Results tagged ‘ Masahiro Tanaka ’

The Validation of Cone

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Today marked Derek Jeter’s final Sunday afternoon game in the Bronx, and The Captain made a nice lasting impression igniting the Yankees with two hits, an RBI and a run scored. Brian McCann was no slouch either, crushing his 21st and 22nd home runs of the season to help power the Bombers to a 5-2 win over Toronto.

Not to fly under the radar, Masahiro Tanaka made his first start since July 8 at Cleveland and pitched like a guy who doesn’t have a minor tear in his UCL. The young man from Japan tossed 5 1/3 innings and only let up one run on five hits. He kept the ball around the plate, throwing 48 of his 70 pitches for strikes; no walks and he struck out four.

“He looked exactly the same, which is such an encouraging sign,” McCann told Meredith Marakovits of YES after catching Tanaka. “There was no rust, it seemed like. Early on he missed his fastball location a little bit, but other than that he pitched a flawless game.”

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“Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with how I pitched today,” Tanaka said in a postgame presser. “I was able to go pretty strong today, so I’m relieved.”

In the bottom of the fifth Brett Gardner drove a liner over the wall in right field to break a 1-1 tie and give the Yanks the lead for good; a bomb that went for his 17th tater of the season. More significantly it went as the Yankee team’s 15,000th lifetime home run, the most of any team, ever.

That’s right: since 1903, 15,000 home runs off the bats of pinstripers. That’s a big number.

A Yankee win is always thrilling, but the most thrilling moment for this writer came before the final out was made. During the telecast, former perfect game pitcher, five-time World Series champ, and current YES color analyst David Cone mentioned Yankee Yapping!

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Big thank you to Coney for the nod! Best 16 seconds (give or take) in this blog’s life.

What we learned in the first half

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Over the first half of this season the Yankees can, at best, be described at “hot-cold.” It seems the Bronx Bombers get into a groove, but begin skidding not long after they appear to hit a good stretch. Nonetheless, they find themselves within an arm’s reach of first place in the AL East at the All-Star break – which, in a word, is miraculous, given their streakiness and injury problems.

There are plenty of storylines to be covered from the first 94 games of 2014. The First topic, of course, has to be

Masahiro Tanaka – Man, not Superman

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If you remember back to the pilot episode of the old TV show Smallville, Lana Lang asks Clark Kent if he’s “man or Superman.” When the news of Masahiro Tanaka’s partially torn UCL broke, it was the only quote this scribe thought of.

The man from Japan was virtually untouchable through his first few starts – dare I say Superman-esque, boasting the best record in baseball at 12-3 with an ERA of 2.27.

Then Tuesday happened. Superman lost his cape.

Tanaka was lit up by Cleveland for five earned on 10 hits. His fastball was flat, his sinker was hanging, and he took the loss in arguably the worst start of his young MLB career.

The bad line and the loss only made the news on Tanaka’s partially torn UCL worse, as he’s been one of the only bright spots in the Yankee rotation this season; with CC Sabathia possibly being done for good, Ivan Nova needing Tommy John surgery, and Michael Pineda being about as useful as a screen door in a submarine.

It’s obvious the loss of Tanaka comes as a huge blow to the Yankees. So far the front office hasn’t made a stunner deal to patch up the rotation holes, although they’ve added Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help, acquired Jeff Francis from the Oakland A’s, and called up the emerging Shane Greene to fill some of the void.

A blockbuster trade for a front-line starter may or may not be in the cards for the Yankees this year – there’s not much out there to take, although Cliff Lee will apparently be off the DL and available come the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.

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Perhaps the Yankees can land the trade that never was in July, 2010. Lee would’ve been tremendously more valuable in ’10 than he is now, but with the rotation in a state of disarray, he may be the closest the Yankees get to a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.

That is, unless they can somehow snatch David Price from Tampa Bay – but the Yankees stand a better chance of a magical leprechaun falling from a rainbow in the sky and bringing them cake and ice cream. It’s extremely improbable.

On the other hand if there isn’t a starter to be had at the deadline, the Yankees simply have to find a way to win with who they have.

As for Tanaka: the Yanks will be without his services for at least six weeks, yet he’ll probably be gone beyond that timeframe; a UCL tear, no matter how large or small, usually spells a lot of time on the sidelines. It’s also worth noting Tanaka apologized for his injury, taking the same road Hideki Matsui traveled in 2006 when he broke his wrist trying to field a fly ball in left field.

We’ve learned a lot about Tanaka over the first half of the season, but the hardest lesson we all learned is that he’s a man. Not Superman.

 

Alfonso Soriano just not built to last

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When the Yankees picked up McCarthy, it was almost shocking to see Alfonso Soriano’s name on the “designated for assignment” list. The Yanks acquired their old pal “Fonsy” last year from the Cubs and he turned back the clock, becoming an exciting piece of a rather bland and dry 2013 offense.

Soriano said at the outset of the season he was considering retirement at the end of this season as it was; but I’m not sure he – or anyone else – expected the 38-year-old slugger to be cut in what may be his final season.

