Tagged: A.J. Burnett

Blockbuster Friday

I was driving home from covering a high school basketball game tonight and I felt like the General Manager of a baseball team – or maybe more accurately a Yankees beat writer. My good friend Brian text messaged me, breaking the big news. I immediately called him, and we began discussing the moves and the circumstances surrounding the transactions the Yankees made.

Just when we all thought this off-season for the Yankees was dead, tonight happened. A pulse; some life in the dead of winter. The Yankees made a huge trade, swapping rookie catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and reliever Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for flame-throwing, right-handed starter Michael Pineda and Single-A righty Jose Campos.

You’d think that would be enough for one night, but the Yankees weren’t done.

Along with swapping Montero for Pineda, they deepened their rotation with the signing of Free Agent starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who had been with the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008.

Just like that, the Yankees have some pitching depth.

Pineda has the potential to serve the Yanks as a viable number two starter behind CC Sabathia – a role A.J. Burnett has failed to live up to these past two seasons. Kuroda can help fill the middle and back end of the rotation, along with Burnett, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia.

Obviously with seven starters, the Yankees’ hurlers will be seriously duking it out in Spring Training for a spot in the suddenly-populated rotation. There were some rumblings after the Pineda deal was finalized that Hughes could be on the block, yet nothing is confirmed or set in stone. But trading away one of the excess starters is another story for another day; a bridge that can be crossed when the Yankees get to it.

Right now let’s look at what the Yankees gained and what they gave up.

Pineda was an All-Star in his first MLB season last year, finishing 2011 with a record of 9-10 and a 3.74 ERA. The 22-year-old (23-year-old on Wednesday, Jan. 18) logged 171 innings and struck out 173 batters over that span. He gave up 133 hits and walked 55 of the 696 batters he faced.

Pineda finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – behind his new teammate Nova, who came in fourth place in the voting.

His numbers were acceptable for a rookie last year and for a 22-year-old kid to be handed the number two spot in the Seattle rotation behind Felix Hernandez – a rotation that didn’t exactly receive a great amount of run support – and flourish the way he did was nothing short of remarkable.

Although his overall numbers were stellar (all things considered) his line against the American League East teams kind of turns me off. Pineda had a 4.73 ERA in nine starts against AL East opponents. It almost goes without saying that as a Yankee starter, he will be expected to be able to beat the Boston Red Sox.

Case in point: July 24, 2011 vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Pineda allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out four batters and walked one, as the Red Sox topped the Mariners, 12-8. Five of Pineda’s seven runs surrendered came in the first inning; pounded from the get-go.

Looking at that example doesn’t make me feel great about the trade.

I think the best thing the Yankees can do is let Pineda be himself; stretch him out and allow him to throw as many innings as he did last year, if not more.

What they can’t do is put him on an innings limit, given his age, and turn him into another version of Joba Chamberlain. I would also hope the Yankees learned the first time, and will choose to either permanently place him in the bullpen or in the rotation without switching him in and out.

Please. No “Pineda Rules.”

Considering what they gave up, I’m going out on a limb, but thinking the rotation is where we’ll be seeing Pineda.

While it remains to be seen how he fairs in Spring Training (let alone in the Bronx this upcoming year) I know one thing is for sure: whatever they do with him, they need to be careful. Otherwise they’ll end up with another young arm that needs Tommy John surgery. They wanted to avoid Tommy John altogether in Chamberlain’s case, and in the end he wound up needing it anyway.

As far as what they gave up: we barely knew Montero, although we knew the Yankees were preserving him for a long time. The 22-year-old powerhouse was called up in September and put on a little bit of a hitting show in the 18 games he played in ’11.

Montero clubbed four homers in 61 at-bats with four doubles, 12 RBIs, seven walks, nine runs scored, and 20 hits. Overall he notched a .328 batting average and secured a .590 slugging percentage.

For his short time in the show, he has certainly made it count.

Overall, I see this as a trade that could basically be a win for both sides. Seattle gets a power bat and a DH, something they hadn’t exactly possessed these past few years. The Mariners also have to realize they received a player who could be the 2012 Rookie of the Year, if he has a so-called “coming out party” this season.

Montero could do it. I have no doubt in my mind.

In return the Yanks get a potential number two starter, something they’ve had the last two years but haven’t had consistently. Hughes was the Yanks’ number-two man in 2010, but seemed to pitch with a tired arm down the stretch. Plus, we all saw how poorly he pitched in the ALCS vs. Texas.

Nova turned into the number-two starter last year – and let’s not forget that he left the deciding game of the ALDS vs. Detroit with an apparent arm injury. The Yankees needed that consistent second guy, and now they might have him.

And not only do they have a number two starter, they added a middle man: Kuroda.

Since 2008 for the Dodgers the 36-year-old Kuroda is 41-46 with an ERA of 3.45. Last year he tossed 202 innings giving up 77 runs on 196 hits while fanning 161 batters and walking 49. He also recorded 13 wins, a career-high for him in MLB. The Yanks signed him to a one-year contract worth about $10 or $11 million.

He was never an All-Star and he isn’t the flashiest pitcher in the world, but he provides the Yankees with a little bit of depth. If he can give them 10-12 wins from the third, fourth, or even fifth spot in the rotation, they have made a good move.   

There are only two things I see working against him:

1) The fact that he’s pitched his entire career in the National League.

2) The Yankees’ history with Japanese starting pitching.

If Kuroda can adapt to AL hitters, learn to work in and out of trouble – and shed the stereotype Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa left for him – I know he will do fine.

Now that the Yankees have a stacked rotation, essentially they gave away their designated hitter in Montero. It frees up a huge spot in their already-potent lineup and it begs the question: who will DH for the Yankees in 2012?

Andruw Jones?

Eduardo Nunez?

