Sunday, March 19, 2023

Spring Training Trip: Blue Jays vs. Yankees 3/14/22


The last planned game of my Spring Training trip last week threw us a curveball almost immediately.

All the other games had been 1 PM matinees, and so we figured this game, at Steinbrenner Field, would similarly be a matinee, so my dad and I trekked down from our hotel in Clearwater towards Tampa. All the while, I kept checking Twitter and was puzzled as to why neither team had posted their lineups yet.

A further check of revealed that this was not, in fact, a matinee, as we'd planned, but a night game scheduled for 6 pm. We turned around, made the day into a well-deserved beach day, and rerouted our travels.

The main downside of this being a night game was that we were felled by rush hour traffic heading into Tampa, and directed towards a back way that made our eventual entrance into Raymond James Stadium's parking lot even more frustrating than initially speculated. The good news was that we were towards the front of the massive at the Bucs' stadium, which I've never attended a game at but have head good things. 

The complex itself is, similar to Fenway South, a higher-brow baseball experience for the traveling Yankee massive. This stadium was the closest approximation to a full MLB stadium, with well-constructed stands and concourses and very professional feeling elements. You could tell they spent a lot of money on this is what I'm saying. 

The evening's game had relatively full rosters- the Jays were missing Bo and Kirk but added Kiermaier. The Yanks unfortunately were without three of the people I'd hoped to see, those being Judge, Volpe and Dominguez, but at least had a relatively full lineup with LeMahieu, Stanton, Rizzo, Donaldson and March standout Willie Calhoun. 

The night's shortstop of choice was Oswald Peraza, meaning Cabrera, Kiner-Falefa and Volpe would have to watch from the sidelines to see if he messed up. 

The most telling aspect of the matchup? The Jays were starting Drew Hutchison, famed for his years as a depth starter with the Tigers and being the Opening Day starter in Toronto back in 2015. The Yankees, however, were starting Gerrit Cole.

These, folks, were our seats. Spring Training ticketing means getting second level seats and them still being awesome because they're less 'higher in the air' and more 'further back'. Like, to me this still counts as the main concourse. These were absolutely worth it. Look at how gorgeous that view is. 

The game quickly began, and any worries of Gerrit Cole's lack of tack usage holding him back were quickly extinguished, as the man looked absolutely dominant in his first inning. Despite some later slip-ups, Cole looked pretty confident overall. The trick with Cole is him not getting too overconfident, as he'll start throwing lay-ups after a while. Inevitably, one of those later lay-ups became a 3-run homer from depth 1st baseman Rainer Nunez.

However, it wasn't an especially pitiful outing compared to Drew Hutchison's night.

Okay. So Hutchison gets up there against the top of the order, right? Throws two pitches to DJ, he hits a home run. Walks Stanton. Gets Rizzo on base with a scorcher. Then Donaldson, his old teammate, gets up, and Donaldson murders the ball, with a 3-run bomb that, for the time being, restores some level of Yankee faith in him. 

THEN HE WALKS CALHOUN. Then he gives up a hit to Peraza, albeit a fielder's choice that nails the much slower Calhoun. And then Estevan Florial gets up, the guy that will most likely be making the team as a centerfield option...and Florial is now the one that lights Hutchison up.

So, to recap, Drew Hutchison gives up 3 home runs, 6 runs overall, doesn't strike anybody out, the only out is underneath an actual hit, and this is a team he won multiple games for in 2015. When he got pulled, I think a lot of the Yankee fans waved.

And so that was the cushion my team sat on for a bit. Look, we're not perfect, Rizzo made an error at 1st, Cole gave up that aforementioned softie to the 1st baseman, later on he gave up an RBI to Daulton Varsho who, now that I'm thinking about it, looked really damned good in both games I saw him in. 

But at the same time, there's enough of this team that still works. Michael King and Wandy Peralta looked excellent in relief. Calhoun eventually smoked a double and made sure that the crux of the lineup came away with hits. Oswald Peraza evened the shortstop race with a homer of his own against Tom Hatch. This is a team that's managed enough depth, even with whatever shenanigans Rodon and Cortes have gotten into.

It was around this point that I was glad that this was a night game. If you can do lights, and make it look good, and it's not too cold, then it's alright by me. And this was a very cool night game overall. We were positioned around a lot of friendly Yankee fans, including one from South Carolina who talked about meeting Catfish Hunter. Yes, more nice Toronto fans as well, even as they were getting battered. 

By the eighth, Junior Fernandez was giving up a homer to a Yankee deep minor leaguer. At that point, we had the cushion to head for the car. 

The Yanks won this one 10 to 3 against a Jays team that had won every other game I'd seen them at. I was expecting this team to disappoint me, as they had last year at the Stadium, but the bats came through thanks, mainly, to Drew Hutchison. Either he was tipping his pitches or he's just plain cooked. 

Ending the trip on a win was an excellent cap on a great week in Florida. We got some nice games in, saw some great players, some cool early season stuff, and had an excellent time. 

Not sure when I'll do Spring Training again. I'll keep you all posted. 

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