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.
These past few days have been reminiscent of another era.
The old days of Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza in the head came to mind. I couldn’t get the image of Piazza standing up to Clemens after he chucked that hunk of broken bat at him during the 2000 World Series. Even my personal memory of attending the very first Subway Series at Yankee Stadium during the regular season in 1997 echoed through my brain. The battle for bragging rights in New York was on this past weekend.
And for the first time in quite a few years, this Yankee fan felt it.
Whether it was in the Poughkeepsie Journal newsroom, listening to sports talk radio in the car, or going on Facebook and Twitter, talk of the showdown between the Yankees and Mets in the Bronx this past weekend dominated my life. Mostly I was forced to listen to how the Mets had won 11 straight games entering the Subway Series, how they are currently the team to beat and how Matt Harvey is the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Believe me, I took it all.
What most folks who talked up the Mets might have overlooked was the fact that, prior to the Subway Series, the Yankees had won seven of 10 on the road. They had taken one from the Baltimore Orioles, swept the Tampa Bay Rays in three games and took three of four from the Detroit Tigers.
Perhaps the hot start the Mets got off to was more impressive, and thus they got a little more ink than the Yankees.
But there the Yankees were on Friday to remind everyone who they are. In particular, Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda made their presence felt. Teixeira clubbed two home runs of Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, while Pineda tossed 7 2/3 strong innings, giving up one run to the Mets on five hits. Pineda also struck out seven and kept the ball around the plate, walking just one batter.
It brought the Mets’ winning streak to a screeching halt, though it didn’t stop the orange and blue loyalists from reminding the pinstripers that Harvey (excuse me, Jesus Christ) was starting the following day.
Yet, their yapping was backed up and Harvey delivered Saturday. The ace silenced the Yankee bats, giving up just two runs on five hits over 8 2/3 innings. Harvey struck out seven Yankees and walked two en route to his fourth win of the season, proving that yes, he has a bright future and is a bona fide stud.
That brought us to Sunday: The rubber game. The game that decided who got the bragging rights until September, when the Yankees and Mets hook up at Citi Field.
For the first time in a long time, I really wanted the Yankees to win this game. Not that I don’t want them to win any other games; in fact, I want them to win every game, like most passionate fans.
This one, however, I truly wanted. The voices of the trash talk that was spoken, posted and tweeted at me by Mets fans ringed over and over, almost as if they were taunting me. That feeling was only fueled when ESPN opened its broadcast with a shot of a Mets fan holding a sign that read “A-Rod wears Matt Harvey underwear.”
Cute. But, not really that creative. I’m almost certain I heard that one back in 2005, when Chuck Norris “Facts” were a thing.
Alex Rodriguez, me and the Yanks got the last laugh, as it was. Rodriguez homered off Mets starter Jonathan Niese, his 659th career tater, as he continues to creep up on Willie Mays for fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home runs list. Rodriguez finished the series finale 2 for 4 with two RBI and a run scored.
Now, the Empire State Building is shining in Yankee colors because the Bombers took the series.
The feeling is great, I’ll admit — not just the feeling of the Yankees winning, but the feeling of caring about the Subway Series again. Getting caught up in the rivalry was, in a word, fun this weekend. It’s what baseball is all about.
Maybe the players got wrapped up in it, too. It’s possible. Rodriguez even told the press after the game, “The buzz was incredible. I just felt a lot of energy in the building. It was fun … To feel that energy, it was cool.”
Whomever the social media directors are for both clubs also got enveloped in the cross-town rivalry.
Which, if I’m not mistaken, is a first.
The Mets are a team that, for at least right now, is competitive. Like 2000, the year they captured the National League pennant and faced off with the Yankees in the World Series, they have good players. More specifically the Mets have solid, young pitchers, and the organization probably feels this is the time to turn it around and return to relevance.
I can say for sure, that’s how Mets fans feel, and in a lot of ways they have the right to feel that way.
At the same time, it’s still April and there are still 143 games remaining on the schedule. Plus, the Mets clearly have other facets of their game to work on. Case and point, their defense. A team usually cannot commit four errors in a game and expect to win.
I can only hope that when September rolls around and the Yankees go to Flushing, it’s just as competitive and the rivalry is once again at a peak.
Not to mention if both the Yanks (11-8) and Mets (14-5) are racing towards a division pennant or a playoff berth when they next meet, it’ll be even more riveting.
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…?
If the Yankees somehow make the playoffs this year, tonight will go down as the game that saved them. Every team in front of the Yankees won – and this late in the season, the Bronx Bombers can ill afford to lose any more ground in terms of the standings. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning against Koji Uehara, and more specifically the pesky Red Sox looking to play spoiler, the future didn’t exactly look bright; the season all but dangling in the balance.
