Yankees: Don’t let Pineda’s start get lost in the power shuffle

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees put on another power display that cut the Price of a ticket in half to watch the Red Sox dismantle themselves. But not to be overlooked is yet another quality start turned in by the Yankees staff.

Yankees catcher, Gary Sanchez, reminded everyone that he is a power to be reckoned with in the team’s lineup by hitting two long-awaited home runs in the same game, bringing back memories of the time last year when he was the most feared and productive hitter on the team.

Brett Gardner, the Yankees new Wheaties man, added another late in the game, his thirteenth of the season as the Yankees poured it on against David Price, who looked as befuddled as anyone on the Red Sox, a team that was supposed to be running away from everyone in the A.L. East.

And to put and exclamation point on the Yankees night, it could have been far worse for Price and the Red Sox if the Yankees had been more timely with their hitting. Sanchez himself was only 1-3 with runners in scoring position, while the team as a whole was a wicked 3-14, leaving ten men on base to end an inning.

While it’s refreshing to see Gary Sanchez joining the hit parade and the Bronx Bombers continuing to live up to their nickname, it’s the starting pitching that’s keeping the Yankees where they are.

So, Sanchez gets the headlines because power will always supersede pitching in the game of baseball. But a quick look at the box score for the game tells another story. It’s not a different story though. It’s more of an extension to a story that’s been developing for three months now.

The unsung season heroes

And that story surrounds the Yankees starting pitching which, with the one exception we are all well aware of by now, has been nothing short of sensational.

Last night, it was Michael Pineda‘s turn in the rotation and, once again, he did not disappoint. Over seven strong innings, Pineda gave up only four hits, two walks, and one unearned run, while striking out eight batters, leaving only Mookie Betts as the only Red Sox who did not strike out in the game.

But there’s more to Pineda’s effort than just that. Bill Lee, aka “Mr. Spaceman” and a former pitcher for the Red Sox, was once asked by a reporter; “Bill, what’s your best pitch?” Without hesitation, Lee replied, “Strike One!”

More from Yanks Go Yard

Last night, Pineda continued his mastery of the strike zone by delivering a first-pitch strike to 19 of the 26 batters he faced. Both Paul O’Neill and David Cone, in the YES TV booth, picked up on this early in the game, with Cone especially, enunciating and tracking the significance of getting ahead in the count.

Almost a year ago, on June 12, 2016, Pineda took the loss in a game that he pitched pretty well in. The loss put his record for the season at 3-7 with a bloated ERA of 5.88. Today, he’s giving up two fewer runs per start, and his ERA is a very impressive, by American League standards, 3.66.

More significantly, Pineda’s body language when he’s standing tall on the mound is entirely different this season. He’s confident in himself now to the point where he can zero in on a batter while signaling, “Okay, here it comes. See if you can hit it.” And that’s where the “strike one” is coming from this year.

It’s time to start watching the loss column

And so, while it’s refreshing to see Gary Sanchez finally joining the hit parade and the Bronx Bombers continuing to live up to their nickname, it’s the starting pitching that’s keeping the Yankees where they are.

The team has opened up a three-game lead over the Red Sox and Orioles, who are next in line for the Pinstripes this weekend before they leave for that dreaded time-altering road trip to the West Coast.

More significantly, though, the Yankees have a four-game lead in the loss column over both teams. Why is that important? The Yankees can always win a game they haven’t yet played. But the Red Sox and Orioles can’t win a game they’ve already lost to catch up with the Yankees.

It’s a subtlety in the standings that can be easily overlooked. But you can bet that Joe Girardi is well aware because he knows that for each game the Yankees pick up (or lose) in that column, the pressure automatically shifts to the team with the deficit.

At the moment, the Yankees maintain control over their rivals. And they can go out there each night with little or no pressure on them. Because all they need to do is win the game, they are playing. Sounds simple. It is simple.