Will they sign Carlos Pena?

Is Johnny Damon coming back to New York?

Was giving away the DH a ploy by Brian Cashman to set up the signing a very powerful Free Agent?

Let the speculation begin…

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The Very Best of Jorge Posada

When Jorge Posada made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 4 1995, he got to Yankee Stadium early. The 24-year-old switch-hitting second baseman-turned-catcher walked from the clubhouse down the tunnel to the dugout to soak in what would become his home for the next 17 seasons.

Posada looked around at the majesty of Yankee Stadium. Tears of joy filled his eyes. In the years that followed he afforded the Yankees and their fans countless unforgettable moments, and basically became the Bronx Bombers’ unofficial co-captain.

A leader, a gamer, and one of the most intelligent and fiery Yankees to ever don the pinstripes, Posada, 40, is expected to announce his official retirement from baseball in the coming weeks. The Yankees will lose one of the “Key Three” members of their Championship Dynasty of the late 1990s.

Off the top of my head I can come up with a number of Posada’s best moments as a Yankee. Here are some of his most memorable achievements; a few of his accomplishments that made him such a special Yankee.

Breaking Out and a Perfect Day

Although Posada got the call to the show in 1995, he didn’t become a full-time player until later on in his career. In ’97 he replaced Jim Leyritz as backup catcher to current Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who was filling the position as the Yanks’ everyday backstop.

Posada started 52 games behind the plate in 1997 and played in a total of 60 games for the season. He only managed to smack six homers and knock in 25 runs for the season, but had a sort of “coming out party” in 1998.

An old baseball adage suggests that having a catcher that can hit is a bonus – and the Yankees had that bonus. At the plate Posada crushed 17 homers and batted .268 while recording 68 RBIs in ’98, but arguably his best feat of the year came defensively, on May, 17, 1998 when he caught David Wells’ perfect game at home against the Minnesota Twins.

When a pitcher throws a perfect game, sometimes it gets overlooked that the catcher is the one calling the signs, and most of the time the first person the pitcher credits after notching the perfecto is the catcher. It takes the battery of a pitcher and a catcher to complete a perfect game and Wells recognized that, rewarding Posada and the rest of the team with diamond rings when it was all said and done.

Before the Yanks moved into the new Stadium in 2009, Posada was asked what his favorite moment in the old Yankee Stadium was. His answer was simple.

“Catching David Wells’ perfect game was probably (the best moment) for me. It was just a day that…nothing went wrong. We were in sync from the get-go. He had a bad bullpen session but he got stronger and stronger as the game went along. I get chills, still.”

A Sweet Moment before the ‘02 All-Star Game

Posada and the Yanks capped 1998 with a World Series title, their second in three years. In ’99 he appeared in 112 games and hit 12 homers, knocked in 58 runs, and averaged .245 at the plate. The Yankees once again won a World Series title in ’99 and again in 2000 – which to that point was Posada’s best year numerically: 28 homers, 86 RBIs, and a BA of .287.

For his outstanding numbers he was selected to his first of five All-Star games in the year 2000. In 2002 Posada started the Midsummer Classic and during player introductions a Posada took the field – but it wasn’t Jorge.

Well, it was, actually. Posada’s son Jorge Luis, who has craniosynostosis (a bone condition which affects the skull of an infant), dashed out onto the baseball diamond when Posada’s name was called. The short man was playfully wrangled by Yankee nemesis and then-Red Sox player Manny Ramirez, who presented Jorge Luis to his proud father.

You Talkin’ to Me, Pedro?

Posada pieced together one of his best seasons in 2003, clubbing 30 homers to become only the second Yankee catcher along with Yogi Berra to ever hit 30 home runs in a season.

He also drove in 101 runs, batted .281, and scored 83 runs. At the end of the year he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, showing just how important he was to his team.

But all of that was basically overshadowed by the biggest rivalry in sports.

In ’03 the Yankees and their archenemies, the Boston Red Sox, played in some heated games. Over the summer Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano were beaned with fastballs by the hated Boston ace Pedro Martinez. Roger Clemens, the Yanks’ outspoken number one hurler, plunked Kevin Millar in retaliation.

As fate would have it, the Yankees and Red Sox met in the 2003 American League Championship Series; the winner would go to the World Series. Both squads were not shy about their feelings towards one another, as they exchanged words in the media. You couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on ESPN without hearing what the Yanks and BoSox were saying about each other.  

The ALCS was tied 1-1 and with tensions running high, all Hell broke loose in Game Three.

Yankees’ right fielder Karim Garcia was hit on the back by what looked like an intentional bean ball thrown by Martinez. Garcia didn’t take kindly to Martinez’s throw – and neither did Posada, who began to mouth off to Martinez from the dugout.

Some serious jaw-jacking ensued between Martinez and Posada, and eventually Martinez began to make seemingly threatening gestures at Posada from the mound. He put his index finger to his temple as if he was saying to the Yankee catcher, “I’ll hit you in the head.”

Things settled down and the game resumed after awhile, only for another fracas to begin in the next half-inning. Clemens threw a pitch high and tight to Ramirez; clearly no intent, yet the Boston left fielder tried to charge the mound and the benches cleared.

Don Zimmer, the Yanks’ 72-year-old bench coach, was tossed to the ground by Martinez in the brawl, proving just how ugly emotions between the two teams really were.

The ’03 ALCS was forced to a Game Seven, and with the Yankees trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning, it looked as though it was Boston’s time to “reverse the curse.”

But after a single by Bernie Williams that scored Derek Jeter, and a ground-rule double by Hideki Matsui, Posada stepped up to the plate in a huge situation: runners on second and third with one out.

And he was as clutch as can be.