Then Mark Teixeira came up.
Earlier this season in Milwaukee vs. the Brewers, Teixeira tied the game in the ninth with one swing against Francisco Rodriguez, who like Uehara is another established closer.
Did he have it in him again?
Yes. He sure did. The Yankee first baseman sent a “Teix message” into the second porch in right field, knotting the game up at four in the most dramatic way.
But that wasn’t even the best part.
Teixeira’s tater set up Chase Headley later in the frame, and the third baseman got around on a hanger, blasting Uehara’s offering into the bleachers in right field; a spectacular shot to give the Yanks a 5-4 win, keeping them alive in the AL Wild Card race.
Should the Yankees go on a run, this will be a game everyone will make reference to as the turnaround; it’ll be looked at as the game that kept them from drowning altogether and falling out of the postseason hunt for good.
It will be, in a word, remembered.
This writer, however, will not just remember Sept. 4 as the day the Yankees maintained a pulse in 2014. It will also go down as the day I met Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer to ever live.
On Sept. 22 last year, when the Yankees honored Rivera and retired his number 42, I never would’ve guessed I’d have the chance to meet him not even a year later. Yet when my friend had mentioned that he was going to be doing an appearance in Ridgewood, N.J. and asked if I’d be interested in going, I couldn’t pass it up.
Rivera was at a store called Bookends promoting his autobiography, The Closer.
On the way there, my friends and I were just on edge.
“He’s the best. What are you going to say to him?”
I hadn’t thought about it.
When it was my turn, I simply walked up to Mo, one of my childhood heroes and one of the most respected baseball players in history, and merely introduced myself. “Hi, I’m A.J. Nice to meet you” and shook his hand. With his regular, patented ear-to-ear Mo smile, he said – with kindness beaming out in his voice,
“Nice to meet you too!”
They took our picture and before I left I shook his hand again and sincerely said,
“Thank you. For all the wonderful memories.”
He was still smiling, but his expression changed after I thanked him. It’s hard to describe but he gave me almost a look of awe. His expression shortly morphed back into his regular smile, and before I walked away he patted me on the back and said,
“Awwww, thank you, buddy!” He stressed the words “thank you.”
I basically left the bookstore with the same expression Mo shot me when I thanked him – awe-struck; mesmerized. I’m not quite sure what other adjectives I could use to properly word how I felt, except “amazing” or “awesome.”
All of the above.
Overall, it was a phenomenal experience, even if it was just for a brief couple minutes.
Driving home, I also thought to myself how significant the meeting might be in the future.
Rivera resides in New Rochelle, N.Y. and attends/hosts numerous events throughout Westchester County, N.Y.
Working for a Westchester newsweekly, it’s not crazy to think I might someday have to cover an event that Rivera is on hand for, and perhaps interview him. By meeting him today, though, I got the manner of being “star-struck” out of the way. Now, if I cross paths with him again as a reporter (and not a fan) I won’t be as mind-blown as I was today.
For example, when I first interviewed New York Giants’ quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, I was admittedly overwhelmed – even as a reporter. But after interviewing him multiple times, there’s not as much pressure talking to him anymore. To me, interviewing Manning is just business as usual – which is how it’ll likely be now, if I interview Mo, because I’ve already met him.
If that makes sense.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable day. For the Yankees, for the Yankee fans, and for a reporter who happens to be a Yankee fan.
Behind the lights-out pitching of Brandon McCarthy, the Yankees were able to salvage the final game of their three-game series against Houston this afternoon, beating the Astros 3-0; the Bronx Bombers picking up their first win since Sunday. McCarthy danced to a complete game tune, putting on a four-hit shutout performance with eight strikeouts and no walks – an outing that looked more like a Roger Clemens start, circa 2001.
The Yankee offense, which has basically struggled since the end of 2012, scored all of its runs in the second inning this afternoon. Chase Headley swatted a double into the right field corner to bring in Mark Teixeira and Martin Prado, and later came in on a sac fly out to center off the bat of Ichiro.
Other than that, it was McCarthy’s day to shine.
The much-needed victory brought the Yankees to 64-61 this season; now trailing Baltimore for first place by nine games in the American League East. The Yanks are also four and a half games out for the second Wild Card spot – but that comes with the task of hurdling Cleveland, Seattle and Detroit for a postseason seed.
