A writer once penned that a catcher who can hit is a bonus.
The Yankees have had that bonus this season, and it’s never been more evident than the last few games. Brian McCann has been swinging the bat well – a far cry from what some might consider a disappointing 2014. The 31-year-old backstop enjoyed a nice homecoming this past weekend, equaling and surpassing a few offensive numbers from last year in the process.
In fact, he now leads all major league catchers in the home run and RBI categories.
Over the last seven games, McCann is batting .320, slugging .600 and has produced a .438 on-base percentage. He’s collected eight hits over that span – two of which have left the yard – and has driven in eight runs. He’s shown a keen eye, too, drawing six walks.
Three of those six walks were issued on Friday, when the Yanks rolled into Atlanta, McCann’s former stomping grounds. McCann, as we all know, started his career with the Braves in 2005 and stayed with them until the 2013-14 offseason, when the Bronx Bombers were waiting for him with open arms.
And an open wallet, of course. McCann, a native of Athens, Georgia, elected to leave home and sign with the Yanks to the lucrative tune of $85 million over five years. This weekend, he earned his keep, showing the Braves what they’re missing along the way.
On Friday, the catcher clubbed a three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning. A home run, by the way, for which he got boisterously cheered. For the lack of a better phrase, the Braves faithful just ate up McCann’s tater, appreciating the fact that he homered 179 times in a Braves uniform.
That is, McCann smacked 176 homers for Atlanta in regular season play, and added three more round-trippers in the postseason as a Brave (he hit two home runs in the 2005 National League Division Series and one in the 2010 NLDS).
McCann being cheered upon his return to Turner Field was almost reminiscent of Tino Martinez’s homecoming to the Bronx in 2003. Martinez, a key player in the Yankees’ dynasty of the late 1990s, left New York after 2001 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
When the red birds visited the Yankees in June of 2003, Martinez smacked a home run off Andy Pettite – a shot that found a familiar landing spot in the short porch at the old stadium. It generated a positive response from the Yankee fans.
Much like McCann on Friday, the hometown audience stood up and graciously applauded its former player.
McCann’s homecoming on Friday was finalized with four RBI and three runs scored, as the Yankees trounced the Braves, 15-4.
On Saturday it got even sweeter, as he drove in one of the Yanks’ three runs. Three runs were all the Yankees needed, as they handed the Braves a 3-1 loss.
And on Sunday, he put a nice bow on it. McCann collected a hit in the series finale, drove in two runs and scored two more. His offense was a small part of the collective effort, as the baseball score looked more like a football score when it was all said and done. The Yankees wrapped up the series against the Braves by pulling out the broom for a sweep in the form of a 20-6 victory.
This past weekend wasn’t just a spectacular hitting show with McCann in the starring role, but proof of improvement from a year ago. With his home run Friday, McCann matched his 2014 home run total. He entered the weekend with 75 RBI – the amount he finished with last year – and with seven over the past three games, he eclipsed his 2014 RBI total.
Now, heading into Monday’s series opener with the Red Sox in Boston, McCann has 23 homers and 82 RBI, the most among all backstops in the bigs. McCann also has an opportunity to set career-highs in both homers and RBI this season.
His season-high number in home runs?
24, in 2011.
The most amount of runs he’s knocked in over the course of one season?
94, in 2009.
With 33 games left on the schedule, there is plenty of opportunity for McCann, who has proven he’s a good hitter; who has proven he can handle himself in pinstripes.
McCann, who has proven he is that bonus.
There was a nostalgic feeling in the air. The old lions of the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s – many of the key players – were on hand.
It brought me back to the days of my childhood and I relished every minute of it.
Bernie Williams Night last Sunday was one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences I’ve had as a Yankee fan. I’d say it was on the same level as the World Series ring ceremony I attended in 2010.
I felt the need to be there, given my past history with this great man.
The great number 51 at long last took his rightful spot in Monument Park behind the wall in centerfield, where he patrolled for 15 years in pinstripes.
Obviously I could go on and on forever talking about Williams’ accomplishments as a New York Yankee. Instead of that, however, I’ll muse about and share some pictures from his special night.
Thank you Bernie
Even before stepping foot into the ballpark, you just knew this night was going to be all about number 51.
Stopping to capture a moment from 1998
While walking to my seat, I happened to stumble across this picture in the concourse of Williams high-fiving third base coach Willie Randolph in a home run trot. Even though I’ve seen it before, having been to the stadium countless times, I had to pause and capture a picture. What with it being his night, I felt it necessary.
