Game 156 Recap: NYY 7 TOR 5

Well the final meeting between the Yankees and Blue Jays in 2016 was certainly a wild one.  We had dueling HBPs, multiple on-field confrontations, managers getting ejected, extreme home run pimp jobs NOT done by Jose Bautista, and a nerve-wracking Yankee win.  Yowza.

The fireworks started in the top of the 2nd when J.A. Happ took it upon himself to plunk Chase Headley in retaliation for Luis Severino putting one off of Josh Donaldson's elbow guard in the bottom of the 1st.  Only problem was that Severino was wild as hell in the 1st inning and the pitch barely hit Donaldson.  Benches emptied and words were exchanged after Headley was hit, and Joe Girardi got himself ejected for screaming at the umpires about why Happ wasn't thrown out of the game immediately.  He threw ball 1 behind Headley's legs before hitting him.

Moving to the bottom of the 2nd tied at 1, Severino didn't waste any time in sticking up for his teammate.  He fired the first pitch of the inning way inside on Justin Smoak and then came right back with the second one and hit him in the legs.  Benches cleared again and this time there were more than just words exchanged.  CC Sabathia was trying to get at Donaldson, Severino had to be pulled away by coaches and teammates before he could go at Smoak, Russell Martin and Gary Sanchez were jawing and trying to square off behind the plate, and Tyler Austin caught a punch to the eye somewhere in the middle of all of it.  When the dust settled, Severino, Larry Rothschild, and Rob Thomson were ejected.  Nobody on the Jays was.  Whatever.

There was a baseball game after all of this, and the Jays led most of it 3-1 after plating 2 runs in the 3rd against Jonathan Holder.  The Yankees chipped back in the 8th on a Brett Gardner double and a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI single, and they unloaded on Jason Grilli in the top of the 9th with 5 runs.  The first came on a deep Mark Teixeira home run to right, a home run that he pimped big time out of the box and then taunted Grilli about from the dugout after he rounded the bases.  Aaron Hicks took Grilli deep for a 2-run shot 2 batters later and the Yankees went to the bottom of the 9th with a comfortable 7-3 lead.

Normally that would be a cakewalk for Dellin Betances, but he's so out of gas and out of sorts command-wise right now that he can barely be counted on for 1 out.  He didn't record any in the bottom of the 9th, going walk, error, wild pitch, walk to load the bases.  Emergency manager Joe Espada went to Tommy Layne to stop the bleeding.  He got Donaldson to fly out, walked in a run, watched the bloopiest of bloops singles score another run to make it 7-5, then helped his own cause by fielding a Russell Martin chopper in front of home plate and diving to the plate himself to get the force out.  Down 0-2 in the count, Troy Tulowitzki lifted a high foul ball down the left field line that Brett Gardner made a nifty sliding catch on to end it.  Big time pressure spot for Layne and he came through.  That game was much more fun to win than it would have been to lose after all the early-inning shenanigans.

Game Notes:

- Teix went 2-4 with the game-tying dinger.  Gardner was 3-4 with 3 runs scored from the leadoff spot, and Ellsbury went 2-4 with 2 ribbies.

- Even without the ejection, it would have been a short night for Severino.  He was on a 50-pitch limit and he threw 30 in the 1st inning.  Fastball command was nowhere to be found and he missed way down and out of the zone with the slider as many times as he threw good ones for strikes.  The Yankee staff really needs to work with him on a lot of stuff if he's going to be a starter long-term.  He looks like a completely different pitcher than when he's working out of the 'pen.

- Speaking of the bullpen, great work by the committee of James Pazos, Kirby Yates, Richard Bleier, and Adam Warren to keep the Jays at 3.  They combined to work 5.2 scoreless innings against one of the best lineups in baseball.

- Happ got most of the blame for starting a fight that didn't need to be started, but it's worth pointing out how horribly the whole situation was handled by the home plate ump.  Joe should not have been ejected the first time the benches emptied, and for the fight to break out the next inning and 3 more Yankees come out of it ejected while no Blue Jays do is ridiculous.  If Happ gets tossed after hitting Headley, which he rightfully should have, Severino doesn't go out looking for payback in the bottom of the 2nd, and the second bench-clearing incident doesn't happen.  Horrible job controlling the situation before it escalated, and even worse job handling post-fight punishments after it did.

