The Weekend Takeaway
If there was one reason to stay home last Friday night, it was to watch Alex Rodriguez polish off the last game of his 12-year career with the Yankees.
What Rodriguez’s departure lacked in the forethought accorded Derek Jeter’s farewell tour of 2015, it reaped in the form of a scripted drama befitting a Hollywood blockbuster.
NEW YORK CITY – YANKEE STADIUM – NIGHT
A thunderclap shakes the sky above Yankee Stadium. The infield: tarped. Managing general partner HAL STEINBRENNER clutches a framed No. 13 jersey as the downpour begins, drenching ALEX RODRIGUEZ, ELLA RODRIGUEZ, NATASHA RODRIGUEZ, celebrated guests and family members, and a signed commemorative base. The public address announcer rattles off a list of RODRIGUEZ’S accolades, barely audible over the rumbling of the thunderstorm as ALEX RODRIGUEZ dashes for the dugout, HAL STEINBRENNER close on his heels.
Thirty minutes later, when the Yankees took the field, Rodriguez wasted little time collecting his (probably) last major-league hit, an RBI double that exploded off of a Chris Archer fastball into the gap:
While A-Rod’s every move was scrutinized (his last groundout! His last time batting third! His last appearance at third base!), CC Sabathia led the charge against the Tampa Bay offense, striking out seven and parsing out three runs on Evan Longoria’s solo home run and RBI single and a Logan Forsythe sac fly. Behind Rodriguez’s double, the Yankees rallied for another five runs, four split between Starlin Castro’s two-run base hit and two-run homer and one on an Aaron Hicks’ solo shot in the seventh inning.
Ninth inning: Yankees 6, Rays 3. ALEX RODRIGUEZ takes the field, jogging to third base while the crowd rises to their feet. The sky is dark and clear. Yankees hurler DELLIN BETANCES strikes out MIKIE MAHTOOK on five pitches, inducing a called strike three with a knuckle-curveball. RODRIGUEZ bends down to scoop a handful of infield dirt, stuffs it in his back pocket, tips his cap, looks wistfully around YANKEE STADIUM, and exits the field for the last time.
It was almost a poetic ending to Alex Rodriguez’s New York career, one that encompassed the tumult that has accompanied some of his best moments in Major League Baseball, and some of his worst. Rodriguez won’t be remembered for his final curtain call on Friday night, nor does he deserve to be reduced to the career-worst .200/.247/.351 batting line, .213 TAv, or -1.0 WARP that decorated his last season. Balancing the sentimentality surrounding Rodriguez’s farewell to the New York Yankees is this: his time in the major leagues might not be over just yet.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
With the extra wiggle room that Rodriguez’s release afforded the Yankees, two prospects debuted during Saturday’s 8-4 affair against the Rays: first baseman Tyler Austin and right fielder Aaron Judge.
Austin, an outfielder-turned-infielder who was plagued by a series of hand injuries a couple of seasons ago, settled in comfortably against the major league competition, converting a 92 m.p.h. fastball into a home run in his first at-bat of the afternoon:
Four pitches later, Rays’ starter Matt Andriese ran into trouble with Aaron Judge, who saw a changeup land high in the zone
and deposited it over the center field fence for a back-to-back home run. Not only was it a welcome boost for the Yankees’ offense, which currently ranks ninth-lowest among major league clubs, but it marked the first time that two teammates hit their first home runs in their first at-bats of the same game.
Judge, who possesses the height and bulk of a Grade-A hurler but profiles as a solid outfielder with power potential, arrived in New York City with a .270/.366/.489 slash line under his belt and 19 home runs through 93 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2016. As with any top prospect (and often with many middling prospects as well), there is some question regarding the 24-year-old’s ability to adjust to major league competition and a more forgiving hitter’s environment, but any immediate concerns were buried with his second solo shot on Sunday.
While Aaron Judge powered the Yankees’ three-game sweep, Red Sox’ slugger Mookie Betts channeled the spirit of Ted Williams in his second three-homer game of the season. Drawing comparisons to Williams on any level is admirable; mashing three home runs and collecting eight RBI in a 16-run game is a feat to be celebrated.
Betts struck in the first inning against Diamondbacks’ ace Zack Greinke, whose fastball began in the middle of the strike zone and ended well beyond the Green Monster:
In the second inning, Greinke tried a different tack, mixing his off-speed stuff deeper in the count and catching Betts with a slider low and away…
which the 23-year-old returned to the Green Monster again, this time for a three-run moonshot.
In the fifth inning, with the Diamondbacks trailing 10-1, Arizona manager Chip Hale utilized Adam Loewen against the bottom of Boston’s order. One walk, two singles, and one run later, Mookie Betts came up to bat. Before Loewen could even log a strike against Betts, he saw his fastball bounce off the billboard atop the Green Monster for Betts’ third three-run homer of the day.
If you’re seeing visions of a Mookie Betts-Trevor Story home run derby right now, you’re not alone.
Games have been lost on wild pitches, games have been lost on strikeouts, but rarely do you see a game lost on a wild strikeout.
That peculiar fate was reserved for the Marlins, whose own Kyle Barraclough faced Melky Cabrera in a four-pitch strikeout during the eighth inning of Saturday’s 8-7 loss. Barraclough lobbed a fastball high outside the strike zone for a swinging strike three,
when it ricocheted off of J.T. Realmuto’s chestplate and rolled up the third base line. Dioner Navarro sprinted home to score the go-ahead run, Cabrera sprinted to first base, and the ball bounced off Barraclough’s glove on the relay home to cement the White Sox’ lead.
In other words, just your standard wild strikeout.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have a primer on the art of a perfect throw, as demonstrated by Dustin Pedroia
and, to a lesser extent, home plate umpire Doug Eddings.
What to Watch on Monday
On the heels of Steven Matz’s attempted no-hit bid on Sunday, the Mets will send Bartolo Colon against the Diamondbacks during Monday’s series opener. Following consecutive wins against the Padres, the Mets are once again in the running for a wild card slot, sitting just one game behind the Pirates and two games behind the top wild card contenders. Facing Colon—and a club that has skirted most of its losses with outstanding pitching performances is Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray, who delivered seven innings of three-hit ball during his last outing against the Mets (9:40 ET).
If the Mets can get around Ray, their position in the wild card standings will still depend on the outcome of the Pirates-Giants game, which kicks off on Monday at 10:15 ET. Former Giant right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will take the mound for the Pirates, while the Giants will send out lefty Matt Moore for his third appearance in San Francisco.
After putting up -0.1 WARP with the Giants in 2015, Vogelsong returned in 2016 with a 4.04 DRA and 105 cFIP through his first 33 â…” innings with Pittsburgh, resurrecting his WARP to a respectable 0.4 mark. Moore, too, appears to be benefitting from a change of scenery after trading Tampa Bay for the pitcher-friendly confines of San Francisco. In his first two starts with the Giants, he allowed four runs and struck out 14 batters, the only blemish on his record an atrocious 8.2 BB/9 rate. The Pirates aren’t the only ones banking on a win to boost their standing—a win for the Giants would help widen the gap at the top of the National League West, where the Dodgers sit just one game out of first place.
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