Posada popped a blooper into shallow centerfield, a hit which no Boston outfielder or infielder could come up with. Williams and Matsui came to the plate to tie the game while he wound up on second base. Fired up, Posada clapped his hands together and pumped his fists in jubilation.

The game-tying bloop double set up Aaron Boone’s glorious home run in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Yankees to the World Series for the 39th time and the Red Sox home for the winter.

If it weren’t for Posada’s gritty, “never say die” attitude and his piece of late-game clutch hitting, Boone never would have had the chance to swing his bat in the 11th; the Yankees may have been doomed in the ‘03 ALCS.

As far as the Martinez-Posada feud: the two publicly expressed how they felt about one another: they both said they disliked each other.  However aside from the argument in the ’03 ALCS, nothing physical ever transpired between the two.

Unless you count the four career home runs Posada hit off Martinez.

On a side note, over the course of his career Posada hit 275 home runs. The most he smacked off a single pitcher: five off another Red Sox hurler, Tim Wakefield.

A Wild and Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas

On Wednesday May 17, 2006 – exactly eight years after Posada caught Wells’ perfect game – I got up and went to class. Nearing the end of my first year in college, I was amazed at what I had seen the night before. Everyone knew what a huge Yankee fan I was, and when I got to class I was asked the age-old question from one of my classmates:

“Did you see the game last night?!”

Of course I had. It was one of the most improbable and incredible comebacks ever.

On May 16, 2006 the Yankees had been getting creamed by the Texas Rangers at home. In fact, through the first two and a half innings the Bombers were losing 10-1. But they never gave up, slowly chipping away at the deficit. The Yanks were able to knot the game at 12 before the ninth inning, only for Texas to plate a run on a Rod Barajas double and take a 13-12 lead going into the Yanks’ final set of at-bats.

When it looked as though the rally was for naught, Posada clubbed a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Rangers’ closer Akinori Otsuka to complete the comeback and give the Yankees a serious come-from-behind, 14-13 win.

Posada drove in five of the Yanks’ 14 runs and also showed off his strength, as he survived a collision at home plate with future teammate Mark Teixeira. Posada nailed Teixeira at home plate for an out, but after the game admitted it was the hardest he had ever been hit.

“I never played football in my life,” Posada told the press after the game.

 “But I think that’s what it feels like.”

2007 Resurgence

 

One could argue that by age 35 most catchers are reaching the so-called “downhill side” of their careers. Their offensive numbers seem to dwindle and they just aren’t the same players they were at, let’s say, age 25.

That never happened to the Yankee catcher.

In 2007 Posada recorded the highest batting average of his career, securing a BA of .338. He also posted the highest slugging percentage of his career with .543 and for the first time since 2003 he made the All-Star team.

The rest of his numbers also looked solid: 20 homers, 90 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 42 doubles, and he even stole two bases.

With his ’07 power show he became the first catcher in MLB history to average .330 or better, record at least 40 doubles, hit 20 homers, and knock in at least 90 runs in a single season.

2007 was a renaissance year for the backstop, and you might say Posada turned 35 into the new 25.

Even the Red Sox Want to be Yankees

In a little comic relief, Posada starred in an ESPN commercial with hated Yankee killer David Ortiz.

When I first saw this, I couldn’t get enough of it.

The First Home Run

After the 2008 season wrapped, the Yanks moved from their beloved cathedral to their new house across the street. They started the 2009 season on the road, but on April 16 it was time for Opening Day in the new ballpark in the Bronx vs. the Cleveland Indians – and it was a day of firsts.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the old Yankee Stadium, and in the fifth inning Posada became the first player to homer in the new Yankee Stadium. He took a pitch off Cliff Lee deep to centerfield, a poetically just shot that landed in the netting above Ruth’s monument.

Unfortunately the Yanks had a bad day, dropping their first game at home 10-2. After the game Posada was proud to have done what Ruth did in terms of christening the ballpark, but was unhappy with the final score.

“I’m going to remember the home run, no question about it,” he told the press. “But right now it’s a little disappointing.”

Yankee manager Joe Girardi could not have been happier that his successor was the first player to homer in the new Stadium.

“For Jorgie to hit the first home run…he’s been here a long time and he’s meant a lot to this franchise. I was extremely happy for him.”   

2009 Walk-Offs

Resiliency (noun) –  the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, change or misfortune.

Resilient (adjective) – the ability to withstand, or recover quickly from, difficult conditions.

There is no better way to define the 2009 New York Yankees.

‘09 was a magical season for the Bombers. Solid pitching, all-around hitting, and if the score was close late in the game, you could almost be certain the Yankees were going to win.

The Yanks played the LA Angels at home on May 1, and squandered away a 4-0 lead when the Halos plated six runs in the sixth. They added three in the seventh and it seemed as though the Yankees were well on their way to an inevitable loss to the Angels, the only team in baseball with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers.

Not on Posada’s watch.

The Empire struck back in the eighth scoring four runs, setting the stage for one of their many comeback victories. Posada came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with Teixeira and Angel Berroa aboard, and whacked a two-run game-winning single to finish the game, his first walk-off hit of the year.

When it was all said and done teammate A.J. Burnett gave Posada a whipped cream pie to the face, a tradition that became custom after every walk-off Yankee victory.

And there were more pie orders to fill.  

On July 4 the Yanks hosted the Toronto Blue Jays and played them to a 5-5 tie into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th Posada came up and singled home Alex Rodriguez, giving the Yanks a 6-5 walk-off win on America’s (and George Steinbrenner’s) birthday.

Another win, another pie.

The game-winner may have been huge but it wasn’t all Posada did in that game. In the fourth he smacked a solo round-tripper, which at that point in the game gave the Yanks a 3-2 lift over the Jays.

