Yogi Berra was riding in the passenger’s seat of Joe Girardi’s rental car one March morning, muttering to himself as the vehicle crawled toward the Astros’ Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Fla. They were going the wrong way to the game, the Hall of Famer insisted, because there was a shorter route to the ballpark.
Girardi shrugged and promised Berra that he would ask the Astros’ visiting clubhouse manager for the best way to avoid traffic lights on the way back. Before Berra buckled his seat belt nine innings later, he made sure to ask if Girardi had gotten the proper directions toward the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, Fla.
“We proceeded on the drive home, and I knew the directions were the same way we had came,” Girardi said. “We make all these turns and I said, ‘Yogi, it’s the same way we came. I didn’t take the long way.’ And he said, ‘I told you my way was faster.’ It was just another Yogi-ism, and it really made me laugh. That was Yogi being Yogi.”
The Yankees will miss Berra’s presence for countless reasons, but it is his general warmth and deep love for the organization that stands out most. Berra could not attend Spring Training this year for health reasons, but he had long been a mainstay in camp, shipping his golf clubs to Girardi’s office and enlisting Ron Guidry as his personal chauffeur.
Seeing Berra shuffle around the corner from the manager’s office always seemed to be a thrill for the players, who genuinely enjoyed the chance to interact with the legend. Berra did his homework and knew the players on the roster, even telling Girardi each year that he was keeping his eye on a new hot prospect.
“He always called me ‘Shorty,'” said Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner. “It’s Yogi Berra. He can call me whatever he wants. It’s something I’ll always cherish.”
Alex Rodriguez said that one of the highlights of any spring was the opportunity to sit down for a meal with Berra, which he guessed that he had the opportunity to do a half-dozen times.
“Every room he’d walk into, the room would light up, and everyone would be a better person for it,” Rodriguez said.
Girardi said that Berra had a knack for instantly making everyone in a room feel comfortable, telling stories in a humble way. Though Girardi was always in awe of Berra, he said that Berra never made him feel like he should have been.
“When you were in his presence, I always felt like I was talking to my grandfather,” Girardi said. “I just felt comfortable. I always felt he was going to pull something out of his pocket, a piece of licorice, and give it to you. It was a joy to be around him, and that’s who Yogi was.”
“He was like walking into a family Italian restaurant and all of a sudden the kitchen and bar opens up to you and, it’s, ‘Have a seat,'” general manager Brian Cashman said. “He was just very warm, welcoming and kind. He was very special.”
Rodriguez described Berra as consistently supportive, while offering moments of wit and humor. He often marveled at Berra’s stature, wondering how he had produced such eye-popping statistics during his playing career.
“To see him, and how small he was — and what a big impact he made,” Rodriguez said. “The other thing is, if Yogi was here today, I don’t think he would want us all to mourn in this day. He’d want us to play with joy, to celebrate his 90 years, and to be happy going about our day celebrating his great life.”
Berra was fiercely proud of the Yankees and their winning tradition, and as the Yankees prepare to wear the No. 8 on their left uniform sleeves, Gardner said that the best way to pay tribute would be to put a victory on the scoreboard.
“Yogi probably played as big of a part in the Yankees organization being what it is today as any other person on the field,” Gardner said. “I think that he’ll be pulling for us. He always has. He’s always kept up with us, so I think he’ll pull for us and root for us. I know that if we can not just play well today, but finish strong and accomplish some of our goals that we want to accomplish, I think it will make him proud.”
MLB.com’s coverage for Yogi Berra (1925-2015):
• Berra passes away; HOF legend was 90
• Most memorable sayings
• Justice: Yogi remembered for kindness, wisdom
• Baseball mourns passing of Berra
• Commissioner Manfred’s statement
• Yogi’s greatness as player underappreciated
• Yogi was military hero before baseball star
• Yogi’s one true love was his wife
• Reactions pour in from around world
• Fellow No. 8 Ripken reflects on Berra
• 8 memorable moments
• Statement from Yogi Berra Museum
• A few of Yogi’s favorite things
• Larsen’s perfect game had Yogi’s touch
• City loses a big favorite, but it’ll be OK
• Left indelible mark on 1956 Series
• Yogi’s Mets years remembered fondly
• 8 significant achievements
• Jeter: Yogi was ‘dear friend, mentor’
• Yogi hit World Series’ 1st pinch homer
Rogers Centre will be rocking this evening north of the border, as the Yankees and Blue Jays meet in this highly-anticipated showdown for the division crown. The Yankees have right-hander Adam Warren heading to the mound. Toronto will give the ball to left-hander David Price.
