Yankees’ Soto mind game, Bronx magic, and Yamamoto bring Fall Classic feel in June

Yankees outfielder Juan Soto is on the bench on the game against the Dodgers at Yankee Stadium, June 7, 2024.
Inna Zeyger
Saturday June 8, 2024

Table of Contents

The Yankees and Dodgers series this weekend has a palpable Fall Classic atmosphere, given the elite status of these franchises. Both teams entered Friday with the highest championship odds, according to FanGraphs and major sportsbooks. Calling this matchup a potential World Series preview isn’t far-fetched—New York holds MLB’s best record, while Los Angeles boasts the most talented roster. A Fall Classic featuring these teams wouldn’t be surprising.

Yankee Stadium saw its largest crowd of the season on Friday night, with an announced attendance of 48,048. Fans formed long lines around the home plate gate before the first pitch. Invited guests and onlookers gathered on the infield warning track during batting practice, as an exceptionally large media presence filled the press box. A late-night breeze hinted at autumn, enhancing the postseason vibe.

This series marks only the third time since interleague play began in 1997 that the Dodgers have played a regular-season series in the Bronx. With MLB’s new balanced schedule, these visits will now happen every two years. While the novelty may diminish, these meetings still carry a special allure.

For a century, the Yankees and Dodgers have been central to baseball’s narrative, both before and after the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957. For four decades, the teams did not face each other, building their legacies on opposite coasts. Occasionally, they clashed in the World Series, creating high-stakes, bicoastal showdowns that added to their storied rivalry.

Yankees’ Soto mind game

Yankees outfielder Juan Soto is on the bench on the game against the Dodgers at Yankee Stadium, June 7, 2024.

Teoscar Hernández and Yoshinobu Yamamoto emerged as the heroes in Friday night’s 11-inning thriller, yet the spotlight was on the absence of a star player.

Juan Soto was sidelined after left forearm discomfort led to his early exit from Thursday’s game against Minnesota. For 16 tense hours, Yankees fans worried about the severity of his condition before receiving reassuring news: imaging showed only inflammation, with no structural damage. This brought relief to the team, its fans, and Soto himself. Manager Aaron Boone decided that giving Soto a day of rest was prudent.

Thus, one of the most anticipated regular-season matchups, potentially a World Series preview, proceeded without one of its main attractions.

But these decisions underscored that June games carry relatively little weight in the grand scheme. Come October, Soto would likely be in the starting lineup, his inflamed arm treated aggressively. At the very least, he might pinch-hit in a crucial moment of a playoff game. However, Boone couldn’t justify such a drastic move, subbing out a core player this early in the season, even if Soto were available.

Throughout the evening, Soto remained visible on the top step of the dugout, occasionally donning batting gloves and holding a bat. However, it was clear that Boone, Soto, and the Yankees had no intention of forcing the soon-to-be free agent into the game. The season is a marathon, and risks need to be managed carefully—Soto needed rest, and the Yankees wanted to keep their strategy under wraps.

“We have a plan,” Soto mentioned postgame when asked about his apparent readiness, suggesting it was simply his way of staying engaged. However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts claimed to have avoided being fooled.

Yamamoto’s makes his presence felt

Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the New York Yankees, Friday, June 7, 2024, in New York.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Just over five months after choosing the Dodgers over the Yankees, Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivered a standout performance against his former suitors on Friday night.

Yamamoto demonstrated exactly what New York missed out on, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out seven in Los Angeles’ 2-1, 11-inning victory. This effort lowered his season ERA to 3.00.

Through an interpreter, Yamamoto noted he was aware this matchup would draw significant attention. “I knew this game would be watched closely, but I approached it like any other,” he said.

Despite the Yankees riding an eight-game winning streak, Yamamoto had little trouble navigating through an offense that led MLB in scoring. New York, averaging 6.5 runs per game with a .812 OPS during their streak, managed just two runners in scoring position against him.

Notably, he didn’t face Soto, who is day-to-day with left forearm inflammation.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone acknowledged Yamamoto’s successful performance. Boone pointed out Yamamoto’s highly anticipated arrival in the league, along with the significant signing bonus he received. He further emphasized Yamamoto’s popularity among teams during the offseason and his ability to live up to the high expectations surrounding him, which Boone acknowledged can be challenging for young players.

Yamamoto solidified his ace status in the series opener, showcasing his talent against the team he declined to join. The high-profile interleague set began with Yamamoto living up to the hype and his lucrative contract, proving himself against one of baseball’s top offenses.

The Yankees made a determined effort to sign Japanese pitcher Roki Yamamoto during the past offseason. A standout in Japan, Yamamoto was one of the most coveted free agents before ever throwing a pitch in MLB.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman traveled to Japan in September to scout Yamamoto, witnessing him pitch a no-hitter for the Orix Buffaloes. During free agency, Cashman, along with manager Aaron Boone, owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine, and pitching coach Matt Blake, held meetings with Yamamoto in Los Angeles and New York, according to Jon Heyman of The Post.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the Los Angeles Dodgers' star Yamamoto

Ultimately, the 25-year-old Yamamoto inked a 12-year contract worth $325 million with the Dodgers, a deal featuring significant deferrals. The Yankees had offered a 10-year contract valued at $300 million, presenting a higher average annual value but for fewer years, Heyman reported.

Speaking through an interpreter, Yoshinobu Yamamoto acknowledged the Yankees’ status as a strong team. He expressed his appreciation for their interest in him during free agency talks. However, Yamamoto downplayed the significance of facing his former suitor, indicating he approached it like any other game.

Despite not landing Yamamoto, the Yankees have thrived, entering Friday with the second-lowest starters’ ERA in MLB. For the Dodgers, Yamamoto has proven his worth. After pitching against the Yankees, he said, “I enjoyed the atmosphere. It’s a great stadium. I enjoyed the whole game.”

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

Related posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Pinstripes Nation!

Your Daily Dose of Yankees Magic Delivered to Your Inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Don't Miss Any of the Latest Yankees News, Rumors, and Exclusive Offers!