New York Yankees Recap: Yanks Grind Out Tough Win

Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner (11) celebrates the win with New York Yankees relief pitcher Andrew Miller (48) at the end of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The New York Yankees won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner (11) celebrates the win with New York Yankees relief pitcher Andrew Miller (48) at the end of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The New York Yankees won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

In the first clash of 2016 between last year’s two main contenders for the American League East crown, the Yankees toughed out a big 3-2 win against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Because of the rain on Sunday, and the off-day Monday, the Yankees hadn’t played baseball in three days. When this game started, that fact was very apparent. The offense was stymied by future Blue Jay ace Aaron Sanchez, and Masahiro Tanaka had a lot of trouble finding his way around the strike zone.

Once again, a Yankees starter was unable to make it past the fifth inning. Tanaka basically did himself in early on, not because he pitched poorly, but because he simply couldn’t throw strikes. In the first three frames, it seemed like Masahiro had full counts on every batter. The Yankees’ ace threw 29 pitches in the first inning, 25 in the second and 26 more in the third. I don’t mean to take credit away from the Jays, though. Guys like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki will drive a pitcher crazy because they aren’t afraid to spit on a breaking ball and make pitchers throw fastballs, which they then crush. That led to those full counts, and four walks on the night for Tanaka.

Despite all of that, the Jays didn’t get too much done against the Japanese right-hander, though. The only runs he allowed came in that third inning, when two mistakes cost the Yankees their 1-0 lead. The first came when Tanaka hit Kevin Pillar with an 0-2 slider that got away. The second came two batters later (after a Donaldson single put men on the corners), when Jacoby Ellsbury got a horrible jump on a hard hit ball by Bautista. The ball fell into the gap, and two runs scored. Just like that, the lead was gone.

Tanaka would settle down after that, needing only 22 pitches to get through the next two innings, but was pulled after the fifth with 92 pitches under his belt. I know the bullpen was fresh, and Girardi is trying to protect his starters, especially Tanaka, early in the season, but I wouldn’t have minded if Tanaka had been given a chance to become just the second Yankees starter to make it through six innings. Alas, CC Sabathia still wears the crown in that category.

As I mentioned earlier, the offense really struggled against Sanchez early on. They managed to get some guys on base in the first couple of innings, but only scratched one run through the first five frames. That came in the top of the second, and it was without the benefit of a hit. Brian McCann walked and moved to second on a grounder by Carlos Beltran. After a walk to Chase Headley, who had a nice game with the bat and glove in this one, Sanchez tried to pick McCann off of second base and threw the ball into centerfield. That sent McCann to third, and he scored on a grounder by our new favorite Yankee, Starlin Castro, who, as of press time, is tied for the lead league in RBI with nine.

The Yankees wouldn’t even sniff home plate again until the top of the sixth, when McCann came up and blasted a game-tying home run with two outs. McCann was fighting off some foot troubles all game after an early foul ball, so it was nice that all he had to do was trot around the bases on that swing. It was a bit of a shame for Sanchez, who otherwise pitched extremely well, and was one pitch away from a potential win. Thanks to McCann, the H2Bro, Sanchez would instead leave after the sixth with a no-decision.

The game wouldn’t stay tied for long. After Johnny Barbato came in and pitched around a walk for a scoreless bottom of the sixth, the Yankees manufactured a gritty run to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh. Headley singled and Castro walked to start things off against reliever Brett Cecil. A bunt by Didi Gregorius moved them both into scoring position, and Ellsbury barely blooped in a single to left to plate Headley for the lead. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done, and ended up being the game-winner.

Girardi kept the bullpen parade going after that, using Chasen Shreve to start the seventh. Shreve got two outs, one on a great diving catch by Headley, but a two-out walk to Donaldson sent Girardi back to the pen. The Yankees manager brought in Dellin Betances to face off against Bautista, and Betances got the job done, ending the inning with a huge full count strikeout on a nasty breaking ball. Bautista looked like he didn’t even know what hit him.

Betances would stay in to pitch the eighth, sending down Encarnacion, Tulowitzki and Chris Colabello in order, setting things up for Andrew Miller to come in to face the bottom of the Jays’ order in the ninth. Miller continued to show why nobody is worried about the Aroldis Chapman suspension, striking out Michael Saunders, inducing a grounder from Russell Martin (another great play by Headley on this one), and striking out pinch-hitter Justin Smoak on three nasty pitches to secure the victory.

Overall, this was not a pretty game. It seemed like every other batter for both teams had a three ball count, and runners were left on base all over the place. The Yankees offense couldn’t get much going, but ended up getting the timely hits they needed, which I suppose is most important. After all, you can’t win every game 8-5 or 13-6, right? Championship teams find ways to grind out victories too. Once again, a Yankees’ starter failed to go five innings, but that tends to be a lot less annoying when the team wins.

The Yankees’ bullpen, as they have been in the early going, was once again phenomenal. The Jays only got two men on base in four innings against Yankees relievers. We’ll take that every time. Big ups to Barbato for getting his first big league win tonight. The kid’s looked awfully good early on in his major league career, hasn’t he? I love that Shawn Kelley trade more and more every time this dude takes the mound.

Related Story: Yankees-Blue Jays Series Preview

The Yankees and Jays will be at it again Wednesday night in Toronto, when Michael Pineda takes the hill against J.A. Happ. Here’s hoping for six innings and a big win for Big Mike.