Little did I know Randolph would later appear as part of the pregame festivities.
On a side note, in 1998 Williams high-fived Randolph 26 times during the regular season and three more times in the postseason, rounding third in home run trots.
All fans received this neat collectible card after making their way through the turnstiles.
They brought the good guys.
Roy White, Williams’ first base coach for a huge chunk of his career. He was there.
Gene “Stick” Michael, who became the Yankees’ General Manager the same year Williams made his Major League Baseball debut, 1991. He was there.
Joe Torre, Williams’ only manager throughout his career. He was there.
Randolph, and former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez. They were all there.
David Cone, Williams’ teammate from 1995-2000 and Yankee Yapping shout out artist. He was there.
The great closer, Mariano Rivera, made the drive in from New Rochelle.
And the Yankees saved the biggest surprise for last.
The return of the Captain
I still kick myself to this day. Sure the tickets were criminally expensive. Of course they would be. It was Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25 of last year.
The price of admission would have been worth it given the way that game ended. Jeter heroically, as he had done many times before, won the game with a clutch hit.
Understandably, I was disappointed I wasn’t there to witness it live. And I was saddened I would never see Jeter at Yankee Stadium again.
But lo and behold, the last guest at Bernie Williams night was Jeter. The captain incarnate. Admittedly, I did not think Jeter would make an appearance so soon after retiring, for that very reason – it was too soon. Jeter always struck me as the type who would wait awhile to return to big ballpark in the Bronx for a special night of this kind.
But, I was wrong. Not only was Jeter there, he strutted out like he owned the place. With the top couple buttons of his shirt unbuttoned underneath his sport coat, he looked like a million bucks.
What made it better, I thought, was the comment from a fan behind me, once Jeter was announced:
“Suit ‘em up!!!!!” the fan yelled, loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear.
Not a bad idea, considering his heir at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had six errors on the season entering Saturday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.
Overall it was such a wonderful, indescribable feeling, seeing Jeter at the game. I may not have been there for his last hurrah, but I can say I was there when he made his triumphant return to New York to pay respect to his old friend.
It was outstanding; maybe the best speech from any of the players that have been honored since 2013, when the Yankees reintroduced retiring numbers and nailing plaques to the hallowed Monument Park walls.
He was sure to thank everyone and spoke directly from the heart.
Williams tossed out the honorary first pitch – a pretty good throw – to boisterous cheers from the crowd.
Unfortunately no magic from number 51 rubbed off on the Yankees. The visiting Texas Rangers had their way with starter Chris Capuano. Texas touched him up for three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. Capuano finished with four strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter – but also didn’t impress anyone.
The Yanks only plated two runs, both of which came off the bat of catcher Brian McCann. In the bottom of the first McCann singled home Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, but that was all the offense the Yankees could muster.
It continued. You know the trend I’m talking about.
The Yankees losing on special days. At the end of 2013, the San Francisco Giants beat the Yankees on a day the pinstripers exalted their own Mariano Rivera.
Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill suffered the same fate in 2014. They were honored with heartwarming pregame ceremonies and Monument Park plaques, but the team just could not finish the job. The Yankees lost each of those games, most of the time without putting up an offensive fight.
The trend was bucked on Aug. 23 of last year when Joe Torre had his day. The Yanks put an end to the special day losing streak, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3.
But on Sept. 7 – Jeter’s big day – they went right back to losing. The Kansas City Royals came in and put up two runs.
Two. The same number Jeter wore on his back his entire career. And the same amount of runs it took the Royals to beat the Bronx Bombers. It ended 2-0.
With special days lined up for Jorge Posada (Aug. 22 vs. Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Aug. 23 vs. Cleveland) and Willie Randolph (June 20 vs. Detroit, also Old Timers’ Day), the Yankees at least have the chance to turn the tables.
But the offense will have to wake up in order for that to happen.
The Yankees have been outscored 29-9 on special days from Rivera’s day in 2013 up to Williams’ day last weekend.
The final thought
Was it disappointing the Yankees lost on Bernie Williams Night?
No doubt. It would have been nice to see a win.
Is it the end of the world for the 2015 Yankees as we know it?
Not at all.
The Yankees are lucky. Fortunate in the sense that the American League Eastern Division is so poor, that even with a record that barely hangs above .500, they’re in first place. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays all have problems.
Each team is struggling, and into the month of June it’ll be interesting to see which team – if any – heats up and pulls ahead in the race.
