Sunday marked the final day of the 2015 regular Major League Baseball season. Which, figuratively speaking, meant all 30 clubs used their might to push the sun back up into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
Even though it was a blustery October day.
The baseball world also learned the layout of this year’s postseason; who’s in the dance and who’s not. After days of waiting, we now know the Yankees will host the Houston Astros at 8:08 p.m. on Tuesday in a do-or-die Wild Card game. The defending American League champions and winners of the American League Central division, the Kansas City Royals, will take on whoever emerges victorious Tuesday night.
The road is going to be anything but easy for the pinstripers, who in terms of the playoffs, aren’t on the outside looking in for the first time since 2012.
But the playoffs start Tuesday. Now is yearly time for regular season reflection. A chance to tout the achievements of the 2015 Yankee team.
Yes, the annual awards.
Yankee Yapping Rookie of the Year
Winner: Greg Bird
Greg Bird flew in on Aug. 13, and could not have landed at a better time. Four days after he was promoted to the big club, first baseman Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg and was injured. Bird was thrust into the role of everyday first baseman, and to say the least, he rose to the occasion and produced.
In his short time with the club (45 games), Bird knocked in 30 runs, slugged .523 and generated an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .862. What’s more, he flexed his muscles with 11 homers. This writer, in fact, saw one of those round-trippers live on Sept. 7, when he crushed a home run in the Yankees’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The 22-year-old Bird truly soared like an eagle since his arrival. And if the Yankees want a deep run in the postseason this month, he really must spread his wings.
Yankee Yapping Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Alex Rodriguez
The type of season Alex Rodriguez put together was nothing short of remarkable. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of his 33-home run, 86-RBI campaign is that no one predicted it.
If you would have asked even the staunchest proponent of A-Rod’s at the beginning of the season, they likely would have said his ceiling was 20 homers and 55 RBI.
Rodriguez not only proved the naysayers (including this writer) wrong, but he did so in historic fashion. On May 7 Rodriguez passed Willie Mays on the all-time home runs list, mashing a tater off Chris Tillman of the Orioles.
A month and 12 days later, Rodriguez blasted a first-inning home run off Justin Verlander of the visiting Detroit Tigers. It was his 3,000th career hit, and only the third time in baseball history (behind Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter) a player hit the ball into the stands for his 3,000th career hit.
Rodriguez also set an AL record for most career RBI, passed 2,000 career RBI, and passed Roberto Clemente on baseball’s all-time hits list.
Oh, and with three homers in one game against the Minnesota Twins on July 25, Rodriguez became the fifth-oldest player to hit three homers in a single game.
Some possible attribution to Rodriguez’s success: making him, at age 40, the full-time designated hitter. That decision by the Yankees has paid dividends. Rodriguez appearing in 150 games this season is proof of that.
Either way, the type of season he had – I’d call that a comeback. A comeback with a vengeance.
Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year
Winner: Masahiro Tanaka
Admit it. You thought Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow was going to fall off.
Last summer when it was revealed the Yankees’ big-ticket starting pitcher had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, most Yankee fans panicked. They feared the three words that are as common as a routine fly ball in this day and age: Tommy John surgery.
Tanaka opted to treat his tear with a platelet rich plasma injection, and came back to pitch in 2014. Before the season began, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said he expected Tanaka to make 34 starts.
Skip’ was 10 numbers off, as Tanaka made 24 starts. Forearm and wrist soreness sidelined him early in the season, plus when the opportunities arose, Girardi rested him.
Despite missing those 10 games and spending time on the disabled list, the man from Japan proved to be pretty effective when he needed to be.
On Sept. 13 in particular, he hurled seven shutout innings in the Bronx as the Yankees blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-0. Although Toronto went on to win the AL East, the game was important in terms of staying in the race for the division title.
Against those same Jays at Rogers Centre on Aug. 15, Tanaka put on a virtuoso performance. He tossed a complete game five-hitter, and the Yanks beat the Jays, 4-1.
Tanaka’s won-lost record isn’t reflective of a very dominant season: 12-7. His season earned run average wasn’t bad, but not the lowest number out there: 3.51. He gave up 25 home runs over the course of the year, which in the eyes of many armchair managers, is probably too many.
