Pineda flirts with perfection, Judge homers again as Yankees beat Rays 8-1 in home opener

Yankeemetrics: Baltimore Chopped (April 7-9)
Quick Postgame Notes: Sanchez, Montgomery, Shreve

That was very nearly a magical home opener. Instead, it was merely a great home opener. The Yankees rode Michael Pineda‘s utter dominance to a 8-1 win in the first game of the 2017 season at Yankee Stadium on Monday afternoon. This game was satisfying. Yes, yes it was.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Biggest of Mikes
We have gotten the full Michael Pineda experience in his first two starts. Last week in Tampa, Pineda allowed four runs on eight hits and couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. In the home opener Monday, Pineda was Big Mike in every way, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning and finishing the afternoon with eleven strikeouts and two hits allowed in 7.2 innings. It was complete and total domination. The Pineda we don’t see nearly often enough.

Through six innings and two outs the Rays had nothing particularly close to a hit — Brett Gardner made a nice running catch near the foul line for the second out of the seventh, which was the closest thing to a hit at the time — and only one of the first 20 batters they sent to the plate saw a three-ball count. Heck, Tampa didn’t see a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count until the sixth inning, when Tim Beckham got a 2-0 count with two outs. Pineda bounced back to strike him out.

All told, Pineda faced 25 batters Monday and threw a first pitch strike to 20 of them. Of those 25 batters, only six hit the ball out of the infield. Want to know why? Look at Pineda’s location, via Baseball Savant:

michael-pineda

Almost everything was in the bottom half of the strike one. Pineda’s a big dude delivering the ball from way up high, so pounding the bottom of the zone like that means he was throwing with some serious downhill plane. It’s hard to get the ball airborne when a 6-foot-7 pitcher is pitching to the knees all afternoon. Twenty-three outs, eleven strikeouts, seven ground balls. That’ll do.

Pineda lost the perfect game with two outs in the seventh inning on a legitimate double by (who else?) Evan Longoria. There wasn’t much to it. Pineda missed his spot a bit and Longoria yanked a line drive to left field. Gardner had no chance to run it down. Tampa’s only run came in the eighth inning, on Logan Morrison’s solo home run to right field. It snuck over the wall and was initially ruled a triple before replay confirmed the dinger.

As good as Pineda was Monday, Joe Girardi got him out at exactly the right time, with two outs in the eighth inning and his pitch count at 93. Four of the last five batters he faced hit the ball hard, plus taking him out mid-inning gave the fans a chance to give Pineda a nice ovation. Well done, Big Mike. I hope to see you more often. That other guy we saw last week is no fun.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Building A Lead
It looked like it was going to be another one of those games after the first inning. Singles by Gardner and Matt Holliday put runners on the corners with one out, but the Yankees failed to push a run across because Chris Carter struck out and Starlin Castro grounded out. Hate wasting first inning rallies like that. You’ve got a chance to take a quick lead and put the other team on the defensive right out of the gate. Alas. No runs.

Thankfully, the Yankees did not waste the opportunity the next time Gardner reached base. He struck out with one out in the third inning, but the ball bounced away from catcher Derek Norris, allowing Gardner to reach first on a wild pitch. He chugged all the way around to score on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s rocket double into the right-center field gap. Ellsbury’s been pretty awesome so far this year. We give him a hard time, but props dude. He’s played very well in the early going. The Ellsbury double gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the third inning.

In the fourth, the Yankees’ large adult son Aaron Judge made it a 2-0 lead with a solo home run to left field. Just like the home run he hit Sunday, this one came in a two-strike count. Cobb left a curveball up and Judge unloaded. It was not deep — Statcast measured it at modest 397 feet — but it was crazy high. The home run came after Cobb thought he rung Judge up with a little comeback two-seam fastball on the outside corner. Home plate ump Bill Miller said it was off the plate (it was), the at-bat continued, and Judge went deep.

With the way Pineda was pitching, two runs felt like plenty. The Yankees added a few more just to be safe. Chase Headley lined a home run to right field on the very first pitch of the seventh inning. It was a classic Yankee Stadium cheapie. In most parks it’s a double off the wall — the ball sail over right fielder Steven Souza’s head — but in this ballpark, it lands in the first row for a home run. I’ll take it. So will Headley, who now has two home runs in seven games. He didn’t record his first extra-base hit until the team’s 33rd game last year, remember.

The blast gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead at the time. A Brad Miller error opened the door for New York’s fourth run of the game in the eighth inning. He booted Gardner’s leadoff grounder. Gardner stolen second and third (!), then scored on Holliday’s rocket into the left-center field gap to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead. A Carter triple (!!!), a Castro homer, and a Ronald Torreyes fielder’s choice stretched the lead to 8-1. The Yankees have score 15 runs in their last 12 offensive innings dating back to Sunday.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Cobb was charged with five runs in 7.1 innings, though he pitched better than that, I thought. He gave up three runs in the first seven innings, including two on solo homers. The bullpen made a mess of things after Cobb was out of the game in the eighth. He did a nice job keeping the Yankees off-balance overall though. Not sure why I’m mentioning this, but here we are.

The Yankees scored eight runs and seven different players drove one in. Six different players scored runs too. Austin Romine and Torreyes were the only starters without a hit, though Romine reached base on an error in that five-run eighth inning and Torreyes plated a run with a fielder’s choice. A total team effort by the offense. Roughly 26 hours ago it looked like this team couldn’t buy a hit. Go figure.

Easy afternoon for the bullpen. Tyler Clippard replaced Pineda in the eighth inning — Dellin Betances pitched Saturday and Sunday, so I’m guessing Girardi didn’t want to use him three days in a row so early in the season — and needed one pitch to record the third out. Chasen Shreve handled the ninth with ease.

And finally, congrats to Kyle Higashioka. He made his Major League debut in the ninth inning. He caught the final three outs. Higashioka spent parts of ten seasons in the minors and dealt with Tommy John surgery along the way. Pretty cool to see him get in a game. He’s waited a long time for this.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. ESPN also has the standings. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page either. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
An off-day, unfortunately. Third one in the first nine days of the season. The Yankees and Rays will reconvene at Yankee Stadium for the second game of this three-game series Wednesday afternoon. That’s a 1pm ET start for some reason. Luis Severino Jordan Montgomery (he’s being called up) and Blake Snell are the scheduled starters. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game or any of the other seven games remaining on the homestand.

Yankeemetrics: Baltimore Chopped (April 7-9)
Quick Postgame Notes: Sanchez, Montgomery, Shreve