In the meantime, as I sat in the bleachers and watched the Rangers beat the Yankees after Williams’ nice ceremony, I had this image in my head.
Almost a clear vision.
I pictured the old Yankees who were in attendance. Jeter, O’Neill, Martinez, Cone, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and even Torre. All of the dynasty players and their skipper, I imagined, in a luxury suite, watching the current Yankees.
Watching the current Yankees, and laughing. Laughing at how bad they are. Snickering to one another and saying,
“Can you believe they can’t beat these guys? We would’ve won this game in the first inning.”
Which is true. They certainly would have beaten the Rangers down. The Rangers came in at 20-23, and the Yankees of my youth generally never lost to a team of that below .500 caliber.
Then again, the dynasty Yankees could likely have taken down the 2015 Yankees, had they been matched up against one another. In fact, they probably could have beaten any team currently in the league.
They were that good. It was nice to relive those glory days for a night.
Reason number 112,975,921 why we love the Yankees: They reenacted a scene from the classic movie “The Sandlot.”
This past week, Major League Baseball posted the video.
I can remember going on a class field trip as a kid, and on the bus ride there watching “The Sandlot.” I instantly fell in love with it. I think it’s one of my favorite baseball movies because baseball is a kid’s game. “The Sandlot” really portrays how fun it is to get together with your friends and play baseball during your growing years.
Watching it for the first time it reminded me (and still to this day it reminds me) of how I played baseball with my own friends growing up; in a lot of ways I was watching me and my own friends.
I think many folks who grew up playing the game among friends can probably relate to everything they see in the movie.
There’s always the loudmouth, like Ham Porter. There’s always the shy, new kid on the block who has no idea what he’s doing but he’s too nice so he has to be included, like Smalls. Usually there’s a kid who just goes along with whatever everyone else is saying, like Yeah Yeah. There’s a lovable nerd, like Squints. And generally there’s a gifted athlete in the group, like Benny the jet.
Jacoby Ellsbury made a great Squints. Brett Gardner was OK as Smalls, but not that convincing. It’s easy to tell he’s not an actor, but if Gardner can put on a 20 home run, 80 RBI, .285 batting average and 50 stolen base performance for 2015, we’ll all be fine with it.
The best performance, in this writer’s humble opinion, was that of Brian McCann. His portrayal of Ham was spot-on, from his facial expressions down to his delivery. It was perfect.
I liked the scene the Yankees chose to reenact. It was fitting, I suppose, because the Yankees have obvious ties to Babe Ruth. So much of “The Sandlot” had to do with Ruth, from the signed baseball down to the great bambino visiting Benny the jet in his dreams.
And really, who honestly knew about all of Ruth’s nicknames before they saw the movie? I know I didn’t. “The Sandlot” was there to fill me in.
“The king of crash, man.”
My favorite scene in the movie had to be when they played a “night game” on the fourth of July. Benny rounds up the collection of young ballplayers and tells them, “get your glove, let’s go. Night game.” They leave the fun of the neighborhood block party and go to the sandlot to play a game, using the fireworks to see, given there were no lights at their little “baseball heaven.” I still love Smalls’ grown-up voiceover explaining the scene:
“There was only one night game a year. On the fourth of July, the whole sky would brighten up with fireworks, giving us just enough light for a game. We played our best then, because I guess we all felt like the big leaguers, playing under the lights of some great stadium. Benny felt like that all the time. We all knew he was going to go on to bigger and better games, because every time we stopped to watch the sky on those nights, he was there to call us back.
“You see, for us, baseball was a game. But for Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, baseball was life.”
The outtakes were just as funny.
It’s good to see the team having fun. Team chemistry is important because as we saw in 2009, it leads to great things.
And speaking of great things, opening day is rapidly approaching. So beat the drum and hold the phone, because the Yankees will be playing ball at 1:05 p.m. Monday at the big ballpark in the Bronx against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees are five games away from complete postseason elimination, yet have somehow hung in the AL Wild Card race just enough to have a microscopic chance at a run. Every player on the roster not named Derek Jeter, surely, would love to give The Captain one last go at some autumn baseball in New York.
While it doesn’t appear likely at the moment, and Jeter’s baseball career will probably end on enemy soil at Fenway Park a week from Sunday, last night the Yanks emerged walk-off winners for the eighth time this year, beating the Blue Jays 3-2.
Tied 2-2 in the ninth, Chris Young led off with a single to centerfield and was promptly lifted for Antoan Richardson. The speedy pinch-runner swiped second and moved to third on a Brett Gardner sac bunt. Chase Headley, who already had two walk-off hits under his belt as a Yankee this year, then delivered the death blow with a sharp liner past Adam Lind at first base for the win.
