NEW YORK -- 128 days after they zipped their bags in West Palm Beach, Fla., riding mostly in silence as two buses rolled over 200 highway miles toward an uncertain future, the Yankees returned to preseason game action on Saturday night and exchanged “air high-fives” to celebrate a 9-3 victory
NEW YORK -- 128 days after they zipped their bags in West Palm Beach, Fla., riding mostly in silence as two buses rolled over 200 highway miles toward an uncertain future, the Yankees returned to preseason game action on Saturday night and exchanged “air high-fives” to celebrate a 9-3 victory over the Mets at Citi Field.
Clint Frazier mashed a two-run homer and Michael King bolstered his bid to make the Opening Day roster with four sharp innings in the Bombers' first exhibition against a different team since March 12, when their Spring Training schedule abruptly ended with a 6-3 victory over the Nationals.
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“It was definitely different, but I was happy with my performance,” King said. “I guess we'll see what happens from here on out, but it's exciting to have baseball back. That was a big positive.”
They were nine innings played in front of more than 40,000 empty seats, but also many times that number of viewers on cable television -- “2020 coronavirus baseball,” as ace right-hander Gerrit Cole quipped earlier this week. The sport is entering uncharted territory, but between the lines, the action played out much like it might have on a sun-drenched Florida diamond.
“For being an exhibition game, it felt really competitive,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We had that feeling throughout the game of what it's like to be in the dugout in a big league game. It's still not totally normal, but partly that's because you're trying to get guys into the game and you have a plan. There were some things that became normal.”
Players on both sides occupied not only the dugouts, but areas down the first- and third-base lines covered by large canopies, permitting social distancing. When Mets starter Rick Porcello walked in from the right-field bullpen, several of his teammates cheered from the seats, one slapping the empty chairs around him to the rhythm of “Let's Go Mets.”
Artificial crowd noise and loud walk-up music was played in addition to the usual array of between-innings entertainment, including a “Fan Cam” that utilized file footage from previous seasons. The Yankees' pitchers chuckled when they saw the cardboard cutouts neatly arranged behind home plate, offering a welcome distraction from the rows of vacant emerald green seats.
“Obviously without the fans, it's noticeable, but I didn't really think about it too much as soon as the game got started,” said reliever Zack Britton. “We know it's a little different; I'm bringing my own rosin bag to the game and things like that, but the game itself felt fairly normal.”
King walked to the mound with a lead as Mike Tauchman greeted Porcello with a leadoff double, then scored on a Gleyber Torres single.
Frazier extended the lead in the fourth, belting Porcello’s hanging curveball into the second deck in left field. That swing also offered a pandemic-related subplot; despite some social media pushback, Frazier has said he plans to continue wearing a face covering on the field, reasoning that “it's the right thing to protect myself and others around me.”
“He's been really playing well here these last few days,” Boone said. “I feel like when he first got here, he was a little out of whack. Then I feel like the last week, the quality of his at-bats have really ticked up -- a lot of deep counts. Same again tonight, and obviously he really clipped one.”
King scattered three hits with a walk, striking out three. After J.D. Davis doubled home the Mets’ first run with a fourth-inning single to left field, King flashed resilience by inducing an Amed Rosario groundout, pinning two runners in scoring position.
“It's definitely fun to see other guys in the box,” King said. “It was my first time pitching in Citi Field. My fastball command was there. I threw a couple good changeups that I was happy with. My slider wasn't great. That's kind of what got me into some trouble in that fourth inning; I hung one to J.D. Davis for that double to score a run, but I executed a couple good ones early.”
The Yanks aired most of the big arms in their bullpen. Britton permitted a run-scoring Pete Alonso single in the fifth inning. Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino each worked scoreless frames, striking out a batter apiece.
Ben Heller handled the final three outs, allowing a run after the Yanks produced five runs against a trio of hurlers in the top of the ninth.
“These are our only three exhibition games, so it does feel like there's a little more something on the line than a normal Spring Training game. There's urgency,” Boone said. “We have to really take advantage of these games going into the regular season, so it's nice to see a step up in competition.”
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.