Anyway, here is an open thread for the night. The Rangers and Devils are both playing, and that’s pretty much it. Talk about whatever you want here, just not religion or politics. Take that elsewhere.
Thursday: Jon Heyman says Espinosa will make $1.5M at the big league level. He also says the Yankees were surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract, which leads me to believe no one in the front office has looked at his Baseball Reference page before. (I kid.)
Monday: According to Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have signed veteran infielder Danny Espinosa to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He is the second infielder the Yankees will bring to camp as a non-roster player this year, joining Jace Peterson.
Espinosa, 30, was horrible with the Angels, Mariners, and Rays last season. He hit .173/.245/.278 (41 wRC+) with six homers and a 36.9% strikeout rate in 265 plate appearances. So bad. Espinosa is a good defender though, and he can play all over the infield. Here’s what I wrote when I looked at him as a potential low-cost infield option a few weeks ago:
What does he offer? Espinosa is a more extreme version of Drew. He’s a worse hitter and better defender, plus he’s also played a little first base and left field. And he’s a switch-hitter, which is potentially useful. Keep in mind the Yankees have had interest in Espinosa before. So much so that I once wrote a Scouting The Market post on him. That was back when Espinosa was coming off a few good seasons with the Nationals and seemed salvageable. That interest could linger.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? Good gravy Espinosa was sooo bad last year. So bad he was released by two teams. This is a guy who has hit .207/.282/.353 (70 wRC+) in his last 1,839 plate appearances dating back to Opening Day 2013. Espinosa is Brendan Ryan with a lesser glove, basically. At the same time, it would be the most Yankee thing ever for them to sign Espinosa and have him inexplicably hit .280/.395/.500 for two months until Gleyber is ready.
The Yankees do not have established starters in place at second and third bases at the moment, though they have several exciting young prospects set to complete for the jobs in Spring Training, most notably Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Guys like Espinosa and Peterson are safety nets. If the kids aren’t ready, Espinosa and Peterson will play. If the kids are ready, then the kids will play.
“There was a real loud bang and explosion. Extremely loud,” said Bill LeSuer to Randy Kennedy on April 14th, 1998. “I looked up and there was a real big puff of smoke. When I saw the hole, I realized something had fallen.”
LeSuer, then the Angels strength and conditioning coach, was the only person to witness a 500 lb. steel and concrete expansion joint crash down from the Yankee Stadium upper deck onto the loge seats below one day earlier. He’d been checking out Monument Park before batting practice and was walking across the outfield back to the dugout.
“I heard a tremendous bang, saw a big puff of smoke and chunks of concrete coming down,” LeSuer explained to Mike DiGiovanna. “I looked around and said, ‘Is there anyone else here who saw that?’ I realized I was talking to myself. There was no one else here.”
The expansion joint fell at approximately 3pm ET and demolished a seat below. Had it fallen when the ballpark was open, someone would’ve been crushed. That night’s game, as well as the next night’s game, were immediately postponed. Engineers were brought in to inspect the aging ballpark.
“It’s just fortunate that it happened here today instead of yesterday,” Joe Torre said to Kennedy, referring to the previous day’s afternoon game against the Athletics. David Cone added, “Yankee Stadium is crumbling. Everybody is in a little disarray right now.”
The Yankees and MLB had to scramble to adjust their schedule. It was possible the ballpark could be reopened in time for the third game of the series with the Angels. It was also possible the series with the Angels as well as the following series with the Tigers would have to be postponed, or moved to an alternate site.
The expansion joint collapsed on a Monday and moving that night’s game to Shea Stadium wasn’t logistically possible. They couldn’t prepare the ballpark and make ticket arrangements in time. Eventually it was decided the third game of the series would be played at Shea Stadium. The first two games would be made it up when the Angels came back to town in August.
Thanks to the collapsing expansion joint that fortunately injured no one, Shea Stadium became the first ballpark in modern baseball history to host two games featuring four different teams on April 15th. The Yankees and Angels played a game at 12pm ET while the Mets hosted the Cubs for their regularly scheduled game at 7pm ET.
