Baseball is back and the Yankees are in first place, for at least one day. The Yankees opened the 2019 regular season with a 7-2 win over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon. They’ve won back-to-back Opening Days for the first time since winning four straight from 2005-08. Also, the Yankees snapped Baltimore’s eight-game Opening Day winning streak, which was the longest active streak in baseball. Power, patience, bullpen. Opening Day was Yankees 101.
Luke Is The O’s Father
Could you ask for a better start to the season? Brett Gardner struck out to start the bottom of the first inning, so that stunk, but the next three hitters took no prisoners. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both slammed singles against the shift the other way, setting up Luke Voit for the first of what might be 300-something homers this year. For the Yankees, I mean. Not Voit personally. That’d be cool though.
Andrew Cashner left a little 87 mph nothingball out over the plate in a 3-1 count and Voit did what you’re supposed to do with 87 mph nothingballs in a 3-1 count. The first dinger of the new season cleared the windows of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field and gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead. Please enjoy this very exciting sports highlight:
Anyway, Voit’s homer checked in at a paltry 112.6 mph. He has a four-game homer streak dating back to the end of last regular season. Who knew? The Yankees sent five righties to the plate in the first inning and the Orioles shifted on all five. Three (Judge, Stanton, Sanchez) hit a single the other way, one put a dent in the bar (Voit), and the other hit a ball that was caught at the top of the left field wall for an out (Miguel Andujar). That’ll work, fellas.
The Substitute Opening Day Starter
In place of the injured Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka picked up the first Opening Day win in his MLB career. The Yankees lost his previous three Opening Day starts, largely because he allowed 14 runs in 12.1 innings. This Opening Day start went much better, and yes, Tanaka faced a very weak Orioles lineup. Still, not allowing a ball to be hit out of the infield until the fourth inning is pretty good against any team.
The O’s gave Tanaka some help in the first inning, when Jonathan Villar was unable to get out of the way of Trey Mancini’s ground ball. Villar was going from first to second when he was struck by the batted ball for the final out. The Yankees and Orioles played it out and Villar was also thrown out at third going first-to-third, so he managed the ultra-rare single-player double TOOTBLAN on a single play. Amazing. The Orioles are amazing.
After that unusual play to end the first inning, Tanaka retired eight straight batters before Mancini reached on an infield single in the fourth inning. He pulled a weak grounder down the line, Andujar corralled it, and the off-balance throw short-hopped the stretching Greg Bird at first base. It went as an infield single and an error on Andujar to allow Mancini to go to second. Rio Ruiz poked a weak little grounder back up the middle to get the O’s on the board.
A single to right (Dwight Smith Jr.) and a double over Gardner’s head in center field (Mancini) gave the Orioles their second run in the sixth inning and ended Tanaka’s afternoon. Seemed to me Gardner was playing unusually shallow with Mancini at the plate. Whatever. Tanaka’s pitch locations:
That, ladies and germs, is staying out of the middle of the plate. Tanaka looked very good in Spring Training but you never quite know how those things will carry over into the regular season. In this case, it carried over seamlessly. I guess that’s to be expected against the Spring Training lineup the Orioles had out there. Tanaka’s final line: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. My man.
The Yankees had chances to really blow this game open in the third and fifth innings, though they settled for a few scattered runs. An infield single and two walks set Andujar up for the run-scoring 6-4-3 double play ball in the third inning. That was a bit of a bummer. Judge beat out the infield single, Stanton and Voit worked the walks, then the twin-killing. Alas. Still, a run scored.
In the fifth, Cashner and Mike Wright combined to walk the bases loaded with zero outs. Gardner, Judge, and Stanton walked on 15 total pitches. Voit took a pitch to the elbow to force in a run, then Andujar flew out to the warning track for a sacrifice fly. That double play in the third inning stunk, but Andujar was also maybe six combined feet away from two home runs. He flew out to the wall in the first inning and just short of the wall in the fifth. The weather will warm up soon enough, Miggy.
Pretty extreme Opening Day for Greg Bird, who struck out in his first three at-bats — he heard boos after each strikeout — and went deep in his fourth at-bat. Lefty Paul Frye left an 82 mph cement mixer out over the plate and Bird parked it in the home bullpen. There were a few games last season where the Yankees scored a bunch of runs in the first inning and annoyingly did not score again. That was not this game. They kept adding on.
The New Bullpen
We got our first look at how Aaron Boone might manage his new bullpen. The Yankees did not allow a starter to throw 100 pitches until the 20th game of the season last year, so it wasn’t surprising when Tanaka was pulled after only 83 pitches. He starts on normal rest next time around and it’s only March. No reason to keep pushing him with a sizeable lead against a bad team.
Tanaka exited with a runner on second and two outs in the sixth. The fireman? Adam Ottavino. The Pride of Park Slope struck out Rio Ruiz to end that sixth inning, then struck out two more in a scoreless 1-2-3 seventh inning. All three strikeouts were looking. Ottavino won’t sustain a 75% strikeout rate all season, but … maybe? In all seriousness, goodness is he filthy. What a fun addition from a pure baseball nerd perspective.
Zack Britton, meanwhile, threw only six of his 15 pitches for strikes and needed a nice sliding play by Gleyber Torres to escape the eighth inning. It’s one game and it was pretty darn cold in the Bronx, so I’m cool with giving Britton a mulligan for a less than stellar (yet scoreless) outing. Aroldis Chapman pitched around a leadoff single in the ninth. Tomorrow’s an off-day. Might as well use the top relievers and get that first appearance out of the way.
Judge, Stanton, and Voit went a combined 4-for-7 (.571) with a homer, six walks, one hit-by-pitch, and two strikeouts. Heck of an Opening Day for the 2-3-4 hitters. Hopefully the Yankees just leave those dudes back-to-back-to-back and not get cute by sandwiching a lefty in there. Andujar went 1-for-3 with the run-scoring double play and two fly balls to the wall in left. Include him in that group too. Leave them at 2-3-4-5.
Sanchez had a 13-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning and managed to pop into a 2-5-4-6-4 double play. Catcher Pedro Severino dropped the pop-up in fair territory on the infield fly rule, and all hell broke loose. No one knew what was going on. Sanchez had his first inning single against the shift, Torres had a single and a walk, Gardner drew a walk, Bird had his home run, and Troy Tulowitzki doubled to right. Everyone reached base at least once.
And finally, the folks at the YES Network heard our pleas. The old score bug has returned. Thank goodness. I applaud them for trying to improve the viewing experience. The new score bug was a big ol’ swing and a miss though.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, and, if you must see them one day into the season, ESPN has the updated standings. Here is 2019’s first win probability graph:
One down, 161 more to go. Friday is the usual “off-day after Opening Day in case Opening Day gets rained out” off-day. The Yankees and Orioles will be back at it Saturday afternoon. James Paxton will make his Yankees’ debut in that game. Nate Karns is going as an opener for the O’s.