This year Soriano was batting a weak .221 with 71 strikeouts in 238 plate appearances. He only clubbed six homers and drove in just 23 runs in the 67 games he played – clearly not playing with the fire that burned last summer.

Perhaps it was a classic case of going back to the place, but not the time.

Derek Jeter, for one, was not happy with Fonsy’s release, telling the Star Ledger “Soriano is like family to me. I’m going to miss him. He’s like a brother to me. He should be proud of what he’s been able to do.”

If it really is the end of the line for Soriano, he put together a nice little career with 412 homers, two World Series appearances, and seven All-Star nods. Certainly not a Hall of Famer worthy span, but he was good enough to be a recognizable ballplayer and a bona fide difference-maker.

 

Mark Teixeira still has it

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Soriano wasn’t able to light up the offensive categories this year, but one man who has been ripping and tearing it up with his bat has been Mark Teixeira. The big first baseman is leading the team in homers with 17 and has knocked in 48 runs, which overshadows his somewhat low .239 batting average.

For Teixeira, a guy who missed basically all of last year and even spent time on the DL this year with a nagging hamstring injury, the above average power numbers and situational hitting are pleasantly surprising.

Generally after suffering season-ending injuries players don’t respond with such decent numbers right away. Teixeira looks as good as new and is offering some positive results. It might even be fair to say he’s putting the Yankees on his back and carrying the team this year.

 

David Robertson can indeed close

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Last season the biggest story was Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the big question that went with it: can David Robertson, who was set to supplant the great Rivera as Yankee closer, actually do it?

What’s sad is, he’s answered the question this season with a giant “YES” but it’s flown under the proverbial radar; nobody is really talking about it.

Robertson has saved 23 games for the Yankees while only hitting two speed bumps: blowing a save in Chicago to the White Sox on May 23 and failing to save the game vs. the Minnesota Twins at home on June 1.

Other than those two instances Robertson has been as solid as a bull, closing out games without the fans even having to often utilize his famous “Houdini” nickname. Robertson has been shutting down other teams in the ninth with relative ease, evading trouble and doing Rivera proud.

By the way, the official Yankee Yapping term for a Robertson save is “Alabama Slam” because Robertson is an Alabama native and he slams the door in the ninth.

Get it?

It hasn’t quite caught on just yet, although some YY Twitter followers approve.

 

Dellin is dealin’

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Rightfully so, Dellin Betances has been named an AL All-Star this year. As a reliever he’s struck out 84 batters in 55.1 innings pitched, making the best hitters in the league like Mike Trout and Jose Bautista look like hitters trying to strike a pea with a twig.

Betances has emerged as firearm and a practically an automatic 1-2-3 inning out of the ‘pen, but I think the difference between Betances and someone such as Joba Chamberlain (or Phil Hughes for that matter) is that he found what didn’t work and has now found what does work – and that’s where he’s staying.

The Yankees discovered that the role of starting pitcher was just not clicking for Betances. When he didn’t make it as a starter, he found his way as a reliever, and that’s who is – and who he’ll be from here on out.

Unlike, however, Chamberlain and Hughes, who constantly flip-flopped roles and eventually didn’t make it either way.

Bottom line: the Yankees have done the right thing with Betances, and the decision to make (and keep) him a reliever is paying off royally.

 

The Swan Song of Derek Jeter

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Through the first half of 2014, the Yankee Captain is hitting .271 with two homers and 25 RBIs. He’s slugging .321 and has swiped six bases while only getting caught once. He has 91 hits thus far, and has moved up on MLB’s all-time hits list; in fact, at press time, he’s 13 away from tying the legendary Carl Yastrzemski for eighth place on the all-time list.

But it’s not exactly about his numbers this season, or the records he’s shattering. It’s about the atmosphere every time he comes to bat at Yankee Stadium – or anywhere else. Opposing fans cheer him when he steps into the box, showering him with appreciation and respect, while the opposing teams themselves shower him with adulation and parting gifts.

It’ll only get more exciting, or maybe more fittingly bittersweet, when he takes the field in his final All-Star Game Tuesday night at Target Field in Minnesota.

Fans everywhere can appreciate what Jeter’s done over the years, and how much he’s meant not only to the Yankees but baseball in general. It’s nice to see this fine ballplayer get the respect of his peers and those with whom he works.

The atmosphere is going to be surreal on the final day of the Yankees’ season, whenever it may come; whether it be in the playoffs sometime, at the end of the regular season, or at the end of the World Series.

It’s tough to consider right now, but whenever it ends – and however it ends – the Captain will go out a respected winner in the eyes of the baseball fans. And if you can go out with the adoration of everyone around you, isn’t that the greatest thing in sports?

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It’s been a great first half of the 2014 season. Here’s to a fun second half!

But before I go, here’s some Yankee Yapping “Extra Innings”…. !!!

For the third straight summer I’ve been “down on the farm” so-to-speak, covering Minor League Baseball – more specifically the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Tampa Bay Rays’ short season Single-A affiliate.

The last two games I’ve covered ended quite dramatically, as Hunter Lockwood, the Gades’ left fielder, ended the game in extra innings with one swing; first a solo homer to beat the Staten Island Yankees on July 5, and just last night a two-run homer to beat the Batavia MuckDogs (a Miami Marlins affiliate) 12-10.