The expansion joint collapsed Monday, on Tuesday the Yankees played a four-and-a-half inning exhibition game against Double-A Norwich at Yankee Stadium to stay sharp, and on Wednesday they “hosted” the Angels at Shea Stadium. The Yankees were the home team. They wore white pinstripes at Shea Stadium.
To prepare for Wednesday’s game at Shea Stadium, the Yankees dressed in their home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, then bused out to Queens with a police escort through morning rush hour traffic. They used the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium with permission from the Cubs, who’d already unloaded their uniforms and equipment. The Angels had to use an old auxiliary clubhouse used by the New York Jets back in the day.
As for the game itself, the Yankees hammered Ken Hill for five runs on ten hits in four innings, and David Wells held the Angels to three runs in eight innings. The Yankees won 6-3. Here’s the box score. The highlight of the game was Darryl Strawberry hitting a home run in his old stomping grounds — he is Shea Stadium’s all-time home run king — and the Shea Stadium apple rising before the operators realizing it probably wasn’t a good idea to raise it for a Yankee.
Between the game at Shea Stadium and the two makeup games in August, the Angels series had been successfully rescheduled. Ongoing repairs at Yankee Stadium meant that weekend’s series against the Tigers would have to be moved as well. Eventually the American League and the Yankees persuaded the Tigers to swap home series. They’d play in Detroit from April 17th to 19th, then at Yankee Stadium from April 24th to 27th, instead of vice versa.
The Yankees went to Detroit that weekend, won two of three, then went to Toronto and swept three games from the Blue Jays. They finally returned home to a fully repaired and inspected Yankee Stadium on April 24th, eleven days after the expansion joint collapsed. They won nine of ten games in the interim.
“These guys have a toughness,” said George Steinbrenner, who used the expansion joint collapse as part of his campaign for a new ballpark, to Buster Olney. “After all they’ve been through this week, to play this way.”
In 1998, the Yankees and Orioles were heading in opposite directions. The Yankees were emerging as baseball’s dominant team and were about to win the first of three straight World Series titles and four straight AL pennants. The Orioles, after winning 98 games in 1997, were in the first year of what would be 14 straight losing seasons.
Long story short, age was beginning to catch up to the Orioles in 1998. Cal Ripken Jr. was done as an impact everyday player, Roberto Alomar had one of the worst seasons of his career, and other 30-somethings like B.J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson had slipped. The rotation behind Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson was a mess too.
On the morning of May 19th, the Orioles were 20-23 and five games into what would eventually be a nine-game losing streak, their longest since starting the 1988 season 0-21. They’d lost 18 of their previous 28 games overall. There was already talk the O’s could be ripped apart at the trade deadline given all their impending free agents.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were 28-9 on the morning of May 19th and had the league’s best record. David Wells had thrown a perfect game two days earlier. The Yankees were great and everyone knew it. The Orioles were mediocre, descending to bad, and everyone knew it too. When their paths crossed on May 19th, it got ugly.
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For the first seven and a half innings on May 19th, the Yankees and Orioles played a fairly nondescript game. David Cone wasn’t sharp, allowing five runs in six innings as the O’s nursed a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. Harold Baines had driven in three of his team’s five runs with a pair of singles.
The Yankees started their comeback in the seventh inning against rookie reliever Sidney Ponson, who was pitching in his eighth big league game. Doubles by Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O’Neill, and a single by Tim Raines cut the O’s lead to 5-3. Ponson went back out for the eighth and created a mess with back-to-back one-out walks to Jorge Posada and Knoblauch.
Considering the O’s still fancied themselves a contender that early in the season and desperately wanted to right the ship, manager Ray Miller went with his top relievers in the eighth inning. Alan Mills came in to get Derek Jeter to fly out to right field for the second out. Norm Charlton came in for the left-on-left matchup against O’Neill, but O’Neill singled to score Posada to get the Yankees to within a run.
