We had to wait 24 more hours for it, but Yankee Opening Day 2016 finally happened this afternoon. It was a much better day for baseball, and that's factoring in the low temperatures, high winds, and ice that had to be removed from the field prior to the game, and the Yankees jumped out to an early lead against budding arch nemesis Dallas Keuchel. But the bats cooled down after the first few innings and a bizarre sequence in the 8th inning put the Yanks in a hole they didn't have enough time to dig themselves out of. It added up to a frustrating loss, the team's 5th straight on Opening Day.
He was shaky to end Spring Training, but Masahiro Tanaka looked pretty good early on today. He retired the first 9 Astros he faced in order and he managed to get out of runners on the corners and nobody out in the 4th with only 1 run against him. Had Aaron Hicks not badly misplayed the first ball of the inning into a leadoff double, Tanaka could very well have gotten through the inning without issue. His fastball was living high 80s, but he was locating it well and he was throwing it inside to hitters, something he failed to do with regularity last season.
That 1 run against held up to give the Yankees a slim lead through 5 thanks to their new second baseman. After Carlos Beltran singled up the middle and Brian McCann drew a walk with 1 out in the bottom of the 2nd and they moved up on a Chase Headley groundout, Starlin Castro came to the plate with a chance to do some damage in his first Yankee at-bat. He took a cutter from Keuchel for strike 1 and then got another one on the next pitch that didn't get inside enough. Castro pulled his hands in and muscled the ball down the left field line for a 2-run double. The Yankees didn't do enough with 3 Keuchel walks in the 1st and 3rd innings, and wasted a leadoff single in the 4th, but Starlin came through big and gave his team the early lead.
That failure to capitalize on their other early opportunities would come back to bite the Yankees multiple times in the later innings. It started when Tanaka got 2 outs to start the top of the 6th and then threw a meatball splitter to Carlos Correa. Correa crushed it the other way for a game-tying solo home run and Tanaka would not finish the inning, putting a bit of a sour end to what was shaping up to be a really strong start. Chasen Shreve came up big in relief, picking up 4 outs to get the tie game into the 8th inning. And then the wheels came off.
Dellin Betances walked Jose Altuve to start the top of the 8th. That's where all the problems in the inning really start. Altuve didn't waste any time in stealing second base to put himself in scoring position, and after George Springer flied out Betances got a weak groundball from Correa in the next at-bat. He raced off the mound to field the ball and tried to throw it over a clearly out of the baseline Correa, and in doing so ended up throwing it clean over Mark Teixeira's head into right field. Altuve came around to score and an argument/protest combination from Joe did nothing to get the umps to change their minds. The play stood as called and another steal, another walk, and a Luis Valbuena 2-out, 2-run single ended the days of Betances and his team.
There was a brief glimmer of hope in the bottom half when Didi Gregorius got a hold of a Ken Giles hanger and launched it into the right field seats for a solo home run, but the bats went down quietly after that. Like real quietly. Didi's dinger was the only hit and baserunner the team had after the 4th inning.
- The ending was a bummer, but overall I thought it was a solid start for Tanaka. He mixed pitches well and got swings and misses on all of them, his command was there all day, and I liked seeing him work inside with his fastball to righties and lefties. 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K, and 87 pitches is just fine on a really cold first start of the year.
- It was an even better 2016 debut for Shreve: 1.1 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K. The Astros made him work a bit in the 7th, but I thought his stuff looked really good and his location was back where it was when he was at his best last year. The Yankees could use another guy who Joe can rely on for 3+ outs if needed and Shreve can be that guy again.
- Castro was the star of the day on offense and defense. He drove in the first 2 runs of the game in his first regular season at-bat as a Yankee, which is always cool, and it was a nice piece of hitting to do so. He also made 2 really nice plays charging short choppers in front of him at second. Dude looks like a natural there.
- Don't get me wrong, MLB finally adopting replay is great. But everything that's wrong with their current system was on display in the top of the 8th. Correa clearly out of the baseline, ump in perfect position misses the call, Yanks can't do anything about it. Correa clearly never comes off the bag on the steal attempt, Astros can challenge it, umps take forever to turn over what was an obviously safe situation. There's work to do there, Manfred.
- Loved Didi's home run swing in the bottom of the 8th. A+ stuff. Wouldn't mind seeing 12-15 of those this year. And yes, I know that's a reach.
- Top 4 spots in the lineup: 0-13, 3 BB, 4 K. Need a little more than that tomorrow, boys.
- A-Rod drew one of the walks in the bottom of the 3rd and then stole second base, so that was pretty cool.
- Shout out to Johnny Barbato for making his MLB debut. Got the final 4 outs and struck out 3. That'll work.