Random Box Score: July 25, 2015

In past entries in this series, we’ve ventured into the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s to look at random box scores. This time, we’re venturing back just three seasons, to 2015, to a game that isn’t really random at all. The lore of a comeback story, the comeback game, is familiar in baseball. And it’s not just the story of the game itself, but of its heroes, its protagonists. By definition, the comeback requires a protagonist faced with setbacks; an unforeseen obstacle, an incident. It might be as serious as Tommy John surgery, or as inevitable as aging.

Those comeback stories move us. We root for the pitcher we watched walk off the mound, shaking his injured arm 18 months earlier, only to come back stronger and better than ever. But in this case, things were different. It wasn’t an injury that forced the player away from the game he loved, it wasn’t just age. Our protagonist’s comeback was set into motion because of a self-made firestorm, a series of increasingly consequential missteps that culminated in his year-long suspension from baseball. Our protagonist is Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s comeback has been incredible to witness mainly because it hasn’t stopped. It began back in 2015 with his return to the Yankees and it’s still going strong in 2018. He recently landed a job working Sunday Night Baseball games for ESPN—while still doing postseason work for FOX Sports. He’s well liked and well regarded. He’s in a high profile relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

Did anyone think back in 2014, when he was serving his suspension, that anything like this would be happening to him? Definitely not. Most people didn’t think he’d return to baseball. They thought his career was over. But the game we’re about to explore was one of the many highlights in what turned out to be a pretty good year for the Yankees’ slugger.

Our game took place on Saturday, July 25, 2015. On that day, “Cheerleader” by Omi was the number one song in the country, a movie called The Vatican Tapes was released, and on television, the day before this game was played, ESPN fired Colin Cowherd for making disparaging comments about baseball players from the Dominican Republic on his radio program The Herd.

Also happening in baseball that month: Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager on July 1. Kirk Nieuwenhuis of the Mets hit three home runs in a 5-3 win on July 12 against the Diamondbacks. And on July 21, in Coors Field, Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers hit for the cycle in a 9-0 win over the Rockies.

On July 25, 2015, the Yankees were leading the American League East by 5 ½ games over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Twins were in second place in the American League Central, 6 ½ games behind the Kansas City Royals. The Twins, at 52-44, had really turned things around after a disappointing 2014, that saw them finish 70-92.

Starting Lineups

Yankees

Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Chris Young LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Mark Teixeira 1B
Carlos Beltran RF
Chase Headley 3B
John Ryan Murphy C
Brendan Ryan SS
Stephen Drew 2B

Twins

Brian Dozier 2B
Aaron Hicks CF
Trevor Plouffe 1B
Miguel Sano DH
Torii Hunter RF
Eduardo Escobar 3B
Shane Robinson LF
Kurt Suzuki C
Danny Santana SS

The starters were CC Sabathia and Tommy Milone.

The umpires that night were Jeff Nelson behind home plate, Tom Woodring at first, Cory Blaser at second and Laz Diaz at third.

The managers that day were Joe Girardi and Paul Molitor. It was a hot, late July evening with hot, late July weather. When Tommy Milone threw his first pitch, it was a balmy 86 degrees.

Milone set down the top of the Yankees’ order with relative ease in the first. Jacoby Ellsbury hit a pop fly that was caught by Brian Dozier, who ran behind deep first base to make the catch. Chris Young worked a walk but he was erased from the bases when Alex Rodriguez hit into a double play to end the inning. Watching him hit that weak grounder to third, ruining any hopes of that inning, it’s amazing in hindsight that he would be the hero of the story.

Naming Rights and Naming Wrongs: Let’s Rename Those AL Ballparks!
In this space, stadium names are the name of the game.

In the bottom of the first, Sabathia ran into some trouble right away. He gave up a single to Dozier and then Aaron Hicks deposited an 0-1 offering into left-center field to give the Twins a quick 2-0 lead. Luckily for the Yankees, Sabathia settled down after the dinger. Trevor Plouffe lined out; Miguel Sano ground out; Torii Hunter lined out after him. The damage was contained.