Numerically, the Yankees still have a chance at capturing the AL East, with eight games left to play against the Orioles in the month of September. Realistically however, given the immense lack of hitting and team inconsistency on both sides of the field, it’s fair to just hope for a fight into a sudden death Wild Card game down the stretch.
This weekend the Yanks welcome the Chicago White Sox into town, and before Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the pale hose, will honor Joe Torre with a ceremony. The newly crowned Hall of Famer will have his no. 6 rightfully retired by the organization.
Whether or not the Yankees take the game from the White Sox that will follow the ceremony remains to be seen, as they’ve had bad luck winning games on days they pay homage to Monument Park newcomers.
Recent history hasn’t been on their side.
In summation, it’s been a very lackluster summer in the Bronx. The season just has not given off the World Series vibes of 2009 and the ‘90s Dynasty years, which is tragic not only because of the amount of money “the brass” spent in the offseason on players; buying some sought-after free agents in hopes of turning the team around – but you would hope in Derek Jeter’s final year, the captain could go out a winner.
Right now, it doesn’t even seem as though Jeter will play autumn baseball in New York again, let alone collect his sixth World Series ring.
While the Yankees are upsetting fans and not living up to the hype generated in the preseason, a minor league team from just up the Hudson River has been doing what the Yankees haven’t been this year: playing well and consistent. The Hudson Valley Renegades, the New York-Penn League MiLB squad affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays, have been as clutch and as fun to watch as the ’09 Yankees this year.
The ‘Gades are one of the top teams in the NYPL, and are on track for the playoffs as the season enters its final week and a half. I’m now in my third season covering Hudson Valley and it wasn’t long ago – 2012, in fact – that the Renegades won only their second championship in team history, and first since 1999.
They certainly have a chance to go for their third, and second in three years.
This week was the NYPL All-Star Game in Brooklyn, held at MCU Park where the Cyclones play; the Cyclones, of course the New York Mets farm team. The Renegades sent a record seven players to the ASG. I wrote a little feature about it that ran in the newspaper I work for, The Examiner, this week.
Since the Renegades are playing great baseball – virtually the polar opposite of the Yankees – I figured I’d share my feature on the Hudson Valley all-stars.
Note: The NYPL ASG took place Tuesday night, and as I understand it, ended in a 1-1 tie. Our newsweekly prints on Tuesday mornings, so the story was run timely, but now is actually a couple days late. Nonetheless:
Renegades to Send Record Seven Players to NYPL All-Star Game
By A.J. Martelli
The New York-Penn League All-Star Game may be taking place tonight at MCU Park in Brooklyn, but a strong Hudson Valley presence will be felt. The Renegades will be represented in the All-Star Game by seven players, a record number for the minor league franchise.
“It’s awesome; a great accomplishment to them,” said Renegades skipper Tim Parenton, who will be managing the game with his coaching staff. “They put up the numbers, they got the recognition by the league president and they’re going to do great.”
Two Renegade outfielders in Bralin Jackson and Hunter Lockwood were selected. Jackson, the Tampa Bay Rays’ fifth pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft, has tallied 56 hits in 54 games and has demonstrated a keen eye at the plate, drawing 24 walks. He also hit .324 in the month of July and leads the Renegades with 18 multi-hit games.
Lockwood has been as clutch as they come, leading the league with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs. Three of his 13 round-trippers have been of the walk-off variety, and he’s very excited to be playing in his first All-Star Game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Lockwood said. “Going there with a bunch of guys that you know and get to play with every day is just going to make it all the more special. We’ve had a lot of guys playing well for us all year; been hitting the ball, throwing strikes and getting the job done when we need it.”
Along with a pair of outfielders, three Renegade infielders will be playing tonight. Utility man Coty Blanchard, second baseman Jace Conrad and first baseman Casey Gillaspie each received the nod.
Blanchard currently sports a .287 batting average, has driven in 24 runs and he leads the league with 20 stolen bases. Meanwhile Conrad has 17 steals, boasts a .277 average, and has knocked in 18 runs.
Gillaspie, the Rays’ first pick in this year’s draft, has been worth the price of admission with his seven home runs this summer, coupled with 38 RBIs and a .273 clip at the plate. The younger brother of Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie is looking forward to the experience.
“It should be a fun time,” Gillaspie said. “We have a good team, the guys work hard. I’m happy for all the guys who got invited.”
Rounding out the Renegades in the All-Star Game are pitchers Nolan Gannon and Hunter Wood. Gannon is currently 5-2 in nine starts with an ERA of 2.68. The tall right-hander has struck out 43 batters in 47 innings while only allowing five walks.
