I didn’t watch today’s series opener against the Royals, but I checked the score around the third inning and was stunned that the Yanks were up 11-0. A big thank you to Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals’ starter and former Oriole, who clearly didn’t have his best stuff and allowed homers by seemingly everyone, even Stephen Drew. The Yankees tacked on three more runs in the game, including a homer by Slade Heathcott, and snapped their losing streak, got a very good performance by Eovaldi and ushered in the auspicious debut of young pitcher Jacob Lindgren. Wouldn’t it be great if Lindgen turned out to be really good – the star player I’ve been hoping for?
For those who questioned my last post in which I said I couldn’t relate to any of this Yankee team’s players (what I really meant was that there were no great personalities, no characters, no excitement, just….dullness), here’s today’s New York Times piece by Juliet Macur that encapsulates what I was talking about: Bryce Harper. Have a look.
Bryce Harper Offers Reminder of the Yankees of Old, Not of the Old Ones of Today
WASHINGTON — When Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals outfielder, was ejected from Wednesday’s game against the Yankees after arguing a low strike, there was no celebration in the Yankees’ dugout. No high-fives. No fist pumps.
But behind those stone faces and beneath those pinstripes, the Yankees’ hearts must have been lifted, for Harper’s exit gave them something they had not had moments earlier: a much better chance to win.
Harper, 22, has been one of the most talented players in major league baseball for several years, but he had recently been on a hot streak to rival some of the best hitters who ever played. Before Wednesday’s third-inning departure, Harper had hit 10 home runs in his past 12 games, including six in one three-game stretch.
His recent production was enough for his hitting coach, Rick Schu, to call it “scary” and his teammate Drew Storen to call it “scary” and one of the Nationals’ principal owners, Mark Lerner, to call it “so scary.”
Not just because Harper was hitting .333, which ranked third in the National League, or because he led the N.L. in homers (15) and the majors in everything from R.B.I. (38) and walks (37) to on-base (.472) and slugging (.732) percentage.
Watching him should give the Yankees a chill because he represents everything they are not: young, supremely talented and exciting.
A lifetime ago, or so it seems, the Yankees collected big stars like Harper. If they couldn’t build them from scratch — the Jeters and the Riveras and the rest of the so-called and recently departed Core Four — they just went out and bought them.
But those are the Yankees of yesterday. Today’s Yankees are aging and aching, with their biggest star, Alex Rodriguez, a serial liar pushing 40 (years, not homers). The rest? C. C. Sabathia and Carlos Beltran are on the downside of their career. Jacoby Ellsbury, the former Red Sox star, cannot seem to stay healthy and is now on the disabled list, where Mark Teixeira has also spent substantial time in recent years.
After the game Wednesday, when saying that the umpire went too far in tossing him out of the game — his second ejection in a week — Harper said what should have been obvious: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump tonight. Plain and simple.”
It was feisty, yes, but it was also classic Harper.
At spring training this year, his reaction to the Nationals’ surprising signing of pitcher Max Scherzer wasn’t the measured response of a humble player looking to avoid controversy. Instead, it was, “Where’s my ring?”
That was juicy bulletin board material for every team that plays him, but it just made his fans love him more. In his fourth season in the majors, with a bushy beard and a head of hair that is often coifed like a pop singer’s, Harper is the biggest star in a city that hasn’t celebrated a championship since the Redskins won the Super Bowl eight months before he was born.
“I love his energy,” said Francisco Hernandez, an Army officer who came to Wednesday’s game with his 4-year-old daughter. “It’s like he’s still a kid out there, saying things that a kid would say.”
Early in his career, Harper had a reputation for being reckless. Twice, he hurt his knee running into walls. He injured his thumb diving headfirst into a base. But this season, he has been healthy, and his teammates have sensed a huge jump in maturity.
Schu, the hitting coach, said Harper’s excellence had been contagious.
“When you’re hitting .330 and hitting home runs it lifts the whole team,” he said. “I don’t care who you are, or if you have a personality, or no personality.”
There’s no sense of when he will peak, either. One of the songs Harper has chosen for his at-bats at Nationals Park is Frank Sinatra’s “The Best Is Yet to Come.” But while the Yankees would never admit it, I’ll bet they can imagine him walking to the plate to Sinatra’s “New York, New York” instead.
Harper won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season, but his agent is Scott Boras, and Boras has been known to send a player or two to New York if the price is right. Which it usually has been, especially when the Yankees need a lift.
When Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, he told the magazine that two of his goals in baseball were to play in Yankee Stadium and to do it in pinstripes.