One year earlier, the Orioles had one of the best closer-setup man combinations in baseball with Randy Myers and Armando Benitez. Myers saved 45 games with a 1.54 ERA while Benitez, then 24, struck out 106 batters in 73.1 innings with a 2.45 ERA. That was back when striking out 100 batters out of the bullpen really meant something. Nowadays it seems like every team has a guy like that.
Anyway, the O’s allowed Myers to leave as a free agent during the 1997-98 offseason, and inserted Benitez as their closer. Going into that game on May 19th, he had a 3.57 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, but also 17 walks. The transition to closer was not going smoothly for Benitez and he’s one of the reasons the Orioles struggled that season.
Miller brought in Benitez for the four-out save after O’Neill’s single. The Yankees were down a run, but had runners on first and second with two outs, and Bernie Williams at the plate. Bernie hit Benitez’s fourth pitch into the right field seats for a go-ahead three-run home run. Benitez’s fifth pitch hit Tino Martinez square in the back, right betwen the 2 and 4 in 24, and chaos ensued.
To make matters worse, Benitez and Tino had a history. Three years earlier, when Martinez was still with the Mariners, Benitez hit him with a pitch immediately after giving up a grand slam to Edgar Martinez. I can’t find video of that beaning, but it did happen. Here’s the box score of the game. Edgar grand slam, Tino first pitch hit-by-pitch by Benitez. Bernie three-run homer, Tino first pitch hit-by-pitch by Benitez.
The brawl itself lasted nearly ten minutes and spilled into the visitor’s dugout. Mills, Benitez, Darryl Strawberry, and Graeme Lloyd threw the most vicious haymakers. To wit:
Goodness. Once order was restored on the field, Raines took Bobby Munoz deep to drive in Tino for one last little bit of poetic justice. The Yankees went on to win the game 9-5 thanks to their six-run eighth inning. The Orioles had lost again, and after the game, no teammates defended Benitez. One unnamed Orioles player called him “25 going on 15,” according to Tom Verducci.
“Sometimes you’ve got a young, immature guy who loses control,” said Miller to Buster Olney after the game. “It’s certainly not what the rest of the guys stand for.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that in 25 years. That guy that pitcher should be suspended for the rest of the year. That was a classless act. He’s got no class,” George Steinbrenner said to Joe Strauss. Peter Angelos, Orioles owner and longtime Steinbrenner foe, even called George to apologize.
Suspensions were handed down quickly. Benitez received an eight-game suspension, Strawberry and Lloyd each received three games, and Jeff Nelson and Mills each received two games. There were a bunch of fines as well.
“The severity of the discipline reflects the gravity of the offenses,” said AL president Gene Budig in a statement. “Mr. Benitez not only intentionally threw at Martinez, but the location of the pitch was extremely dangerous and could have seriously injured the player … This was a highly unfortunate and highly dangerous on-field situation. The events demand swift and stern action. A player’s safety is of utmost importance.”
Everyone remembers the brawl. No one remembers it spilled over into the next game. The next day, Jimmy Key’s first pitch was up and in, forcing Knoblauch to duck out of the way. Later in the first inning, after Raines singled home a run, Key drilled Chad Curtis. Hideki Irabu responded by hitting Mike Bordick in the second and Brady Anderson in the fifth. Benches never did clear though.
Because the suspensions were allowed to be served sequentially — they were served one after the other, not at the same time to avoid leaving each team shorthanded — Lloyd was eligible pitch in that game. He received a big ovation when he was brought in to pitch, something that had never happened before given his somewhat rocky tenure with the Yankees. “I looked up to make sure I brought in the right pitcher,” said Joe Torre to Jack Curry after the game.
“It’s great to be appreciated for things you do,” Lloyd said to Curry. “I want to be appreciated for my pitching. Sometimes I have to stand up for myself and my teammates.”
After the brawl the O’s continued to collapse and the Yankees continued to win. It made for a fun “the brawl brought the Yankees together” narrative, but the fact of the matter is the Yankees were very good, and they kept winning because they were very good. If the brawl brought them closer together, neat. They didn’t need the help though.