Playoff picture: It’s all right here in front of you. The Yankees (82-66) trail the Blue Jays (85-64) by 2 1/2 games in the American League East. The Yankees lead the Astros (79-71) by four games for the first Wild Card spot.
Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees with a 99.7 percent chance of making the postseason, and a 19.4 percent chance of winning the division. FULL STANDINGS
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 21, 2015
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 21, 2015
— Warren is tabbed to throw 80 to 85 pitches tonight. Girardi said that if Warren is able to get through six innings, he’d be thrilled.
— It looks like Dustin Ackley is the Yankees’ everyday second baseman, coming off last night’s three-run homer at Citi Field as well as some other big hits. Ackley’s reward is a nod against left-hander David Price tonight, and Girardi said that the Yankees are going to continue to give him opportunities.
Since coming off the DL (lumbar strain) earlier this month, Ackley is batting .409 (9-22 AB) with five extra-base hits (.864 slugging) in eleven games.
— Chris Young is usually in the lineup as the designated lefty masher, but Price has been a tough assignment for him. He’s just 1-for-14 vs. Price, so Young is on the bench.
— Nathan Eovaldi was not able to play catch today in New York, as was scheduled. He is still experiencing inflammation in his right elbow and will rest for another week. That rules out his return during the regular season, and if he is able to come back at all this year, it will be as a reliever in the postseason.
— Masahiro Tanaka had a good day working out at Yankee Stadium, testing that strained right hamstring. Girardi said that their plan is to reinstate him to the rotation the next turn through, sometime next week. There is a chance they would line him up to pitch the potential Wild Card playoff game.
MLB Network’s three to watch
Russell Martin is batting .318 (14-44 AB) with seven extra-base hits and 14 RBI in 13 games vs. the Yankees this season. Martin is expected back in the lineup Monday after getting a rest day on Sunday.
Brian McCann is 10-26 AB (.385) with three homers lifetime vs. Price.
Jacoby Ellsbury has seven hits in 16 at-bats over the last four games, following a stretch in which he batted .089 (5-56 AB) in his previous 14 games. Ellsbury is batting .354 (23-65 AB) with eight extra-base hits (.538 slugging) lifetime vs. Price.
Outside of Tanaka (2-2, 2.42 ERA in four starts vs. Toronto), the rest of the Yankees starting rotation is 2-6, 4.97 ERA vs. the Blue Jays this season.
On this date
2008: The Yankees play their final game at the original Yankee Stadium, defeating the Orioles, 7-3. Following the game, Derek Jeter addresses a crowd of more than 54,000, declaring Yankees fans “the greatest fans in the world.”
2014: Brett Gardner hits the 15,000th home run in Yankees history, in a 5-2 win vs. Toronto.
Quote to note
“They’ve hit better than we have. They’ve hit their share of homers off us, they’ve put up some big numbers on us and we have to control that. They’ve pitched very well, too. You look at the guys who are pitching; David Price has pitched very well, [Marco] Estrada has pitched very well against us and [Marcus] Stroman pitched well last year and pitched the one game well. Controlling their bats and keeping them away from big innings.” — Girardi, on the season series vs. Toronto.
The Subway Series will conclude this evening at Citi Field, where the early news in the Yankees clubhouse was dominated by the revelation that Masahiro Tanaka sustained a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring on Friday and will not be available to pitch on Wednesday at Toronto.
As far as tonight’s game is concerned, CC Sabathia will take the mound coming off arguably his best start of the season, having pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a no-decision on Sept. 14 at Tampa Bay.
Matt Harvey presents a tough customer on the other side; Harvey is making his first start since Sept. 8 but is 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA in two career starts vs. the Yanks. A win Sunday would give the Yanks their first season series win over the Mets since 2012.
Playoff picture: The Yankees (81-66) have an opportunity to make up ground on the Blue Jays (85-64), who lost to the Red Sox again this afternoon. The Yankees lead the Astros (79-71) by 3 1/2 games for the first Wild Card spot; Houston defeated the A’s, 5-1, this afternoon.
Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees with a 99.5 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, and a 10.0 percent chance of winning the division.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 20, 2015
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 20, 2015
— Ivan Nova’s stint in the bullpen didn’t last long. He has been slotted in as the Yankees’ probable starter for Wednesday at Toronto, following Adam Warren and Luis Severino. Nova threw a side session yesterday and said that he did not disagree with the Yanks’ decision to take him out of the rotation, but is excited to get another opportunity.
“It’s an important game, like always, for us,” Nova said. “I’ve got a chance to try to get a win for the team.”
— Tanaka will not travel with the team to Toronto. Part of that is so he can remain in New York and receive treatment for three days, but Girardi said that the process of going through customs between the United States and Canada also factored into the decision.
“You know, in Toronto you have to get your own luggage and you have to do all that going up and down the stairs,” Girardi said. “So he’ll stay here.”
— Despite the Tanaka injury, Girardi said that he does not believe there is any reason to stop American League hitters from batting in Interleague play.
“I actually like the separation in the leagues,” Girardi said. “My complaint, as I mentioned yesterday, is that [AL pitchers] don’t hit in the Minor Leagues, and that makes no sense to me.”
— Dustin Ackley is getting another start at second base tonight, and comes into the contest with seven hits in his last 13 at-bats.
“He’s swung the bat really well, whether we’ve pinch-hit him, played him against knuckleballers, played him against a guy that threw 100 yesterday,” Girardi said. “He’s been productive and that’s why we went and got him.”
MLB Network’s three to watch
On April 25 at Yankee Stadium, the Mets defeated the Yankees 8-2 behind Harvey’s season-high 8 2/3-inning, two-run performance. Harvey, who grew up a Yankees fan in Connecticut, is 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA (3 ER, 16.2 IP) in two career starts against the Bombers.
Since Aug. 1, Sabathia has posted a 2.76 ERA (10 ER, 32.2 IP) and .237 BAA in six starts. Sabathia has been wearing a protective brace on his chronic right knee, and he feels it has helped him let go on every pitch without worry of pain.
Yoenis Cespedes is hitless in his last 17 at bats with seven strikeouts. Prior to that stretch, he had nine home runs through his first 54 September at bats.
On this date
1980: In a pregame ceremony, the Yankees dedicate a Monument Park plaque in honor of Thurman Munson.
2010: The Yankees dedicate a monument to George M. Steinbrenner in Monument Park, then defeat the Rays, 8-6.
Quote to note
“You know you have an opportunity to pick up a game. Going in there two behind sounds better than three behind, that’s for sure, when you start talking about the loss column, so it’s encouraging for us.” — Girardi, on Toronto’s loss earlier in the day.
With the Yankees preparing for a head-to-head battle with the Blue Jays that could decide the division crown, a sacrifice bunt may have changed the course of their season. Masahiro Tanaka has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain and will not be available to pitch on Wednesday.
Ivan Nova will make that start instead at Rogers Centre, with Adam Warren and Luis Severino taking the mound in the first two contests. Manager Joe Girardi hopes that Tanaka will just miss one turn through the rotation due to the injury, which occurred during the Yanks’ 5-1 loss on Friday. An MRI revealed the strain.
“It’s frustrating,” Girardi said. “You get concerned whenever your pitchers have to hit and you try to do everything you can to keep them from getting hurt. You prepare them, and something you can’t prepare is that sudden burst that they have to make.”
Tanaka, 26, said that he felt his hamstring grab while leaving the batters box following a second-inning sacrifice bunt. Though he did continue to feel the tightness on the mound, he was able to throw 82 pitches over six innings and had no issues fielding his position.
“I felt strong enough to be able to keep myself on the mound and pitch effectively,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “If I felt that it was something that I could not have handled, then I would not be in that game.”
Because of that, Tanaka said he agrees with the optimistic timetable of returning to the rotation after missing just one turn. He said that a hamstring injury cost him about a month five years ago in Japan, but that injury was more severe.
“I’m not looking at it as something very serious,” Tanaka said. “The reason I say that is because I hurt it early in the game and felt strong enough to continue.”
Tanaka, who is 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 23 starts, said that he lobbied the Yankees to let him pitch on Wednesday despite the injury. Girardi said that Tanaka would be better served to receive treatment for the three days while the Yankees are in Toronto, and so Tanaka will not travel with the team.