Wood, another lanky righty, has been equally as dominant, with a 3-3 record in 11 starts for the Gades, and a 2.91 ERA.
You can check out my latest gamer on the Renegades’ 6-1 win over the Lowell Spinners last Saturday here. Lowell is the NYPL’s Boston Red Sox affiliate.
There may not be anyone daring enough to say the Yankees aren’t the most revered franchise in sports. We could go on all day about the history, the number of championships and the outstanding – or maybe a better word, legendary – players that have made the Bronx Bombers the best in the world.
So when the Yankees honor a player and dedicate a special day just for them, it’s usually fitting for the team to win the game accompanying the ceremony for the Yankee legend, right?
Well, in recent times, that just hasn’t been happening.
Mariano Rivera Day, with a side of Andy Pettitte – Sept. 22, 2013
It was a sunny Sunday in the Bronx last year when the Yankees bid farewell to their longtime closer Mariano Rivera. Baseball’s all-time saves leader was not only honored by scores of former and current teammates with a beautiful ceremony, but his number 42 was retired by the Yankees, making him the only Bomber to have his number retired while he was still a member of the active roster.
If that wasn’t sweet enough, Metallica rocked out with a rousing, live rendition of Enter Sandman in the spirit of the day.
Andy Pettitte, who like Rivera was a fan-favorite and set to retire at the end of the ‘13 season, was on the hill for the Yankees in their game against the San Francisco Giants after the ceremony. It also happened to be the beloved southpaw’s final game pitched in the Bronx.
Pettitte did a nice job keeping the Yanks in it, throwing up seven innings of two-hit ball. He only gave up two runs in those seven innings showing quality; he walked one and struck out six.
Current closer and then-setup man David Robertson piggybacked Pettitte and got one out in the eighth, before giving way to Rivera. The legendary Mo came in and pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, letting up just one hit with one strikeout.
Smooth sailing through calm seas. Nothing new to either pitcher.
But the brilliant pitching of Pettitte and Rivera couldn’t save the Yankee offense, which showed about as much life as a stiffened corpse. Despite nine hits, the Yanks pushed across just one run on a solo home run off the bat of Mark Reynolds in the third inning.
The Yankees couldn’t win on a day they paid homage to a pair of their most worshipped players during the dynasty of the late 1990s.
On Rivera’s special day and Pettitte’s final Yankee Stadium bow:
Giants 2, Yankees 1.
Tino Martinez Day – June 21, 2014
Tino Martinez made enormous contributions to the Yankees in the mid-to-late ‘90s, and rightfully, the Yanks honored him at the start of the summer with a plaque in Monument Park. Billy Crystal, a famous actor and noted fan of the boys from the Bronx, once said,
“To me, Tino was a real Yankee. You could sense he was a good person. You could just sense that he was a really good guy and that he loved being here.”
So on June 21 before the Yankees’ game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, the organization rewarded the love Martinez had for the pinstripes. The “Bam-Tino” was given the recognition of a plaque in Monument Park; the Yankees this year clearly giving the dynasty of the late ‘90s its earned due.
Martinez delivered a wonderful speech among his former teammates, friends and family, highlighted with such meaningful words directed at the fans:
“You guys don’t know how much you mean to us.”
Still the One by Orleans played as the ceremony ended; good vibes resounded throughout the big ballpark in the Bronx.
That is, until Vidal Nuno toed the rubber.
Nuno let up five runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched – three of those five runs coming by way of the long ball. The Yankee offense didn’t have an answer for Baltimore starter Bud Norris, only getting one run in the form of a famous Mark Teixeira “Teix message” in the bottom of the fourth.
Such a special atmosphere for Martinez, and how did the day end?
Orioles 6, Yankees 1.
Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage Day/Old Timers’ Day – June 22, 2014
The day after the Yankees honored Martinez with a plaque in Monument Park, they gave props (if you will) to the flame-throwing Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage, who most consider the best closer in Yankee history behind Rivera. Gossage played seven seasons in New York, won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
The mustachioed menace undoubtedly had the credentials and was entitled to a Monument Park plaque.
Now, not only did the Yankees honor Gossage, but they chose to honor him on a special day: Old Timers’ Day. That meant countless Yankee alumni from years past were on hand for Gossage’s ceremony and the Old Timers festivities.
In fact, this writer was even in attendance that sweaty afternoon – and bounced out of the stadium early on account of how poorly the team played. Once again the Yankees faced off with the Orioles, and yet again failed to generate any offense. Even with mighty Masahiro Tanaka on the hill; with Gossage and the players of old looking on, the Yanks couldn’t get it done.
