It has been quite a while — perhaps all year — since Yankee Stadium had the buzz it did in the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game Tuesday night. Such is the sound of postseason baseball in New York, which had been missing from the Bronx the previous two seasons.
Unfortunately for Yankees fans, the postseason would last for only one game. AL Cy Young Award favorite Dallas Keuchel proved too much for the Yankees and pitched the Astros to a 3-0 victory. Keuchel allowed three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings to extend his scoreless innings streak against the Yankees this season to 22. Three Houston relievers held the Yankees hitless over the final three innings.
Fans in the sellout crowd of 50,113 were loud and demonstrative throughout the top of the first inning as Masahiro Tanaka set down the side in order with two strikeouts. As forceful as Tanaka appeared, many of his pitches were up, which he would need to avoid to remain in command.
The crowd kept up the decibel level in the bottom of the inning as Keuchel fell to 3-ball counts on both Brett Gardner and Chris Young. Gardner went down on a called third strike, but Young walked.
Carlos Beltran, possessor of one of the greatest postseason careers in major league history, grounded out to third base as Young moved into scoring position at second, but Keuchel got Alex Rodriguez looking at a well-placed cutter on the outside corner.
The high fastball hurt Tanaka in the second inning as Colby Rasmus turned on the first pitch for a home run into the right field bleachers. Gardner came to Tanaka’s rescue by hauling in Evan Gattis’ drive at the wall in right-center.
One out later, Tanaka flirted with danger. Luis Valbuena singled to center, and Tanaka then walked the 8- and 9-hole hitters, strikeout machine Chris Carter and .211-hitting Jason Castro. That prompted a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Tanaka used his splitter to get ahead in the count on Jose Altuve, who ended the threat by grounding into a fielder’s choice.
Danger lurked in the third after George Springer led off with a double to center field. Tanaka got National League Rookie of the Year candidate Carlos Correa on a grounder to third and Rasmus, first-pitch swinging again, on a fly to left. Third baseman Chase Headley made a dazzling, one-handed pickoff of a slow grounder by Gaddis and threw out the designated hitter to squelch the rally.
Tanaka was victimized by another high fastball in the fourth that Carlos Gomez parked off the wall behind the visitors bullpen in left field. He made one of his typical show-boating trots around the bases. Yankees catcher Brian McCann had the good sense not to make an issue of it as he did years ago when he was with the Braves and Gomez with the Brewers. The last thing the Yankees needed was for McCann to get tossed.
Yanks manager Joe Girardi felt five innings was enough for Tanaka and brought in lefthander Justin Wilson, who walked Rasmus to start the sixth but then got Gaddis on a double-play grounder and Gomez on another ground ball.
Keuchel, meanwhile, was mowing down the Yankees with regularity. He retired 10 batters in a row before Didi Gregorius opened the home sixth with a single to right, only the Yankees’ second hit.
Gardner became a strikeout victim for the third time, which called to question Girardi choosing him over Jacoby Ellsbury to play center field in this game. Keuchel got another big out when Young grounded into a forceout.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch came to the mound after a sharply-hit single to center by Beltran. After a brief huddle, Hinch stayed with Keuchel to face Rodriguez, who swung at the first pitch and flied out to center.
That turned out to be the Yankees’ only threat against Houston, which was in the postseason for the first time in 10 years since losing Game 4 of the 2005 World Series to the White Sox. The Astros got a tack-on run in the seventh off Dellin Betances. Pinch runner Jonathan Villar got a key stolen base and scored on a two-out single by Altuve.
It was a rough final stretch for the Yankees, who lost six of the last seven games of the regular season and did not even score in the Wild Card Game. Dreams of a 28th World Series championship will have to wait until 2016.
All year Yankees manager Joe Girardi has given one of his two left-handed hitting outfielders a night off against a left-handed starting pitcher. For Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, Jacoby Ellsbury was the one who had to grab the pine.
Girardi wanted to make sure Chris Young, who had a strong year against lefthanders, was in the lineup and chose to sit Ellsbury and have Gardner move from left field to center against AL Cy Young Award candidate Dallas Keuchel, who pitched 16 shutout innings against the Yankees this year.
Young batted .327 with 15 doubles, one triple, seven home runs and 24 RBI in 153 at-bats against lefties this year. Neither Gardner nor Ellsbury finished the season on a high note. Girardi decided the statistics favored Gardner, who hit .276 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 12 RBI in 170 at-bats against lefties, over Ellsbury, a .253 hitter with five doubles, three homers and eight RBI in 154 at-bats against southpaws.
Tuesday night marked the first time the Yankees played in the AL Wild Card Game in the four-year history of the event and was their fifth Wild Card berth overall. They reached the postseason through the wild card in 1995, 1997, 2007 and 2010. The Yankees clinched the 52nd playoff appearance in franchise history, most for any major league club. They have appeared in the postseason in 18 of the past 21 seasons. The Yankees are 12-11 all-time in winner-take-all postseason games, most recently winning 2012 ALDS Game 5 against the Orioles, 3-1. The Yanks have won the opening game of four consecutive postseasons (2009-12) and are 6-1 in postseason openers since 2005.