A Cushion in Game Two

The Yankees’ resilient nature brought them to the World Series in 2009 for the 40th time and the first time since 2003. They squared off with the Philadelphia Phillies and in Game Two (after dropping the first game of the Fall Classic) the Bombers needed a win at home.

Facing a familiar adversary, Pedro Martinez, the Yanks trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. Teixeira came up and knotted the game at one with a solo homer. Hideki Matsui followed suit, breaking the tie with a solo home run of his own in the sixth.

Clinging to a small 2-1 lead in the seventh, Posada gave the Yanks a little breathing room. He hit a seeing-eye single off reliever Chan Ho Park to plate Jerry Hairston, Jr. and the Yanks went ahead, 3-1.

They would win Game Two by the same count.

The Texas Two-Step

In June of 2010 Posada had a chance to flex his muscles.

On June 12 in an interleague matchup at home vs. the Houston Astros, he clubbed a grand slam off Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the third, breaking a 2-2 tie to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead. They went on to win 9-3 on the strength of Posada’s go-ahead trip to granny’s house.

And he was just getting warmed up.

The very next day, June 13, he crushed another grand slam in the fifth inning off Brian Moehler, giving his team a sizeable 7-1 lead. The Bombers once again were en route to another win, a 9-5 decision over the Astros.

With his two slams in two days, Posada became the first Yankee since Bill Dickey in 1937 to homer with the bases loaded in consecutive games. Ironically enough, Dickey was also a catcher.

A Bittersweet Home Run

On Aug. 22, 2010 vs. the Seattle Mariners at home, the Yankees practically had the game won in the fourth inning. Austin Kearns hit a solo homer in the fourth, which was pretty much all the offense the Bombers needed because CC Sabathia was in shut-down mode, setting down the Mariners hitters one by one.

The game turned into a stinker for Seattle in the fifth when Robinson Cano clubbed a grand slam. The Yanks added three runs in the sixth to distance themselves even further from Seattle, who did not put up any runs in the game.

The Mariners eventually called on Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher whom I have interviewed, in a mop-up situation.

Posada came to the plate to face Sweeney and took his changeup for a ride into the right field seats, giving the Yankees a 9-0 lead. The Bombers would add another run in the eighth on an RBI single off the bat of Marcus Thames, winning by a knockout score of 10-0.

For this writer it was bittersweet. I was happy for Posada; that he hit a home run for my favorite team, yet at the same time I was unhappy and I felt bad. I would have liked to see Sweeney maybe get a strikeout, being that he and I both came from the same college.

From the experience, I can say this: it feels weird wanting to simultaneously root for both the pitcher and the batter.  

The Last Stand

2011 was a rollercoaster of sorts for Posada. There were ups and downs, lefts and rights. He was removed as the Yanks’ everyday catcher and made to be the team’s designated hitter. Everyone knows about the mountain made of the molehill when he took himself out of the game on May 14 against the Boston Red Sox, and he was limited at best when it came to playing.

On Aug. 13, his first start since the benching incident, he was 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBIs. It marked the 10th slam of his career and with it he passed Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra on the all-time Yankee grand slams list.

Later in the month on Aug. 25 Posada played second base for the first time in his career, fielding the position in the ninth inning. He recorded the final out in the Yanks’ 22-9 win over the Oakland Athletics, cleanly taking a grounder and completing the 4-3 putout.

He might have had a perfect frame at second base, but on Sept. 10 against the LA Angels he returned to familiarity. Russell Martin was injured behind the plate by a foul tip and Francisco Cervelli was unavailable to catch due to concussion-like symptoms. Girardi had no choice but to allow Posada to catch – and he made it count, throwing out Howie Kendrick attempting to swipe second base in the third.

The Yankees made the postseason for the 16th time in Posada’s career and for his last playoff series, he performed extraordinarily well. He recorded six hits – one of which was a triple – scored four runs, drew four walks, and at the DH position notched a .429 batting average with a .579 on-base percentage.

Not bad for his last hurrah.

The Yankees and their fans will never forget Jorge Posada. He spent his entire career in pinstripes, somewhat of a rarity these days; not a lot of players in this day and age remain with one team their entire career.

Girardi, who has always been close to Posada, credits him for a lot of the strength the Yankees showcased throughout the years.

“He’s been a big part of the Yankees since really 1997, and (a big part of) the success that we’ve had here.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Friend and teammate Derek Jeter once said Posada would make a great baseball manager someday.

Who knows. Posada succeeded Girardi once in his life – as the Yankees’ everyday catcher. Maybe in the future he will succeed him as Yankee skipper.

I’m not going to try and argue right now about whether or not Posada is worthy of the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t matter to me; whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, he’ll always be a real Yankee soldier in my eyes.

Yankee Yapping would like to thank Jorge Posada for all the memories and congratulate him on a wonderful career. I don’t know if the team will be the same without him, but nonetheless, we love him.

THANK YOU, JORGE.

Nova Not AL ROY, Finishes Fourth

Today Major League Baseball announced the American and National League Rookie of the Year Award winners. Atlanta Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel captured the N.L. award, winning unanimously with all 32 first-place votes.

The A.L. ROY went to starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, as he received 17 first-place votes. Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels came in second place and Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals finished third.

Ivan Nova, who most Yankee fans expected to be the first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, finished in fourth place with just one first-place vote.

Cue the anger and confusion among the pinstripe faithful.

Truthfully, any one of the top four A.L. ROY finishers could have taken home the accolade. Hellickson, Trumbo, Hosmer and Nova each had seasons worthy of the award.

Since the last two A.L. Rookie of the Year awards have gone to pitchers (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010) I had the feeling either Hellickson or Nova would win this year – keeping the trend of pitchers winning the A.L. ROY.