The day started nicely but ended like this:
Orioles 8, Yankees 0.
Paul O’Neill Day – Aug. 9, 2014
Late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner nicknamed Paul O’Neill ‘The Warrior’ because of his feisty nature, hatred of losing and the disgust he exhibited when he didn’t produce at the plate. O’Neill demonstrated the type of passion every player should possess, Steinbrenner thought – although some may maintain that none of those water coolers he destroyed over the years did anything to deserve the type of punishment they received at his hand.
His former manager Joe Torre described him as “hardcore” and added, “Warrior. George Steinbrenner named him right. In the clutch he was a miracle worker.”
The Warrior’s old teammate and friend Derek Jeter called him “intense.” Said Jeter: “Paul expected a lot of himself. He was a big part of our championship teams.”
O’Neill gave a fine speech amongst family and former teammates, thanking the fans for never allowing his memory and contributions to the team to be forgotten.
How could Yankee Universe forget? The last time a player tried to wear the jersey number 21 – reliever LaTroy Hawkins in 2007 – he was booed out of the building and had to change his number to 22.
Maybe someday number 21 will be retired for O’Neill, given that it’s been out of circulation since Hawkins forfeited it, but as for today, O’Neill received a plaque to go in Monument Park.
After the ceremony concluded, and Scandal’s The Warrior bounced off the Yankee Stadium walls, the Yanks took on the Cleveland Indians.
Yet again the offense went into its stall mode, getting stifled by Corey Kluber, who struck out 10 Yankees. The Cleveland bullpen added another five strikeouts in relief, meaning the Yankees made 27 outs and 15 of them were Ks.
The day couldn’t have been any nicer in terms of paying tribute to O’Neill, but the way it ended:
Indians 3, Yankees 0.
In the last four special days the Yankees have held in honor of their former players, the offense has generated a grand total of two runs. They will have an opportunity in a couple weeks to perhaps break the trend of losing on special days when they honor Torre on Aug. 23.
Jeter will also be exalted for what he’s done over the course of his Yankee career on Sept. 7; another day that could potentially end on a sour note if the Yankee offense decides to take the day off.
Already announced for next year is Bernie Williams Day; the beloved and gentle center fielder of the ‘90s and 2000s will be paid homage in Monument Park.
Until then, this will be left as a “to be continued.” Time will tell if Torre, Jeter and Williams witness losses on their respective special days.
But if the Yankees truly want to honor their heroes, they only have to do one thing:
Over the first half of this season the Yankees can, at best, be described at “hot-cold.” It seems the Bronx Bombers get into a groove, but begin skidding not long after they appear to hit a good stretch. Nonetheless, they find themselves within an arm’s reach of first place in the AL East at the All-Star break – which, in a word, is miraculous, given their streakiness and injury problems.
There are plenty of storylines to be covered from the first 94 games of 2014. The First topic, of course, has to be
Masahiro Tanaka – Man, not Superman
If you remember back to the pilot episode of the old TV show Smallville, Lana Lang asks Clark Kent if he’s “man or Superman.” When the news of Masahiro Tanaka’s partially torn UCL broke, it was the only quote this scribe thought of.
The man from Japan was virtually untouchable through his first few starts – dare I say Superman-esque, boasting the best record in baseball at 12-3 with an ERA of 2.27.
Then Tuesday happened. Superman lost his cape.
Tanaka was lit up by Cleveland for five earned on 10 hits. His fastball was flat, his sinker was hanging, and he took the loss in arguably the worst start of his young MLB career.
The bad line and the loss only made the news on Tanaka’s partially torn UCL worse, as he’s been one of the only bright spots in the Yankee rotation this season; with CC Sabathia possibly being done for good, Ivan Nova needing Tommy John surgery, and Michael Pineda being about as useful as a screen door in a submarine.
It’s obvious the loss of Tanaka comes as a huge blow to the Yankees. So far the front office hasn’t made a stunner deal to patch up the rotation holes, although they’ve added Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help, acquired Jeff Francis from the Oakland A’s, and called up the emerging Shane Greene to fill some of the void.
A blockbuster trade for a front-line starter may or may not be in the cards for the Yankees this year – there’s not much out there to take, although Cliff Lee will apparently be off the DL and available come the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.
Perhaps the Yankees can land the trade that never was in July, 2010. Lee would’ve been tremendously more valuable in ’10 than he is now, but with the rotation in a state of disarray, he may be the closest the Yankees get to a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.
That is, unless they can somehow snatch David Price from Tampa Bay – but the Yankees stand a better chance of a magical leprechaun falling from a rainbow in the sky and bringing them cake and ice cream. It’s extremely improbable.