When I reminded Lerner, one of the Nationals’ owners, of those comments this week, he laughed.
“Every 16-year-old kid says that,” he said.
But not every 16-year-old kid is Bryce Harper. And what Bryce Harper wants, Bryce Harper seems to get.
It’s not that Chase Whitley is having TJ surgery. It’s not even that Jacoby Ellsbury is on the DL for however long it takes for his latest injury to heal. It’s that the Yankees have stunk lately. It was the road trip from hell, that’s what it was. The two-game set against the Nationals could have gone either way – the games were that close – but somehow you just knew the Yanks would end up on the losing side.
They’ll win again, just like the sun will come out tomorrow and all the other hopeful things people say at times like this. What’s more serious for me is that I’m not attached to this team the way I’ve been to teams in the past. I have to be honest: there’s no one I truly root for. I’m not into Beltran or McCann. I think Headley, who was supposed to be this great defensive third baseman, has been pretty awful. Didi is either not ready for prime time or simply not a stand-out. Tex has shown flashes of his former glory but you never know what you’ll get. And A-Rod is, well, A-Rod. Brett Gardner’s the spark plug of the team, no doubt, and if I were going to go all in on a player, he’d be it. Or maybe Miller and Betances. They’re worth rooting for. As for most of the relievers, the ones who come and go on the shuttle from Triple A, I have no idea who’s who.
I need to get my mojo back as a fan, just like the Yankees need to get their mojo back as a team. I’m glad they shaved off the mustaches, but now they’ll probably go out and get matching tattoos or something. Maybe a team meeting with Girardi would work better or one of his famous meltdowns on the field.
The Royals are a good team, so I pretty much expected the Yankees to struggle against them. I’m also not a fan of Capuano, who, if he’d really been good, wouldn’t have been signed and released by so many teams. He is not the answer to the holes in our starting rotation. Maybe Tanaka will come back soon and be okay for awhile. Maybe Nova will appear at some point and regain his form. And maybe pigs can fly.
My point is that we’ve now seen that we need a solid starter to round out the rotation. Is he a kid from the farm system? Fine, then where is he? Is he a proven entity we get in a trade? More likely, it seems.
As for the anemic hitting, it happens. But Beltran, despite a tiny resurgence, isn’t the Beltran of before and McCann still hasn’t proven to be the powerhouse we were promised, and Tex – well, he’s hurt again. It will be entertaining if Girardi uses A-Rod at first base, won’t it?
I’m sure all the players are grateful for the off-day. It was a grueling road trip – for them and for us.
What is it with these young pitchers who think that “playing hurt” is some kind of badge of courage? Chase Whitley’s failure to inform the Yankees that he had a sore arm well before he was pulled from the finale against the Rays last night was just stupid. And now we wait for the requisite MRI to see what’s what. Could we just get Cole Hamels and be done with it already?
Not that the pitching was to blame for the debacle at the Trop. The offense dried up – the same offense I was extolling in the last few posts. I know it’s a long season and teams go through slumps all the time, but it’s too early to know whether the home run power of Tex and A-Rod, the crafty hitting by Ellsbury and Gardner and the emergence of McCann as a threat at the plate are the norm or a fluke.
And now come the Royals, a team that wins games – a lot. The Yankees have their work cut out for them on this road trip. If the offense continues to sputter, I vote for shaving off those awful mustaches.
Wow. What else can you say about this guy’s performance in the Mother’s Day finale against Baltimore at the Stadium? Sixteen strikeouts? Plus we’re talking about the O’s here, not some weak-hitting team. I’m impressed. No, I’m in awe. What a good trade this one turned out to be, right?
I could go on and talk about the fact that Beltran hit a home run and that Didi has a good day at the plate, but this post is about Pineda. He’s The Man. I bow down.
He wasn’t bad last night in the finale against Toronto and the offense didn’t help much, but he hasn’t won a game yet in 2015 and he’s just not dominating hitters the way he used to. He knows he has to “pitch” more than throw heat now that he’s got a bum knee and isn’t a young stud anymore, but it hasn’t come together for him yet. The question is will it? The Yankees can’t afford to lose every time he’s out there. He needs a confidence booster – one of those games where the offense goes on a tear (a Janer would work) – and then maybe he’ll get on track.
Meanwhile, the Yankees lost the series with Toronto and last night was particularly irritating because we always beat Mark Buerhle, who must have been overjoyed that we didn’t hand him another “L.”
Next up is four games at home against Baltimore – never an easy task. I wish Pineda could pitch every game at this point, but mostly I wish we could bring the 2009 CC back. Sigh.