Just for the heck of it, I’ll post my game story from Lockwood’s walk-off home run that beat the Baby Bombers last weekend. This story ran in my newspaper (The Examiner) this week, so those who don’t get a chance to read my regular recaps in the paper, here’s a taste of what you’re missing:

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Renegades Stun Yankees with Lockwood’s Walk-Off Homer

By A.J. Martelli

Hudson Valley Renegades relief pitcher Isaac Gil had a whipped cream pie ready for designated hitter Hunter Lockwood at the end of their game against the Staten Island Yankees Saturday night. It was the only way to celebrate what had just happened.

In the bottom of the tenth tied 3-3 with two outs, Lockwood delivered a solo, walk-off home run – a spectacular shot over the left field wall at Dutchess Stadium to give the Renegades a 4-3 win, extend Hudson Valley’s win streak to seven in a row, and send the sold out crowd home happy.

“It’s a huge rush for me and I know it’s just a huge rush for the rest of my team,” Lockwood said moments after clubbing the death blow. “Everybody has all the dog piles and stuff you see on TV, and it’s just a lot of fun to be able to go out and produce for our team and for our fans out here.

“We’ve been playing good as a team, we trust everybody to get the job done, coming through in clutch situations, and that helps us stick together as a team and keep playing hard. We’ve had a bunch of late walk-off wins; a bunch of games where we’ve held tight and came through late – it allows us to keep playing hard, and since we’ve done it in the past we know we can do it in the future.”

The dramatic homer was Lockwood’s team-leading fourth of the season. Perhaps more importantly, the win was Hudson Valley’s fifth walk-off style victory of 2014, and its fourth win of the season in extra innings. Skipper Tim Parenton doesn’t mind playing in close games, given the results he’s seeing right now.

“The guys just never quit and they’ve done it all year,” he said. “Hunter Lockwood hit the ball hard a couple times tonight, but got one up in the air a little bit and it got out of here. It’s just a great win for the guys. They just believe in each other, and we just have a resilient group.”

The Gades’ resiliency was never more evident than in the top of the tenth inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out, looking primed to break the 3-3 stalemate. But reliever Gerardo Reyes, who notched his first win of the year, pitched out of it, getting a line out to left, a pop out to short, and a groundout to end any danger.

“We just hung in there,” Parenton said. “You sit there as a coach and say ‘put it in the zone and see if they can make the hit or we can make the play.’ We were able to get a couple pop ups and the ground ball out.”

The Renegades took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning; scoring in the sixth on an RBI double off the bat of second baseman Jace Conrad, and an RBI single from left fielder Clayton Henning in the seventh. Conrad plated the Gades’ third run in the eighth, scoring from third on a wild pitch.

The Yankees were able to tie it in the top half of the ninth on two RBI singles off Reyes to send it to extras.

Renegades’ starter D.J. Slaton did a fine job keeping his team in the game, tossing six innings of three-hit ball. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven – and also had to wiggle out of trouble in the fifth inning, escaping a second and third, no out jam.

“The biggest thing for me was getting ahead, finishing off batters when I had the chance and trying to keep a low pitch count,” he said. “For me it’s fastball changeup and when those two are rolling for me, usually it’s a good night.

“The fifth was a tough, sucky inning, but the biggest thing was, you just have to get a quick out in the infield somewhere, and a strikeout, and go from there. Once you get those two outs you don’t relax a little bit, but you look for that third out any way you can get it.”

Southpaw Ryan Pennell, a Rye Neck alum and Mamaroneck native, was solid in the role of the middle man. He threw two innings in relief of Slaton and allowed one run on just two hits. He walked two and struck out two.

The Renegades (15-5) are sitting pretty with the New York-Penn League’s best record and are in first place in the McNamara division. With doubleheaders coming up on the schedule – and no days off until next Tuesday – Parenton plans on fielding his entire team to keep the winning recipe cooking.

“It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to rotate our lineup, put fresh guys in there,” he said, “and just keep playing and hopefully keep winning.”

Side note: The photo of Lockwood was taken by me, whilst conducting my postgame interview. I’m not much of a photographer, but my editor has some fantastic shots of Lockwood. He’s a pro, I’m an amateur.

A Bundy-ful birthday gift

It wasn’t exactly a Father’s Day to remember for the Yankees, as they lost 10-5 this afternoon to the A’s. The Bronx Broskis have to do some regrouping this week and thankfully for them, “the savior” (as I’ve dubbed him) Masahiro Tanaka starts their next game on Tuesday night at the big ballpark in the Bronx. It’ll be an important series, with Toronto sitting ahead of them by four and a half games in the AL East.

While was Father’s Day today, it was also my 27th birthday. I spent it at the ballpark – but the minor league ballpark. Specifically, Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades. I’ve covered the Renegades the past two summers, and today I covered my first game of my third summer with them.

And I got quite a little birthday surprise.

The ‘Gades hosted the Aberdeen IronBirds, a MiLB squad affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles. Throwing for Aberdeen was Dylan Bundy – the O’s first round pick of the 2011 draft, and a future ace I’ve heard talked about on MLB Network and by Buster Olney of ESPN.