On the other hand if there isn’t a starter to be had at the deadline, the Yankees simply have to find a way to win with who they have.
As for Tanaka: the Yanks will be without his services for at least six weeks, yet he’ll probably be gone beyond that timeframe; a UCL tear, no matter how large or small, usually spells a lot of time on the sidelines. It’s also worth noting Tanaka apologized for his injury, taking the same road Hideki Matsui traveled in 2006 when he broke his wrist trying to field a fly ball in left field.
We’ve learned a lot about Tanaka over the first half of the season, but the hardest lesson we all learned is that he’s a man. Not Superman.
Alfonso Soriano just not built to last
When the Yankees picked up McCarthy, it was almost shocking to see Alfonso Soriano’s name on the “designated for assignment” list. The Yanks acquired their old pal “Fonsy” last year from the Cubs and he turned back the clock, becoming an exciting piece of a rather bland and dry 2013 offense.
Soriano said at the outset of the season he was considering retirement at the end of this season as it was; but I’m not sure he – or anyone else – expected the 38-year-old slugger to be cut in what may be his final season.
This year Soriano was batting a weak .221 with 71 strikeouts in 238 plate appearances. He only clubbed six homers and drove in just 23 runs in the 67 games he played – clearly not playing with the fire that burned last summer.
Perhaps it was a classic case of going back to the place, but not the time.
Derek Jeter, for one, was not happy with Fonsy’s release, telling the Star Ledger “Soriano is like family to me. I’m going to miss him. He’s like a brother to me. He should be proud of what he’s been able to do.”
If it really is the end of the line for Soriano, he put together a nice little career with 412 homers, two World Series appearances, and seven All-Star nods. Certainly not a Hall of Famer worthy span, but he was good enough to be a recognizable ballplayer and a bona fide difference-maker.
Mark Teixeira still has it
Soriano wasn’t able to light up the offensive categories this year, but one man who has been ripping and tearing it up with his bat has been Mark Teixeira. The big first baseman is leading the team in homers with 17 and has knocked in 48 runs, which overshadows his somewhat low .239 batting average.
For Teixeira, a guy who missed basically all of last year and even spent time on the DL this year with a nagging hamstring injury, the above average power numbers and situational hitting are pleasantly surprising.
Generally after suffering season-ending injuries players don’t respond with such decent numbers right away. Teixeira looks as good as new and is offering some positive results. It might even be fair to say he’s putting the Yankees on his back and carrying the team this year.
David Robertson can indeed close
Last season the biggest story was Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the big question that went with it: can David Robertson, who was set to supplant the great Rivera as Yankee closer, actually do it?
What’s sad is, he’s answered the question this season with a giant “YES” but it’s flown under the proverbial radar; nobody is really talking about it.
Robertson has saved 23 games for the Yankees while only hitting two speed bumps: blowing a save in Chicago to the White Sox on May 23 and failing to save the game vs. the Minnesota Twins at home on June 1.
Other than those two instances Robertson has been as solid as a bull, closing out games without the fans even having to often utilize his famous “Houdini” nickname. Robertson has been shutting down other teams in the ninth with relative ease, evading trouble and doing Rivera proud.
By the way, the official Yankee Yapping term for a Robertson save is “Alabama Slam” because Robertson is an Alabama native and he slams the door in the ninth.
It hasn’t quite caught on just yet, although some YY Twitter followers approve.
Dellin is dealin’
Rightfully so, Dellin Betances has been named an AL All-Star this year. As a reliever he’s struck out 84 batters in 55.1 innings pitched, making the best hitters in the league like Mike Trout and Jose Bautista look like hitters trying to strike a pea with a twig.
Betances has emerged as firearm and a practically an automatic 1-2-3 inning out of the ‘pen, but I think the difference between Betances and someone such as Joba Chamberlain (or Phil Hughes for that matter) is that he found what didn’t work and has now found what does work – and that’s where he’s staying.
The Yankees discovered that the role of starting pitcher was just not clicking for Betances. When he didn’t make it as a starter, he found his way as a reliever, and that’s who is – and who he’ll be from here on out.
Unlike, however, Chamberlain and Hughes, who constantly flip-flopped roles and eventually didn’t make it either way.
Bottom line: the Yankees have done the right thing with Betances, and the decision to make (and keep) him a reliever is paying off royally.
