised on by the Yankees’ second homer of the game as Aaron Hicks cleared the fences. This meant that Showalter replaced Ramirez with Ryan Meisinger who successfully brought the inning to a conclusion. 6-0.
Sabathia continued to struggle in the 5th and this time the Orioles finally made it count. Ironically, it was an Adam Jones’ single which scored two runs to narrow the difference a little. Meisinger looked confident and sparky in the bottom of the inning, striking out two and allowing no-one to reach base.
Meisinger did not dominate in the same way in the sixth, allowing a walk to Torres and then once again, Austin Wynns got his signals crossed up for another passed ball. A moment later, Meisinger was replaced by Donnie Hart. The Yankees also made a change but again, I found it a questionable one as rather than going to section of the bullpen they normally use in a close game when they are ahead, they went to rookie Jonathan Loaisaiga who has been struggling. His struggles continued as his third pitch became a home run as Wynns redeemed himself. He then gave up a single to Cedric Mullins who would steal second and advance to third on a Romine error with one out. Loaisaiga was replaced by Zach Britton who immediately saw the Orioles score Mullins on a single. Villar then stole second but Britton closed out the inning with 2 outs. 6-4 to the Yankees.
The seventh was also rich territory for the Yankees as they brought home three more runs on three singles and a walk. All of these were scored on former Yankee minor leaguer, Cody Carroll who had swapped teams as part of the trade which took his opposite number Zach Britton to New York.
However, the Orioles resistance was not over as Aaron Boone, the Yankees’ manager, continued to make perplexing pitching decisions. First, he introduced another rookie, Stephen Tarpley who did well striking out Orioles’ designated hitter Chris Davis, only then to be lifted for A.J. Cole who had a disastrous and brief time on the mound. Firstly, he walked Beckham and then served up a home run to Renato Nunez. When he also gave up a single to Mullins, the Yankees lifted him for the far-more-reliable, David Robertson whose first pitch to DJ Stewart entered the seats for a two-run homer. The game was now finely balanced at 9-8 to the Yanks.
Thankfully, the denouement of the game had no further surprises. Reliever, Paul Fry walked the feisty Hicks and a double from Judge brought him across home plate.
There must have been a few Yankees’ hearts fluttering when they saw Dellin Betances approaching the mound for the 9th. Betances seems to alternate between super-reliable and super wobbly at the moment – which would he be today? Despite a single to Mancini, he showed signs of regaining his form and closed out the game effectively.
So, first blood to the Yankees but once again, some unusual decisions by Boone made this closer than it should have been. What would happen next?
Game 2 was another close game but with less of an abundance of runs. The Yankees started Lance Lynn while the Orioles put David Hess on the mound. After walking DJ Stewart, Lynn struck out Villar looking and found Stewart attempting to steal second and Sanchez, who if nothing else has a fine throwing arm, issued a laser in the direction of Gregorius who completed the doubleplay. Aaron Judge was the only Yankee to get on base in their half of the inning and that on a walk.
Lynn then took out the next 3 Orioles’ batters on 13 pitches and the Yankees geared up to break out into the lead. It isn’t for nothing that they have challenged the single season team record for home runs and they hit two more in the bottom of the second. Hicks led off the inning with a homer which was followed by a Miguel Andujar single. Andujar naively attempted to turn the single into a double and was thrown out. Luke Voit took charge of the situation again though with a fly ball to deep centrefield. 2-0 to the Yankees.
The Orioles led off the third with two singles – from Breyvic Valera and Steve Wilkerson. After that all it needed was for the error-prone Sanchez to mar his report-card and he duly obliged with a passed ball and a throwing error. This allowed Valera to score although the rest of the infield were sharper and got Wilkerson out at home. 2-1 to the Yankees.
Hess walked Gregorius in the bottom of the inning but otherwise got through with little difficulty.
Villar hit a single and Andujar hit a double in their respective halves of the fourth but it didn’t look like there would be further scoring and so it proved.
Lynn, though, began to lose the thread in the fifth and if it wasn’t for some more clumsy baserunning by Wilkerson, the Orioles would have tied the game. with one out, the aforementioned Wilkerson hit a strong double which was followed by a single from Caleb Joseph. Wilkerson chose to challenge Aaron Judge’s arm and the bullet Judge released nailed Wilkerson at the plate. He won’t do that again. A single from Mullins took Joseph to third and then a further single surrendered to Stewart scored the run. Villar then walked off Lynn before a ground ball down the third base line from Jones allowed Andujar to make the forceout at third. With the game all tied up, the Yankees were grateful to receive walks for McCutchen and Judge from Hess but couldn’t a safe hit to bring a run home. 2-2.
The Yankees wisely replaced Lynn with Chad Green in the 6th but he opened the inning by giving up a double to Mancini. Despite a walk to Wilkerson, the Yankees did not give up a run. Miguel Castro, in turn became the new Baltimore pitcher and he took down the three Yankees he faced in order, culminating in striking out Luke Voit.
The seventh inning saw Aroldis Chapman as the new Yankees pitcher and he was far more accomplished than he had been in his appearance against Boston, retiring the batters in 1-2-3 order. Castro then gave up a double to Torres and Joseph allowed a passed ball to bring him to third. A ground ball hit from McCutchen allowed the Orioles the opportunity to throw out Torres at the plate and the score remained tied.
Betances, who had looked like he was close to getting back to his best form in the previous game, was right back there in this outing. He struck out all three batters who faced him in the eighth. Tanner Scott was not quite so overwhelming as the new pitcher for the Orioles but didn’t allow anyone to reach base nonetheless.