I got to interview him afterward and got a little story out of it, so I figured since this guy will most likely be facing the Yankees in the not-too-distant future, I’d throw my little story on him up here on the blog.

Note: I also interviewed TB Rays’ 2014 first round pick, first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who smacked a two-run home run for his first hit as a pro ballplayer.

Even though I was indeed thrilled and excited to cover Bundy, I was a little bummed out the P.A. didn’t play Frank Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” as he took his warm-ups. An Al Bundy reference would’ve made my birthday complete.

So, with that being said, here’s my story on Bundy:

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Orioles’ Bundy Makes Solid Rehab Start vs. Hudson Valley

By A.J. Martelli

Although a year off and reconstructive surgery may normally sound like a formula for rust, it wasn’t for starting right-hander Dylan Bundy on Sunday.

The Baltimore Orioles’ 2011 first round draft pick out of Owasso High School (Okla.) made a rehab start against the Hudson Valley Renegades at Dutchess Stadium, pitching for the O’s short season Single-A affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds. It marked the 21-year-old’s first time pitching in a competitive game since 2012, being that Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of last year.

Yet the stud, who has been compared by some to Stephen Strasburg, showed no damaging signs.

He tossed five innings and only let up one earned run after scattering five hits. Bundy walked none and struck out six by taking baby steps – he only threw 65 pitches.

“First outing in almost a year and I was pretty pleased with it,” he said. “I don’t think about (the surgery) at all anymore, and that’s what I’m happy about.”

Bundy gave the Renegades credit for touching him up, though he didn’t feel he made too many mistakes dealing to the Hudson Valley hitters.

“I gave up five hits, but they just made good contact with the ball on what I think were pretty good pitches. They got the bat on the ball and they did a pretty good job. They were hitting the off-speed stuff pretty well, putting it in play.”

Making adjustments, Bundy mentioned, also helped him along.

“I focused more when guys were on base,” he said. “Now I’ve got to focus more when guys aren’t on base and do a better job locating my pitches. I’ve been trying to do a better job of that.”

Bundy also talked about how much less pressure it was pitching at “The Dutch” as opposed to a major league stadium like Camden Yards – even though he thought facing the Renegades was just as dangerous as facing a big league team.

“A feel a little bit less pressure pitching here, but there’s still a live batter up there that can hit the ball just as well as someone in the big league. My aim is to just go out there, make pitches, and compete.”

Bundy will make a few more starts before being evaluated, and a plan for his future is drawn up going forward.

“I have a couple more starts; we’ll see how my arm responds tomorrow,” he said. “It should be good. Couple more starts, and we’ll see what we’re going to do after that.”

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A Howl for Wolff

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On a day where it looked as if Masahiro Tanaka’s undefeated win streak dating back to his days last year in Japan was coming to an end, everything came together for the Yankees and the streak was kept alive. The combination of a Mark Teixeira home run, more clutch hitting from Jacoby Ellsbury, a go-ahead homer off the bat of Kelly Johnson, and a late game scoring barrage gave the Yankees a 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

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No, Tanaka didn’t get “Brock Lesnar’d” today, if you will; his streak remains intact as he’s a perfect 4-0 this season – today being a prime example of how, even when things aren’t exactly going his way, he still wins. The young man from Japan battled through the first four innings or so, letting up homers to Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers, until he settled down and finished up like a stud.

Today’s win not only kept Tanaka’s unblemished record breathing, it also snapped a 3-game Yankee losing skid, and put the Bombers back in first place in the AL East after being a half game out to Baltimore following a brutal 10-5, 14 inning loss to TB Friday night.

In the heart of the losing schnide, though, the Yankees honored a man who broke a record – but not a record that could be smashed on the ball field.

Bob Wolff, famed broadcaster who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series among countless other big time sporting events, broke the record for longest career as a broadcaster. The Guinness Book of World Records gave him the nod, as he’s been calling games from behind the mic for the better part of 74 and a half years.

At 93 Wolff is still at it, working for News 12 Long Island.

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In this writer’s opinion, it couldn’t have happened to a better person.

I had the opportunity to interview Wolff’s son Rick in 2009. Rick was the baseball coach at my college (Mercy, NY) from 1978-85, and a minor league ballplayer turned author and radio personality. Rick talked a lot about his dad’s work and what type of man he is in the interview I conducted, saying,

“My dad was a well-respected broadcaster. He called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series in 1956, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.

“My dad has always been my biggest fan. He is still active and calling baseball games, and he always stood by me. I remember when I coached at Mercy, he used to come watch the team play. He spent a lot of windy afternoons on the Hudson watching my team.” (His team being the Flyers, now known to the Mercy College student body as the Mavericks).

It took awhile, but I was actually able to dig up the hard copy of that article I wrote on Rick.

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I also have to credit Rick for the inception of this blog; he was the individual who suggested I start Yankee Yapping.

After the Yankees lost 4-2 to Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners Thursday night, Wolff spoke to the press at Yankee Stadium, and without really giving away the secret of his success, mentioned that he – when calling a game – always tried to make it interesting. Instead of bombarding everyone to death with stats constantly, he threw in quips and witticisms to keep the audience engaged. Important to do, in a profession that requires so much attention from so many different people.