Headley may have notched the big hit in the ninth – and got to take the “Gardner Gatorade Cooler Challenge” so-to-speak – but the hit everyone buzzed about after the game was Jeter’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. It marked The Captain’s fourth round-tripper of the year, and his first bomb of 2014 at the big ballpark in the Bronx.
The fans were so amped up after Jeter’s long liner over the wall in left field that everyone on hand stood cheering, hoping he would come out for a curtain call and tip his cap.
Jeter would modestly say postgame, “Mac (Brian McCann) was in the middle of his at-bat, so I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s hitting at the time.”
It was quite a nice way to begin Jeter’s last career homestand, but he isn’t even focused on the finality of it all, and basically said he just wants the Yankees to win out the rest of the way.
“I’m trying not to think about it being the last homestand,” Jeter added. “I’m going to go out there and play hard like I’ve done my entire career until there are no games left.”
The Captain might be trying not to think about the end, but in reality, last night we may have seen the final home run of his legendary career. Jeter has had plenty of significant helpings of
“mashed taters” (if you will) in his lifetime; World Series home runs, a home run in 2001 All-Star Game. He’s clubbed game-winning homers, and who could forget the pitch he sent into the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th hit that beautifully historic July Saturday in 2011.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of it all: Jeter isn’t exactly, and was never, really, a home run hitter. Still, he will finish with 260 homers (barring another home run between now and Sept. 28) and 20 postseason homers – three of which were smacked in the Fall Classic.
Off the top of my head I was able to personally remember six games I’ve attended over the course of my fandom in which Jeter has homered. All of these homers I’ve seen Jeter hit live were solo home runs – or “2olo 2hots” – in the Bronx. What’s more, each homer tied the game, gave the Yankees a lead, or started them off on a rally.
Indulge me if you will, as I take a stroll down memory lane and share these Jeter home runs I have witnessed firsthand.
June 29, 2002 – vs. the New York Mets
It was a hot day at the beginning of summer ‘02, as well as the middle game of a Subway Series. Those pesky Mets brought some gusto with them to the Stadium that afternoon, and took a 1-0 lead on Ted Lilly in the first.
But into the box stepped Jeter, batting third that day. The Captain sent Al Leiter’s offering deep and gone to knot the time game up 1-1 right away.
Lilly however couldn’t keep his team in it. Mike Piazza, Vance Wilson and Mo Vaughn each hit homers of their own, and the Yankees didn’t muster much more offense, making this the only game the Yanks lost in which I beheld a Jeter home run.
Final: Mets 11, Yankees 2.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2002: 18
June 21, 2005 – vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
This particular game was almost a lost cause. Randy Johnson made the start for the Yanks, and was fully expected to give the Devil Rays hell. That couldn’t have been further from what happened, as the likes of Damon Hollins, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford and Johnny Gomes turned the Big Unit into a small component.
Believe it or not, the Yankees trailed 10-2 in the fourth inning.
Yet, you can never count them out. Jeter kick started his boys in the sixth inning, knocking a solo homer off Chad Orvella, who was on in relief of washed up Tampa Bay starting pitcher Hideo Nomo.
The Yankees chopped it to 11-7 going into the bottom of the eighth and scored 13 (yes, 13!) runs in the bottom half of the frame, going on to win. Thirteen runs by the Yankees in a single inning of a game was indeed possible at one point in time, although it is hard to believe now, given the foibles of the offense these past two years.
Balls also left the yard that night off the bats of Gary Sheffield (who in fact smacked two homers that night), Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada.
Final: Yankees 20, Devils Rays 11.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2005: 19
Aug. 2, 2006 – vs. Toronto Blue Jays
In a rather delicious dose of irony, Jeter had a chance to get back at Lilly in this game from the June 29, 2002 shellacking by the Mets’ hand. The Yankees had traded Lilly to Oakland after ’02 and in exchange were presented with Jeff Weaver (with Jeremy Bonderman ticketed for Detroit, because it was a three-way deal)…
But anyway, Jeter came up in the third inning and sent Lilly’s delivery out of the park, his eighth homer of ’06, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. They tacked on with more runs later; the additional offense highlighted by a Posada two-run homer in the sixth (also off Lilly) to run away with a win. A lights-out pitching performance by Chien-Ming Wang also contributed to the victory.
