Some of the best stories in sports are the stories of comebacks. Most people are familiar with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, who was a highly touted prospect but fell victim to temptation and drugs. He worked as hard as he could and made it back to become one of MLB’s best players.
If you are a football fan, David Tyree’s name comes to mind. He was arrested and lost everything, becoming another athlete with a drug addiction. Yet he exorcised his demons and eventually had the huge “helmet catch” to help propel the New York Giants to a 17-14 Super Bowl victory in 2008 over the undefeated New England Patriots.
The so-called “rise up from the ashes” tale is one everyone enjoys – not just sports fans.
At 30, life in baseball has seemingly not yet begun for Mark Prior. Stemming back to his debut in 2002 with the Chicago Cubs, he has a history of injuries and he has never really been able to recover from them. You name it, Prior has been through it.
Hamstring injuries, Achilles injuries, shoulder surgery, elbow strains, a tweaked oblique, tendinitis – he has not had an easy career considering all these problems.
Although he has been hurt most of his career, he still holds a lifetime record of 42-29 with an ERA of 3.51, and he has fanned 757 lifetime batters. He was the second overall pick (in the first round) by the Cubs in the 2001 draft and he even made the National League All-Star team in 2003. That being said, he has the makings of a very good pitcher.
Now, if he can only find a way to translate it to his career without getting hurt.
Since leaving the Cubs after 2007, Prior has bounced around baseball. He tried to make it with the San Diego Padres, but never pitched a Major League game for them. He was released by the Padres in August of 2009 and in June of 2010 he went back to USC, where he had previously attended College.
He worked out for a Major League scout, but was deemed “just all right.”
In September of last year Prior agreed to a deal with an independent team – the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. Exactly a month after he had agreed to play for the Flyers, he signed a Minor League contract to pitch for the Texas Rangers. He made it clear that he wanted to pitch for a Major League club and hoped to catch on with the Rangers in a middle or long relief role.
Obviously he didn’t get a roster spot on the Rangers, but that didn’t mean he was giving up.
This past off-season the Yankees signed Prior to a Minor League deal. He has only pitched one inning this spring- a perfect frame against the Detroit Tigers on Monday March 1. He has also been working out with the team consistently and hopes to accomplish what he didn’t with Texas – receive a spot in the bullpen as a middle or long reliever.
In a recent interview with the YES Network, Prior described his arm strength as “good” and stated that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy. One of his goals this spring is to show everyone what he is made of.
“I want to show everybody that I can stay healthy and I can still pitch,” he told YES. “I know how to pitch. My stuff may not be what it used to be, but it’s still good enough to get guys out at this level.”
Prior added that he wants to get comfortable pitching in games.
At the trade deadline last season, the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood, who was Prior’s teammate for five years on the Cubs. At one time the two were considered a “dynamic duo,” if you will, being the Cubs’ top tier starting pitchers. Like Prior, Wood sustained a number of injuries and analysts and fans questioned his ability to return from them and effectively pitch.
Wood proved to everyone that he can indeed still pitch, as he went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA down the stretch for the Yankees. He was also instrumental in fortifying the Yankee bullpen, acting as the bridge to Mariano Rivera for the second half of 2010.
Prior was happy to see his former teammate succeed in pinstripes.
“I know Woody had a great time here, he really enjoyed himself here, and I think it revitalized him to continue on and keep playing,” he said.
“He pitched outstanding the last two months of the season for the Yankees and hopefully I can do just as good a job as he did.”
Everyone loves a comeback story. And this year Prior might be the guy the fans look at and say, “He’s the guy who rose above; the guy no one believed in, but he proved us wrong.”
The fans should be rooting for him. I am.
Yesterday I added a new piece to my seemingly never-ending Yankee memorabilia collection. I purchased the official “Winning Streak Dynasty” banner from Modells, since they were having a sale and marketing it for a relatively low price.
Just by glancing at the banner, and each of the 27 years the Yankees have won the World Series, gave me an idea: a look inside some of the World Series the Yankees have won. I figured I would explore the reasons why the Yankees won that specific year, provide some background on the regular season, examine turning points that made each fall classic special, and identify the key players who made it what it was.
I figured I would first relive a very magical season: 1998.
Regular season record: 114-48
Postseason record: 11-2
Manager: Joe Torre (3rd season)
The 1998 Yankees, who went on to set a Major League record for most games won overall in a season, began their year in a slow fashion. They lost four out of their first five games to start the year, including a 10-2 beat-down at the hands of the California Angels.
