Apr 282017

OK, I’m now officially hooked on the 2017 MLB season. Whether or not the Yankees continue to thrive, whether or not the expected division leaders in fact emerge to dominate, whether or not Eric Thames is for real, I’ve got the bug. It happened like this: yesterday my son celebrated his birthday. His loving sister got an opportunity to acquire 2 high-quality tickets to the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway. His wife had an unbreakable commitment, it was a school night for his kids. So, ipso facto, he invited me to go with him to the game.

The seats were amazing: fourth row behind the Red Sox dugout (Walli, the mascot, danced not 10 feet from us; don’t really care but we were CLOSE). As Andrew remarked, if you are going to watch a pitcher’s duel (which we both like, actually) being where you can actually see the ball go past the batter (as opposed, say, to watching from the bleachers) is really great. It was really great. It was billed as a battle of the aces, with Chris Sale (totally dominant this season, though 1-1) against Masahiro Tanaka (really bad to start the season, but rounding into form and the Yankees ace the past several seasons). The Red Sox had managed to score exactly 3 runs in Sale’s 4 starts (!!) hence the 1-1 record despite the 0.91 ERA. And Sale was totally dominant – he had 7 strikeouts after 3 innings (he led the AL in strikeouts going in) and had allowed only one baserunner on a weak 2-out infield single by #9 hitter Ronald Torreyes. Tanaka, meanwhile, whose command has been his problem, started leadoff hitter Dustin Pedrioa off with three straight balls, giving quick rise to thoughts of “here we go again”. But he got Pedroia, and began to cruise.

Sale’s pitch count was very low, but Tanaka’s was even lower throughout the game. He allowed a single to Hanley in the second inning, who advanced on a ground out – but was stranded there. In the fourth inning, the Yankees “rallied”. Aaron Hicks swung late on a nasty pitch down and away, and grounded a single through the open right side against the shift. Headley grounded the ball back to Sale, who turned to throw to second. He probably could have gotten Hicks, but decided instead to throw to first, only to see that Moreland, the first baseman, had headed toward the ball that Sale had fielded, and couldn’t get back to the bag! What could have been a serious gaffe was averted when Pedroia, who started the play behind second but ran toward the play, managed to continue on to first base in time to take the throw and just beat Headley to the bag at first. Sale then apparently crossed up Sandy Leon, and the ball got by him (passed ball) so Hicks took third. Matt Holliday seemed overmatched by Sale, but kept getting just a small piece and fouling off 4 pitches en route to a 3-2 count, and then lifted a fairly deep fly ball to left (I thought it might hit the monster, though it wasn’t actually THAT close and Hicks scored easily, as Benintendi was backing up and could get nothing on the throw. 1-0 Yankees, though no earned run for Sale.

Tanaka seemed to sense that this run was all he would get, and he had to make it stand up. Bogaerts singled to start the fifth, but Bradley hit a ball sharply to Chris Carter (playing first instead of Bird) who made a legitimately good play, snaring the hard shot, moving in to the grass to make a good throw to second, and scrambling back to the bag in time to double up the speedy JBJ, who did NOT seem to be busting it down the line. The inning required 5 (!) pitches. To this point both Sale and Tanaka had allowed 3 hits (all singles) and neither had issued a walk. It turned out that the DP in the fifth was a turning point of sorts: Tanaka did not allow a baserunner the rest of the game, and got the final 14 outs on 39 pitches! His 97-pitch complete game shutout (known as a “Maddux”: complete game shutout under 100 pitches) was the Yankee’s first complete game since August 2015 (also Tanaka) and their first Maddux since 2002. Sale meanwhile weakened somewhat, as he allowed 2 more hits and after 7 strikeouts in 3 IP, struck out “only” 3 in the subsequent 5 IP. Going into the ninth, with NY still clinging to that 1-0 lead, Sale had thrown 103 pitches, Tanaka 88. 100 pitches DOES seem to be magic: the Sox sent Sale back out in the ninth and the first three hitters (Hicks, Headley, Holliday) all singled to end his night. Hembree allowed ANOTHER single (and another run) and with runners on 2nd and 3rd and no one out it appeared that Sale’s ER total for the season would double, but foulout, DP ended the threat, and Tanaka closed out Boston on 9 pitches.

Tanaka has made 5 starts this season. Here is his season ERA after each start: 23.62, 111.74, 8.36, 6.00, 4.21. Can you detect a trend? Another way to see it, his game scores: 15, 44, 54, 65, 84. Same lines for Sale: 0.00, 1.25, 1.23, 0.91, 1.19 and 77, 70, 76, 86, 66. So last night WAS his worst game of the season. One tiny clarification: while they have only scored 3 runs for him while he has been in the game, they have scored 4 total runs in games he started. That’s 33% more run support than I gave them credit for!

Further thoughts on my baseball fever: amazingly, the Yankees now lead all of baseball in fewest runs allowed (63 in 20 games). I knew they were getting good pitching, but I hadn’t realized just HOW good. Oddly, the second and third lowest totals are also American League teams (White Sox, Orioles) and who also play in hitter’s parks. It won’t last, of course, but it is an oddity for now. Another oddity: the longest current winning streak in MLB belongs to: the Phillies? Picked to lose 100 games, they are 12-10 and with the Mets struggles, may battle the Marlins for second in the division. A further fun fact: the Red Sox to date, in 21 games, have hit 11 home runs (miss David Ortiz much?) and 3 of those, which leads the team, belong to now-on-the-DL Pablo Sandoval. Meanwhile Eric Thames, also in 21 games, also has 11 home runs. Thames, in case you missed it, last played in the majors in 2012, and in his only other seasons in MLB had 12 and 9 HRs in 95 and 86 games, respectively.

Yankees start a 3-game set with the Orioles at the stadium tonight. When they played in Baltimore, the Yankees blew two late-inning leads before rallying from 3-0 down to win the finale. They are now 5-6 on the road, with the 2-game sweep of the Red Sox representing their first road series win of the year, after losing the first three by 2-1 each. Go Yankees!

Isn’t this fun?

One Response to “Full-on Baseball Fever”

  1. I’m glad you had fun and didn’t get too much grief from the Sox fans surrounding you!

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