Final: Yankees 7, Blue Jays 2.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2006: 14
April 22, 2009 – vs. Oakland A’s
Not only was this my first game live at the new Yankee Stadium, it was only the Yankees’ sixth game in the new house built by George Steinbrenner and company.
I guess it was only fitting The Captain offered me a fond memory of my first game across the street.
Jeter came up in the fourth inning and smacked a solo shot over the wall in right-center off Jason Anderson; his fourth home run of the young ‘09 season and his second in the new ballpark. His round-tripper gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, but they didn’t win the game until the 14th inning, when Melky Cabrera sent everyone home happy with a walk-off bomb.
Cabrera also homered in the second inning, as did Matsui; the ball jumping off the bats that blustery day.
Final/14: Yankees 9, A’s 7.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2009: 18
May 15, 2009 – vs. Minnesota Twins
Less than a month later I found myself back at the new Yankee Stadium to see the Bombers host the Twins. For the most part it was a battle, the Yanks and Twins trading blows. Justin Morneau homered. Joe Mauer homered. Minnesota led 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth.
The Captain blasted one off Francisco Liriano, cutting the Twinkies’ lead to 3-1. Gardner shocked everyone with an inside-the-park home run in the seventh, and Cabrera came through in the clutch with the game-winning hit, capping a three-run ninth to give the pinstripers a win.
The Yankees would go on to win the following two games against the Twins in walk-off fashion, and beat Minnesota in their final at-bat in Game 2 of the ALDS that October, by way of a Mark Teixeira walk-off homer.
But that night – the night that started it:
Final: Yankees 5, Twins 4.
April 13, 2010 – vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
It was a day of celebration. Euphoria. Happiness. Rings.
A wonderful ceremony took place before the game; the Yankees being honored for what they had accomplished some five months earlier – beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the ’09 World Series. Jeter was given his fifth ring, while so many others around him were receiving only their first.
After the touching, sentimental moments the ceremony provided, the Yankees had a game to play. They grabbed an early 1-0 lead over the Halos. In the third inning Jeter came up and took Ervin Santana way out and gone for a solo homer, his first of the ’10 season.
Nick Johnson also homered, but how is this for a nod to the days of old:
Yes, Jeter homered. But Andy Pettitte started the game and recorded the win. Mariano Rivera saved Pettitte (his third save of the year to that point), and Posada went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
Talk about efficiency from the members of the “Core 4.”
Final: Yankees 7, Angels 5.
Jeter Home Run Total in 2010: 10
How nice it was, sharing these special moments Jeter gave me.
What are some The Captain gave you…?
HOUSTON – To most people the Yankees went berserk with their free agent signings this offseason. But it appears Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran just weren’t enough – and we won’t know until Friday whether or not Masahiro Tanaka will deliver the goods.
After a deflating 6-2 loss in their season opener against the Astros last night, the Yankees announced today they have signed utility free agent slugger Gordon Shumway to a 5-year, $65 million deal. He is expected to play tonight.
Shumway, a native of the planet Melmac who most people recognize as “Alf” the alien life form, held a press conference this morning at Minute Maid Park and talked about how he plans on helping the Yankees pick up a winning attitude.
“I watched the games last year,” he said. “I saw how disappointing it was for the fans, so I decided it was time to get in the batting cages and start swinging. I found that, like most things, I was really good at baseball. A scout for the Yankees saw me playing against some Little Leaguers and said ‘we need ya, Alf ol’ boy!’ How could I say no to that?”
In that game vs. the Little League team, Alf hit three home runs and stole five bases on the way to a 10-0, mercy rule win in five innings. To say the least, he has plenty of confidence he will bring that type of energy to the Yankees.
“I knew I’d win that game,” Alf said. “Just like I know, with my skills, the Yankees will win the World Series this year. My real name is Gordon Shumway but everyone knows me by the nickname ‘Alf’ – and well, after the 2014 baseball season is complete, everyone will know me by three other letters: MVP.”
Alf brings a swagger to the Yankees like no one skipper Joe Girardi has ever seen.
“Not even Al (Alex Rodriguez) is as – I don’t want to say cocky – but as confident as Alf is,” Girardi said. “He certainly brings a different dynamic to the team that we need right now. We’re happy to have to have him here.”
General Manager Brian Cashman also drew a comparison between Alf and Rodriguez, though he expects no problems with the radical, rookie extraterrestrial.
“I had to tell A-Rod to shut up in my own way last year, only because he was mouthing off about things he couldn’t back up,” Cashman said. “I know I’m not going to have to tell Alf to shut up in an animated way, because I know he’ll back up every bit of what he says on the field and in the batter’s box.”