Manager Joe Torre called an “angry meeting” and aired out some of his feelings to his players. The pitchers and the position players noticed somewhat of a rift between each other; some batters were hit and felt the pitchers did not do enough to retaliate.
They eventually found their groove on April 7 against the Seattle Mariners, beating the M’s 13-7. From there, they won their next seven games and wound up ending April with a record of 17-6.
On May 17 starting pitcher David Wells tossed a perfect game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins. He retired 27 consecutive batters leading the Yanks to a 4-0 win. It was only the 15th perfect game in MLB history and only the second perfecto thrown by a Yankee.
Later in the season on Sept. 1, Wells almost threw another perfect game. Facing the Oakland Athletics, Wells was perfect through 7 2/3 innings. Needing only seven outs for another perfect game, Jason Giambi lined a single off an 0-2 count to break it up.
May 19 marked a turning point in the season. After Baltimore Orioles’ closer Armando Benitez allowed a three-run home run to Bernie Williams, he pegged Tino Martinez in between his shoulder blades. He was immediately run from the game, but the HBP practically caused a riot.
A fracas ensued and the Yanks and O’s exchanged shoves, and eventually punches.
The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles 9-5 in that game, and also swept them in that series three games to one.
A Year-Long Tear
The Yankees only lost 17 games in the summer months of July and August, while winning 42. Williams described the season as a “year-long tear,” as there really was no other way to characterize how the Bronx Bombers played.
In the ALDS, the Yankees easily handed the Texas Rangers a clean sweep. Juan Gonzalez, the player who eventually captured the 1998 A.L. MVP Award was no match for the starting pitching the Yanks had. David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone shut down the Rangers three games in a row, each notching a playoff win.
Rookie Shane Spencer, Brosius, and right field warrior Paul O’Neill led the Yanks, all hitting home runs in the first round of the postseason.
The American League Championship Series pitted the Yanks against began the defending A.L. Champs, the Cleveland Indians. New York was looking to erase their 1997 ALCS defeat and beat the Tribe 7-2 in Game One.
Game Two however was an ugly defeat for the Yanks. The game was tied up until inning number 12 when Travis Fryman laid down a bunt. Reliever Jeff Nelson threw the ball to first base, as the second baseman Knoblauch covered the bag. The ball hit Fryman in the back and Knoblauch argued with the umpire instead of retrieving the ball, which at that point was trickling down the first baseline.
Enrique Wilson scored and the Indians went on to win 4-1. The momentum carried into Game Three, as the Indians brought the lumber with them. Playing at home, sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez left he yard twice, and Mark Whiten added a homer en route to a 6-1 win over the Yanks. They pounded Pettitte while newly acquired Yankee Bartolo Colon cruised to a complete game victory.
But the Game Three loss marked the last time the Yanks would lose a playoff game in ’98.
Down two games to one, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez took the hill, needing a clutch outing to keep the Yanks alive. Seven shutout innings later, and with some help from O’Neill (who homered) Hernandez and the Yanks picked up a 4-0 Game Four win.
Game One winner Wells took the ball again in Game Five. Now with the ALCS even at two, the Yanks rolled to a 5-3 win, under the strength of a fourth inning home run off the bat of Davis to give the Yanks a three-run lead. Kenny Lofton and Thome both hit home runs, but the Yankee bullpen was able to hold off the rest of the Cleveland lineup.
Now needing one win to get the fall classic, the Yanks came home to play Game Six. They jumped all over Charles Nagy, scoring six runs in the first three innings. Cleveland did not give up easily however, scoring five runs in the fifth, with the main blow being a grand slam from Thome.
The Yankees answered with three runs in the six, plating runs on a triple by Derek Jeter and a single by Williams. They went on to make a winner out of Cone, beating the Indians 9-5 and winning the A.L. pennant for the 35th time.
The Yankees were then headed for the World Series, set to play the San Diego Padres.
The World Series
1998 was the 94th World Series played in MLB history and the Yankees were gunning for their 24th title in franchise history. The Padres were looking for their first World Series victory, having lost the fall classic in 1984–the only other year in their history that they won the National League pennant.
In Game One, San Diego took a 5-2 lead, getting home runs from sluggers Greg Vaughn and Tony Gwynn. But going into the seventh inning, the Yanks came up with a plan. Knoblauch atoned for his ALCS blunder, smacking a game-tying three-run home run into the left field seats.
Later in the frame with the bases loaded, everything changed.
Martinez came up with the bases loaded and on a full count, blasted a grand slam home run into the upper deck tier seats in right field, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.
Yankee Stadium exploded.
