Tagged: Mark Teixeira

End of the Year Awards

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.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

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)

TV: ESPN

Statements, statements

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.

Glorious.

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.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

Rivalry reinvigorated: Subway Series interesting again

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.”

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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.

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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.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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June 21, 2005 – vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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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

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Aug. 2, 2006 – vs. Toronto Blue Jays

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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

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April 22, 2009 – vs. Oakland A’s

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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

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May 15, 2009 – vs. Minnesota Twins

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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.

Enter Jeter.

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.

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April 13, 2010 – vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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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.

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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

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How nice it was, sharing these special moments Jeter gave me.

What are some The Captain gave you…?

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We Made a Me-Mo-ry

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?

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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.

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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.

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Rivera was at a store called Bookends promoting his autobiography, The Closer.

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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.”

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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.”

Amazing.

Awesome.

Unbelievable.

Surreal.

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.

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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.

Polar Opposites

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

Yankees falling after exalting

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

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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.

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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.

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 Tino Martinez Day – June 21, 2014

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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.

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 Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage Day/Old Timers’ Day – June 22, 2014

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees

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.

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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.

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 Paul O’Neill Day – Aug. 9, 2014

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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.”

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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.

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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:

Just win.

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