But he gave the Yankees 150-plus innings. Tanaka kept the ball in the strike zone by fanning 139 hitters – and only issuing 27 walks. He performed when they needed him to perform.
And he will need to bring his maestro-like skills on Tuesday and serenade the Bronx with another rendition of the tune “Tanaka wins.”
Yankee Yapping Platinum Sluggers of the Year
Winners: Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran
The Yankees suffered a devastating blow on Aug. 17 when Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg. The first baseman sustained a fracture, and the injury –a freak injury, at that – ended his season.
But before he was forced to watch the rest of the 2015 from the bench, Teixeira was raking. He crushed 31 homers and drove in 79 runs. He was on pace to smash 40 or more homers, drive in over 100 runs and analysts put his name and the term “American League Most Valuable Player” in the same sentence at certain times.
The injury may have negated it all, but make no mistake about it: Teixeira played well.
Carlos Beltran on the other hand avoided major injuries, and turned on the jets during the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, Beltran clubbed 12 of his 19 home runs. He finished with 67 RBI, 37 of which came after the midway point.
Beltran’s best may be yet to come, as he’s a well-known stud in the playoffs. So much so, in fact, that he’s earned the nickname “Senor Octubre” among some folks.
In the postseason, Beltran is a lifetime .333 hitter with 16 homers and 40 RBI. He’s also scored 45 runs, slugged .683 and owns a .445 on-base percentage.
In less than 48 hours we’ll see if he delivers, but he went out with a bang: three hits in the Yanks’ 9-4 loss to Baltimore in the season finale Sunday.
Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year
Winner: Dellin Betances
Although he’s been struggling of late, Dellin Betances was as consistent as they come this year.
An almost automatic eighth inning shutdown machine, Betances struck out 131 hitters in just 84 innings pitched. Of those 84 innings, he only allowed 45 hits. However, his walk total was a bit high: he issued 40 free passes. But most of the time, he was able to wiggle out of danger.
Case in point: Sept. 7.
Betances walked the first three he faced, but bounced back to strike out the next three in order.
What’s more, he showed maneuverability. Betances took on the closer role when needed, and saved nine games.
Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player
Winner: Andrew Miller
The formula was simple. A song with a statement played, the closer came in and then slammed the door.
“You can run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”
The words heard each time Andrew Miller came in to finish off the opposing team.
Fightin’ words. One might even say words a little harsher than the lyrics to “Enter Sandman,” used by Mariano Rivera, one of Miller’s predecessors.
Harsher words, perhaps, but when the sweet sounds of Johnny Cash came blaring through the Yankee Stadium speakers, you knew the game was over.
Miller saved 36 games in 38 opportunities this season, striking out 100 batters in 61 2/3 innings. He held opponents to a .151 batting average, and tested hitters while attacking them.
A tactic Troy Tulowitzki knows about.
On Aug. 14 with the game on the line, the Blue Jays shortstop stood between the Yankees and a pivotal win. It took 12 pitches and the dramatic at-bat put the baseball world on the edge of its collective seat, but Miller got the job done.
His whiff of Tulowitzki was one of the most clutch performances of the season, and one of the many examples of how valuable he truly was.
Yankee Yapping Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner: Yogi Berra
The world – not just the baseball world, the world in general – lost a treasure the morning of Sept. 22.
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, the Yankees’ famed catcher and legendary philosopher, passed away at the age of 90.
Berra won the most World Series of any player in history with 13 (10 as a player, three as a coach). He smacked 358 home runs and possessed a lifetime batting average of .285. It’d be easy to sit here and write out every noted accolade Berra amassed over the course of his career.
But let’s talk about the man for a second.
Let’s mention how in love he was with his wife Carmen, and his family. Let’s mention how he served our great country as a gunner’s mate in the United States Navy during World War II. Let’s mention how his wit and easygoing personality impacted everyone around him, even those he didn’t personally know.
His fantastic “Yogi-isms” will be a part of our culture forever. Our millennial generation can now pass on his wisdom. The next era needs to know that you can observe a lot by watching, and that baseball is 90 percent half mental.
The rest is physical.
