By Jon Lane
“Oh I just love the first day of school don’t you?!”
“It’s the biggest thrill of my life.”
Betty Rizzo, reeking of sarcasm
Nothing like quoting Grease to get a late start on today’s blog. That sums up how I feel about the wonderful world of winter, especially after spending nearly three hours shoveling two feet of snow off my driveway. Anyone who loves what Mother Nature hammered the Northeast – and parts of Alabama and Georgia – with yesterday is Patty Simcox.
Today baseball casts a bright light on a day in which the high in New York City will reach 25 degrees, and that’s not including a lovely wind chill. The Yankees are back in Tampa, Fla., to host an exhibition affair against the World Baseball Classic’s United States team. Phil Hughes starts for the Yankees against Roy Oswalt, whose teammate will be Derek Jeter. For the first time in his career, Jeter is playing against the Yankees, batting second and playing shortstop for Team USA.
The YES Network airs this live at 1 p.m., so sit back and enjoy what should prove to be a unique game.
Johnny Damon LF
Brett Gardner CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Jorge Posada DH
Xavier Nady RF
Cody Ransom 2B
Kevin Cash C
Angel Berroa SS
Justin Leone 3B
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Derek Jeter SS
Chipper Jones DH
David Wright 3B
Adam Dunn RF
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Ryan Braun LF
Brian McCann C
Curtis Granderson CF
1 p.m. Steven Goldman kicked off a hot debate over Jeter’s future with the Yankees once his contract expires at the end of the 2011 season. If you ask Goldman, the Yankees should not turn a blind eye to Father Time and re-sign him just because he’s Derek Jeter. If you ask Joe Auriemma, Derek Jeter should retire as a Yankee if he’s willing to make a few concessions.
1:19 p.m. Hughes allowed a leadoff single before getting Jeter to ground into a 4-4-3 double play. Jeter had asked to not be pitched inside, but Hughes apparently didn’t get the memo. Chipper Jones then grounded out to end the inning on a nice play by Cody Ransom.
1:29 p.m. Yankees take a 1-0 lead on Jorge Posada’s RBI single. Brett Gardner got it started with a one-out single and scored when Posada, batting left-handed, poked a blooper to left filed. The stats from these games will not count, but Posada (.625-1-3) and Gardner (.500-2-2, three runs scored) have been two of the Yankees’ best players to date.
1:35 p.m. Hughes looks terrific. He’s thrown two scoreless innings and in the second caught David Wright and Adam Dunn looking at strike three with nasty breaking pitches.
1:49 p.m. Jeter gets revenge on Hughes with a two-out, two-run single to give Team USA a 2-1 lead in the third. That’s it for Hughes. The Yankees don’t want to extend him beyond the 42 pitches he threw in 2 2/3 innings. Hughes looked good and is still building arm strength, but his stamina and high pitch counts have been causes for concern. That’s why it’s a blessing in disguise he’ll likely begin the season at Triple-A. This kid will be an impact player and time is on his side.
2 p.m. Gardner is 2-for-2 and just swiped second base. It remains early in the spring but the Yankees have to be encouraged with the way Gardner is swinging the bat. Gardner’s meager offense is what’s kept him from getting to that next level. If he continues to have good at-bats and create havoc on the bases he’ll be the Yankees’ starting center fielder. Melky Cabrera may push him, and far and away he has the better arm, but Gardner doesn’t think twice about getting down and dirty, and would be more of a spark from the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
2:31 p.m. Gardner slaps a double down the left field line and is 3-for-3. Cabrera isn’t quaking in his cleats, however. He had one down year and remains an asset when his head is in the game. He’s also out of options, which will make for an interesting decision if Joe Girardi does in fact deem Gardner his starter.
2:48 p.m. Phil Coke’s line: 2.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks 2 strikeouts. I love the potential of the bullpen’s underbelly with Coke and Damaso Marte serving as the left-handers.
3:07 p.m. Cody Ransom is 2-for-3 with an RBI. Michael Kay and John Flaherty is talking up Ransom as the ideal utility infielder who’d be content being a bench player and ready to play at a moment’s notice. Certainly not an everyday player, but you worry about that only in the event the Yankees lose one of their starters. Ransom looked good in spurts last season and would fit the role player bill nicely from where I sit.
3:35 p.m. Cabrera entered the game for Gardner and struck out looking in his first at-bat. It’s 6-4, Team USA at the end of seven.
4:20 p.m. Yankees lose 6-5. Nice at-bat by Cabrera in the bottom of the ninth. He battled Matt Lindstrom to a full count before slapping base hit to put runners on the corners with nobody out and stealing a base to put himself in scoring position.
Flaherty said it best when he noted that such at-bats is a confidence builder. Judging by the recent performances of Gardner and Cabrera, this competition will go down to Spring Training’s final week, or perhaps by the time the Yankees open their new home April 3 and 4 with two exhibition games against the Cubs.