And it was the turning point in the series, simply because the Yankees carried the momentum from that home run with them the rest of the way. In Game Two, the Yankees beat the Padres 9-3, with home runs off the bats of Williams and Jorge Posada.
Heading out to San Diego and the Yankees up two games to none, Cone took the mound in Game Three. Both teams didn’t score until the sixth, when the Padres plated three runs. The Yanks answered with two in the seventh, receiving a two-run home run from Brosius.
Trevor Hoffman was called on in the eighth inning. San Diego manager Bruce Bochy wanted his closer to nail down a six-out save leading 3-2 going into the frame. Hoffman folded however, giving up a three-run home run to Brosius, which gave New York a 5-3 lead.
Vaughn cut the lead to one with a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth, but the Padres could not rally all the way back, and the Yankees took Game Three, 5-4.
Many people argue that Game Four was just a formality, and in a lot of ways it was. The Padres were all but defeated in the ’98 World Series after Game Three, having been outscored 24-13 in the previous three games. Pettitte toed the rubber, hoping to wrap up New York’s 24th Championship.
Both teams were kept off the board until the sixth, when the Yankees plated a run on a groundout by Williams that scored Jeter. The Yankees added two more runs in the eighth, with an RBI single by Brosius and a sac fly by Ricky Ledee to score O’Neill.
The Padres made an effort to come back in the eighth, loading the bases on Nelson. However, Mariano Rivera wiggled out of the jam and pitched a scoreless ninth to clinch the World Series title.
1998 was just one of those special seasons that nothing went wrong. They have been described as “The Greatest Team Ever” being that they won 125 total games and only lost 50. Those types of seasons don’t come around very often and when they do, it’s important to remember them.
I will always remember the 1998 baseball for the Yankees–not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa breaking the home run records. I had more fun watching a team play every game as if it were their last than watching two guys race for a hallowed baseball record.
I think that says a lot about how exciting the Yanks were.
As the Major League Baseball non-waivers trade deadline rapidly approaches–tomorrow afternoon at 4:00–Alex Rodriguez continues his chase for 600 home runs.
The Yankees did not panic when Andy Pettitte hurt his groin and went to the disabled list. They first allowed Sergio Mitre to take Pettitte’s place in the rotation, a move that did not pay off. On July 24 Mitre lost to the Kansas City Royals, tossing 4 1/3 innings and giving up five earned runs on seven hits.
Manager Joe Girardi said Mitre “wasn’t stretched out enough to be starting.”
Yesterday Dustin Moseley took the ball for Pettitte and put on quite a performance. The 28 year-old right hander pitched six innings of solid ball. He gave up one run and scattered four hits while walking two batters and striking out four. For his effort he earned himself a win over the Cleveland Indians.
Not bad for a spot start. I think he earned himself another start on Tuesday vs. Toronto.
In a blog post last week I said the Yankees need another arm, but if Moseley can handle the load and pitch the way he did last night, the Yanks may not need one. I suggested Dan Haren, but he has already been traded to the Los Angeles Angels. (He’s also already injured, as he was hit on the right forearm with a comeback line drive, but that’s another story for another time)
It doesn’t seem as if the Yankees are interested in Brian Bannister, the second hurler I pointed out as a possible target for the Bronx Bombers. Bannister was beaten by the Yankees on July 23, a game in which he only pitched 4 2/3 innings. He was touched up for four earned runs on six hits; he walked two batters and struck out five.
His season record fell to 7-9, but I still think he has potential. If he was on a team that gave him more run support (like the Yankees) I have a feeling his numbers would be a lot better.
It doesn’t look as though the Yankees are seeking any pitching help. I am however hearing a lot of yapping about “adding another bat” and the name that keeps popping up is Adam Dunn, the Washington Nationals’ first baseman. He would be a good addition to the team. Being a power-hitting lefty, Dunn could certainly use the short porch in Yankee Stadium to his advantage.
According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the two teams that are interested in Dunn are the Yankees and their opponent for this weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays. Olney said that each team is trying to make sure the other team doesn’t land Dunn, as they are in a heated race for the American League Eastern Division.
This morning, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees “are not out on Dunn, that they may be using negotiation tactics to try and get him, and to not count them out on any player.”
Will he be traded to New York before tomorrow afternoon at 4:00? At the moment, nothing is etched in stone. It could happen and I would like to see it happen, but if it doesn’t, then it’s not a huge blow to the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers still have the best record in the majors without Dunn; getting him can only help and not getting him can’t hurt.
So do the Yankees really need to make a huge trade at all?