Using that method set Wolff apart from the pack.

Since everything sports-related in terms of information is basically relayed through Twitter in this day and age of social media, I suppose it’s important to maintain the attention of your audience – your followers – through funny puns, in between the giving of scores and statistics.

I try to be that way, while being as professional as possible. Of course, the whole job of a sports journalist is to provide information on what happened (or is happening) in a game, along with any extra info and analysis. Yet, as Wolff stated, it’s important to keep it fun.

Because after all, aren’t sports supposed to be fun to watch?

 

One last lesson

The Yankees have started 2014 quite nicely, winning nine of their first 15 games. The Bronx Bombers are on an early tear, in fact, as they’ve won seven of their last 10. After taking three of four from the Boston Red Sox at home, they swept a doubleheader yesterday vs. the Chicago Cubs thanks to the brilliant pitching of both Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.

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Both starting pitchers shut the Cubs out, and are hot commodities in the infantile stage of this season. I had tickets to Tuesday night’s game – which subsequently became Wednesday afternoon’s game on account of the rainout – but I could not go.

Yes, unfortunately I was not able to attend Yankee Stadium or “the Mecca” for the first time this season because I was saying goodbye to my grandfather. He passed away last Saturday morning.

There’ll be other games to hit. My grandfather – he was one of a kind.

At his wake Tuesday night, the priest from his church gave a nice speech about the astronomical amount of faith my grandpa possessed, and it taught me a real lesson I’ll carry with me for the long haul.

My grandparents were married for 50 years, until my grandmother passed away in 2002. The priest said my grandfather attended church every Sunday, and they usually spoke when mass ended. After every conversation they had, my grandpa asked the priest to pray for my grandma.

Even after my grandma passed on, he still loved her. For the past 12 years my grandmother may not have phsycially been around, but the love my grandparents had for each other never went away. The lesson there is that love never dies – so check that off the lessons learned list.

Similarly, the love I have for my grandparents will never die and I’ll always remember them; the love they freely gave and the big important moments in my life, from birthdays to graduations, that they never missed.

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I’ve missed my grandma for the past 12 years, and now I’ll miss my grandpa. However, I’ll take so much comfort in knowing they are sharing love eternally now.

The love that never left.

No hits and hat tips

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If you watched the brilliant 2007 miniseries The Bronx is Burning, which detailed the radical 1977 New York Yankees season, you might remember how eccentric former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was portrayed. The Boss would get ticked off very easily at the most minute happenings, if you recall.

“We lost an exhibition game to the Mets – to the METS!” he snarled in one scene.

It leads me to believe that if Steinbrenner was still alive, and saw what happened last night in Panama, he would have lost his marbles. Not only did the Yankees lose an exhibition to the Miami Marlins, baseball’s biggest joke in the eyes of most fans, they were no-hit.

I repeat: the Yankees were no-hit by the Marlins.

Though only an exhibition, or a game that doesn’t count, Joe Girardi was not thrilled, saying afterwards,

“You never want to be no-hit. I don’t care what game it is, what level. You never want to see that.”

The fact that the game was being played in honor of Mariano Rivera in his native Panama at Rod Carew Stadium – and the fact that Rivera was in attendance to witness this negative piece of history – only hurt more, in this writer’s eyes.

Now granted, a number of big names like Ichiro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Brian Roberts didn’t participate in the no-hitter, as they were stateside in Florida playing the Baltimore Orioles. Yet a few of the key regulars didn’t impress. In fact, they played a royal hand in being no-hit.

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Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli were a combined 0-for-14 with one walk and six strikeouts. Gardner was the only one of the five regulars to reach base via a walk, and was only one of two base runners all night. Zelous Wheeler drew a walk in the eighth inning but that was all the offense – if you can call it offense – the Yanks could muster.

The question I kept asking myself was, when is the last time the Yankees were no-hit in spring training? Better question: have they even ever been no-hit in spring training?

The last time they were no-hit (to any capacity) was June 11, 2003 at the hands of the Houston Astros. Coincidently enough, Jeter and Soriano were a part of the no-hitter in ’03 to Houston, as well as a part of last night’s struggle.

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What’s funny is today, in the second game of the Legends Series in Panama, the Yankees no-hit the Marlins through six until Giancarlo Stanton singled to begin the seventh inning. So, the day after being no-hit by the Marlins, the Yanks took a no-no of their own deep into the game.

Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Luckily after all the excruciating, no-hit nonsense to report on last night, the Yankees took out their frustrations in split squad action this afternoon. The stateside crew beat the Atlanta Braves 7-4 and the team that was no-hit last night pounded out 15 hits today, and shutout the Marlins 7-0.

Everyone looked good in this afternoon’s action, including Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Tanaka pitched 4.1 innings at “The Boss” vs. Atlanta and only let up one earned run on just three hits. He walked two but fanned six, looking as tactical and as effective as Mike Mussina once looked.

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Mussina, if you remember, was not incredibly overpowering but so methodical in facing hitters; he had a game plan. Tanaka looked to possess that “Moose”-like style today, at least in my opinion.