Milone, again, didn’t have any trouble with the Yankees in the bottom of the second. This time, he set them down in order. Mark Teixeira hit a fly ball to left-center field, and both Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley grounded out.

Sabathia had a better top of the second. He worked around a Shane Robinson single, left two men on base and the Twins didn’t score.

In the top of the third, it was more of the same for a Yankees lineup that couldn’t do anything against Milone. This time, it was John Ryan Murphy, Brendan Ryan and Stephen Drew who went down in order. Drew became Milone’s first strikeout victim of the day.

Hicks got things started in the bottom of the third with a single, which was followed by a Plouffe strikeout looking. The rookie Sano stepped into the box and hit a soft ground ball into the no man’s land between first and second, and both he and Hicks were safe. When you’re facing Sabathia, that’s the best spot to place a soft ground ball or a bunt. He’ll never get to it.

The next batter was hometown favorite Hunter, back in Minnesota after a seven-season sojourn in Anaheim and Detroit. At 39, Hunter was the oldest player on the Twins’ roster. He had 15 home runs. After Sabathia’s 1-1 pitch, he would have 16. He hit an opposite field, three-run shot down the right field line to give the Twins a 5-0 lead. Hunter would finish the season with 22 home runs, which tied him with Plouffe for second on the team.

Even though it was only the bottom of the third inning, it felt like a game that had gotten away from the Yankees; the team had lost the previous night 10-1, so this game was looking like more of the same. It felt like a game that the Twins couldn’t possibly lose. Or so most of us thought. But Hunter wouldn’t be the only old man showing off his power bat in this game. There were more fireworks to come.

The Yankees were back to the top of the order in the top of the fourth. Milone got his second and third strikeouts against Ellsbury and Young to start the inning. That brought up Rodriguez. Milone started him off with two balls. The third pitch, a ball that got a little too much of the plate and that didn’t go faster than 90 mph, Rodriguez tattooed. The ball traveled 480 feet into the third deck of Target Field and put the Yankees on the board, finally. Milone recovered and got Teixeira to fly out to left field to end the inning.

Both pitchers settled down and both teams were kept off the board until the top of the seventh. Until then, the only hit the Yankees had managed was Rodriguez’s home run. Sabathia was pulled from the game in the bottom of the sixth with two outs. Girardi replaced him with reliever Adam Warren, who struck out Hicks to end the inning.

Young started the top of the seventh with a double off Milone that hit off Eduardo Escobar’s glove and went down the third base line. It was only the second hit the Yankees had off Milone all game. Rodriguez stepped in again, took his 1-1 pitch and hit it into the Twins’ bullpen. That round-tripper cut the Twins’ lead to two runs and after Teixeira hit a double off Milone, Molitor had seen enough from his starter. He brought in Brian Duensing to get some outs.

Beltran hit a ball deep enough to center for Teixeira to tag up and make it to third base. Headley did the same to score Teixeira, which pulled the Yanks to within a run. Duensing got Murphy to line out to second to end the inning but the tides were turning. You weren’t sure how they were going to do it, but if you were watching the game, you knew the Yankees were going to pull off this comeback, somehow, some way.

Warren had a clean bottom of the seventh. Trevor May, who came in to relieve Duensing, worked around an Ellsbury single and kept the Yankees off the board. Warren worked around a Suzuki single in the bottom of the eighth and kept the Twins from scoring.

So the stage was set for the ninth inning. The Twins needed their closer Glen Perkins to come in and close the door for them. And Perkins tried. But Alex Rodriguez tore the door off its hinges. He hit  Perkins’ first pitch to left-center field, just to the right of the bullpens, for his third home run of the night, tying the game at five.

The Yankees and Twins have a long history of lopsided matchups going the Yankees’ way dating back to the early aughts. Heading into this game, the Twins were 27-64 in the regular season against the Yankees dating back to 2002. There was one particularly rough series in 2009 when the Yankees famously swept the Twins in a four-game weekend series that included three walk-off wins. The Yankees won all seven match-ups that year.