Well….any sort of minor trade can also help them. Consider last year’s trade for Jerry Hairston, Jr. Was he the best hitter on the team? No. Was he a Gold-Glove caliber fielder? Probably not. But did he do little things to help the team win and make a difference when it mattered?
Absolutely. He had that utility quality about himself, and he was a good pickup right before the deadline last year. After all, he did score the winning run in Game Two of the American League Championship Series. And as I understand, he is having a decent season over in San Diego for the N.L. West-leading Padres.
Even if the Yanks make a small trade a la the Hairston swap last year, it could make a world of difference come October.
As for A-Rod…
The Yankees’ third baseman clubbed his 599th career home run on Thursday July 22 vs. Kansas City. After a week, he has failed to put one in the seats and join the exclusive 600 Club–a club only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willy Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sammy Sosa are currently members of.
Rodriguez was 4-for-21 in the last four games vs. Cleveland and overall is 9-for-30 since smacking number 599 last Thursday. He has gone 34 plate appearances without a round-tripper and seems to be pressing just a little bit.
It’s almost as if he is going through the same thing he went through in 2007 before reaching 500 home runs. Rodriguez had to wait eight days and 28 at-bats to belt number 500, so he certainly knows how it feels.
If he were to reach 600 homers this weekend, it wouldn’t be the first time Rodriguez has hit a meaningful home run at Tropicana Field. On Oct. 4 of last season, Rodriguez clobbered two home runs in the same inning, one of which was hit off tonight’s starter Wade Davis. The other homer was a grand slam to give him 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the year.
Talk about a hitting show.
This season, Rodriguez has not left the yard at Tropicana Field, but is hitting .417 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Obviously his chances to hit 600 are good this weekend, so long as he doesn’t press and maintains an easy, fluid swing.
I noticed last night when Jess Todd struck him out swinging in the eighth inning, A-Rod looked like he wanted to hit a 15-run home run. He swung too early and he looks like he is trying too hard. If he eases up and stops pushing (which he is fully capable of doing) he will reach the milestone and get it over with.
Once again, all eyes on A-Rod this weekend.
I’d like to take the time and thank MLBlogs for featuring Yankee Yapping on their main page! I came across this and enjoyed the little write-up they did on me.
This was very cool and I do hope to write for MLB.com sometime in the NEAR future!
Just to clarify something, however; I just graduated from Mercy College and there will only be one more story I am submitting to my school’s newspaper–that would be a story on Brian Sweeney, who pitched for Mercy when he attended the school.
I am taking my interview, which I conducted here on MLBlogs, and turning it into a feature article for the school paper. Even though I graduated, I am still going to use it for a clip to put into my portfolio. That will be my last article as Sports Editor.
Once again, thanks MLB.com for the write-up and the exposure. I hope to be working for you very soon!!! 😉
Believe. It’s a motto Seattle Mariners’ reliever Brian Sweeney goes by. Believe in yourself, believe in God, just believe and you will be fine.
On July 1, Sweeney, a native of Yonkers, N.Y., pitched at Yankee Stadium; a scoreless, 1-2-3 inning in which he got Ramiro Pena, Brett Gardner, and Derek Jeter out. He later went on to face the Yanks on July 11 in Seattle and got the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher out. At press time, Sweeney is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA.
But his story begins long before facing the Bronx Bombers. Sweeney recently talked to Yankee Yapping about his journey through baseball, where he learned his knee-buckling changeup, and how he was punk’d the night before he was called up to the big leagues.
Yankee Yapping: You started at Archbishop Stepinac High School, and then moved on to Mercy College. Could you describe what it was like to pitch for the Flyers (now known as the Mavericks) and what did you major in while you were there?
Brian Sweeney: Pitching for Mercy was an incredible learning experience. I learned about hard work, dedication and how important it was to not give in, no matter what the circumstance.
Our records each season were not very good but it was not for lack of effort. I learned how to lose which is an important aspect in my professional life.
Learning how to lose helped me want to win more!
We lost off the field as well, because our assistant coach passed away in a car accident my freshman year. I also learned my changeup from my head coach at Mercy that I still use today.
My major was biology.
YY: Growing up, was there any specific team or player you looked up to?
BS: I was a Yankee fan growing up and my idol was Don Mattingly.
YY: You made your MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 16, 2003. What was your initial reaction when you got the call to the show?
BS: There was an unbelievable feeling of satisfaction. I knew from when I was four years old that I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Granted I wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees, but after seven years of work in the minor leagues, I have finally accomplished my goal of getting to the big leagues.
People spend seven years in school to become doctors and lawyers, but I would certainly say my schooling helped me become a big league baseball player.