Sabathia, in the meantime, worked his best outing of the spring, tossing a perfect five innings against the Marlins; no walks and five Ks. Coming off such a subpar 2013, and not exactly turning any heads this spring, you have believe he needed a performance like today.

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Tip of the Hat on #TBT

I’ve recently become “one of those people” on Twitter who partakes in #ThrowbackThursday, posting an old picture from the past and describing it.

This past Thursday, March 13, was the five-year anniversary of my story on John Flaherty; the former Yankee catcher and current YES broadcaster came to my college (Mercy; Dobbs Ferry, NY) in 2009 to speak to the baseball and softball teams at their fundraiser breakfast.

Flaherty told some awesome stories that morning, including how he was hung over the day he was called up to the major leagues – because he and his friends had gone out for “sodas” the night before.

To celebrate the fun memory, naturally I decided to post a collage photo of my newspaper article on the former Yankee catcher, the ball Flaherty signed for me that day, and the picture he took with me.

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Tweeting the photo at him, Flaherty remembered the day and offered me kudos on a job well done, which was very nice of him.

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Thanks for the kind words, John!

You can follow me on Twitter @YankeeYapping and @AJ_Martelli

Keys to the Kingdom

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‘Tis the season of the cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather. Yes, MLB Spring Training is finally here, and yesterday the Yankees began their string of exhibition games. As it is, the Bronx Bombers dropped both of their first two Grapefruit League games to Pittsburgh, losing 6-5 Wednesday and 8-2 today – though we all know final scores are probably the least important stat when it comes to Spring Training.

It’s all about fine tuning and getting ready for April, when the scores count and the Yanks embark on their quest for World Series title number 28. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, who as we all know announced his retirement after this upcoming season, declared today that he wants to go out a winner:

“We’re the last team standing and we win the championship.

That’s the only way I envision it ending.”

In order for that happen, a lot has to go right. First of all…

CC Sabathia needs a bounce-back campaign

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Last year CC Sabathia faced arm problems, really for the first time ever in his career. The Yankee ace lost 13 games in 2013 and only won 14, coming off 2012 when he won 15 – a far cry from the 21 and 19-win seasons he put up in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last season Sabathia’s ERA was 4.78, the highest earned run average he’s ever posted in his career.

If you’re the type of analyst who likes to throw wins and ERA out the window, here’s something to chew on: Sabathia let up 28 home runs in 2013 – another career-high for a single season. If that isn’t enough, here’s something else to consider: Sabathia served up more taters than Phil Hughes last season, the former homer-happy Yankee and now-Minnesota Twin. Hughes allowed 24 hitters to leave the yard last year compared to Sabathia’s 28.

Yes. You know it’s bad when you’ve given up more long balls than Hughes.

There’s no debating the fact that Sabathia needs to turn it around; be the ace the Yankees bought him for prior to 2009, or at least be close to what he was. It’s not too much to ask, mostly because he’s already proven the type of anchor he can be to a pitching staff.

To his credit, Sabathia slimmed down and lost some weight. According to Michael Kay of YES, Sabathia came into Spring Training last year just under 300 lbs., whereas this year he showed up around 275 and visibly thinner.

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Obviously Sabathia is taking serious steps towards getting back to form, but he needs to cut down on the home runs and be clutch this year if the Yankees want to be that last team standing.

Stay healthy, New York

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You cannot predict injuries. It’s a fact of sports life. In recent times the Yankees have had a ton of hard luck when it comes to injuries, and they haven’t been able to field a complete team.

New Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury has failed to appear in 100 games in two of the last four seasons because of injuries. In 2010 the speedy center fielder only played 18 games and in 2012 he played just 74, thanks to fractured ribs as a result of an outfield collision (’10) and a collision on the base paths trying to break up a double play (’12).

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In between he’s been as solid as they come, though. 2011 was Ellsbury’s best season to date. With 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, a .321 batting average, 212 hits, and an All-Star nod, he was arguably the best all-around player in the American League. Being the runner-up for the AL MVP award, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, is only a testament to how fantastic he truly was in ‘11.

That begs the question, which Ellsbury will be showing up in 2014? The perennial All-Star or the injury prone player who gives up his body en route to disabled list stints?

And Ellsbury is just one example.

To supplant Herculean second baseman Robinson Cano, who split for Seattle, the Yankees signed Brian Roberts – a 36-year-old second sacker once feared by all as a Baltimore Oriole, but has only played 192 games over the last four seasons on account of injuries. (Roberts managed to play 77 games last year, 17 in ’12, 39 in ’11, and 59 in ’10).

Doing the math, Roberts has missed 456 games over the past four seasons; DL stints and concussions have eaten him up. Keep in mind, specifically, he ruptured a tendon behind his right knee last April vs. Tampa Bay attempting a steal of second base.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

Knowing all that, will Roberts be a comeback player and offer reliability, or will he simply be unproductive and relegated to the disabled list for a large chunk of the season?

The question marks of Ellsbury and Roberts are of course piled on top of apprehension about Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Jeter (39, 40 in June) as we all know is coming off ankle injuries that limited him to 17 games in 2013, while Teixeira (33, 34 in April) is coming back from wrist problems that only allowed him to play 15 games last year.