Naturally I felt Trumbo (left field, first base) and Hosmer (first base) weren’t going to win – although each of them put up outstanding offensive numbers for rookies. Trumbo clubbed 29 homers and knocked in 87 runs, despite sporting a .254 batting average. Meanwhile Hosmer smacked 19 home runs and drove in 78 runs, nearly hitting .300 with a BA of .293.

But as expected, the pitching trend kept up.

Hellickson made 29 starts for the Rays and went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 189 innings pitched. His won-loss record may not have been indicative of an overpowering season. Yet serving as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, Hellickson helped the Rays in a major way – especially considering they had traded away Matt Garza, a hurler the Rays thought to be a front-line starter, at the beginning of the year.

Nova struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. He got shelled and lost some tough games in the early-going, but found a way to persevere and endure, grinding his way to a 16-4 record in 28 starts. He finished with an ERA of 3.70 and notched 98 strikeouts in 165.1 innings pitched.

Looking at overall individual stats – minus the record – Hellickson did have a numerically stronger year. Plus, that brief period when Nova was sent down to the minors in July probably hurt his chances at the ROY.

Yet, look at Nova and how he evolved throughout the course of the season; how he was slated to be a number four starter and was basically forced to become a number two when Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett faltered.

Nova was forced to “carry the ball” so-to-speak, and he carried it very well.

Last week About.com published an article revealing who should win each end-of-the-year award, who the dark horses were, and who they thought would win. Not only did this article say Nova should win – but it said he would win.

“Who should win Rookie of the Year: Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees.  

The 24-year-old Dominican righty finished 16-4, and did it while filling a gaping hole in the rotation of one of the best teams in the league. His ERA is just a so-so 3.70, but has a 2.7 WAR, which is solid in a relatively weak crop of rookies, at least statistically this season.

Who will win Rookie of the Year: Nova. Being in the big market will put him over the top.”

The author of that article seemed to have a lot of faith in the Yankee rookie – and not that I pay that much attention to WAR, or wins above replacement, but it was a good point – one I didn’t even take into consideration.

Those who vote for the end-of-the-year awards, AKA the baseball writers, clearly recognized Nova for his effort and what he brought to the Yankees – but in a lot of the fans’ minds, they did not recognize it enough because he didn’t finish first.

Lately the Yankee fans seemingly have a lot to be upset about when it comes to these awards after every season. Last year many felt CC Sabathia – who won 21 games – was robbed of the A.L. Cy Young when Felix Hernandez, who only won 13 games, captured the award over the Yankee ace.

What’s more, Robinson Cano was a front-runner to take home the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2010, but he came in third to Josh Hamilton (the winner) and Miguel Cabrera (first runner-up). I know of more than one Yankee fan who truly felt Cano was, in a word, “shafted.”

The last Yankee to collect a meaningful end-of -the-year accolade: Alex Rodriguez, when he won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2007. To get there, A-Rod had to crush 54 homers, bat .314, and drive in 156 runs.

It’s a little obvious by now the writers who vote for the awards aren’t exactly Yankee lovers, and the media has apparently become somewhat “anti-pinstripe.” Cano and Curtis Granderson are two Yankees that can easily be considered for this year’s A.L. MVP, which will be announced a week from today on Nov. 21.

Now that Nova did not win Rookie of the Year, I don’t expect either Yankee to win the award.

Sabathia is up again for the Cy Young with his 19 wins this season and 3.00 ERA – but forget it. Everyone already knows Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers is taking home that piece of hardware.

The Yankees may have run out of luck this year when it came to the awards. Like it or not, the media is not on the Yanks’ side and ultimately they choose who goes home with the trophies.

If I ever make the Baseball Writer’s Association I promise to be fair and unbiased, as all writers should be. If I were voting this year, I probably would have given Nova a first-place vote, simply because he was valuable to the Yankees – and you can’t argue that. Just look at the points made in the About.com article.

Just know that if I ever get to the BBWA, there will be at least one writer who doesn’t hate the Yankees on the voting panel – although I would maintain my professional integrity as a reporter and consider every candidate respectfully.

As a Yankee fan though, I can only hope next year Jesus Montero breaks out and has the year of his life. If he can get his game up and have a “coming out party” of sorts in 2012, he can avenge this rather unfair treatment of Nova in this year’s A.L. Rookie of the Year voting – at least unfair in the minds of the majority of the Yankee fans.

On second thought, if I did have a vote this year, I would have voted for this guy

Just kidding, just kidding.

Playing Dress-Up: The Yankees’ Halloween Costumes

“Witch and ghost make merry on this last of dear October days. “ – Author Unknown  

In one week’s time, people will be dressing up in costumes for Halloween, the one day on the calendar you can be whoever or whatever you want to be. Whether it’s a super hero, a movie character, or a spooky creature, Halloween is one of the more celebrated holidays in this country.

To me, Halloween has sort of lost its luster. When I was a youngster I absolutely loved Halloween. It was always a tossup trying to figure out what I should dress up as, and the thought of getting free candy just by uttering the phrase “Trick-or-Treat” put a smile on my face and got me excited.

In first grade I dressed up as Superman, one of my favorite costumes:

It was always a night of fun for me. Yet these past few years I’ve found myself basically doing nothing on Oct. 31, merely sitting around alone watching old horror movies like “The Exorcist” and “Scream.”

This year I might change that, perhaps; maybe try to rally some friends together and relive the days of Halloween past by donning costumes. But onto the point of this entry:

If the Yankee players were to dress up for Halloween, what could they be?

Here are some suggestions…

CC Sabathia: Cleveland Brown

I could have just taken the high road and suggested CC Sabathia dress up as Fat Albert, but I figured I would change it up this time.

Put a yellow shirt and blue pants on the Yankee ace and he just might be able to pull it off. However, he might need to grow his mustache in a little more.