Alf foresees no troubles in the next five years, citing his only desire is to play ball and win it all.
“I just want to win, which we will because it’s all I do,” he said. “This season with the Yankees, all I can say is, no problem!”
Tonight’s starting lineup will include Alf. He will bat cleanup against the Astros and promised the fans back in New York he would hit not one, but two home runs to make up for, what he called, an “embarrassing” loss last night.
Another one of my ill-fated attempts at humor in a (belated) April Fool’s Day effort. You can check out some of my past foolish attempts here (Ted Danson/Paul O’Neill), here (Michael Pineda selling ice cream), and here (CC Sabathia playing Fat Albert).
Tonight – without the help of Alf – the Yankees look to pick up their first win of what will hopefully be a prosperous 2014 MLB season.
#NewDay #BeatTheDrum #AndHoldThePhone #TheSunCameOutToday
If you watched the brilliant 2007 miniseries The Bronx is Burning, which detailed the radical 1977 New York Yankees season, you might remember how eccentric former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was portrayed. The Boss would get ticked off very easily at the most minute happenings, if you recall.
“We lost an exhibition game to the Mets – to the METS!” he snarled in one scene.
It leads me to believe that if Steinbrenner was still alive, and saw what happened last night in Panama, he would have lost his marbles. Not only did the Yankees lose an exhibition to the Miami Marlins, baseball’s biggest joke in the eyes of most fans, they were no-hit.
I repeat: the Yankees were no-hit by the Marlins.
Though only an exhibition, or a game that doesn’t count, Joe Girardi was not thrilled, saying afterwards,
“You never want to be no-hit. I don’t care what game it is, what level. You never want to see that.”
The fact that the game was being played in honor of Mariano Rivera in his native Panama at Rod Carew Stadium – and the fact that Rivera was in attendance to witness this negative piece of history – only hurt more, in this writer’s eyes.
Now granted, a number of big names like Ichiro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Brian Roberts didn’t participate in the no-hitter, as they were stateside in Florida playing the Baltimore Orioles. Yet a few of the key regulars didn’t impress. In fact, they played a royal hand in being no-hit.
Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli were a combined 0-for-14 with one walk and six strikeouts. Gardner was the only one of the five regulars to reach base via a walk, and was only one of two base runners all night. Zelous Wheeler drew a walk in the eighth inning but that was all the offense – if you can call it offense – the Yanks could muster.
The question I kept asking myself was, when is the last time the Yankees were no-hit in spring training? Better question: have they even ever been no-hit in spring training?
The last time they were no-hit (to any capacity) was June 11, 2003 at the hands of the Houston Astros. Coincidently enough, Jeter and Soriano were a part of the no-hitter in ’03 to Houston, as well as a part of last night’s struggle.
What’s funny is today, in the second game of the Legends Series in Panama, the Yankees no-hit the Marlins through six until Giancarlo Stanton singled to begin the seventh inning. So, the day after being no-hit by the Marlins, the Yanks took a no-no of their own deep into the game.
Can’t make this stuff up, folks.
Luckily after all the excruciating, no-hit nonsense to report on last night, the Yankees took out their frustrations in split squad action this afternoon. The stateside crew beat the Atlanta Braves 7-4 and the team that was no-hit last night pounded out 15 hits today, and shutout the Marlins 7-0.
Everyone looked good in this afternoon’s action, including Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Tanaka pitched 4.1 innings at “The Boss” vs. Atlanta and only let up one earned run on just three hits. He walked two but fanned six, looking as tactical and as effective as Mike Mussina once looked.
Mussina, if you remember, was not incredibly overpowering but so methodical in facing hitters; he had a game plan. Tanaka looked to possess that “Moose”-like style today, at least in my opinion.
Sabathia, in the meantime, worked his best outing of the spring, tossing a perfect five innings against the Marlins; no walks and five Ks. Coming off such a subpar 2013, and not exactly turning any heads this spring, you have believe he needed a performance like today.
Tip of the Hat on #TBT
I’ve recently become “one of those people” on Twitter who partakes in #ThrowbackThursday, posting an old picture from the past and describing it.
This past Thursday, March 13, was the five-year anniversary of my story on John Flaherty; the former Yankee catcher and current YES broadcaster came to my college (Mercy; Dobbs Ferry, NY) in 2009 to speak to the baseball and softball teams at their fundraiser breakfast.
