Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 28, 2015

Just Three Games; But What Fine Games!

The 4 train emerges from its long subterranean run north from midtown, beneath the East River and the southern edge of the Bronx. It climbs the steel tracks to second story height above River Avenue, the cars swaying gently around a right hand turn as it does so. Out the windows to one side are the rooftops of bars and restaurants; to the other the expanse of Heritage Field, the site of the old Stadium that is now home to Little League, softball, and regulation diamonds. Metal screams against metal as the subway slows to a halt at the 161st Street station. The doors slide open and I join the crowd descending to Babe Ruth Plaza and the entrances to the second park to bear the name Yankee Stadium.

It has been six weeks since I was last here, and in at least one sense nothing has changed. When I left the Stadium after the second game of the longest season back in early April the Yankees were a .500 ball club at 1-1. As I pass through one of the turnstiles and enter the Great Hall, my team’s record is again evenly balanced at 22-22. But in the month and a half since my last visit the Yankees have come full circle in anything but a balanced fashion.

They lost four of their first five games and six of the first nine, dropping each of the season’s opening three series. Since each of those was against a division opponent, New York quickly found itself at the bottom of the AL East. But even before fans had time to properly despair the team went on a tear, winning three-quarters of their contests over the next three-plus weeks. The eighteen victories during this run included a sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park and three wins in four tries against the Tigers in Detroit. By the start of the second full week of May the Yankees had surged to the top of the division and after scarcely more than thirty contests were already nine games over .500.

Then just as quickly as their pitching, hitting and fielding all coalesced, every aspect of the Yankees play unraveled. In their last eleven games they have triumphed only once, a 1-10 skid that has brought their season record back to level. In seven of the ten losses New York has tallied two or fewer runs; while in an equal number the pitching and defense have allowed the opposing team to score five or more times.

As I make my way up the ramps of the Stadium to my spot high above home plate, the Yankees are midway through a six-game home stand. The Texas Rangers have just left town after scoring 30 runs in three games, extending New York’s losing streak to six straight contests. Odds are there is no relief in sight. Replacing the Rangers in the visitors dugout for the three games that I will see are the Kansas City Royals. The defending American League champions already took two out of three from the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium last week, and they arrive in the Bronx sporting the best record in the majors.

Yet here I am, having traveled down from New England for the second time this season. For as I settle into my seat in section 420A and Mark Teixeira leads the Yankees onto the field, I know that as dismal as the last two weeks have been for the team in pinstripes, the longest season is made up of 162 discrete parts. Of course mechanics and confidence carry over from game to game, but each player on every team begins each contest anew. The great challenge of the long grind from April to October and hopefully beyond is to never get too up or too down by yesterday’s result or trend, for all that can change today. On a sunny Memorial Day in Gotham, my team is about to demonstrate that truth.

Nathan Eovaldi’s first pitch is a called strike, and we in the stands voice our approval. Acquired in a trade with Miami during the off-season, Eovaldi retires the first two Royals before yielding a single to Lorenzo Cain. A walk to Eric Hosmer creates a moment of concern, but Kendrys Morales skies one to Slade Heathcott in center field, and Kansas City is set down.

The veteran right hander Jeremy Guthrie takes the mound for the visitors. The 36-year old has won his last three starts, giving up just four earned runs over nineteen innings. But today is a different day. Left fielder Brett Gardner steps in and drills Guthrie’s second pitch down the right field line for a double. Third baseman Chase Headley sends the first pitch he sees into the right field seats, and before the late arrivals have found their seats the Yankees lead 2-0. Alex Rodriguez singles, Teixeira walks, and catcher Brian McCann blasts the second home run of the inning into the Stadium’s short porch in right. Five Yankees have come to the plate and all have scored.

After a visit from Kansas City’s pitching coach Guthrie finally manages to retire a pair of Yankees. But then he hits shortstop Didi Gregorius and Heathcott follows with a single to right, so New York starts its second turn through the order. Gardner tops his earlier double by giving the fans in the right field seats their third souvenir of the game, and the score is 8-0. An already lovely Monday holiday has suddenly turned altogether grand, the sun even brighter and the sky even bluer than was the case less than half an hour ago.

In the second the Yankees add three more runs before recording an out. McCann draws a leadoff walk, right fielder Garrett Jones singles, and second baseman Stephen Drew, who sports a woeful .170 batting average, launches the Yankees’ fourth home run of the day. Later in the eventual 14-1 rout Heathcott, the rookie center fielder just called up from Triple-A to fill in for the injured Jacoby Ellsbury, will make it five with his first major league round-tripper.

Tuesday evening Teixeira, the only Yankees starter to go hitless on Monday, homers and drives in four runs as New York wins again, 5-1. Wednesday afternoon it’s A-Rod’s turn to take center stage. His three-run blast that just clears the left field wall is the decisive blow in a 4-2 victory that completes the three game sweep. Eovaldi, Adam Warren, and Michael Pineda all turn in quality starts, with the last righting the ship after a pair of especially bad outings.

The Metro North train from Grand Central picks up speed as it heads to its first stop in Stamford, running along the tracks through the Bronx a few blocks east of the Stadium late Wednesday afternoon. After the 45 minute ride I’ll pick up my car and begin the drive home. My team that had slumped into second behind Tampa Bay as I made the trip down is now back atop the division. As a fan I can’t help but enjoy the moment, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past three days. Still it’s best not to get carried away. The challenge for the players applies to those of us in the seats as well.  Most of the longest season has yet to unfold, and tomorrow is a new day.

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