Hmm. Maybe Derek Jeter’s father, Dr. Charles Jeter, would be better off going as Cleveland…?

Derek could even go as Quagmire!

Nevermind.

Mark Teixeira: Jared from Subway

I don’t know about anyone else but if you take the glasses off Jared, I think he sort of resembles Mark Teixeira.

Sort of.

The Yanks’ first baseman, who batted just .248 this year, might be able to get one of those “Free Subway for Life” cards (Happy Gilmore reference) if he goes as Jared this year. Maybe some meaty, cold cut sandwiches can help him swing the bat a little better and get that BA back up to a respectable .300 next year.

Scott Proctor: John Cena

 I know I’ve made mention of this in the past but Scott Proctor, who went 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA for the Yankees this year, looks an awful lot like 12-time WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena.

Proctor was basically a real-life loser this season. Therefore, if he wants to dress up like a real-life winner, he can be Cena for Halloween.

All he would need for the costume is one of Cena’s colorful shirts, a hat that reads “You Can’t See Me,” some wrist bands, and a pair of denim shorts.

Oh, and maybe some talent. That wouldn’t hurt.

A.J. Burnett: Beavis

A.J. Burnett pitched a decent Game Four in the American League Division Series vs. the Tigers, but only had a handful of acceptable starts during the regular season. With a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 5.15, he hasn’t exactly been what the Yankees were anticipating when they signed him to a lucrative contract worth $82.5 million prior to the 2009 season.

But we already knew that.

Perhaps he can help get the Yankee fans back on his side if he loosened up a little bit and dressed as Beavis from MTV’s…umm…hit show, “Beavis & Butthead.”

Not only do they bare a striking resemble to one another, their personalities are eerily identical. And if he doesn’t like the Beavis idea, he can always go as Dennis the Menace.

Andruw Jones: Dr. Dre

I’m not sure why, but Andruw Jones has always reminded me of rap star and hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre. When both of them were young, they were well-liked and everyone knew their name.

Dr. Dre was one of the more revered rappers in the world and most people knew Jones because of the power show he put on in the 1996 World Series as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

But that was in the 1990s. If you were to ask anyone back then who Dr. Dre was, undoubtedly they’d say, “Of course!” Nowadays if you ask about him, the answer would probably be more along the lines of, “Oh yeah. Whatever happened to him?”

Same applies to Jones.

And while we all know what Jones was doing this year – batting .247 for the Yankees and hitting 13 homers with 33 RBIs as a fourth outfielder – we may never know where Dr. Dre is.

I guess we all “forgot about Dre.” I believe that was one of his last hit singles; I can remember him releasing it before he vanished off my radar somewhere around 1998.

Alex Rodriguez: Anakin Skywalker

The Yankees’ superstar third baseman had a sad 2011 season, spending most of it on the disabled list. Hurt, he only managed to club 16 homers, bat .276, and drive in just 62 runs.

It was one of the worst years Alex Rodriguez has had since he started; in fact, it was the first time in his career he failed to hit 30 home runs since 1997.

To get rid of some of the bad feelings from this past season, I could picture A-Rod dressing as Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars franchise. Not only are they practically each other’s doppelganger, but it fits so well.

For those who do not know, Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, one of the sworn leaders of the “Dark Side.” The Yankees have always been compared to the Star Wars “Evil Empire” so who better than Rodriguez – probably the most hated Yankee – to play the Jedi who turns his back on the force for the sake of evil?

It’s a perfect match and it makes sense.

Bartolo Colon: Hamburglar

I have an unsettling admission to make right now. One of the last years that I went out trick-or-treating on Halloween (probably in sixth or seventh grade) I was indeed the Hamburglar, one of the McDonald’s “McDonald-Land” characters.

Yep. Insert obligatory/witty Chicken McNugget joke here.

Bartolo Colon, just judging by his face, would be perfect for this costume. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if during the off-season he makes appearances at local McDonald’s in the Dominican Republic as the Hamburglar for extra money.

Also, judging by his weight, it looks as though he might be the real-life Hamburglar. He is very porky.

Robinson Cano: Steve Urkel

Back in the early 1990s ABC launched its Friday night lineup known as TGIF. Shows such as “Step by Step,” “Boy Meets World” and “Full House” all kept us laughing – albeit with cheesy, light-spirited, and family-oriented jokes.

One of my favorite programs to watch every Friday night was “Family Matters,” a show centered around the lives of the Winslow family and their pesky, annoying, nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel.

Robinson Cano is no nerd: 28 home runs, 118 RBIs, and a .302 batting average is nothing to shake your head at. It certainly does not put him in the same category as Urkel.

However, if you take Cano’s face, put some coke bottle glasses on him, some suspenders, a nerdy shirt, and if he speaks with a high-pitched squeaky voice, you have the spitting image of the legendary doofus known as the Urk-Man.

Well, that about wraps it up folks. Hope you enjoyed my suggestions for the Yankees’ Halloween outfits.

If you happen to go out next week, be safe, and Happy Halloween.

Back to the Bronx!

Let me tell you a little about my day, and in what direction I thought it was going in.

This afternoon I was in my car, driving of course. I was stopped at a traffic light, minding my own business. Then…BOOM! I got rear-ended by some lady who was not paying attention to the road. Thankfully my bumper was only scratched: not really any major damage to my (new) car. Oh, and if you’re wondering, no. I wasn’t hurt; just a little rattled at the time, although I did have a mild headache when I got home from work.

People, driving requires 100% of your attention. Remember that.

I only thought my headache was going to get more severe, considering A.J. Burnett was starting for the Yankees in Game Four of the American League Division Series, down two games to one, at the mercy of the Detroit Tigers. I’ll be the first to admit, I felt very uneasy with Burnett on the mound, an 11-11 record this season with a 5.15 ERA.