Yes, I ate that chocolate confection on Saturday night – that and much, much more. After the Yankees edged the Red Sox in Game 2 at Fenway, I celebrated my first birthday on the East Coast in years. Michael and I and our two good friends, my old boss in publishing and his partner, dined at Litchfield County’s #1 destination spot, Arethusa al tavolo in Bantam. Readers of my Mainly Jane blog may remember that I wrote about Arethusa last summer when I was researching my new novel in which my three heroines take cooking classes at a farm resort in CT. (My agent is sending out the manuscript to editors this week.) As part of my research, I interviewed Arethusa’s Executive Chef Dan Magill, who, it turns out, is not only a brilliant chef and all-around nice guy but an avid Yankees fan. When he found out I wrote this blog, he dubbed me “Bronx Bad Ass,” hence the inscription on Saturday night’s birthday dessert (the dessert before the other desserts, I should add; we all ate so much amazing food our stomachs were bulging and we vowed to fast for the next century).
Back to the Yankees, they’re on quite a roll. Their road record is staggeringly good. And while the Red Sox aren’t the formidable team they used to be, the Yanks have gotten their defense together. Their pitching has been stellar, both starters and relievers. And they’re getting clutch hits.
The most talked about clutch hit, of course, was A-Rod’s milestone pinch hit homer against Tazawa in Game 2. What to make of this guy? (A-Rod, not Tazawa.) He’s being such a good boy doing and saying all the right things. It’s as if he’s been taking Jeter pills. (“I just want to help the team win games.”) Cashman finally came out and admitted the Yankees don’t intend to pay him for the “Willie Mays” homer, so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. But if A-Rod keeps contributing, stays healthy and plays clean, they may have to acknowledge his achievements after all.
As for last night’s game, even Beltran was a hitting star. Tex has been a revelation with all those homers this early in the season. Gardner and Ellsbury have been huge for us. Everybody (well, almost everybody) has contributed. And Adam Warren has turned out to be a much better solution in the rotation than I expected. The idiotic “retaliation” pitch that landed on Ellsbury’s butt for an earlier Hanley Ramirez hit-by-pitch was mildly entertaining and put some spice into the rivalry, which hasn’t been much of one lately. We’ll see if there’s a carry-over the next time the teams face off. If CC’s pitching, it could happen. He seems to get fired up about those things.
Anyhow, a great birthday weekend for me and a great road trip for the Yankees. I hope everyone enjoyed the nice spring weather here in the Northeast too.
No, that’s not an official medical diagnosis. It’s just my opinion. He should have had the surgery last year and gotten it over with. Instead, we learned before tonight’s win over the Rays that he’s being shut down for a month to see if the soreness in the arm is still there. It’s a conservative approach and I get why the Yankees would go that route. Nobody wants to see a pitcher have surgery if he doesn’t have to. But how productive can Tanaka be over the course of the long season? Will he pitch every other week to try and preserve his arm? Is that even a realistic sort of rotation option?
Clearly, the injury is a big blow to the team. Chase Whitley is a nice young pitcher but he’s no ace. I’m depressed.
Game 3 was pretty sloppy in terms of the defense, but the Mets really played whoopsie with the ball. Yikes. Maybe they get nervous whenever they come to the Stadium or maybe it was the cold weather this time since the Yanks made their share of bonehead plays too. But in the end it was a Yankee victory, powered in part by the seemingly indestructible A-Rod. As everyone in the world knows by now, he’s one homer shy of Willie Mays’ milestone and the drama that’s getting front page news is will the Yankees pay him the bonus or won’t they? My guess is the two sides will reach some sort of settlement. I can’t see the Steinbrenners or A-Rod/Players Union wanting to drag this out during the season, nor can I see A-Rod wanting to ruin the good will he’s established with the fans and his teammates. But I’ve been wrong before. And when money’s involved, people act crazy so who knows.
The emergence of homer-happy Teixeira is also a nice story. Whether or not it’s his gluten-free diet that’s brought him back from last year’s mediocrity, it doesn’t matter. I’m just glad to see that swing again. Maybe Ellsbury should go gluten free so he doesn’t get injured so much. While he’s nursing his sore hip, Gardner’s been speedy. I’m just not wild about the mustache. Not on him or any of the others. They look like porn stars.
Andrew Miller, our closer for all intents and purposes, is doing a terrific job so far. Good signing, Cashman.
On to the Rays. I’m enjoying these games where the boys are playing better. There’s just one problem. Now that I’m on Eastern Standard Time, I’m going to sleep before the ESPN games are over, plus last night there was no way I was missing “Mad Men” for the end of Yankees-Mets.