Scenes from Spring Training: Red Sox Nation South Part 2

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As I walked down to the field I realized that the fates kept placing me at the park where the biggest news of the day was going down: Nathan’s UCL on Tuesday and Nomar’s retirement on Wednesday.  Upon realizing this I thought that I should charge the other writers $500 a head to hear where I’d be heading today so that they too could be where all the action was.  Then I was humbled:

“Hey! Where you headin’?”

The tone implied that I was not at the friendly Minnesota Twins’ complex anymore.  Not that the person demanding to see my papers and to know my destination was unpleasant with me, exactly. Just far, far more businesslike than what I’d become used to the previous few days. This was all a part of that major league vibe I was talking about, at least compared to the other camps. Whereas at Port St. Lucie and Hammond Stadium you end up seeing the same three smiling employees over and over who quickly come to recognize you and generally leave you alone, City of Palms was crawling with employees checking credentials and making sure you never go where you’re not supposed to go.  I dunno. Maybe they just do it with unfamiliar faces like mine. I mean, I’m guessing they don’t constantly ask to see Amalie Benjamin’s press pass.  Like I said before. I’m kind of an interloper everywhere I go this week.

But regardless of the reason, that vibe continued all morning. You can’t get quite as close to the batting cages in Sox camp as you can elsewhere. You can’t wander quite as far down the lines.  When you start taking pictures of stuff, someone starts watching you a little more closely.  Again, this isn’t unfriendly or anything — it’s not like anyone was ever rude to me — it was just much more, I dunno, formal.

Still, I did manage to wander a bit, and since I’m probably into the tens of thousands of words with these things thus far, how about a nice photo tour?

Maddon Fungo.jpgTito 1B.jpgUnlike La Russa, who couldn’t be bothered, Joe Maddon hit fungoes and Tito Francona played some first base during infield drills.  Hands on managing. I like it.  Know what else I like?  This machine:

fly ball machine.jpgJust a pitching machine set on a higher trajectory for fly ball practice, but there is something immensely satisfying about the “clunk” noise it makes as it shoots each ball into space.  I’d like to get one of these for the home.  Query: would I catch more hell for bringing one of those things home, or two of these things?

Hello girls.jpgYep, Hooters girls, wandering around giving out coupons by yelling “free beer!” to everyone.  This and any number of other promotional activities going on in the concourses are the sorts of things that led to that big league vibe I was talking about. I realize that every ballpark is essentially a giant marketing experience, but it’s taken a bit farther at City of Palms. As too is the Super Fan thing:

Cowbell Kid.jpgYeah, this guy is a Rays fan, but there were Sox fans dressed up just as loopy.

And though it’s hard to believe, neither the active managers, the Cowbell Kid, the fly ball machine nor the Hooters girls were the best thing about the pregame at City of Palms.  This was:

Lego Fenway.jpgThat’s right: Lego Fenway Park.  When I get back to Ohio I’m heading straight to the Lego store to buy everything I’ll need for Lego Tiger Stadium.  Then I’ll be heading down to the basement for a while. If you don’t hear from me in two weeks, forward my mail.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.