Spring Training | Grapefruit League | Tampa, FL
The New York Yankees fielded split squads today on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates and at home welcoming the Philadelphia Phillies to George M. Steinbrenner Field. Although I was not privileged to view the broadcast of the Yankees/Pirates game, I can report that the starter, Alfredo Aceves, picked up the win with the aid of other Yankee pitchers who combined to pitch a 1-hit shutout in their 6-0 thrash of the Pirates. Notable Yankees playing on the road included Shortstop Derek Jeter, 3rd Baseman Alex Rodriguez, and Outfielders Curtis Granderson and Randy Winn.
Switching focus to the home front, the game I was fortunate to watch on television, Javier Vazquez made his first start for the Yankees, a club he hasn't pitched for since 2004 when he was released due to a below average second half of the season after posting strong numbers in the first half. Phillies leadoff hitter, Jimmy Rollins who is known for first-pitch swings led off the game with a first-pitch home run. It served as a wake-up-welcome to Vazquez who went on to strike out 4 in two innings of work. While the Yankees sent a fraction of their A-squad on the road, Philadelphia brought all but one member of what is expected to be their Opening Day starters to face the World Champion Yankees.
Both starters went two innings of work. With the lopsided nature of scoring Spring Training usually bears witness to, it's easy to assume that these starting pitchers are taken out due to below average performances or heavy scoring by the opponent. However, it is important to know that in Spring Training, especially now being only one week old, starting pitchers are only trying to get their pitch count up and improve arm strength. It will take each pitcher about 4 to 6 starts before operating at regular season strength.
What made today's game feel like the regular season was looming nearby was the first controversial call I have seen this Spring that I am sure has revived a debate that never really died. Instant replay. With the Phillies leading 3-0, the Yankees escaped a 2-men-on, 2-out situation on what would and should have been a run scoring base hit off of Chase Utley. Initially the ball was ruled dead when it apparently made contact with 1st base runner, Placido Polanco who, by rule, was immediately recorded out. Upon further review, the ball did not appear to make contact with the base runner. Unfortunately, this article is not the one that will delve into the instant replay debate, but if you keep following my reports, one will come sooner, rather than later.
It wasn't until the bottom of the 4th inning when the Yankee offense decided to show up. Left-fielder, Nick Swisher hit a 2-run double on a 3 balls, 1 strike pitch from Phillie Jose Contreras to bring the score 3-2. The following inning saw Yankee Kevin Russo lead off with a ground rule double that hopped the center field wall 408 feet away from home plate. This started a 4-run rally in the inning with offensive contributions from Ramiro Pena, Brett gardner, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher.
In the 4th inning everyone was reminded of what truly makes Spring Training: the fans. In the midst of what quickly became a tight ball game, visiting fans tussled with the home crowd with competing chants of "Let's Go Yankees! Let's Go Phillies!" Both crowds remained verbally involved up until the final out was recorded in the 9th capping a 7-5 win for the Yankees. Both of today's victories bring the Yankee Grapefruit League record to 3 wins and 4 losses.