The distance between George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., is a 20.9-mile drive along I-275 N. Starting their 2017 opening series at the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees quickly found out the gulf between spring training and the regular season is even wider apart.
Their first series was both parts humbling and surprising.
Opening Day Growing Pains
Regardless of the opponent, when you play a team in their home opener, you’re going to get their best effort. Such was the case with the Rays in their 7-3 victory.
Masahiro Tanaka, who topped all AL starters with a 2.34 road ERA in 2016, was off after a fine spring. Tanaka yielded seven runs on eight hits, including a pair of home runs by Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison. His 2.2 innings pitched was the shortest outing by a Yankees Opening Day starter since Ron “Gator” Guidry in 1983.
If the Yankees don't win the World Series it can all be traced back to this call. pic.twitter.com/FPZ085UVTT
New York’s lineup was flipped on its head, with the top five going a combined 1-for-20. Conversely, the final four provided the offense, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro wrapped out three base knocks apiece, while Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes both plated a run. In a quirk, new fifth place hitter Jacoby Ellsbury lead off an inning twice.
From Small Things
As the Bruce Springsteen song goes, “From small things Mama, big things one day come.” Yankees small and big alike came up huge in a 5-0 Yankees game two victory at the “Trop.”
A bloop and a blast by Judge and Torreyes sparked a three-run third inning against Jake Odorizzi. Raise your hand if you had Torreyes in your first Yankee home run of the season pool. In fact, get a running start, raise your hands and high five Aaron Judge!
All joking aside, the high-five photo sums up everything great about baseball. You can be big or small and still compete on the field.
Power duo. 💪💪 pic.twitter.com/AfgytPXu4b
After Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday traded places on a Holliday RBI-double, the Yankees were staked to a 3-0 lead through three.
On the bump, CC Sabathia played the Andy Pettitte role of veteran stopper. Pitching five scoreless innings, allowing three hits, while striking out two, Sabathia equaled Hall of Fame hurlers Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Jim Bunning with 224 career victories.
Speaking of all things big and small, Headley mastered the Wee Willie Keeler adage of “hitting ’em where they ain’t.” Headley hit to all fields, negating the Rays’ shift and blasting the ball out of the yard.
It's only 8 at bats. But Headley is trying to be a different hitter/beat the shift. He's hit the ball up the middle or to the left 7 times.
Headley accrued two hits and two RBI. His solo 420-foot jolt to center in the sixth was his first of the season, coming faster than his first blast on May 12, 2016. The Yankees third baseman even picked up a stolen base in the eighth inning! What can’t Chase do? I think he needs his own BronxPinstripes t-shirt!
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
In their rubber match against the Rays, the Yankees continued a few trends. Stellar relief. Short start. Stranding runners. Surprising offense.
Their 4-1 loss resulted in the first series loss of the season for the Yankees.
Michael Pineda didn’t give the Yankees any length or a chance. Despite six strikeouts, the big righty was lit up, yielding four runs on eight hits, lasting only 3.2 innings.
You’ve heard of a bullpen by committee. Why not a starter by committee? Granted you’d probably burn them out by Memorial Day but this Yankees bullpen is sharp. After working another 4.1 innings of scoreless relief, including four strikeouts from Adam Warren, the relief corps were outstanding all series.
That's 13.2 scoreless innings now for the bullpen. Their combined line in 3 games:
13.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 17 K. pic.twitter.com/62MEaqTJ9d
The Yankees lineup was 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Jacoby Jack and a Poke
Jacoby Ellsbury displayed some pop from the five hole. Ellsbury’s first home run of the season, off Alex Cobb in the second inning, tied the contest at one. The Yankees’ center fielder laced three hits and is batting a scalding .455 on the young season.
Right down the pipe,
Right out the park!
Jacoby Ellsbury jacks his first homer of '17!
He and fellow Yankee fan whipping boy Chase Headley had a monster series, with Headley and his .636 average chipping in with a pair of base knocks in the series finale.
At 1-2 on the campaign, New York heads to Camden Yards to face the Baltimore Orioles in a three-game series starting Friday evening. Coming off a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at home, the O’s are 2-0.