The Swan Song of Derek Jeter
Through the first half of 2014, the Yankee Captain is hitting .271 with two homers and 25 RBIs. He’s slugging .321 and has swiped six bases while only getting caught once. He has 91 hits thus far, and has moved up on MLB’s all-time hits list; in fact, at press time, he’s 13 away from tying the legendary Carl Yastrzemski for eighth place on the all-time list.
But it’s not exactly about his numbers this season, or the records he’s shattering. It’s about the atmosphere every time he comes to bat at Yankee Stadium – or anywhere else. Opposing fans cheer him when he steps into the box, showering him with appreciation and respect, while the opposing teams themselves shower him with adulation and parting gifts.
It’ll only get more exciting, or maybe more fittingly bittersweet, when he takes the field in his final All-Star Game Tuesday night at Target Field in Minnesota.
Fans everywhere can appreciate what Jeter’s done over the years, and how much he’s meant not only to the Yankees but baseball in general. It’s nice to see this fine ballplayer get the respect of his peers and those with whom he works.
The atmosphere is going to be surreal on the final day of the Yankees’ season, whenever it may come; whether it be in the playoffs sometime, at the end of the regular season, or at the end of the World Series.
It’s tough to consider right now, but whenever it ends – and however it ends – the Captain will go out a respected winner in the eyes of the baseball fans. And if you can go out with the adoration of everyone around you, isn’t that the greatest thing in sports?
It’s been a great first half of the 2014 season. Here’s to a fun second half!
But before I go, here’s some Yankee Yapping “Extra Innings”…. !!!
For the third straight summer I’ve been “down on the farm” so-to-speak, covering Minor League Baseball – more specifically the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Tampa Bay Rays’ short season Single-A affiliate.
The last two games I’ve covered ended quite dramatically, as Hunter Lockwood, the Gades’ left fielder, ended the game in extra innings with one swing; first a solo homer to beat the Staten Island Yankees on July 5, and just last night a two-run homer to beat the Batavia MuckDogs (a Miami Marlins affiliate) 12-10.
Just for the heck of it, I’ll post my game story from Lockwood’s walk-off home run that beat the Baby Bombers last weekend. This story ran in my newspaper (The Examiner) this week, so those who don’t get a chance to read my regular recaps in the paper, here’s a taste of what you’re missing:
Renegades Stun Yankees with Lockwood’s Walk-Off Homer
By A.J. Martelli
Hudson Valley Renegades relief pitcher Isaac Gil had a whipped cream pie ready for designated hitter Hunter Lockwood at the end of their game against the Staten Island Yankees Saturday night. It was the only way to celebrate what had just happened.
In the bottom of the tenth tied 3-3 with two outs, Lockwood delivered a solo, walk-off home run – a spectacular shot over the left field wall at Dutchess Stadium to give the Renegades a 4-3 win, extend Hudson Valley’s win streak to seven in a row, and send the sold out crowd home happy.
“It’s a huge rush for me and I know it’s just a huge rush for the rest of my team,” Lockwood said moments after clubbing the death blow. “Everybody has all the dog piles and stuff you see on TV, and it’s just a lot of fun to be able to go out and produce for our team and for our fans out here.
“We’ve been playing good as a team, we trust everybody to get the job done, coming through in clutch situations, and that helps us stick together as a team and keep playing hard. We’ve had a bunch of late walk-off wins; a bunch of games where we’ve held tight and came through late – it allows us to keep playing hard, and since we’ve done it in the past we know we can do it in the future.”
The dramatic homer was Lockwood’s team-leading fourth of the season. Perhaps more importantly, the win was Hudson Valley’s fifth walk-off style victory of 2014, and its fourth win of the season in extra innings. Skipper Tim Parenton doesn’t mind playing in close games, given the results he’s seeing right now.
“The guys just never quit and they’ve done it all year,” he said. “Hunter Lockwood hit the ball hard a couple times tonight, but got one up in the air a little bit and it got out of here. It’s just a great win for the guys. They just believe in each other, and we just have a resilient group.”
The Gades’ resiliency was never more evident than in the top of the tenth inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out, looking primed to break the 3-3 stalemate. But reliever Gerardo Reyes, who notched his first win of the year, pitched out of it, getting a line out to left, a pop out to short, and a groundout to end any danger.
“We just hung in there,” Parenton said. “You sit there as a coach and say ‘put it in the zone and see if they can make the hit or we can make the play.’ We were able to get a couple pop ups and the ground ball out.”
The Renegades took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning; scoring in the sixth on an RBI double off the bat of second baseman Jace Conrad, and an RBI single from left fielder Clayton Henning in the seventh. Conrad plated the Gades’ third run in the eighth, scoring from third on a wild pitch.
