COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The annual pilgrimage to baseball’s mythical birthplace never ceases in its appeal. It provides the chance to reflect on all that is good about the game as the Hall of Fame opens its doors to a new class of immortals.
And what a class in 2014! Former Yankees manager Joe Torre has more than 300 friends and relatives scattered all over this area to witness his induction Sunday alongside fellow managers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa as well as pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the longtime Braves teammates, and first baseman Frank Thomas, one of two players with that name in town.
The other Frank Thomas, who was with the original Mets of 1962, is also here signing autographs on Main Street with Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers like Darryl Strawberry and Pete Rose. Also John Rocker, although I must say I have no idea why anyone would want his autograph.
Torre was feted Saturday night by the Yankees and Major League Baseball at a private party in a local brewery. Commissioner Bud Selig and Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke glowingly of Torre’s contributions to the game and the franchise. Joe was gracious in his remarks, a sort of test run for the big speech he will on stage at the Clark Sports Center Sunday.
The city is abuzz with former Yankees here and there, including Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Dave Winfield, Phil Niekro, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Goose Gossage. (Yogi Berra, not feeling well after a recent fall, canceled at the last minute. His boyhood friend from St. Louis, Joe Garagiola, also could not travel here to accept his Buck O’Neill Award Saturday at Doubleday Field but sent a taped message.)
Others here to witness Joe’s induction include actor-comedian Billy Crystal, Yanks chief operating officer Lonn Trost, Gene Michael, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Lee Mazzilli and others. Among the Hall of Famers who have longstanding relationships with Torre are Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, plus Tim McCarver, last year’s Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting.
This year’s Frick Award winner, Eric Nadel, the Brooklyn-born Texas Rangers radio voice, gave a lusty speech at Saturday’s ceremony. There was also a wonderful acceptance speech by New Yorker magazine’s ageless (93 actually) Roger Angell, this year’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for baseball writing.
This is perfect company for Torre, whose 12 seasons at the helm of the Yankees continued the franchise’s connection with success. He turned around the attitudes of many a Yankees hater from 1996 through 2007. His ascension into the Hall’s gallery is long overdue.
A trade completed earlier in the day Tuesday with the Padres that brought third baseman Chase Headley to New York addressed the Yankees’ need to improve their offense. For one night, the move worked wonders.
Headley ended up having a dream debut by driving in the winning run of a 2-1, 14-inning victory over the Rangers. Four hours and 51 minutes after the first pitch, Headley ended a frustrating night for the Yankees and himself with a single to left-center field off Nick Tepesch, Texas’ ninth pitch of the game, that scored Brian Roberts, who had doubled with one out and moved to third base on a single to right by Francisco Cervelli.
Brett Gardner officially welcomed Headley to the Yankees with a Gatorade bath during the newcomer’s postgame interview near the dugout.
The 2012 National League Most Valuable Player candidate and RBI leader started the day in Chicago and arrived at Yankee Stadium after the game started. He batted as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, stayed in the game at third base and had three more at-bats, two of them with a chance to produce a walk-off victory.
Headley’s previous opportunity came in the 12th inning when it appeared for sure the Yanks would put this one away. For the second time in three days, three fielders could not catch a pop fly by Brian McCann that fell for a single after a leadoff single by Carlos Beltran and a wild pitch by lefthander Ryan Feierabend. After Ichiro Suzuki advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt, Roberts was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Righthander Scott Baker came in to face Cervelli and promptly fell behind 3-0 in the count. Cervelli took the next pitch for a strike and then hit a scorching liner that was caught by third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Up came Headley with an opportunity to be a hero, but he hit a weak ground ball to second base and the game went on.
Neither club scored for 12 innings. The Rangers broke the deadlock in the 13th on J.P. Arencibia’s home run off David Huff. Texas had two more hits that inning but failed to get an insurance run that proved necessary when closer Joakim Soria blew a save.