YY: After you spent a year with the Mariners, you went to San Diego to pitch for the Padres. What was the move like, going from the American League to the National League?
BS: The move wasn’t a big deal, except I wanted to stay with the Mariners my whole career. They brought me up and I wanted to pay dividends for them. I guess I can do that now that I’m back in Seattle. Both San Diego and Seattle are classy organizations. I only wish they were closer to home for me and my family, though!
YY: On May 7, 2006, you earned your first career save in a 6-3 Padres’ victory over the Chicago Cubs. As a relief pitcher, how did that feel and would you rather have a win or a save?
BS: It was a pretty cool experience considering our closer was Trevor Hoffman. He had pitched, like, five days in a row and he had the day off so they put me in the closer role that day. Everybody in the stands expected Hoffy to run out of the bullpen, but they got me that day.
All things winning are good, so I prefer both.
YY: At the end of ’06 you made your way to Japan and pitched for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. The story in the Journal News said, “You could go on all day about the differences between pitching in Japan and the United States.” Is there anything that you miss about Japan, now that you’re back in the States?
BS: I miss some of the drills that were conducted over there. For instance, they would put the pitchers at shortstop and it really was a great workout. I also miss some of my teammates. I played with Yu Darvish, who is an excellent player and a classy individual. Overall, it was a lot of fun to play in Japan.
I would also say I miss the food there. It was tremendous!
YY: This past April you came back, signed a deal with the Mariners, and then you were sent to the minors. Exactly two months later you were back in the majors. How did it feel to be back, considering you went right back to where you started (in Seattle) Was it a kind of homecoming for you? How happy were your teammates for you?
BS: It felt like I was in a time machine. All I could say was, “Where am I?”
Coming back and getting called up was satisfying, especially since I was able to go back to the Mariners–the team that bred me for seven years. It was like a homecoming, but I also had to get to know a lot of my teammates.
The only one I really knew from my first stint with the Mariners was Ichiro. It was fun to catch up with him and we talked a lot about Japan. It was a learning process to get to know the rest of the players. It took some time, but I got to know them all.
YY: Recently on July 1, you pitched at Yankee Stadium–a scoreless, 1-2-3 7th inning in which you got Ramiro Pena, Brett Gardner, and the legendary Derek Jeter out.
Your family was there, holding signs that read “believe” on them. Could you maybe give me the story behind that, and what did it feel like to be pitching at Yankee Stadium against its most beloved player? Did you change your pitching approach when Jeter stepped into the box?
BS: Believe is a word my children use (they are 11 and 6). It’s a strong word that means a lot and it pays dividends over time; believe in yourself, believe in God. My family jumped on that. They made signs that read “Believe” on them and it was meaningful to me that they did that.
I later found out that the Mariners’ team expression is “Believe Big.” It’s just a positive word.
As for Jeter…
I did the same thing with him that I did with the other hitters; same approach. Obviously he is one of the most celebrated ballplayers on the Yankees and he was a nice challenge.
The only thing that was different about him was that he took a long time to get into the batter’s box. I wish he had gotten into the box a little faster! Maybe he was trying to slow me down? It could just be his routine.
YY: At the moment your career record is 4-1. Of those four wins, which one would you say (if you can) was the most memorable, or rewarding?
BS: My first win was certainly the most rewarding. On June 29, 2004, San Diego needed a starter to face the Arizona Diamondbacks–and not just the D’Backs, but Randy Johnson.
Johnson had 3,992 career strikeouts and was going for 4,000. In that game, he got to 4,000 and I was two of them; I had to hit against him because it’s the N.L. We did however win the game 3-2 and it was a great feeling.
The next day I actually met Randy and talked to him, which also made it memorable.
YY: What’s the best story you have from being an MLB pitcher? When I interviewed John Flaherty (a former MLB catcher) he said he was hung over the day he was called up to the majors. Do you have a story like that?
BS: Oh brother! I know John very well and it’s pretty funny that he was hung over when he was called up! I have a story like that…
The night before I was called up I was out with a longtime roommate of mine. We had a few beers and then Jim Slaton, one of the coaches said, “I’m fired because the team isn’t pitching well.” I didn’t take it very well and had some choice words.
Finally he stopped me and said, “Just kidding. You’re going to the big leagues tomorrow.” I practically passed out; all the work I put in had finally paid off.
I was so happy, but I couldn’t get in touch with my dad right away because of the massive blackout that hit the east coast in the summer of 2003. I wanted my dad to be the first to know, because he was and still is a huge part of my success.