His numbers alone are enough to give anyone a headache, even without getting rear-ended by a car.

Some Yankee fans, most notably Yankee roll caller and lead Bleacher Creature Bald Vinny, started a Facebook campaign: “I Believe in A.J.” Despite the doubt a lot of people had concerning Burnett’s ability to pitch in an elimination game, it is evident the fans got behind him.

All the faith was rewarded.

Aside from one inning, he didn’t disappoint. Burnett helped lead the way to a 10-1 Yankee win in Game Four, forcing a Game Five on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

The key play in the game came in the bottom of the first inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, and Don Kelly smacked a liner into centerfield. Curtis Granderson dove, laid out and made a game-saving grab to end the inning.

Burnett owes his centerfielder dinner after a catch like that.

Had the ball gone over Granderson’s head, anything could – and would – have happened. Kelly would have definitely cleared the bases and he would have undoubtedly made it to third – or even home. In perspective, it could have been an inside-the-park grand slam, and Burnett’s confidence may have disappeared, allowing Detroit to run up the score.  

But it didn’t happen.

Burnett had walked three batters in the first (Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally) and looked a bit jittery, but seemed to settle down nicely after the shaky frame. He ended the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up just one earned run on four hits. Burnett walked four batters and struck out three.

The only blip on Burnett’s radar was a home run to Victor Martinez in the bottom of the fourth, and yet it didn’t really matter because the Yankees had already put two runs on the board.  

When Burnett left the mound, he got a lot of love from his teammates. I’d say if you took one still frame from the game tonight, the picture of the infield players collectively patting Burnett on the back speaks volumes about the amount faith they had in him.

After Burnett left, yesterday’s goat Rafael Soriano came in – and Granderson once again flashed the leather, making another beautiful catch in centerfield to end the inning. Not only did Granderson save Burnett, but he aided Soriano with a spectacular web gem.

The pitching and defense was there, but you need offense to win a game. And the Bomber bats came alive in this one.

The Yankees were retired 1-2-3 in the first and second innings – and it looked as though it was going to be another stagnant and dead night at the plate. But right before Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box, I put on my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slippers.

Right after I put them on the Captain crushed a two-run double to plate Jorge Posada and Russell Martin. The Yankees took the lead and never relinquished it.

“I think my slippers may have been the Yanks’ good luck charm,” I thought to myself. “I’ll keep them on.”

If they were a good luck charm, they were working in the top half of the fifth. The Yanks added two more runs on a double by Granderson which knocked in Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez later hit a sac fly to drive in Jeter.

Hanging onto a 4-1 lead, the Bronx Broskis exploded for six runs in the eighth – and batted around. A balk by Al Albuquerque sent Rodriguez to the plate, a single by pinch-hitter Jesus Montero drove in Mark Teixeira, and then Gardner plated Chris Dickerson (who pinch-ran for Nick Swisher).

And they still weren’t done.

A Daniel Schlereth wild pitch allowed Montero to score, then Robinson Cano knocked Martin and Gardner in with an two-run single.

10 runs in the game. And now we’re heading back to the Bronx, the ALDS tied 2-2.

The last time the Yankees played a Game Five in the ALDS was 2005, and it didn’t go well for them. The Bombers played in Anaheim and were outdone 5-3 at the hands of the Angels.

This time around, however, the Yankees will not be on the road. They will be in the comfort of Yankee Stadium and essentially they have home field advantage and momentum again.

In more good news for the Yanks, the last time they played a Game Five in the ALDS at home, they beat Oakland all the way back in 2001. Strangely enough they won the ’01 ALDS Game Five by the same score they lost the ’05 ALDS by: 5-3.

The Yankees broke the trend tonight. They seemed to be following the 2006 ALDS script a little too closely, but now they have the chance to make a little comeback and beat the Tigers; an opportunity to punch the proverbial ticket back to the American League Championship Series.

Ivan Nova, who dazzled in Game One, will take the mound in the deciding game, hoping to keep the postseason dream alive. He will be opposed by Doug Fister, who the Yankees got to on Saturday.

If the Yanks win Thursday, the Texas Rangers await them in the ALCS – a potential rematch of last year’s Championship Series.

Speaking of breaking playoff trends, the Yankees lost to the Rangers last year.

They will have to break that trend, too. But they have to get there, first. I’ll be working a high school football game Thursday night at 6:00, so I’ll probably only miss the first and maybe the second innings of the game.

When I get home, one thing is for sure: I am putting on my ninja turtles slippers.

Trending Topics

October 3, 2006: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 8-4 in Game One of the American League Division Series at home – a rather easy win, a good start out of Chien-Ming Wang, and overall a well-played game.

October 1, 2011: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 9-3 in Game One of the ALDS. Again, a relatively easy win in front of a partisan Yankee Stadium crowd; a good amount of offense (namely from Robinson Cano) and a good pitching performance from Ivan Nova led the way to a decisive victory for the Bronx Broskis.

October 5, 2006: The Tigers beat the Yankees in a close game, 4-3, taking game two – and home field advantage – away from New York.

October 3, 2011: The Tigers beat the Yankees 5-3, another close game, and swiped home field advantage, taking the series back to Detroit.

Noticing a trend here?

If you’re wondering, the Yankees were shut out in Game Three of the ’06 ALDS, 6-0, at the (greasy) hands of one Kenny Rogers. Their task tonight is to beat 24-game winner and American League Cy Young Award shoe-in Justin Verlander – a task which may prove to be very daunting.

On Saturday at Yankee Stadium before Game One was suspended, Verlander didn’t look like himself. His pitches were missing up out of the zone, and he walked two batters while giving up an earned run in the lone inning he tossed.

But that could have just been an aberration.