The Yankees finally broke through on a leadoff double by Gardner, a sacrifice by Derek Jeter, and a single by Jacoby Ellsbury. Beltran moved Ellsbury to third to give the Yanks an excellent change to finish it off. McCann did not hit the ball high enough in the air this time but rather a soft low liner that Arencibia at first base took on a bounce to start a rally-killing twin killing.
After announcing the trade, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters, “I have more work to do.” The victory, as satisfying as it was, only served to emphasize that. The Yankees failed to score over 12 innings against the worst pitching staff in the American League (4.90 ERA).
The positive for the Yanks was that their pitchers also tossed up zeroes for 12 innings. Still, the offense needs to get into gear. No team can win a game, minus one to zero.
Go figure this game. Two pitchers take the mound with identical 5.10 ERAs. Each has struggled a ton lately. The Yankees’ Chase Whitley was 1-3 with an 11.25 ERA in his previous five outings. The Rangers’ Nick Martinez, who pitched college ball at Fordham, was winless in seven starts since his only victory of the season May 24.
So what happened? Both pitched shutout ball over six innings.
It was a very positive sign for Whitley, who got solid support from his defense. Five of the seven hits he allowed were at the start of innings, usually a bad omen.
In the second inning, Leonys Martin got to third with none out on an error by third baseman Zelous Wheeler and a wild pitch, but Whitley kept the ball in the infield with two groundouts bookending a strikeout to strand Martin.
In the third, Daniel Robertson led off with a single and stole second base. After Shin-Soo Choo was called out on strikes, Robertson tried to steal third and was gunned down by Francisco Cervelli. Whitley finished off the inning by striking out Elvis Andrus.
Adrian Beltre followed Jim Adduci’s leadoff single in the fourth by grounding into a double play. In the fifth, Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos, who doubled with one out, tried to score on an infield single by Robertson but was thrown out at the plate by Brian Roberts.
Whitley’s night was done after he gave up another leadoff hit in the seventh, a single by Beltre, but Matt Thornton and Adam Warren made sure the All-Star third baseman did not advance.
The Yankees had it even worse against Martinez, who held them to three hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings before Neftali Feliz, the former American League Rookie of the Year, followed with 1 2/3 hitless innings of relief. The Yanks did not get a runner past first base over the first seven innings.
Martinez, too, had helped from his defense. Martin in center field climbed the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center to rob Brian McCann of a potential extra-base hit in the second inning. The ball did not appear to be over the wall when Martin gloved it.
The zeroes kept piling up after the starters were gone. The Yanks did not get a runner into scoring position until one out in the ninth when Derek Jeter doubled into the left field corner. It was career double 535 for DJ, who replaced Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig as the franchise’s all-time leader in two-base hits.
Rangers manager Ron Washington decided to have lefthander Neal Cotts walk lefty-swinging Jacoby Ellsbury intentionally and go after Carlos Beltran, a switch hitter who would bat right-handed against Cotts. The curious strategy worked as Beltran grounded into a double play that sent the game into extra innings.
As to the question that has been floating around as the July 31 trade deadline nears of whether the Yankees will be buyers or sellers, it was answered by general manager Brian Cashman Tuesday with the acquisition of third baseman Chase Headley from the Padres for infielder Yangervis Solarte, Class A Tampa pitcher Rafael De Paula and cash.
Let’s not carried away. Headley is no savior. Two years ago, the switch hitter, 30, finished fifth in the voting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award after leading the league in RBI with 115 and batting .286 with 31 home runs. He slipped to .250 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI a year ago, and this season has been plagued by back problems while hitting .229 with seven homers and 32 RBI.
Headley can be a free agent at season’s end, so he is in essence a rental player and one who has plenty of incentive to have a big finish and put up the kind of offensive numbers that will make him attractive in the open market over the winter and perhaps give the Yankees a lift in their pursuit of a postseason berth, preferably as the American League East division winner.
The Yankees’ signing of Solarte to a minor-league deal figured into this trade. They took a flier on an eight-year minor leaguer, who worked hard to make the team as a utility player and had a delirious six-week run early on that made him a feel-good story at the time and a valuable bargaining chip in trade negotiations.