The YES Network publicly aired Berra’s funeral – a beautiful sendoff for a beautiful man. I noticed the gospel passage, which was elegantly read by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was the same gospel passage read at my grandfather’s funeral on April 15 last year. John 14:1-7, a reading that explores comfort in a time of impending sadness.
I felt that only fitting, especially because I read an article with the headline “Yogi Berra, ‘everyone’s grandfather,’ dies.”
Again, fitting. Grandfathers have a way about them, brightening the lives of their grandchildren. How many lives has Berra illuminated with his wit and charm?
Too many to count.
Berra has a prime seat in Heaven now for the postseason. Maybe the proverbial fork in the road is the World Series.
Go ahead, Yankees. Take it.
Yankees vs. Houston Astros
What: American League Wild Card game
When: 8:08 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Houston probable pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA)
New York probable pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
It would almost be too easy to sit here and write about how Saturday’s 8-5 win over the Minnesota Twins was easily the best victory of the 2015 season for the Yankees.
It was. It was a statement win. A statement of resiliency.
How can anyone say differently?
Down by five, with CC Sabathia serving up meatballs, Alex Rodriguez decided to put on a hitting show. Actually, more like a hitting clinic. Two days before his 40th birthday, Rodriguez smashed three home runs. Each was spectacular, but his first tater traveled a remarkable 452 feet and into the third porch in left-center at Target Field.
Now that was a bomb.
Rodriguez’s third home run tied the game at five in the ninth, but it was the young J.R. … sorry, John Ryan Murphy who put the exclamation point on the comeback. Murphy belted a three-run homer over the big wall in right field later in the ninth, helping the Yankees snatch a win in the face of defeat.
But not to be underscored, closer Andrew Miller came in and set the Twins down in order to complete the come-from-behind victory. It marked Miller’s 23rd save of the year, and the 23rd he has converted – yes, he has yet to blow a save.
Despite a stint on the disabled list, Miller has been all but automatic this season. The 6-foot-7 southpaw has 54 strikeouts in just 34 1/3 innings pitched, with an earned run average of 1.57.
Miller has made Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman look good. Cashman’s critics can look at last year’s closer, David Robertson, and his five blown saves on the south side of Chicago for the White Sox. The GM opted to sign Miller over Robertson in the offseason, and so far, it appears Cashman knew what he was doing.
Maybe the signing of Miller was a statement of its own, and it’s silencing the haters.
And as predicted by absolutely no one, it’s now July 26, and the Yankees are in first place in the American League East. Entering Sunday, the Bronx Bombers are 5 ½ games up on the second place Toronto Blue Jays, and 6 ½ ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. The Baltimore Orioles are in fourth, seven games out, and the lowly Boston Red Sox are in the cellar, 12 off pace.
“At the beginning of the season, I called it!” – Nobody.
The Yanks are winners of seven of their last 10, and are 13-5 in the month of July.
During the recent string of success, this writer got an opportunity to catch the Bronx Broskis live and in-person on Sunday, July 19 – a game that ended in a 2-1 pinstriped victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Felix Hernandez pitched well, but ultimately Mark Teixeira got the last laugh. The Yankee first baseman clubbed an eighth-inning solo home run, which was the game’s decider.
On second thought, everyone in attendance, including yours truly, got the last laugh. When you’re in the building and you get to watch Robinson Cano strike out twice and finish 0 for 3, you do tend to get a chuckle or two.
Like tonight, Miller came in to shut the door. And I noticed his entrance music.
Miller jogs in and warms up to “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.
God’s gonna cut you down. Now that is one heck of a statement. Perhaps enough of a statement to induce fear into opponents.
One can’t help but think of Mariano Rivera, and how his entrance music also sent a message. One might also say Miller is pitching a lot like the legendary closer this season, not giving an inch when it comes to sealing the deal.
After they wrap up in Minnesota Sunday, the Yankees go to Texas to take on the Rangers. Following four games in Arlington, the Bombers will head to the windy city to take on their old friend Robertson and the White Sox for three-game set. Then it’s home for three games against Boston and three against the Blue Jays.
The Rangers, White Sox and Red Sox are each playing sub-.500 ball. The Blue Jays are only one game above .500. Therefore, the Yankees have an opening to take some series and pull further ahead in the AL East.
Putting everyone far behind in the rearview mirror by mid-August? Now that would be a statement.