On the first day of the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season, the New York Yankees experienced something they’ll need to get used to.
After all, everything started going South for New York from the minute the Tampa Bay Rays took the field.
Manager Joe Girardi lost his first challenge of the season on a bang-bang play that the umpiring crew clearly got wrong, Masahiro Tanaka got lit up for seven earned runs and watched his Opening Day ERA spike up to 9.49, the offense left nine runners on base and the 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay set the franchise record for the longest Opening Day losing streak.
But, for many, one of the most disappointing aspects of Sunday’s game was the dud of a performance by the Baby Bombers — a corps that for an entire spring were hyping up the baseball world with an astronomical yet meaningless performance.
Well, now you know why general manager Brian Cashman, principal owner Hal Steinbrenner and the rational baseball minds have been begging for patience with these kids despite the fact that it’s been implanted in every Yankees’ fans mind to win and do nothing else.
Gary Sanchez, coming off a historically epic rookie season, grounded out to short with the bases loaded in the seventh during arguably the biggest at-bat of his young career against Chris Archer and later struck out with two runners on in the ninth.
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Both anti-clutch occurrences came after the 24-year-old tried to nab Mallex Smith on a bunt attempt. Sanchez pounced on the slow roller like a cat from the typical catcher’s squat, but as he turned to make a throw to first, his shoulders flew open and as the ball sailed down the right-field line, Tim Beckham was handed a run on a silver platter.
Greg Bird, coming into the regular season fresh off a spring showcase that concluded with him leading the majors in extra-base hits (16), on-base percentage (.556), slugging percentage (1.098), on-base plus slugging (1.654) and tied with Bryce Harper for the home run lead (8), clearly wasn’t able to translate it into the first game of the regular season.
The lefty, playing in his first major league contest since 2015, went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and had a Brad Miller ground ball in the first deflect off his body to extend what ended up being a three-run first inning for Tampa Bay.
Aaron Judge, the Baby Bomber with the most proving to do, had the better day of the three but still showed signs that his strife with pitch recognition did not disappear with the implementation of his new aggressive approach.
After driving in the first Yankee run of 2017, he pulled completely off a ball en route to a sky-high pop out in foul territory in the fourth then struck out on three consecutive sliders from Archer with the putaway pitch crossing the plate in the left-handed batter’s box.
I’m not trying to be a Debbie downer over here, as there were a few positives to take from the loss — like the bullpen’s 5.1 innings of shutout ball, Chase Headley‘s two hits against the infamous infield shift and Starlin Castro‘s 3-for-4 day.
However, in a year like 2017, the Yankees need to take the little victories and the ugly growing pains with a “big picture” angle. Sanchez isn’t going to hit 60-plus home runs this season. Bird shouldn’t be expected to fill Mark Teixeira‘s vacancy the way Tino Martinez did when Don Mattingly called it a career. And while Judge has already wrecked havoc on a scoreboard, you can’t anticipate it on every swing the 6-foot-7 monster takes.
But this column isn’t meant to make the common fan feel hopeless.
Just like there will be days like Sunday’s opener — when you find yourself zoning off or even switching the channel altogether — there will undoubtedly be plenty of days when the Baby Bombers electrify Yankee Stadium and the fan base that has bought into the bigger picture.
That’s the keyword. You bought into this youth movement when Cashman went to work during the 2016 trade deadline and as excited as you were when Gary Sanchez became the fastest player in history to reach the 20 home mark, you have to be just as patient when he goes 0-for-5 while leaving five runners on base.
In the end, a successful 2017 season for the New York Yankees doesn’t necessarily have to end with 100 wins, a divisional crown or the hoisting of a World Series trophy. The most essential determinant of success in year two of this rebuild will be the young stars getting their feet wet as they emerge into the potential stars they have been touted to become.
There is something distinctively special about this young, inexperienced group and the best part, as a fan, will be going through “The Process” with these players, even if there are some difficult obstacles throughout the journey.