How each of these players respond is obviously a “to be determined” but at the same time there is no crystal ball in existence to let us know if they’ll be able to grind out the entire season injury-free.

The bullpen has to be effective

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It’s fair to say the Yankees’ bullpen was probably their weakest link last year, even with the legendary Mariano Rivera at the back end closing everything out – which really tells you the whole story. This writer keeps asking himself,

“If the bullpen wasn’t that good with Rivera last year, what can we expect without him this year?

David Robertson, as of now, is expected to succeed Mo in the closer role, which is scary to think about. If you recall in 2012 when Rivera’s season ended on May 3 on the warning track in Kansas City, Robertson was plugged into his spot as closer, but he didn’t cut it.

In just his second save opp a week after Rivera went down, Robertson failed to protect a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay, giving up a three-run homer to Matt Joyce. He later gave up another run and the Yankees went on to lose, 4-1. Robertson called it afterward “the worst feeling in the world.”

Luckily in 2012 the Yankees had the option of using Rafael Soriano in Robertson’s stead – an option that worked out well, given that Soriano saved 42 games in Rivera’s absence.

Now, similarly, the Yankees have signed former Oakland A’s closer (and 2009 AL Rookie of the Year) Andrew Bailey, albeit to a minor league contract. Bailey has 89 saves to his name in his short career, with experience as a closer, making him the logical choice to succeed Rivera over Robertson.

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However…

Bailey, like a lot of other Yankees, has a history with injuries. In 2012 he had reconstructive surgery on his right thumb, and just last year an MRI revealed he had a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.

It’ll come down to whether or not Bailey can make it back from injury and be a shutdown pitcher like he once was. For now though, the Yankees have a premiere setup man in Robertson – and that’s about it, because Robertson isn’t a proven closer.

At least not yet.

Looking outside the back end of the bullpen, the middle relievers need to step up too. Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne are going to be two important pieces to the bullpen, along with newcomer Matt Thornton, the tall order who’ll replace Boone Logan (now with the Colorado Rockies) as the main southpaw out of the ‘pen.

Sources are saying former top Yankee pitching prospect Dellin Betances will be vying for a spot in the bullpen this spring, as it’s already been established by Yankee GM Brian Cashman that he will be a reliever in the long run. Betances could either prove to be a key middle reliever or long reliever, yet he has to pitch well enough for the Yankee brass to have faith in him – and well enough to keep himself off mopping duty.

The Opening Day bullpen is likely going to come down to whichever relievers are effective during Spring Training, and the point stands: they have to be effective, whoever they may be when camp breaks.

Masahiro Tanaka has to adapt

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Nobody is expecting Masahiro Tanaka to go 24-0 and post an ERA under 2.00 in his rookie season, but if there is one thing the new, prized Japanese import must do, it’s get acclimated to the MLB style. His numbers in Japan were far better than a lot of the other Japanese-born pitchers who’ve come over from the land of the rising sun, meaning he could potentially have a huge year, but the average fan might not realize a couple of things.

First off, pitchers in Japan throw only once a week, whereas here in the states, Tanaka will have to toe the rubber once every five days. Not only that, but the NPB in Japan also uses smaller-sized baseballs compared to an official MLB rock, therefore an adjustment needs to be made in that respect.

The biggest difference will be the hitters Tanaka faces. Monsters such as David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Prince Fielder will probably pose bigger threats (and are more intimidating) than the more tactical batters he went eye-to-eye with in Japan.

Though one could argue Tanaka won’t be fazed by the Goliath-like giants he faces here in the U.S., given his cool demeanor and calm presence at his introductory press conference.

While it’s perfectly fine to expect Tanaka to succeed – and he will – it’s reasonable to presume he will go through his growing pains. Adjustment is the biggest part of his game.

We’ll get our first live look at Tanaka on Saturday afternoon in the Yankees’ exhibition vs. the Phillies.

They have to make each other better

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The key to any successful team is chemistry. Most of the 2014 Yankees will be first-time teammates, not having played with each other before. While some like Jeter, Teixeira and Brett Gardner have been together for a few seasons, newbies like Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have not had a chance to jell as teammates.

If you look back to 2009 – and the Dynasty years, for that matter – a player could have an off-night, but the rest of the team would be on. For example,

In 1998, Tino Martinez might have an “0-for” night, but Jeter, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill would be firing at will, and the Yanks would win. The next night Jeter could have gone 0-for-4, but Martinez and everyone else would still be en fuego.

Those teams were the masters of picking each other up.

If the 2014 Yankees can perfect that same art, they’ll be as lethal as any team in baseball.

And the kingdom will be theirs.

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Rising Son: Tanaka separate from the pack

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In 2008 Sports Illustrated published an in-depth article on the life on Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang, appropriately entitled, Chien-Ming Wang has a secret. In his native country of Taiwan, the former sinker-baller was a celebrity. He couldn’t get out of his car in Taiwan without getting mobbed by worshipping fans. Yet when he walked down the streets in New York City, he was barely bothered; no one hounded him or even recognized him. The piece delved into his personal life, as well as how he developed his signature pitch.

