Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees

Just like old times: Derek Jeter returns, Alfonso Soriano helps Yankees walk off

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Before he joined the Yankees on Friday, Alfonso Soriano was last teammates with Derek Jeter in September 2003, nearly ten years ago. Jeter once again made his triumphant return this afternoon, having recovered from a quad injury suffered in his 2013 debut on July 11. In that first game back, Jeter singled in his first at-bat, swinging at the first pitch he saw. He did that once again today, swinging at the first offering from Rays starter Matt Moore, sending it beyond the fence in right-center field for a solo home run.

Both Moore and Yankees starter Phil Hughes allowed five runs. Wil Myers was the source of the Rays’ offense, as the rookie hit two home runs and drove in four. For the Yankees, Soriano homered in the third while Ichiro Suzuki went 4-for-4.

Closer Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, holding the score at five apiece. For the Rays, lefty Jake McGee took the hill for his second inning of work in the bottom half of the inning. He walked Brett Gardner to start the frame, then allowed the Yankees’ speedster to advance to second on a wild pitch. In what was a controversial decision, manager Joe Maddon ordered his pitcher to intentionally walk Jeter to put runners on first and second with no outs, bringing Robinson Cano to the plate. To the dismay of Yankees’ fans, Cano struck out looking, not even able to advance one or both runners.

Soriano happily played the role of hero, grounding a single up the middle, allowing Gardner to sprint the 180 feet to home plate for the walk-off victory. To recap: Jeter and Soriano both homer, Soriano keys the walk-off, and Rivera goes home with the win. Just like old times.

With the win, the Yankees are only 2.5 games out of the second Wild Card in the American League and sit in fourth place in the AL East, 7.5 games behind the first place Red Sox. The Rays fall to second place, a half-game behind the Red Sox. The AL East is shaping up to be an exciting division to watch in the final two months.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.