Solarte, 27, batted .254 with 26 runs, 14 doubles, six home runs and 31 RBI in 75 games and 252 at-bats with the Yankees. He also played in five games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and hit .600 with three doubles, one triple and five RBI in 20 at-bats.
De Paula, 23, was 6-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 20 games (17 starts) covering 89 innings for Tampa. He was originally signed by the Yankees as a minor-league free agent Nov. 18, 2010.
Headley was en route to New York from Chicago but was not expected at Yankee Stadium by game time. Kelly Johnson, who has shared third base with Solarte and Zelous Wheeler this year, found himself in right field for the first time as a major leaguer. With Mark Teixeira unavailable because of a left lat strain, Brian McCann started at first base with Francisco Cervelli behind the plate.
Yes, the Yankees committed five errors Monday night, quite an embarrassment in front of a packed house of 45,278 on a night when figurines of Derek Jeter were distributed. Yet in losing to the club with the worst record in the major leagues, the Yanks were at fault more for their bats than their gloves.
Only one of the Rangers’ runs in their 4-2 victory was the direct result of an error by the Yankees. The greater embarrassment for the Yankees was that they managed only merely four hits off the Rangers’ starting pitcher, Miles Mikolas, 25, a righthander making his fourth career start, paired against Shane Greene, also 25, also a righthander, who was making his third career start.
But whereas Greene came into the game with a 2-0 record and 1.32 ERA, Mikolas entered play with a 0-2 mark and 10.05 ERA. This was a projected mismatch, but it went to Mikolas instead. He pitched one out into the eighth inning and got the better of Greene and the Yankees.
Mikolas hurt himself with a balk in the first inning that led to a run on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Beltran. Jacoby Ellsbury stunned the pitcher with a home run leading off the fourth, and the Yankees had a major threat in the fifth when they loaded the bases with one out on singles by Francisco Cervelli and Zelous Weaver and a walk to Brett Gardner.
That brought up Jeter, but Mikolas won the battle as the Captain grounded into a double play. That marked the first two of nine consecutive outs for Mikolas.
Greene had a weird night. He was guilty of three of the errors charged to the Yankees. Two were on bad throws to first base with the other coming on a dropped relay at first base. None cost him a run. A dropped feed from Jeter by second baseman Brian Roberts was costly, however, allowing the first Texas run.
What was costly for Greene with the misplays was that it took him longer to get out of those innings. Yankees manager Joe Girardi pointed out after the game that Greene’s pitch count was 113, but it might have still been in the 80s when he started to have trouble in the sixth.
The Rangers grabbed a 4-2 lead with three runs that inning, all after two were out. A walk to Jim Adduci was a killer for Greene, who then yielded an RBI single by Geovanny Soto. Lefthander Matt Thornton came on and gave up consecutive singles to lefty-swinging Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo.
“It was an ugly game on our part,” Girardi said. “We need to win series if we’re going to catch Baltimore. If you lose the first game, it makes it harder.”
Watching Shane Greene on the mound Monday night made one wonder how much PFP is done in the minor leagues. PFP stands for pitchers’ fielding practice, an exercise dreaded by hurlers, especially during the heat of spring training.
It is pretty boring stuff, too, but there are times when pitchers are reminded why fielding their position is important. Greene, who has done a terrific job since his recall from Triple A Scranton, had a rough time of it in the third and fourth innings and was charged with three errors. That’s three Es for a guy with three of them in his last name.
Two of the misplays came in the second inning, but he escaped without damage. Greene dropped a feed from first baseman Kelly Johnson that allowed Leonys Martin to reach first base. With two out, Greene fielding a pepper shot by Jim Adduci , but his under-handed toss sailed over Johnson’s head. That put runners on second and third, but Greene redeemed himself by striking out Geovanny Soto.
An error cost the Yankees a run in the third, but this one was by Brian Roberts. With runners on first and third with one out, the second baseman dropped shortstop Derek Jeter’s throw that might have started a double play but instead allowed the runner from third to score. Again, Greene got a strikeout to minimize the damage and end the inning.