Flaherty told some awesome stories that morning, including how he was hung over the day he was called up to the major leagues – because he and his friends had gone out for “sodas” the night before.
To celebrate the fun memory, naturally I decided to post a collage photo of my newspaper article on the former Yankee catcher, the ball Flaherty signed for me that day, and the picture he took with me.
Tweeting the photo at him, Flaherty remembered the day and offered me kudos on a job well done, which was very nice of him.
Thanks for the kind words, John!
‘Tis the season of the cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather. Yes, MLB Spring Training is finally here, and yesterday the Yankees began their string of exhibition games. As it is, the Bronx Bombers dropped both of their first two Grapefruit League games to Pittsburgh, losing 6-5 Wednesday and 8-2 today – though we all know final scores are probably the least important stat when it comes to Spring Training.
It’s all about fine tuning and getting ready for April, when the scores count and the Yanks embark on their quest for World Series title number 28. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, who as we all know announced his retirement after this upcoming season, declared today that he wants to go out a winner:
“We’re the last team standing and we win the championship.
That’s the only way I envision it ending.”
In order for that happen, a lot has to go right. First of all…
CC Sabathia needs a bounce-back campaign
Last year CC Sabathia faced arm problems, really for the first time ever in his career. The Yankee ace lost 13 games in 2013 and only won 14, coming off 2012 when he won 15 – a far cry from the 21 and 19-win seasons he put up in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last season Sabathia’s ERA was 4.78, the highest earned run average he’s ever posted in his career.
If you’re the type of analyst who likes to throw wins and ERA out the window, here’s something to chew on: Sabathia let up 28 home runs in 2013 – another career-high for a single season. If that isn’t enough, here’s something else to consider: Sabathia served up more taters than Phil Hughes last season, the former homer-happy Yankee and now-Minnesota Twin. Hughes allowed 24 hitters to leave the yard last year compared to Sabathia’s 28.
Yes. You know it’s bad when you’ve given up more long balls than Hughes.
There’s no debating the fact that Sabathia needs to turn it around; be the ace the Yankees bought him for prior to 2009, or at least be close to what he was. It’s not too much to ask, mostly because he’s already proven the type of anchor he can be to a pitching staff.
To his credit, Sabathia slimmed down and lost some weight. According to Michael Kay of YES, Sabathia came into Spring Training last year just under 300 lbs., whereas this year he showed up around 275 and visibly thinner.
Obviously Sabathia is taking serious steps towards getting back to form, but he needs to cut down on the home runs and be clutch this year if the Yankees want to be that last team standing.
Stay healthy, New York
You cannot predict injuries. It’s a fact of sports life. In recent times the Yankees have had a ton of hard luck when it comes to injuries, and they haven’t been able to field a complete team.
New Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury has failed to appear in 100 games in two of the last four seasons because of injuries. In 2010 the speedy center fielder only played 18 games and in 2012 he played just 74, thanks to fractured ribs as a result of an outfield collision (’10) and a collision on the base paths trying to break up a double play (’12).
In between he’s been as solid as they come, though. 2011 was Ellsbury’s best season to date. With 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, a .321 batting average, 212 hits, and an All-Star nod, he was arguably the best all-around player in the American League. Being the runner-up for the AL MVP award, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, is only a testament to how fantastic he truly was in ‘11.
That begs the question, which Ellsbury will be showing up in 2014? The perennial All-Star or the injury prone player who gives up his body en route to disabled list stints?
And Ellsbury is just one example.
To supplant Herculean second baseman Robinson Cano, who split for Seattle, the Yankees signed Brian Roberts – a 36-year-old second sacker once feared by all as a Baltimore Oriole, but has only played 192 games over the last four seasons on account of injuries. (Roberts managed to play 77 games last year, 17 in ’12, 39 in ’11, and 59 in ’10).
Doing the math, Roberts has missed 456 games over the past four seasons; DL stints and concussions have eaten him up. Keep in mind, specifically, he ruptured a tendon behind his right knee last April vs. Tampa Bay attempting a steal of second base.
Knowing all that, will Roberts be a comeback player and offer reliability, or will he simply be unproductive and relegated to the disabled list for a large chunk of the season?
The question marks of Ellsbury and Roberts are of course piled on top of apprehension about Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Jeter (39, 40 in June) as we all know is coming off ankle injuries that limited him to 17 games in 2013, while Teixeira (33, 34 in April) is coming back from wrist problems that only allowed him to play 15 games last year.
How each of these players respond is obviously a “to be determined” but at the same time there is no crystal ball in existence to let us know if they’ll be able to grind out the entire season injury-free.