“I did tell them that I wanted to pitch on Wednesday,” Tanaka said. “At the same time, I understand their decision. The season is not over. We don’t know when, but I’ll probably be able to pitch again after the Toronto series.”
The Yankees have had past issues with pitchers hitting in Interleague play. In 2008, Chien-Ming Wang injured his right foot while running the bases in a game at Houston, altering the course of his career. Both Girardi and Tanaka said that they have no issue with the idea of pitchers hitting in Interleague games.
“We tell our guys to take it easy in situations, but I’ve often said that one of the reasons they are successful is their competitive nature inside of them,” Girardi said. “They understand the importance of runs, and it’s just hard.”
Nova had been removed from the rotation earlier in the week for performance-based reasons. The right-hander is 6-8 with a 5.14 ERA in 14 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, and had not been called upon out of the bullpen.
“I think it’s all in the mind,” Nova said. “It’s my mindset. I’ve got to be ready to go; command my pitches and execute every pitch.”
The Subway Series continues this afternoon here at Citi Field, as Carlos Beltran’s three-run homer has put the Yankees in front early against Noah Syndergaard. Michael Pineda is on the mound for the Bombers.
Playoff picture: The Yankees (80-66) trail the Blue Jays (85-62) by 4 1/2 games in the American League East. Toronto hosts the Red Sox this afternoon. The Yankees lead the Astros (77-71) by four games for the first Wild Card spot.
Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees with a 98.8 percent chance of making the postseason, and just a 5.6 percent chance of winning the division.
“We want to be the division champs,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “We want to get that definitive first series that you can qualify for, but it’s not the only way to accomplish the dream. The dream isn’t supposed to stop at Wild Card or division title. It’s supposed to be that last team standing.”
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 19, 2015
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 19, 2015
The underbelly of the Yankees’ bullpen has appeared softer down the stretch, reducing the impact of what has been trumpeted as one of the team’s strengths. Despite that swoon, manager Joe Girardi said he retains confidence in late-inning arms like Chasen Shreve.
“I still have a lot of belief in Shreve,” Girardi said on Saturday. “I know he’s had his struggles recently, but this guy has pitched really well for us this year. You look at his body of work, not necessarily a snapshot of time and obviously he’s important to us.”
No decision has been made regarding Masahiro Tanaka, who could be asked to pitch on Wednesday at Toronto in what would be his third consecutive start on four days’ rest.
“I think it’s a little bit early to ask, just because it’s a quick turnaround,” Girardi said. “We’ll see how he feels [Sunday] when he plays some catch and maybe does some flat ground.”
While it puts the Yankees at a disadvantage to have Alex Rodriguez on the bench, Girardi reiterated on Saturday that Rodriguez is not an option to play the field. The Yankees had Rodriguez work out at first base earlier this month at Fenway Park and did not like what they saw.
“Let’s not forget that he’s 40 years old, and trying to run him out there for defense, it’s probably not going to be a ton of range,” Girardi said. “It’s something that he’s not comfortable doing. … [In Boston], it just didn’t look right, so we decided not to do it. He doesn’t look comfortable. As much as we thought that maybe it might work, it just didn’t work.”
MLB Network’s three to watch
Syndergaard is 7-1, 2.15 ERA (17 ER / 71 IP) in ten starts at Citi Field. Meanwhile, he’s just 1-5, 4.47 ERA (29 ER / 58.1 IP) on the road.
Yoenis Cespedes has 17 HR and 42 RBI in just 44 games with the Mets, although he is hitless in his last 13 AB with six strikeouts. Cespedes tied with Chris Davis for the most HR in baseball since the start of August with 17 HR in that span.
Brian McCann was also not in the starting lineup Friday with a lefty on the mound and a day game on Saturday. He’s batting just .111 (2-18 AB) with no XBH in his last 6 games.
On this date
2011: Mariano Rivera records a perfect ninth inning in the Yankees’ 6-4 win over the Twins, his 602nd career save, surpassing Trevor Hoffman’s previous Major League record of 601.
Quote to note
“[The goal is to] win the American League, get into the World Series and win the World Series. It doesn’t necessarily matter which way we go, as long as we finish that off. There might be some accomplishments that everybody in the game can be proud of at a certain level when and if they ever get tagged out, but we’re all playing at being the last team standing, so that’s our interest level.” – Cashman, on winning the AL East vs. the Wild Card