Of the 25 players on their AL Wild Card Game roster, 10 have prior postseason experience: Alex Rodriguez (75 games), Carlos Beltran (51), Ellsbury (38), Gardner (33), Brian McCann (12), Young (12), Andrew Miller (5), Brendan Ryan (3), Justin Wilson (3) and Ivan Nova (2). Of those 10, only Rodriguez, Gardner and Nova have appeared for the Yankees in the postseason. The roster includes eight rookies — Greg Bird, Slade Heathcott, Bryan Mitchell, Rico Noel, John Pazos, Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino. Bird and Refsnyder were in Tuesday night’s starting lineup.
Three Yankees players previously appeared in Wild Card Games — Beltran was 1-for-4 in the 2012 NL Wild Card Game with the Cardinals in a 6-3 victory over the Braves; McCann drew a walk in one plate appearance with Atlanta in that same game; Wilson pitched for the Pirates in their 8-0 loss to the Giants in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game and allowed one hit and one walk with one strikeout in one-third of an inning.
Yankees batters hit a club-record 47 home runs of at least three runs in 2015 (40 three-run homers, seven grand slams), 18 more than the next-highest team (Blue Jays with 29). It was the third-highest total in major-league history history, behind the 53 by the Mariners in 1996 and the 48 by the Cardinals in 2000.
Yankees relief pitchers set a single-season record with 596 combined strikeouts, breaking the previous mark of 589 by the Rockies in 2012.
Yankees catchers combined for 28 home runs and 106 runs batted in, the highest HR and RBI totals among any team’s catchers. The Yanks used just two catchers this season, fewest in the majors, the first major-league team to use only two catchers for an entire season since the Pirates in 2012 with Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry). It was the third time in team history that the Yankees used only two catchers in a full season. The other years were 1972 (Thurman Munson and John Ellis) and 1940 (Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar). Sanchez and Austin Romine were on the roster in September but neither went behind the plate.
Ironically, the Yankees had three catchers on the Wild Card Game roster: McCann, Murphy and Sanchez.
Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler agreed Monday to terms on a four-year contract to become general manager of the Angels. Eppler will oversee all aspects of the club’s baseball operations and report directly to owner Arte Moreno. Eppler will be the 12th general manager in franchise history.
“We used a lot of time, energy and research into the decision to fill this very critical position,” Moreno said. “We interviewed several quality individuals throughout the process. In the end, Billy’s experience in the areas of scouting, player development and major league operations, in addition to his organizational and communication skills, were primary reasons for our decision. He is energetic, creative and has a tremendous passion for the game. We look forward to him joining the organization and making his impact felt in short order.”
“I cannot adequately express how excited I am for the opportunity Arte Moreno and the Angels have given me,” Eppler said. “The Angels are committed to championship standards. They are committed to being a perennial contender, and many of the pieces are already in place for that to occur. I look forward to a collaborative effort as we look to enhance and advance every phase of the baseball operations department. This is an organization with a tremendous amount of talent on and off the field, and I am excited to begin the next chapter of Angels baseball.”
Eppler, 40, is a native of San Diego. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1998 and began his sports career as an intern in the Washington Redskins scouting department. He began his baseball career with the Rockies in January 2000 as an area scouting supervisor for southern California. He joined the front office as assistant director of pro scouting & player development from 2003-04.
The 2015 season was Eppler’s 11th with the Yankees. He was assistant director of baseball operations from 2004-06, director of professional scouting from 2006-09 and senior director of professional personnel from 2010-11. He was in his fourth season as assistant general manager and first as vice-president this year.
Eppler’s responsibilities for the Yankees and assisting general manager Brian Cashman included player acquisitions, roster composition and management, staffing and personnel decisions, and player contract negotiations. Eppler resides in New York City with his wife Catherine and son Xander.
Here is the statement from CC Sabathia, who announced that he will enter an alcohol rehabilitation center and will not pitch in the postseason for the Yankees:
“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.
“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.
“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.
“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide. But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.
“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids – and others who may have become fans of mine over the years – to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.
“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”
The Yankees have the Diamondbacks to thank for Yankee Stadium being the site of the American League Wild Card Game Tuesday night. It was a lost weekend for the Yankees in Baltimore as the Orioles completed a three-game sweep Sunday with a 9-4 victory that put the Yanks’ season record at 87-75.
They would have had to make a plane ride to Houston for the Wild Card Game if the Astros had won their season finale at Phoenix. A two-run home run by Paul Goldschmidt in the bottom of the seventh inning unlocked a 3-3 score and sent the D-backs on the way to a 5-3 victory. So the Astros, who ended the regular season with an 86-76 record, will be the visiting team in Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card Game.
Houston was guaranteed the wild card berth when the Angels lost to the Rangers, who clinched the AL West title with an 88-74 mark.
The Yankees have designated Masahiro Tanaka to start Tuesday night against the Astros’ dangerous Dallas Keuchel, who led the league in victories (20), innings (232) and WHIP (1.017) and is among the favorites for the AL Cy Young Award. Keuchel faced the Yankees twice this year, won both games and did not allow a run in 16 innings. This will be the first time in his career that Keuchel will start on only three days’ rest.