The Yankees were able to tie it in the top half of the ninth on two RBI singles off Reyes to send it to extras.
Renegades’ starter D.J. Slaton did a fine job keeping his team in the game, tossing six innings of three-hit ball. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven – and also had to wiggle out of trouble in the fifth inning, escaping a second and third, no out jam.
“The biggest thing for me was getting ahead, finishing off batters when I had the chance and trying to keep a low pitch count,” he said. “For me it’s fastball changeup and when those two are rolling for me, usually it’s a good night.
“The fifth was a tough, sucky inning, but the biggest thing was, you just have to get a quick out in the infield somewhere, and a strikeout, and go from there. Once you get those two outs you don’t relax a little bit, but you look for that third out any way you can get it.”
Southpaw Ryan Pennell, a Rye Neck alum and Mamaroneck native, was solid in the role of the middle man. He threw two innings in relief of Slaton and allowed one run on just two hits. He walked two and struck out two.
The Renegades (15-5) are sitting pretty with the New York-Penn League’s best record and are in first place in the McNamara division. With doubleheaders coming up on the schedule – and no days off until next Tuesday – Parenton plans on fielding his entire team to keep the winning recipe cooking.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to rotate our lineup, put fresh guys in there,” he said, “and just keep playing and hopefully keep winning.”
Side note: The photo of Lockwood was taken by me, whilst conducting my postgame interview. I’m not much of a photographer, but my editor has some fantastic shots of Lockwood. He’s a pro, I’m an amateur.
On a day where it looked as if Masahiro Tanaka’s undefeated win streak dating back to his days last year in Japan was coming to an end, everything came together for the Yankees and the streak was kept alive. The combination of a Mark Teixeira home run, more clutch hitting from Jacoby Ellsbury, a go-ahead homer off the bat of Kelly Johnson, and a late game scoring barrage gave the Yankees a 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
No, Tanaka didn’t get “Brock Lesnar’d” today, if you will; his streak remains intact as he’s a perfect 4-0 this season – today being a prime example of how, even when things aren’t exactly going his way, he still wins. The young man from Japan battled through the first four innings or so, letting up homers to Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers, until he settled down and finished up like a stud.
Today’s win not only kept Tanaka’s unblemished record breathing, it also snapped a 3-game Yankee losing skid, and put the Bombers back in first place in the AL East after being a half game out to Baltimore following a brutal 10-5, 14 inning loss to TB Friday night.
In the heart of the losing schnide, though, the Yankees honored a man who broke a record – but not a record that could be smashed on the ball field.
Bob Wolff, famed broadcaster who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series among countless other big time sporting events, broke the record for longest career as a broadcaster. The Guinness Book of World Records gave him the nod, as he’s been calling games from behind the mic for the better part of 74 and a half years.
At 93 Wolff is still at it, working for News 12 Long Island.
In this writer’s opinion, it couldn’t have happened to a better person.
I had the opportunity to interview Wolff’s son Rick in 2009. Rick was the baseball coach at my college (Mercy, NY) from 1978-85, and a minor league ballplayer turned author and radio personality. Rick talked a lot about his dad’s work and what type of man he is in the interview I conducted, saying,
“My dad was a well-respected broadcaster. He called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series in 1956, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.
“My dad has always been my biggest fan. He is still active and calling baseball games, and he always stood by me. I remember when I coached at Mercy, he used to come watch the team play. He spent a lot of windy afternoons on the Hudson watching my team.” (His team being the Flyers, now known to the Mercy College student body as the Mavericks).
It took awhile, but I was actually able to dig up the hard copy of that article I wrote on Rick.
I also have to credit Rick for the inception of this blog; he was the individual who suggested I start Yankee Yapping.
After the Yankees lost 4-2 to Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners Thursday night, Wolff spoke to the press at Yankee Stadium, and without really giving away the secret of his success, mentioned that he – when calling a game – always tried to make it interesting. Instead of bombarding everyone to death with stats constantly, he threw in quips and witticisms to keep the audience engaged. Important to do, in a profession that requires so much attention from so many different people.
Using that method set Wolff apart from the pack.
Since everything sports-related in terms of information is basically relayed through Twitter in this day and age of social media, I suppose it’s important to maintain the attention of your audience – your followers – through funny puns, in between the giving of scores and statistics.
I try to be that way, while being as professional as possible. Of course, the whole job of a sports journalist is to provide information on what happened (or is happening) in a game, along with any extra info and analysis. Yet, as Wolff stated, it’s important to keep it fun.
Because after all, aren’t sports supposed to be fun to watch?
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!