I think I need a cigarette after that game. The whole series, really. The Yankees hung onto a one-run lead for dear life on Sunday night, beating the Red Sox 3-2 to win three of four games this weekend. Man, that game was way too intense for April 13th. I love it.
Big Time Player Does Big Time Things
The Yankees signed Carlos Beltran specifically for games like this. They’ve seen firsthand how he can be an impact player in even the most pressure-filled environments, excelling in big games and big situations. If there is such a thing as clutch players, Beltran is the model.
On Sunday, Beltran helped the Yankees both offensively and defensively in their win over Boston. He got them on the board in the third inning with a two-run homer into the first row of the left field stands, getting out in front of Felix Doubront cutter but still getting enough of it to hit it out of the park. He didn’t even square it up — the replay showed it was damn near off the handle. Beltran also singled and doubled, leaving him a triple short of the cycle.
In the field, Beltran picked up his team by playing first base for the first time in his professional career. He’d never done it in either the big leagues or the minors, yet when Frankie Cervelli went down with a hamstring problem in the fourth inning, Beltran stepped in to play the position like he’d been there his entire life. Well, that’s not true. He wasn’t tested with any tough plays and only had to received three throws from other infielders. Still, with his teammates going down with injuries all night, Beltran stepped up and played a new position as a 36-year-old veteran. Dude is a baseball marvel.
All Hail Replay
We saw the Yankees take advantage of the new replay system a few days ago, when Joe Girardi successfully challenged a call against the Blue Jays that led to a run. He made another successful challenge on Sunday, this one on the play that injured Cervelli. The backup catcher/part-time first baseman grounded into an inning-ending double play with men on corners, but the call was overturned after Girardi requested a replay. Instead of the inning and the rally being over, Cervelli was declared safe at first and the runner scored from third on the play. That was New York’s third run and, ultimately, the game-winning run. Hooray technology.
Ivan The Kinda Sorta Terrible
This had to be one of the ugliest 7.1-inning, two-run starts I’ve ever seen in my life. Ivan Nova again struggled with his command, leaving fastballs and curveballs up in the zone all night. It looked very similar to his first two starts, but this time he found a way to get outs and give his team an opportunity to win. Real gutty outing, I thought. There were times it seemed he was on the edge of disaster.
Nova allowed the Red Sox’s first on a Jonathan Herrera single in the second inning — the Sawx put together that rally with two outs, stringing together three straight singles — and their second on a monster Mike Napoli homer in the sixth. He hit it over the visitor’s bullpen and into the left field bleachers. It was a shot. Nova retired the last six men he faced and only had two 1-2-3 innings, scattering eight hits. He didn’t walk anyone and only struck out four. Here is his PitchFX breakdown from Brooks Baseball.
Through three starts this year, we have not seen the Nova we saw in the second half last year. That guy was dominant and in total control almost every time out. This version of Nova always seems to be dancing in and out of danger each time out. These are character building starts, I guess. At this point Ivan is the weak link in the Yankees’ rotation — he has yet to cruise for four or five innings at a time like CC Sabathia has done in his last two starts — but he’s only had one disaster start. At some point he has to start driving the ball down in the zone more consistently, but on Sunday he was good enough to help the team win.
Man, the end of this game was ridiculously intense. The Yankees kept Boston in the game by going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranding at least one runner in all eight offensive innings, so the score was only 3-2 by time the eighth inning rolled around. With Nova out of gas, Girardi turned the game over to his David Robertson and Adam Warren-less bullpen.
After Xander Bogaerts started the eighth with a weak fly out to right, Matt Thornton was summoned to match up with David Ortiz for the second straight game. Ortiz got ahold of a hanger and drove it out to right field, but Ichiro Suzuki tracked it down and crashed into the wall making a great lunging catch. It was awesome. Ichiro was only in the game because of Cervelli’s injury and, given how the rest of the inning played out, he had a real impact on the win.
With two outs and the bases empty, David Phelps got the ball to record for the final out of the inning. Before he could do that, he put Napoli (double), Daniel Nava (walk), and A.J. Pierzynski (hit-by-pitch) on base. The Nava at-bat was a real battle in particular. Boston had the bases loaded and the go-ahead run in scoring position with two outs. The left-handed Mike Carp pinch-hit and fouled off three pitches in an eight-pitch at before swinging over top of a curveball for strike three. That was a grueling inning to watch. Phelps went full Joba with the fist pump after getting the final out:
That eighth inning was as close as the Red Sox would get to tying things up. Interim closer Shawn Kelley tossed a perfect ninth inning, striking out two and getting a line out to center field. Piece of cake. Phelps was both the bullpen hero and bullpen villain on Sunday. He loaded the bases with two outs before getting the huge strikeout to save the game. At +0.175 WPA, the Carp strikeout was the New York’s biggest defensive out of the season to date. Feels about right, no?
The Yankees blew a prime run-scoring opportunity in the first inning, when Jacoby Ellsbury was thrown out at third on Alfonso Soriano’s sac fly. The tag was applied for the final out before Beltran crossed the plate, so the run didn’t score. Beltran wasn’t exactly busting it down the line, but that play by Ellsbury was way too high risk/high reward for that point of the game. Baseball 101: never make the third out at third base, especially in the first inning when the opposing starter is giving up rockets all over the field. Thankfully it didn’t come back to bite them.
Rough night for the Yankees physically. Before the game we learned that both Derek Jeter (quad) and Brian Roberts (back) have been dealing with nagging injuries, then Cervelli got hurt in the fourth inning, forcing Beltran to first. In the sixth, Yangervis Solarte somehow got hit in the manhood crossing first base on a ground out and limped around for a while. He ultimately remained in the game. Brian McCann took a foul tip off the bare hand in the eighth but also remained in the game. Dean Anna is the emergency catcher, in case you’re wondering.
Beltran was the obvious star offensively, going 3-for-4. Brett Gardner went 2-for-4 in front of him, but the other seven batters went a combined 3-for-23 (.130) with three walks. Ellsbury singled, Solarte singled and walked, Kelly Johnson walked, and McCann doubled and walked. His double was off the very top of the wall in center field. Legitimately about three inches from being a homer.
And finally, the forgotten great play was Gardner throwing Jackie Bradley Jr. out at the plate to end the second inning. Grady Sizemore slapped a single to left and Gardner made a perfect throw to cut the run down. If Bradley scores, the entire complexion of the game changes.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. For some nerdier stats, go to FanGraphs. For the updated standings, go to ESPN. The Yankees are in first place with the win. Well, tied for first with the Blue Jays and Rays, anyway.
After starting the season with 13 games in 13 days, the Yankees will enjoy their first scheduled off-day of the 2014 season on Monday. They will reconvene at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, when the Cubs come to town for a quick little two-game interleague series. Masahiro Tanaka and Jason Hammel is your series-opening pitching matchup. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for one or both games.