With two out in the fourth, Greene was at it again throwing to first base as if 6-foot-8 Dellin Betances was the fielder there. Greene fielded a dribbler by Soto and threw another sailer well out of Johnson’s reach. When Rougned Odor hit a tapper to the mound, the crowd roared its approval when Greene ran toward first base and made an accurate toss to Johnson for the final out.
It took five innings for the Yankees’ hits to catch up with their errors. Jacoby Ellsbury’s eighth home run of the season, a solo shot leading off the fourth against Texas starter Miles Mikolas, was only the Yankees’ second hit. They got to four to match their errors with singles by Francisco Cervelli and Zelous Wheeler. A walk to Brett Gardner loaded the bases, but Jeter grounded into a double play.
If many of those Rangers names seem strange, well, that is because so many of their regulars are injured. Texas has already had 51 different players, including 30 pitchers, on its roster this year. Both figures are records for prior to the All-Star break. The Rangers have sunk to the bottom of the American League West by losing 24 of their previous 28 games.
Just when the Yankees have gotten on a roll, Mark Teixeira has had to come out of the lineup. Tex has been bothered on and off the past two weeks by back spasms. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam revealed a mild strain of the left lat. The first baseman does not have to do on the 15-day disabled list, but he is not likely to play in the four-game series against the Rangers that began Monday night.
Teixeira said before the game that he thought the condition would improve with the four-day layoff of the All-Star break. Instead, it got worse.
“The same thing happened last year when I came back after missing so much time the previous year,” Teixeira said. “You think you’re going to find a fountain of youth, but the time away made me rusty.”
Teixeira certainly looked rusty during the Yankees’ sweep of the Reds by going hitless with one walk and five strikeouts in 12 at-bats. He was to receive a plasma injection from Dr. Chris Ahmad, the Yankees team physician, before the game. The Yankees are hopeful Teixeira may return in three or four days.
The Yankees have broken out splendidly in the post All-Star break period. They limped into the traditional midseason break with a .500 record at 47-47 and had concerns about an injury-plagued pitching staff and underachieving lineup.
Sunday’s 3-2 victory completed a three-game sweep for the Yanks over a Cincinnati club that is a contender in the National League Central but was without its star first baseman Joey Votto. Perhaps he might have caught the fly ball Brian McCann hit into shallow right field that fell among three fielders apparently blinded by the infamous late-afternoon sun at Yankee Stadium.
It became a walk-off single for McCann in scoring Jacoby Ellsbury, who was a one-man gang Sunday. Ellsbury had a perfect day at the plate with a double, three singles, a walk and two stolen bases.
The Yankees won the game against All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing lefthander whose fastball topped off at 102 miles per hour Sunday. Ellsbury fought off some tough pitches to open the ninth with a single to left field. Catcher Brayan Pena had trouble handling some of Chapman’s pitches, allowing Ellsbury to get to third base with none out on a stolen base and a wild pitch. Chapman recovered to strike out Mark Teixeira and get McCann on what appeared a popout that was not deep enough for even the super-swift Ellsbury to score — except nobody got a glove on it.
Before that moment, the Yanks seemed on the brink of letting this one get away. In one of his rare hiccups, Dellin Betances gave up a game-tying home run to Todd Frazier in the eighth inning. It could have been worse, but on the previous play Betances picked Skip Schumaker off first base. The Yankees left eight runners on base from the fifth to the eighth innings and finished with 13 left on in going 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The Reds were miserable in that category during the series with only one hit in 22 at-bats in the clutch as Yankees pitchers came through at critical moments. That one hit was a two-out double by Schumaker in the fifth, the only run surrendered by Hiroki Kuroda in his 6 2/3 innings, and an unearned run at that. The runner who scored had reached base on an error by second baseman Brian Roberts.
The Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead in the fifth off Johnny Cueto, who had a shaky outing, on RBI singles by Derek Jeter and, who else, Ellsbury, but they stranded two runners after one out and the bags full in the sixth.