Just as Alex Murphy was transformed into RoboCop in Detroit (I’m not holding back with the obscure Detroit/RoboCop references for this series) tonight Verlander has the chance to morph back to what he really is; erase that mediocre first inning from Game One – and do it in front of his home audience at Comerica Park.

The Yankees will counter with their ace, CC Sabathia. The big man only pitched two innings before the first game was suspended, and while he recorded four strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk, he gave up a solo homer to Delmon Young in the first inning.

Over the last 10 games of the regular season, Sabathia was 4-3 with an ERA of 4.06. He allowed 87 hits in 68 2/3 innings, and gave up 31 earned runs.

Down the stretch, Sabathia seemed to struggle, yet the ace still posted 19 wins and finished with an ERA of 3.00. Even in the face of a scuffle, Sabathia showed he can still put up solid numbers.

Tonight Sabathia will have to stand toe-to-toe with the probable AL Cy Young Award winner – and the Yankee bats have to come alive, more alive than they were in Game Two. Yesterday they made Max Scherzer, a pitcher with nine losses and a 4.43 ERA this season, look like Nolan Ryan.

Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez are the three key offensive players that need to lead the team at the plate – especially A-Rod. Rodriguez is 0-for-8 in this series thus far. In another strange trend, he went 1-for-14 in the ’06 ALDS.

If Verlander happens to outduel Sabathia, the Yanks will find themselves in the same spot they were in back in 2006, down two games to one in the Motor City – and the pattern could continue.

Their ‘06 fate might be duplicated in ‘11.

October 7, 2006: Down two games to one, the Yankees sent Jaret Wright to the mound in an elimination game. Wright labored through two innings and gave up three runs, putting the Yankees in a quick hole they were never ever to climb out of. The Tigers went on to beat the Yankees 8-3 for the ALDS win.

October 4, 2011: The Yankees will send A.J. Burnett to the hill in what could be an elimination game; a loss tonight makes the series two games to one in favor of the Tigers. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA this season – and you don’t have to sell any Yankee fan on how poorly Burnett pitched this year.

There is no Yankee fan anywhere in the world (at least that I know of) that has any faith in Burnett.

Tonight could make or break the series for New York. If the Yanks can pull out a win, then no matter what, at the very least they will be coming back to the Bronx for a Game Five.

But the Yankees will have to break this vicious trend if they want that to happen.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Quite an inauspicious start to the American League Division Series. Come to think of it, “inauspicious” might not be the word for it. “Wet” and “Soggy” are probably the operative words.

Yankee skipper Joe Girardi had one thing to say about the weather once again ruining a night of baseball at the new Yankee Stadium:

“It’s too late to build a roof.”

The Yankees and Tigers looked primed to be in a battle tonight, tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the second inning. Delmon Young went the other way in the first inning for a solo home run, depositing the ball on the short porch and putting the Tigers on the board.

But the Yanks answered with a groundout by Alex Rodriguez which plated Derek Jeter in the bottom half of the first to knot it up.

Then, like many times this season, the skies opened up, rain poured down over Yankee Stadium, and we entered a rain delay. About two hours after the game officially started, it was officially called, much to the chagrin of all Yankee fans.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.

“I hate rain!”

“Screw you, Mother Nature.”

“Game One postponed?!”

“This ruined my Friday night.”

What This Means For the ALDS

Game One will resume tomorrow night at 8:37, picking up right where we left off: in the bottom of the second inning, the score knotted 1-1.

CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander started tonight – and they will not pitch tomorrow.

Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland already knows how he is going to configure his pitching staff for the remainder of the series. Doug Fister will pitch the resumed Game One tomorrow night, Max Scherzer will start Game Two (to be played on Sunday afternoon at 3:07), Game Three he will re-send Verlander to the mound – and Game Three is Monday night.

If it goes to a fourth game, it will be played on Tuesday night and Rick Porcello gets the ball. If the series goes the distance and reaches a decisive fifth game on Thursday, it’s Fister again.

This rain-out could mean good news for the Yanks: they’ll only see Verlander once.

Girardi indicated that rookie Ivan Nova will start the resumed Game One tomorrow night. Freddy Garcia will start Sunday, but from there, he doesn’t yet know what direction he will go in.

In his owns words, “Nova will pitch for us tomorrow, Freddy will go Sunday, and after that I can’t tell you how we’ll do it.”

More likely than not, Sabathia will take the ball in Game Three, although from what I read he may lobby to pitch Sunday.

But the way things look right now, just as Verlander is only pitching once in this series, Sabathia might have to suffer the same fate. There is a chance the Yankees might need a fourth starter in this series, and the skipper hinted at who he will probably turn to.

“It’s obviously something we’re going to have to talk about,” Girardi said of a fourth starter.

“A.J. is obviously the most stretched out for us, in that situation.”

Cue the barf bags.

This certainly isn’t what either team wanted or expected, but as the old saying goes, you cannot predict or fight the weather. I’ve recently learned there are things in life you can and cannot control, and rain falls into that category.

Yesterday I wrote about the similarities and differences between this ALDS and the ALDS the Yankees played against the Tigers in 2006. This rain-out is another parallel that can be drawn between ’11 and ’06. There was a rain-out in that series as well which affected the Yankees.

No matter what happens now, at the end of this series, whoever loses is probably going to point to tonight and say the rain-out did not help. I don’t anticipate either team or manager to make excuses, but if there isn’t a sweep, they have to play four days in a row – and that is not favorable to any team in a playoff series.

Unfortunately for the Yankees and Tigers, just like tonight, heavy rain is in the forecast for tomorrow night. If the game gets rained out tomorrow night, I’ll be officially convinced that God is laughing so hard at the Red Sox collapse that He’s crying – which in turn is creating rain over Yankee Stadium.

If that is the case: God, I love you, but please stop. And let the Yankees play ball.