“Let’s get it behind us,” said Steinbrenner to Curry. “The way to get these guys is by winning the pennant and winning the American League East.”
The baseball gods were kind to David Wells. They blessed the burly left-hander with a rubber arm and the ability to roll out of bed and paint the black on both sides of the plate. He didn’t have blow-you-away type stuff, but he did have an extremely long and productive big league career by throwing strikes and eating innings. On a Sunday afternoon in 1998, it all came together.
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The Yankees were, without question, the best team in baseball in 1998. They won 27 of their first 36 games and were so good that they won eight of their No. 2 starter’s first nine starts even though he had a 5.23 ERA. That No. 2 starter was Wells, who Buster Olney says Joe Torre called the “Fourth of July” because he unpredictable and explosive. The Yankees split the first two games of a three-game series with the Twins on the weekend of May 15th, and Wells was scheduled to start the rubber game that Sunday.
It was Beanie Baby Day at Yankee Stadium. The team gave away thousands of the plush stuffed animals that were near the end of their novelty lifespan. Wells spent the previous night at Saturday Night Live’s end-of-season wrap-up party, he would later admit in his book Perfect, I’m Not.
“This party is too much fun to even consider leaving at a reasonable hour,” he wrote, going on to explain how he plopped into bed at 5am ET and was woken up by his six-year-old son Brandon less than four hours later. Wells showed up to the park for the afternoon game hungover, downed some coffee and Tic Tacs, then went out to the bullpen for warm ups.
As he explained in his book, Wells felt terrible during his pregame routine, and not just from the hangover. He was bouncing curveballs and missing his spots in the bullpen, but pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre continued to sing his praises for a strong warm-up. Wells though he was nuts. The Twins had won four of their last five games but were without banged up leadoff man Todd Walker, who brought a .382/.420/.551 batting line into the series.
The first batter of the game nearly ended the whole thing before it all started. Matt Lawton swatted a 2-1 pitch to deep left field, but Chad Curtis reeled it in for the first of 27 outs. Brent Gates popped out on an 0-2 pitch for the second out, and Paul Molitor tapped the first pitch to second for the third out of the inning. Stottlemyre greeted Wells with a “Way to go, Boomer!” in the dugout while opposing starter LaTroy Hawkins danced around a Derek Jeter single for a scoreless first inning.
The ball didn’t leave the infield in the second inning. Marty Cordova grounded out to Wells, Ron Coomer struck out, and Alex Ochoa popped out into foul territory behind the plate. Another 13 pitches, another “Way to go, Boomer!” in the dugout. Bernie Williams created a run in the bottom half of the second, scoring on a wild pitch after he’d doubled to lead off the frame and gone to third on a passed ball. Wells struck out Jon Shave to open the third, but catcher Javier Valentin worked the count full and started fouling off pitches. The ninth pitch of the at-bat froze him for called strike three, and Boomer followed that up by whiffing Pat Meares to strike out the side. “Way to go, Boomer!”
Hawkins tossed a 1-2-3 third inning, then Wells sat down Lawton, Gates, and Molitor on an infield pop-up, a strikeout, and a fly ball to left in the top of the fourth. Bernie added a second run on a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth while Wells needed just a dozen pitches to get two strikeouts and a ground ball in the fifth. Hawkins followed up with another perfect frame, as did Wells in the top of the sixth with another dozen pitches, another two strikeouts, and another fly ball. Another “Way to go, Boomer!” greeted him in the dugout.
The Yankees were up 2-0 but Hawkins had settled into a groove, throwing another 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the sixth. He’d retired 12 of the last 13 men he faced, the one exception being Bernie’s homer. Wells had thrown 80 pitches in the first six innings, and he started to labor in the seventh. He fell behind in the count 2-0 to Lawton before the Twins’ leadoff hitter flew out to center. Wells ran the count full on Gates before getting a ground out to first, then fell behind Molitor 3-1 before running the count full and getting a strikeout. Stottlemyre greeted him with another “Way to go, Boomer!” in the dugout, but Wells knew what was going on and he started to feel the butterflies. Plus he was still hungover.