Kuroda’s effort was part of a strong showing in recent games by the rotation alongside Shane Greene, David Phelps and Brandon McCarthy, who were a combined 3-0 with a 1.03 ERA, five walks and 31 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings.
So what’s all this concern about Yankees pitching? The injuries to Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have created opportunities for other pitchers who to this point have stepped up and given the Yankees positive feelings about their chances the rest of the way.
The Yankees want it to be know that there is some confusion out there about spiraling ticket prices for the Sept. 7 game against the Royals at Yankee Stadium that Friday night was designated as Derek Jeter Day.
An article in Sunday’s editions of the New York Post claimed that the Yankees “hiked the cheapest tickets on its Web site a stunning 1,250 percent – from $16 to $250,” an assertion the club said in a statement “is absolutely and categorically untrue.”
The story confuses the primary ticket market with the secondary ticket market; that is, tickets that are being sold by fans who already purchased the tickets. There are numerous resale markets including StubHub, Craigslist, Yankees Ticket Exchange, and VividSeats, where fans and brokers post tickets to be resold. There has been no change in prices of tickets being sold for that game by the Yankees.
It is beginning to look like the All-Star break was just what the Yankees needed. They certain appear rejuvenated after the four-day break. Derek Jeter, Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances were the Yankees’ representatives in Minneapolis, but only Jeter played in the game. Tanaka, on the disabled list, chose not to go, and Betances was stuck in the bullpen, yet that, too, might have been a blessing.
The rest of the Yankees got some needed R&R and have come back with a determination to make a strong run for the American League East title.
Saturday, the Yankees took up from where they left off Friday night with first-year players making significant contributions in a 7-1 victory over the Reds and All-Star pitcher Alfredo Simon.
Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, who drove in key runs Friday night, were back in the mix Saturday. Beltran had two more hits, including his 10th home run of the season. McCann started a three-run rally in the sixth inning with an against-the-shift, infield single.
At the bottom of the order, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson combined for four hits, four runs and two RBI. In addition to his two singles, Roberts reached base on an error by right fielder Jay Bruce, who dropped a routine fly ball in the third inning that led to a gift run on a single by Brett Gardner.
Roberts left off the fifth with a single. Johnson followed with a single, and both runners advanced on a passed ball by Devin Mesoraco. A sacrifice fly by Gardner, who had three RBI in the game, and an RBI single by Jeter pushed the Yanks’ lead to 4-1.
“We took advantages of their miscues,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We moved runners over. We got the big hits. We had good at-bats. We were very fundamentally sound.”
Among the more recent newcomers is winning pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who is off to a terrific start with the Yankees after a not very terrific first half with the Diamondbacks. Acquired July 6 from Arizona in a trade for lefthander Vidal Nuno, McCarthy has had a quality start in each of his first two appearances for the Yankees.
The righthander provided a strong six innings Saturday in allowing one run on a home run by Chris Heisey, five other hits and no walks with nine strikeouts. Known as a sinkerballer, McCarthy had more of a power sinker Saturday as the strikeouts total attests. He also got seven of his other nine outs in the infield, six on ground balls.
This was the McCarthy the Yankees envisioned when they made the trade. Yankees fans might have scoffed when they saw that McCarthy was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 109 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks, but with the Yanks he is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA, one walk and 12 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings.
McCarthy credited McCann, his catcher, with guiding him through the game by using his cut fastball as well as the sinker on a day when his curve was not particularly sharp.
“My curve was nothing special, but all three fastballs were there,” McCarthy said. “I had gotten away from throwing the cutter with Arizona. Here they want me to keep the cutter in play to set up hitters in a different way. It’s hard to keep major-league hitters off balance with just one pitch.”
Coming to the Yankees marks a new beginning for McCarthy coming off from a club that was in last place in the National League West.
“A situation like that can energize and motivate players,” Girardi said.
“It’s energizing in itself just to be in a division race,” McCarthy said.
The Yankees’ play post the All-Star break promises they could be in the race to stay.