Rest in Peace, Jose Fernandez

We are a bit over 24-hours removed from learning about Jose Fernandez's tragic death, and I am still at a complete loss for words. I have read as much about the remarkably talented 24-year-old as my eyes and heart could bear over the last day, and yet it still feels surreal, if not downright impossible that he is gone. It seems so cruel that one so young, vibrant, and utterly beloved could be taken from this world in the midst of not only a fantastic career, but also mere days after learning that he would be a father. And there is little that I, or anyone else can say to make it better.

Given that he was one of my favorite athletes, though, I feel the need to try.

As a Yankees blog, we have rarely had the privilege of writing about Fernandez. Our most recent post was about the drawbacks of the team making a move for the Marlins ace, and that is the light in which he was generally viewed by Yankees fans - a trade target. The next time I was hoping to write about him was in our annual awards post, wherein I was planning on making a strong case for him as the National League Cy Young winner (and I still may, through misty eyes and shaking keystrokes). 

None of that makes this loss any easier, though - and I say that as a fan of a team that never faced Jose Fernandez.

It goes without saying that Fernandez was one of the very best pitchers in Major League Baseball from the moment that he set foot on the field in 2013. He was the Rookie of the Year then, and a frontrunner for the Cy Young now, and all deservedly so. He averaged 6.3 bWAR and 6.7 fWAR per 162-game season, and was first or second in the National League in fWAR, FIP, K/9, K%, and K-BB% in 2016. Fernandez was a superstar in every sense of the word, and he was a must-watch in every start. In the final start of his career, he went 8.0 IP, allowing 3 H, 0 R, and 0 BB, while striking out 12. It was the third-best start of his career by Game Score, and his ninth double-digit strikeout game of the season.

For all of the good that can be said about his tangible performance, it seems to minimize the person that trotted out to the mound every fifth day. The story of how Fernandez came to the United States from Cuba is well-known (though I still recommend revisiting it), but he was so much more than that. He was a hero to the Cuban community in Florida. He bonded with the children of his teammates. He worked closely with the Live Like Bella charity. And he was universally adored by teammates, opponents, coaches, writers, and ... well ... everyone in the game.

And it isn't difficult to see why. Even as fans, who receive such a limited glimpse into a player who is not performing before our eyes, we could see the joy that Fernandez brought to the game. He was always smiling, and he exuded the childlike energy and wonderment that makes baseball such a special game whenever he was near the field. Take a look at Adam Peterson's Twitter feed from yesterday for as many images of that energy that you can handle. That is the player that I will remember, even before his greatness as a pitcher.

I have never written anything along these lines before, and it took my hours to reach this point. I stopped and started a half-dozen times between last night and this morning, and I hope that I in some small way was able honor Fernandez's memory. The game has lost one of its brightest lights, and for that I am deeply saddened, but I am also grateful that we were able to enjoy its shine for the past four years.

Game 152 Recap: NYY 0 TB 2

Game 152 was painful as the Tampa Bay Rays shut the Yankees out, 2-0. Luis Cessa pitched a fine game, giving up two runs in six innings of work, but it was all for naught as the Yankees could not scratch in a run despite numerous opportunities.

Blake Snell started for the Bay Rays and pitched five stressful innings. He gave up five hits and walked three. But like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard", he defied the odds and got the outs he needed.

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Quick Hit: Gary Sanchez and the Various Flavors of WAR(P)

This post was originally entitled "Gary Sanchez is the best player on the Yankees," but that failed to capture what I was going for. That statements is all but fact at this juncture, as Sanchez has been the team's best player since he was called-up for good in August. His incredible bat and surprisingly stout defense have been a veritable breath of life into this team, and it is difficult to exaggerate what his presence has meant to the team on both sides of the ball. That much is obvious.

What is less obvious, albeit somewhat expected given the ups and downs of most everyone on the roster, is that Sanchez has been the best Yankees position player for the entirety of the 2016 season. Check it out:

With last night's incredible performance under his belt, Gary Sanchez now leads Yankees position players in all forms of WAR(P) - and Baseball Prospectus doesn't even have last night's action added in as of this writing. You may think that these metrics overrate his defense, or underrate Gregorius' defense, but it is clear that his overall production in just under two months cannot be overstated.

And, just for fun, I plugged 180 PA into FanGraphs as the minimum PA on their WAR leaderboard. Keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so this is not a matter of a small sample size blip in batting average or even wRC+. And Sanchez checks in at 58th out of the 357 players that have reached that threshold; and only one of the players ahead of him (Trea Turner) has fewer than twice as many plate appearances. 

It's been a hell of a ride so far, and I can't wait to see the encore.