When Rodriguez’s ball left the bat, you could feel the air leave Target Field. There was a collective intake of breath as if the Twins’ fan base was saying, “Oh no, not again…”

After Rodriguez rounded the bases, Teixeira came up and hit a single. Beltran followed with a ground ball that was hit deep into the shortstop-third base hole, so the Twins could get only the force at second. Headley followed with a single, which advanced Beltran to third. That brought the Yankees’ light-hitting backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to the plate.

Perkins got the count against Murphy to 2-2. His next pitch was a slider that stayed up in the middle of the plate and Murphy clobbered it. The ball sailed over the enormous out of town scoreboard in right-center field just as Murphy rounded first and it put the Yankees up 8-5. It was Murphy’s first home run of the season.

If you thought A-Rod’s home run crushed the Target Field crowd’s spirit, just imagine what a three-run home run from Murphy did. You’d expect a home run from a player like Alex Rodriguez, not from John Ryan Murphy. And you’d definitely be crushed when that home run comes off your All-Star closer in the top of the ninth of a game in which your team once held a 5-0 lead. Sometimes comebacks feature lesser heroes, too.

Murphy circled the bases triumphantly while staring at his teammates in the visiting dugout. He was so excited about hitting such a big home run that he had to go back and touch the plate after he bashed forearms with Chase Headley.

Brett Gardner, who had come into the game in the top of the eighth to pinch hit for Brendan Ryan, lined out for the second out but Perkins couldn’t get the third. He gave up a single to Stephen Drew and Molitor replaced him with reliever Ryan O’Rourke. It only took three pitches for O’Rourke to get Ellsbury to pop up and mercifully end the inning. But the damage had been done. The Yankees had scored eight unanswered runs.

But, comebacks aren’t the exclusive property of one team. They have to hold. In the bottom of the ninth, Girardi sent out his closer, Andrew Miller, to hold victory tight. Dozier struck out looking. Both Hicks and Plouffe grounded out. There would be no comeback of their own for the Twins that night.

Alex Rodriguez was famously suspended for an entire season in 2014 for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. When he returned from that year-long break in 2015, no one, including Rodriguez himself, had any idea how a soon-to-be 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips would do after such a long hiatus from the game.

Before spring training even began, the New York tabloids were predicting how long it would take before Rodriguez would be cut from the team. That’s how little faith people had in his ability to come back. In some cases, it seemed as if the New York beat writers were hoping for his eventual dismissal because if there’s anything that fuels the sales of tabloid papers in New York, it’s Rodriguez and his many scandals. Only it didn’t happen. Rodriguez was not cut. He looked rested, revitalized. It seemed the year off helped his body and though it took him a little time to get his rhythm back, it didn’t take long for him to start hitting home runs with regularity.

Rodriguez went on to have a strong May, June and July, posting a 156 wRC+. During that time, he collected his 3,000th career hit, a solo home run off Justin Verlander in a 7-2 Yankees win over the Tigers on June 19. Did he put up MVP type numbers? Not quite. His bat cooled as the year went on, ending with a respectable if unremarkable season line of .250/.356/.486. But Rodriguez finished 2015 with 33 home runs. It was the first time he had reached and surpassed the 30 home run mark since 2010, which amusingly enough was the last time he had a three home run game. Rodriguez had five games in his career in which he hit three home runs. July 25, 2015 was the 25th time the Twins had had it done against them.

Comebacks can be exhilarating to watch, especially if your team is the one fighting its way back. Otherwise, they can be excruciating. As a Yankees fan, I’ve experienced both sorts of comebacks, the exhilarating and the excruciating. And on that warm summer night in Minneapolis, a player in the midst of his own personal renaissance helped his team storm back from a five-run deficit to win a game that seemed all but lost.

Resources and References


Stacey Gotsulias is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on ESPN.com, USA Today online and FanRag Sports. She currently writes for Baseball Prospectus and is an author of The Hardball Times. Follow her on Twitter @StaceGots.
newest oldest most voted
Paul22
Member
Paul22

That time was also the comeback of the juiced ball

cschanck
Member
cschanck

I always think people forget the “two surgically repaired hips” part of ARod’s career. Kinda amazing, and I wonder if, without the suspension and the time off, he would have really hurt himself in 2014.