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Laird's slam helps Astros top Yankees, 7-6

02/28/2013 4:39 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Eduardo Nunez was 1-for-3 in the loss. (AP)
Tony Pena’s fate managing a Yankees split squad was unfortunately the same as Joe Girardi’s on Thursday, as the Astros used a six-run sixth highlighted by ex-Yankee Brandon Laird’s grand slam to best the Bombers, 7-6, at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.

Laird, a 2007 Yankees draftee who spent five years in the system, went deep off right-hander Shane Greene in that sixth to give the Astros back the lead after the Yankees thought they had blown the game open in the top of the frame.

Down 1-0 thanks to Rick Ankiel’s fifth-inning solo homer, the Bombers got their big sixth started when first baseman Luke Murton was hit by a pitch. DH J.R. Murphy then flied out, but Eduardo Nunez reached when Astros pitcher Ross Seaton fielded his grounder but threw wide of first base. Jayson Nix would ground into a fielder’s choice for the second out, but Zoilo Almonte and Matt Diaz hit back-to-back RBI singles before Mesa deposited a blast over the left field wall to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead.

It took Houston no time at all to fire back, however, as Carlos Pena drew a leadoff walk and Jason Jaramillo singled with one out to chase righty Mikey O’Brien from the game. Greene came on in relief but struggled, hitting J.D. Martinez to load the bases and then walking Marc Krauss to force in a run before giving up Laird’s blast to center field.

Greene would pitch to three more batters, allowing a triple to Jose Martinez and walking Robbie Grossman before Jake Goebbert’s RBI double gave Houston a 7-5 lead and chased him from the game. Lefty Shaeffer Hall, who is not in Major League camp but made the trip as an extra arm, came in and retired Nate Freiman to end the inning, but the damage was done.

The Yankees got one back in the eighth when Adonis Garcia’s two-out RBI single plated Tyler Austin, but Sergio Escalona came in to retire Austin Romine to escape the inning. In the ninth, the Yankees had two on with two out after Francisco Arcia singled and Cito Culver walked, but Escalona again escaped by getting Walter Ibarra to ground out to end the game.

Offensively, the Yankees rapped out 11 hits, with Mesa adding a single to his three-run blast to go 2-for-3 on the day. Almonte was also 2-for-3, and Arcia was 2-for-2 with a pair of singles.

On the mound, righty Brett Marshall got the start and impressed, pitching three scoreless innings and allowing just one hit and one hit batsman while striking out three. Dellin Betances made his spring debut in relief of Marshall in the fourth and struggled with his control – allowing two walks, hitting a batter, and throwing a wild pitch – but also recorded two strikeouts and escaped unscathed.

With their other split squad also taking a loss against the Blue Jays earlier in the day, the Yankees fall to 1-6 on the spring and have lost six in a row after a Grapefruit League-opening win last Saturday. The Bombers will look to get back on track when they host the Philadelphia Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field Friday afternoon, and Bob Lorenz and John Flaherty will have the call of that game beginning at 1 p.m. on YES.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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