By Barry Millman
The Yankees beat back a late rally by the Angels in their home stand opener Friday night to win 8-7 -- and a game that almost went from laugher to loss in a few New York minutes provided heroes, goats and a G.O.A.T. to cheer, jeer and strike fear in the hearts of every Yankee fan who rode it out to it's heart-stopping conclusion.
Taking the above categories one at a time:
THE HEROES: Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi picked up his 5th win, second most on the team against a single loss. The team's flame-throwing good luck charm and resident raw work-in-progress continued to both grow as a pitcher and confront his flaws as the team won for the seventh time in his last nine starts. Spinning a beauty for five and a third innings, he allowed just four hits and struck out four before losing the plate in the sixth with one out and walking the bases full. The ump had been squeezing both teams all night and, to Eovaldi's credit, he stayed with the game plan that had gotten him nine groundouts as he kept aiming for the black rather than grooving one down the pipe, looking for the tenth that would end the inning. When he didn't get it and manager Joe Girardi pulled him, he walked to the dugout with a 5-0 lead, one GIDP short of a gem, lowering his ERA a quarter of a run to 4.16 and handing the team an easy win -- or so everyone thought.
Didi Gregorious was another hero. After the Angels had scored five runs in the ninth to make it 8-5 and Dellin Betances had reloaded the base with one out, Didi kept them from completing the comeback and tying the game with a diving backhanded stab of a hard-hit grounder to his right by Johnny Giavotella, then made a quick flip to Joe Pirela at second base to get the force for the second out. Only one run scored on the play instead of two and Betances was able to strike out the next batter to end the game. After the game, Betances was effusive in his praise of Didi and the importance of the play in halting the impending disaster. "Thank God for Didi." he said. Indeed. And speaking of God ...
In a one-run game, anybody who drove in or scored a run played a crucial role, but this is my hero list and I'm adding Alex Rodriguez to it for the simple reason his 7th-inning run was the game-winner. On a night when he'd already made some history and easily could've just coasted or taken a seat with the game seemingly out of reach, he kept going to the plate and taking his cuts with a vengeance like the outcome was still doubt -- perhaps in his brilliant baseball mind, knowing this team as he does, he had an inkling it might be -- and that made the difference in the game. After doubling in the 7th he moved to third on a wild pitch. Following a groundout by Teixeira and walk by Brian McCann, Joe Girardi decided to use the late 7-1 lead to try to kick start the slumping Chris Young and sent him in to pinch hit for Garrett Jones. Young lofted a soft single to right to score Alex to make it 8-1. A meaningless tack-on run at the time, two innings later it was the game-changer.
Rookie reliever Jacob Lindgren, who came on to pitch the 8th, struck out two, induced a groundout and walked one, was the only pitcher other than Eovaldi deserving of applause rather than a sigh of relief and a shot of liquor or other sedative when he walked off the mound.
THE GOATS: Chase Headley, who failed to yield to rookie second baseman Joe Pirela fast enough on a pop fly in the 9th, causing it to drop between them and triggering the beginning of the 9th inning collapse. Pirela may only be a rookie with 15 major league games at second base under his belt, but he has many more there as a minor leaguer and Headley has only played seven at first base in his career and Pirela was right to come in and call Headley off. Headley's job there is to go back and cover first in case the runner strays off the bag or in case there's a muff. Turned out the muff was his, though the hometown scorer didn't charge him with it.
For the sake of brevity, I'm putting all the relief pitchers who added to the unnecessary drama of the game on this list. That list includes:
Esmil Rogers, the so-called long reliever who hopefully isn't long for the unemployment line, gave up five runs on four hits and a walk without recording an out.
Dellin Betances, who allowed all three baserunners he inherited from Rogers to score and added one of his own before mercifully remembering who he was and why he was there.
Chasen Shreve, who came in to pick up the final two outs of the sixth for Eovaldi and promptly spoiled the starter's scoreless outing by sending home a run. It was the beginning of the Angels comeback.
And of course, you can't leave Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi and his binder off the goat list in this one. The bullpen is frying like crisp bacon because long before Opening Day they made the decision to put their only reliable long reliever in the rotation and didn't -- and still won't -- make a contingency plan for another one.
THE G.O.A.T.: 4-for-5. Second most RBI all-time. Nine hits away from 3,000. What can you say that hasn't already been said elsewhere by better scribes than yours truly about Alex? Of course this scribe has been writing and saying it longer than many of them, but it's always nice to see so many others come around to the same realization: We're all witnessing history with every swing of his bat and have been for years. Savor it. It's doubtful anyone of his greatness will pass this way again in our lifetimes.
A final word in the aftermath of this fugly win: Word on the street is Brian C's beating the waiver wire for another garage sale band-aid righty reliever to replace the dearly departed David Carpenter -- or at least let's hope it's a garage sale and not a trade for one of our prospects. Memo to Brian: One call to Scranton does it all. Your next righty reliever, your next long reliever, your next two starters, your next second baseman, they've got everything this team needs. Did you forget the number? It's 570-969-2255. There now, no more excuses. For the love of Alex and everything else that's holy, please call them today!
You can email Barry Millman at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.