In the ninth, Zach Britton went to the mound and struck out the first two batters who came up against. He then allowed Joseph to hit a single. The catcher was taken out of the game to allow, former Yankee Jace Peterson to pinchrun. Peterson almost straight away headed for second and was apparently thrown out at that base. Buck Showalter, the former Yankees manager and current Orioles boss – who is no favourite among the Yankees’ fans – appealed this decision and was ridiculed by the New York faithful. Surprisingly, the decision was overturned, and Peterson was now called safe at second. Fortunately, Mullins grounded out to the shortstop and the game rolled on.
Mychal Givens pitched the bottom of the 9th with no problems and the game went forward into extra innings. The Yankees just managed to scramble out of the top of the 10th as Jonathan Holder had one of only two or three off-form days since he returned to the majors in May. He gave up a double to Stewart, a single to Villar which advanced Stewart and then saw Villar steal second. The decision was then relayed from the dugout to intentionally walk Mancini to load the bases with only one out. Somehow Holder got out of the fix with Davis lining out and Valera mustering only a weak popfly.
It was three batters and three outs for Givens in the bottom of the 10th and the game entered the 11th. Again, the Yankees made a curious choice in who they should introduce as relief pitcher, with Tommy Kahnle entering. He gave up a single but no runs. And so then came the bottom of the inning and the walkoff. New pitcher, Paul Fry began with a second pitch single to Gregorius and then after striking out Stanton, he then watched as Sir Didi sped round the bases on an Aaron Hicks double. The Yankees won 3-2.
All that remained was for the Yankees to give a big final home game of the regular season for the home fans to remember just in case things did not work out in the post season. Surely that would be their target.
So, the Yankees went into game three still not having nailed down the possibility of home advantage in the wildcard game. Every win mattered and to end the home stand would surely be an objective. Well, if it was, you’d never have noticed…
They took the game seriously enough to put J.A. Happ in the starting line-up as pitcher but there the sense of conviction and necessity started to look a little threadbare. Facing Alex Cobb, the Yankees had a real chance of completing a series sweep and advancing their goals for the season – not least not having to trek out to the West Coast for the wildcard game, moving a step further toward a 100-game series and the single season home run record. All seemed within their grasp by the end of the season and winning here wouldn’t hurt at all.
Things got better when Happ struck out the top of the line-up on 16 pitches and even more so – albeit in sad circumstances – when Cobb had to exit the game, after only a few pitches, injured. This meant that Mike Wright had to enter the game with virtually no preparation and, in contrast to Happ, walked the first three batters he faced. He did start to get into his groove from then on, but the Orioles were already facing a significant problem. A sacrifice fly from Torres scored the first run as McCutchen crossed the plate. Then Andujar singled for Giancarlo Stanton to score. Walker struck out but a single from Sanchez scored Voit – and now all those three players who were walked had scored. 3-0.
The Orioles straightaway began to chip away at the lead. With one out, Tim Beckham hitting a home-run began a comeback even though a later double for Joey Rickard came to nothing. By now Wright was in his stride and wasn’t about to make a mistake in the bottom half of the inning. 3-1.
Happ gave up two walks in the third and Andujar took a double off Wright but there was to be no further scoring at this point. But now it was the Orioles’ pitcher who had the upper-hand. Happ wasn’t conceding runs but the Orioles were getting on base while the Yankees came up blank in the fourth. Valera hit a triple in the fifth but couldn’t score and even when the taxed Wright who hadn’t expected to be a virtual substitute starter in the game had to give way, the Yankees couldn’t get on base in the next two innings which were pitched by Ryan Meisinger.
Sandwiched between those two groups of three outs was the pivotal Orioles’ inning. The Yankees decided to replace J.A. Happ in the sixth with first A.J. Cole and then Tommy Kahnle. Now again these were simply not the choices to best protect the Yankees’ lead. Cole has done much better with the Yankees than on his previous club, but he has in reality been the 25th player on the roster for most of the year. Kahnle, meanwhile, after a good end of year in 2017, has spent much of this year in the minors trying to recapture a shadow of his former self. As you can see in the table at the head of this column, it didn’t happen and particularly not for Cole who went into meltdown and was booed from the mound by the Yankee fans. Cole began by surrendering a double to Mancini and then consecutive home runs to Beckham and Nunez. All of a sudden, the Yankees were in arrears. Kahnle entered and gave up a double to Rickard who was then advanced to third on a groundout by Wynns. A sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Stewart added to the misery. 5-3 to the Orioles.
In the 7th, it was Luis Cessa who replaced Kahnle and except allowing a single from Mancini, he did fine. But by now, the Orioles were firmly in the driving seat and the introduction of Tanner Scott didn’t allow the Yankees much optimism or opportunities.
The Yankees made wholesale fielding changes in the 8th and a double from Stewart which scored Rickard widened the margin and deficit. Cody Carroll gave the Yankees a slim chance, but they didn’t seem interested in taking it. A single from Stanton was followed by a balk which took him to second but none of the subsequent three batters looked like advancing him further.
Cessa took out the next three Orioles’ batters in the ninth but then Givens returned the favour in the bottom half of the final innings. 6-3 final.
You can hardly blame a team like the Yankees for having one eye on the post-season at this point. But they seem, and particularly Aaron Boone, to have their whole attention directed there. They cannot win the division crown but there are still issues to be settled. And those fans who stayed until this sad end, felt that they were insufficiently concentrating on the matters at hand. And that was perfectly understandable.