The bullpen has to be effective
It’s fair to say the Yankees’ bullpen was probably their weakest link last year, even with the legendary Mariano Rivera at the back end closing everything out – which really tells you the whole story. This writer keeps asking himself,
“If the bullpen wasn’t that good with Rivera last year, what can we expect without him this year?
David Robertson, as of now, is expected to succeed Mo in the closer role, which is scary to think about. If you recall in 2012 when Rivera’s season ended on May 3 on the warning track in Kansas City, Robertson was plugged into his spot as closer, but he didn’t cut it.
In just his second save opp a week after Rivera went down, Robertson failed to protect a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay, giving up a three-run homer to Matt Joyce. He later gave up another run and the Yankees went on to lose, 4-1. Robertson called it afterward “the worst feeling in the world.”
Luckily in 2012 the Yankees had the option of using Rafael Soriano in Robertson’s stead – an option that worked out well, given that Soriano saved 42 games in Rivera’s absence.
Now, similarly, the Yankees have signed former Oakland A’s closer (and 2009 AL Rookie of the Year) Andrew Bailey, albeit to a minor league contract. Bailey has 89 saves to his name in his short career, with experience as a closer, making him the logical choice to succeed Rivera over Robertson.
Bailey, like a lot of other Yankees, has a history with injuries. In 2012 he had reconstructive surgery on his right thumb, and just last year an MRI revealed he had a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.
It’ll come down to whether or not Bailey can make it back from injury and be a shutdown pitcher like he once was. For now though, the Yankees have a premiere setup man in Robertson – and that’s about it, because Robertson isn’t a proven closer.
At least not yet.
Looking outside the back end of the bullpen, the middle relievers need to step up too. Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne are going to be two important pieces to the bullpen, along with newcomer Matt Thornton, the tall order who’ll replace Boone Logan (now with the Colorado Rockies) as the main southpaw out of the ‘pen.
Sources are saying former top Yankee pitching prospect Dellin Betances will be vying for a spot in the bullpen this spring, as it’s already been established by Yankee GM Brian Cashman that he will be a reliever in the long run. Betances could either prove to be a key middle reliever or long reliever, yet he has to pitch well enough for the Yankee brass to have faith in him – and well enough to keep himself off mopping duty.
The Opening Day bullpen is likely going to come down to whichever relievers are effective during Spring Training, and the point stands: they have to be effective, whoever they may be when camp breaks.
Masahiro Tanaka has to adapt
Nobody is expecting Masahiro Tanaka to go 24-0 and post an ERA under 2.00 in his rookie season, but if there is one thing the new, prized Japanese import must do, it’s get acclimated to the MLB style. His numbers in Japan were far better than a lot of the other Japanese-born pitchers who’ve come over from the land of the rising sun, meaning he could potentially have a huge year, but the average fan might not realize a couple of things.
First off, pitchers in Japan throw only once a week, whereas here in the states, Tanaka will have to toe the rubber once every five days. Not only that, but the NPB in Japan also uses smaller-sized baseballs compared to an official MLB rock, therefore an adjustment needs to be made in that respect.
The biggest difference will be the hitters Tanaka faces. Monsters such as David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Prince Fielder will probably pose bigger threats (and are more intimidating) than the more tactical batters he went eye-to-eye with in Japan.
Though one could argue Tanaka won’t be fazed by the Goliath-like giants he faces here in the U.S., given his cool demeanor and calm presence at his introductory press conference.
While it’s perfectly fine to expect Tanaka to succeed – and he will – it’s reasonable to presume he will go through his growing pains. Adjustment is the biggest part of his game.
We’ll get our first live look at Tanaka on Saturday afternoon in the Yankees’ exhibition vs. the Phillies.
They have to make each other better
The key to any successful team is chemistry. Most of the 2014 Yankees will be first-time teammates, not having played with each other before. While some like Jeter, Teixeira and Brett Gardner have been together for a few seasons, newbies like Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have not had a chance to jell as teammates.
If you look back to 2009 – and the Dynasty years, for that matter – a player could have an off-night, but the rest of the team would be on. For example,
In 1998, Tino Martinez might have an “0-for” night, but Jeter, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill would be firing at will, and the Yanks would win. The next night Jeter could have gone 0-for-4, but Martinez and everyone else would still be en fuego.
Those teams were the masters of picking each other up.
If the 2014 Yankees can perfect that same art, they’ll be as lethal as any team in baseball.
And the kingdom will be theirs.