While much has been made of the fact that Keuchel is far better at Minute Maid Park (15-0, 1.46 ERA) than on the road (5-8, 3.77 ERA), it must be noted that in his only start at Yankee Stadium the bearded lefthander pitched seven shutout innings with three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts in a 15-1 Houston blowout.
In his only start against the Astros this season June 27 at Houston, Tanaka blew a 6-0 lead and was stung for six runs and seven hits, including three home runs, in five innings (10.80 ERA) in a game the Yankees came back to win, 9-6.
The Yankees have pushed themselves into a corner on this last day of the regular season. Back on Thursday night when they clinched a playoff spot, all seemed right in their world. All they needed to do to make sure that the Wild Card Game to which they were qualified would be at Yankee Stadium Tuesday was to win one of the three remaining games in Baltimore.
So what happened? The magic number for home-field advantage that was cut down to one with Thursday night’s victory is still at one. Losing both ends of the separate-admission doubleheader at Camden Yards while the Astros and the Angels keep winning has brought the Yankees to a do-or-die situation Sunday. If they should lose again and the Astros win, the Yankees will have to travel to Houston Tuesday.
In trying to give some rest for many of his regulars, Yankees manager Joe Girardi went with makeshift lineups Saturday that did not get the job done. All the regulars are in there Sunday behind Michael Pineda for this win-or-else game.
Following Thursday night’s game, select Yankees players participated in rookie dress-up night. The theme was 1980s hip hop.
THE BEASTIE BOYS: First baseman Greg Bird (back center in sunglasses) and pitchers Nick Goody (red shirt, right of Bird) and Bryan Mitchell (far left).
SALT N PEPA: Pitcher James Pazos (far right) and outfielder Rico Noel (immediately to the left of Pazos).
LL COOL J: Infielder Jose Pirela (fourth from left).
RUN DMC: Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (in glasses and black hat, immediately to the right of Severino); Tanaka’s Interpreter Shingo Horie (black clothing, third from right) and Japanese Media Advisor Yoshiki Sato (third from left).
EVERLAST: Second baseman Rob Refsnyder (second from left).
FLAVOR FLAV: Pitcher Luis Severino (front and center, wearing clock).
In what seemed a foregone conclusion at the start of the final homestand of the regular season that the Yankees would clinch their first postseason appearance in three seasons, it took until the last home game of 2015 for them to make it a reality.
After three straight losses to the Red Sox, the Yankees ended the agonizing path to a wild-card playoff berth Thursday night with a 4-1 victory over their long-time rivals. The Yankees were able to taste some champagne before (and perhaps during) their charter flight to Baltimore where they will start a three-game series Friday night (weather permitting) with one more task remaining, that of guaranteeing they are the home team for the wild-card game next Tuesday night.
Just qualifying for that game had been a chore for the Yanks, who were eliminated from the American League East race Tuesday by the division champion Blue Jays. Boston put up a roadblock for three nights, but the Yankees broke through on a damp, chilly night in a game that was played through a steady drizzle over the first six innings.
Having had trouble hitting with runners in scoring position in the series (6-for-29, 30 runners left on base in 27 innings), the Yanks resorted to their traditional ally — the home run — to provide the support for the quality pitching supplied by CC Sabathia, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances.
Solo shots by Carlos Beltran off starter Rich Hill in the second inning, Greg Bird off Jean Machi in the seventh and Rob Refsnyder off Heath Hembree in the eighth powered the Yankees to the 10,000th victory in franchise history. The other RBI for the Yankees was by Brendan Ryan on a two-out single off Hill in the second.
The hearty souls in the announced crowd of 40,033 at Yankee Stadium were rewarded for their endurance under miserable weather conditions.
Upon returning from the disabled list Sept. 9 after recovering from right knee inflammation, Sabathia vowed to have impact on the Yankees’ drive to the postseason, and he did exactly that. The big lefthander held Boston to one run, six hits and three walks (one intentional) with three strikeouts in five innings. In five starts since his return from the DL, Sabathia was 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 29 innings.
Sabathia leads the Yankees in innings pitched with 167 1/3. Excluding the strike-shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994, the Yankees have never completed a season in which no pitcher reached 170 innings.
Even more impressive Thursday night was Warren, who supplied three innings of shutout, one-hit, three-strikeout relief. Manager Joe Girardi planned to have Warren pitch out of the bullpen in the wild card game, so nailing down Thursday night’s game meant that Warren does not have to bs used as a starter in Baltimore.
Betances worked the ninth and retired the side on order with two strikeouts for his ninth save. Betances’ game-ending strikeout of Josh Rutledge was the 589th punchout by the Yankees’ bullpen this season, which ties the major league record set in 2012 by the Rockies. The Yanks will likely establish a new standard sometime over the weekend.
This year’s Yankees are the first team in major league history to have seven pitchers get at least 100 strikeouts in a season. Prior to this season, they had never had more than five pitchers reach triple-digit strikeouts in a season (four times, most recently 2013).