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A Family Fandom: The Pineda start that solidified my love of the Yankees

In 2015, Michael Pineda turned in a 16-strikeout, zero-walk performance. It was a remarkable effort, especially in my family’s eyes.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Michael Pineda throws a pitch against the Blue Jays in 2017.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a third-generation Yankees fan. My grandfather Jack, a son of Eastern European immigrants, was my first ancestor to don a Yankees cap. He grew up in Washington Heights, just across the river from the Stadium, but was too poor to attend many games. To achieve financial stability, he studied hard to become a doctor, first at Bronx Science, then at Cornell, and ultimately at Columbia. The entire time, he remained a New Yorker and a Yankees fan. Eventually, he moved to Westchester to practice dermatology about an hour north of New York City. In turn, he had to settle for watching most games on TV, even though he could now afford to attend.

As a result of his efforts though, I have many fond memories of visits to Tarrytown with the Yankees always on in the background. I can recall several times when my father rallied my mom, brother, and me to get showered and dressed in the morning so we could make it to the suburbs in time for the 1pm game. One Father’s Day when we made the trek, the Yankees were playing an interleague game against the, at the time, National League Astros. “Grandpa Jack” and my dad had previously railed against pitchers hitting, but that day, their calls for a universal DH were especially loud: Yankees’ ace Chien-Ming Wang, a winner of 19 games in each of the previous two seasons, had to be helped off the field after he heard a pop in his right foot rounding third base. He would never be the same, limping to a 6.01 ERA across 217 frames over the rest of his career.

Jack would be thrilled with today’s use of the universal DH. Unfortunately, his death preceded this new era; after that 2008 Father’s Day, his health began to decline. He underwent surgery for a knee replacement, a stomach issue, and a heart issue over the course of the next several years. My grandfather’s voice, once booming and a constant purveyor of song, had grown feeble come May 2015. As he lay on his deathbed, feeling resigned after a years-long battle with illness, one of the few things that could still bring a smile to his face was a Yankees win.

On May 10th of that year, the Yankees moved to 20-12 on the season with a 6-2 win over the Orioles. That alone would have made Jack happy. But most notably, the win came with a dazzling Michael Pineda performance. After tossing eight shutout frames his last time on the bump, the former All-Star fanned 16 O’s — the most by a Yankees pitcher so far this century and tied with David Cone for tops among right-handers in Yankees history.

Pineda was pristine in his control, too, recording a 16:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven innings of one-run ball that day. It was the first such ratio in the majors in nearly eight years. That he lasted just seven innings made the feat even more remarkable: his line of 16 K’s, no walks, and seven innings has no match in the majors over the past 100 years.

That night, Jack called my dad, more excited than he’d been in years. Pineda seemed en route to becoming the Yankees’ new ace, with a sparkling 2.72 ERA through his first seven starts of the year. His late-season numbers in 2014 after a lengthy recovery from shoulder surgery were apparently no pine tar-induced fluke; with Wang a distant memory, Pineda could instead replace the aging CC Sabathia atop the Yankees’ rotation.

Jack passed away in his sleep later that night. While I and many other Yankees fans lament what could have been with Michael Pineda (who struggled for both the remainder of that season and the rest of his Yankees career), I’ll always treasure that 16-strikeout game and the happiness that he brought my grandfather on his last day. And I’ll always honor Jack’s memory by rooting for the Yankees.