Superstition is a serious thing during perfect games, hence the “Way to go, Boomer!” welcome after every inning. Wells sat alone at the end of the bench while his teammates were at the plate each inning, per no-hitter/perfect game tradition. “Here the guy has a no-hitter going and he looks like he has no friends,” said Jim Kaat during the broadcast.
The Yankees created some breathing room in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of runs. Darryl Strawberry tripled and a Curtis had a single, all while Wells sat in the dugout with those butterflies in his stomach. His teammate and good friend David Cone then broke the cardinal rule of perfect games: He spoke to him.
“I think it’s time to break out the knuckleball,” Cone said to Wells, according to Buster Olney. Wells burst out laughing.
The comic relief helped him settle down. The Twins didn’t hit the ball out of the infield in the eighth inning — ground ball, ground ball, infield popup — and the crowd greeted Wells with monstrous standing ovation to start the ninth. Shave fouled off three pitches as part of a seven-pitch at-bat before popping out to shallow right for the 25th out. Valentin struck out on four pitches for the 26th out, his third strikeout of the game. Meares was the final batter of the game, and Wells got ahead of him 0-1 after a foul ball.
“The ball leaves my hand, heavy, and I swear to God, it takes forever to reach the plate,” Wells wrote in his book about the 0-1 pitch to Meares, his 120th and final pitch of the game. “I’m watching the pitch in slow motion.”
Meares swings underneath the pitch and popped it up skyward, toward the right field foul line. Paul O’Neill runs over to make the catch — one-handed! — for the 27th and final out.
It was the 15th perfect game in baseball history, and only the second thrown in Yankee Stadium. Don Larsen, who threw the other Yankee Stadium perfect game during the 1956 World Series, called Wells after the game to congratulate him. Coincidentally — or maybe not — both men are graduates of Point Loma High School in San Diego.
”Yeah, it was tough. From the seventh on, it was ridiculous,” said Wells to Murray Chass after the game. Given his rock star persona, it’s not surprising he made the rounds after the game, appearing on Howard Stern, Regis & Kathie Lee, and David Letterman in the following days. Mayor Giuliani gave him the key to the city, and endorsement offers rolled in. ”He’ll think about it every day of his life, just like I do,” said Larsen to George Vecsey.
Wells played two stints and four years in pinstripes, helping the team to the World Series in that 1998 season. His career is probably underrated historically, but he gained baseball immortality during that Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. Wells is part of the game’s most exclusive club, one of only 23 men to throw a perfect game, and one of only three to do so for the Yankees.
10:24pm ET: Bob Nightengale says Hale did indeed get an invitation to Spring Training. He’ll earn $600,000 at the big league level.
8:00pm ET: According to Chris Cotillo, the Yankees have signed journeyman right-hander David Hale to a minor league contract. He has big league time, so I assume he received an invitation to Spring Training. We’ll find out when the Yankees announce all their non-roster players.
Hale, 30, had some prospect shine with the Braves back in the day, and he’s since bounced from the Braves to the Rockies to the Orioles back to the Braves to the Dodgers. He split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, throwing 81.2 innings with a 4.08 ERA (3.85 FIP) across 14 starts and one relief appearance.
In 178.2 big league innings with the Braves and Rockies, Hale has a 4.48 ERA (4.37 FIP) with 15.3% strikeouts and 7.9% walks. PitchFX had him averaging 90.8 mph with his sinker and 80.7 mph with his slider during a brief stint with Colorado in 2016. He also threw a few four-seamers and changeups.
Hale figures to be the veterans innings dude for Triple-A Scranton this summer. Always need a guy like that. Someone to soak up innings and make sure the prospects don’t get overworked. Hale is the fourth player the Yankees have signed to a minor league deal this winter, joining Erik Kratz, Jace Peterson, and Danny Espinosa.
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This is the open thread for the night. The Knicks, Nets, and Islanders are all playing, and that’s about it. Talk about those games or anything that isn’t religion or politics here.