It was an interesting story on the foreign pitcher. One a reader could thoroughly enjoy.

Yesterday the Yanks landed 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, luring him to the Bronx with a pact worth $155 million over seven years; thus snagging the hurler from the Rakuten Eagles. Tanaka has put up staggering numbers in Japan since his debut in Nippon Pro Baseball in 2007, winning several awards and attaining superstardom along the way.

Masahiro Tanaka

This writer does not in fact know whether or not Tanaka can walk down the streets of Tokyo without being mobbed. Only time will tell if he will be able to take a stroll in Times Square without the hassle of adoring fans and media. But over the next seven years, rest assured, we’ll learn a lot about this newcomer.

What we do know now is that he was 24-0 in NPB last year with a microscopic earned run average of 1.27. Over the last three seasons alone he piled up 53 wins and only lost three games, posting an ERA of 1.44. For the sake of getting too analytical, most folks are predicting his WAR to have impressive range, meaning he will be worth a heck of a lot of victories throughout his Yankee tenure.

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His total WAR is going to be 16.8 after seven years.

No! It’s got to be 6.8 per season.

Thanks for your input, Twitter.

Notwithstanding the ever-glorious, overanalyzed “wins above replacement” stat, his regular numbers from the Far East are unheard of here in the United States – and even in Japan, those numbers leap out at you, giving a lot of pundits and writers the impression he is separated from the pack of aces.

Take for example Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was a well-sought-after pitcher during the 2006-07 offseason. His best season in Japan (pitching for the Seibu Lions) was the year right before he signed with Boston, being 2006.

Dice-K’s numbers that season: 17-5, 2.13 ERA, 186.1 innings pitched, and 200 strikeouts. His transition to Major League Baseball wasn’t anything special, going 15-12 with an ERA of 4.40 his first season in Beantown with the Red Sox, which was of course ’07. His workload got a bit heavier that year (204.2 IP) but the number of Ks was consistent; in fact, one more than his previous season at 201 strikeouts.

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His claim to fame was his 2008 season in Boston when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, which could be attributed to a lighter amount of innings – 167.2. His K total also fell to 154 strikeouts. From there, the “Dice Man” became nothing to write home to Japan about.

Point being Dice-K is not exactly comparable to Tanaka. Neither is Kei Igawa (a teammate of Matsuzaka’s from the Seibu Lions) who the Yanks acquired prior to 2007. Igawa’s best year in Japan came in 2003 when he was 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA; 206 IP, amassing 179 strikeouts. It’s also worth mentioning he never won more than 14 games in a single season for the Lions after ‘03.

That being said, Igawa never made a difference in New York. Before he was let go he finished with a 2-4 record in pinstripes, a 6.66 earned run average, and he struck out just 53 batters.

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In other words, he was a bad investment. Igawa’s ERA describes his time in New York perfectly, being the mark of the devil, and for the record, there’s no chance he was mobbed by fans. Frankly, if Yankee fans were to have seen Igawa in the street (that is if they would have even recognized him to begin with) they probably would have thrown eggs and tomatoes at him.

And no, he cannot be compared to Tanaka.

Even the great Yu Darvish cannot truly be compared to Tanaka. His best season for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters was 2011, the year before he came to the states and joined the Texas Rangers. In ’11, Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA; 232 innings pitched and a mind-blowing 276 strikeouts.

While 18 is a strong number in terms of win total, it’s not quite on par with Tanaka’s 24 from last season, although Darvish’s first two seasons in MLB weren’t bad:

2012: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 232 IP, 221 Ks.

2013: 13-9, 2.83 ERA, 209.2 IP, 277 Ks.

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And while we won’t know what Tanaka’s numbers will be over the course of his first two seasons in pinstripes for another couple years, we do know his numbers were better than Darvish’s were overseas.

Hisashi Iwakuma, a Japanese starter who joined the Seattle Mariners in 2012, only mustered up 29 wins over his last three seasons in Japan (2009-11, for the Golden Eagles) – a far cry from the 53 Tanaka has racked up over his last three seasons pitching in the land of the rising sun.

Hisashi Iwakuma

It’s quite possible Tanaka is the best Japanese-born starting pitcher we’ve ever seen – at least that’s what the numbers suggest. Better in his native Japan than Matsuzaka; better than Igawa, better than Darvish, better than Iwakuma – and maybe even better than Hideo Nomo.

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Nomo was MLB’s first notable Japanese import, and he pitched for the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1990-94. The most wins he notched in a single season in the Far East: like Darvish, 18. Again, not as many as Tanaka’s 24.

The truth is we won’t know how well his stuff will translate from NPB to MLB until we receive a sample size, which could be a year or two. Yet if his numbers, compared to the other Japanese-born starters, are any indication, he will surely succeed. He could potentially go soaring above and beyond the realm of accomplishments of the other Japanese pitchers.

And if Tanaka does indeed dominate, there’s a good chance he won’t be as lucky walking down the streets of New York as Wang once was. The man from Japan might just become a little too popular to go unrecognized in the city that never sleeps.

But that all depends on how he does. And you can bet your life Yankee Universe will be watching.

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