September 2011

RAWR! Bring on the Tigers

   

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill

There have been a lot of bizarre things happening around baseball these past 24 hours. The Boston Red Sox capped an epic American League Wild Card collapse, falling apart at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles…and maybe their 6-20 month of September.

The Tampa Bay Rays – who rallied back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees – stunned the world and captured the AL Wild Card.

It proved one thing: sometimes it takes all 162 games to make the postseason.

Now Boston (the team everyone and their mother picked to be representing the AL in the World Series) is going home for the winter, and the Rays will play the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series – a rematch of last year’s first round.

Then there are the Yankees, who are the AL East Champions. They finished with a record of 97-65, the best in the American League. The Bombers will square off with the AL Central winners, the Detroit Tigers, in the ALDS.

Right back to where we started on Opening Day.

But the last time the Yanks and Tigers faced off in the playoffs was 2006 – and it did not go well for New York.

The Yankees were predicted to go deep into the playoffs that year; they had a pitching staff featuring 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, the tactical and crafty Mike Mussina, and the Big Unit, Randy Johnson.

Game One was easy to watch. The Yanks (with home field advantage) took care of the Tigers in convincing fashion, winning Game One 8-4. Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi both homered – as did Curtis Granderson – but he was on the other side of the field in the other dugout, a member of the Tigers.

After such an encouraging Game One, everything just came unglued.

Game Two was set to take place the night after Game One, but a rainout forced the two teams to play the following afternoon. I can’t say for sure whether or not it halted the Yankees’ momentum, but Joe Torre once said that “playoff rainouts hurt.”

And boy, did the Yanks hurt following that rainout.

Game Two started nicely, but turned into a nightmare. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead after four innings, and it looked as though they were going to be putting themselves in a favorable position: a two games-to-nothing lead going to Detroit.

But the Tigers were able to claw their way back into the game, scoring once in the fifth and once in the sixth. Then in the seventh, they plated a run to make it 4-3, and they never looked back.

The biggest spot in that game came on the shoulders of one Alex Rodriguez. He had been under heavy scrutiny for not putting up the best power numbers in ’06 – although he did smash 35 home runs and he drove in 121 runs. I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

Yet, he had been failing in clutch situations – and all season long, the Yankee fans booed him off the field whenever he didn’t come up big.

Rodriguez was standing in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth of Game Two, two outs, the bases loaded, down by one run, and facing the flame-throwing Joel Zumaya.

Talk about pressure; needing to come up big in a huge spot.

Zumaya blew A-Rod away on the first two pitches before throwing a breaking ball, buckling Rodriguez’s knees and puzzling him for a called strike three. As he retreated towards the dugout a torrential shower of boos and jeers rained down on the Yankees’ third baseman.

Rodriguez was booed off the field – at home.

The Yanks were never able to capitalize and home field advantage was taken away from them. With the ALDS tied 1-1, they headed to the Motor City. What happened in Game Three still shocks me to this day.

Detroit sent former Yankee Kenny Rogers to the mound and his numbers against the Yankees were unreal. The lineup Torre posted had 20 home runs combined in their career off Rogers. The analysts all said this was the Yankees’ game to win; they even strategized how Jim Leyland, the Tigers’ skipper, should maneuver his bullpen – because they all believed Rogers was going to get shelled.

Not the case at all.

Rogers dazzled the Yanks, tossing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball. He allowed five hits and two walks, but struck out eight on the way to a 6-0 Tiger victory.

It didn’t make sense. The Yankees owned this guy, how did they not hand him his rear end?

It was revealed when the Tigers made the World Series that Rogers had grease on his pitching hand – and that grease was on his hand during the ALDS vs. the Yankees (and subsequently the American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s).

Perhaps his greasy hand was the reason the Yanks couldn’t touch him that night?

From there it was all but over. Torre decided to start Jaret Wright in Game Four and he fell apart in the second inning, allowing three runs. The Tigers eventually went on to win the game 8-3 and claim the ALDS.

With the way the Yankees played that year – full of passion and drive – a first round knockout was not how I envisioned the season ending. What shocked me the most was, instead of New York talking about how well the Mets were doing in the postseason, the Yankees dominated the backs of the newspaper pages.

“Why did the Yankees lose? Is Joe Torre Coming Back Next Year? What Happened to A-Rod?”

Even in defeat, the Yankees upstaged the Mets.

For as many differences I see between 2006 and now, some things look the same.

What’s Different This Time Around

Well, for one, different position players. Granderson was on the 2006 Tigers team and now he is a Yankee. It’s worth noting the centerfielder had a big ALDS against the Yankees: two homers, five RBIs, a triple, he slugged .765 and stole a base.

Instead of doing that against the Yankees, he’ll look to do it for them this time.

Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Giambi for that matter, were all in the starting lineup in the 2006 postseason.

Now, all of those players are on different teams – or retired. And it works both ways.

Some of Detroit’s difference-makers in ’06 are gone. Craig Monroe, Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez, and Sean Casey are no longer on the team.

A lot of the pitchers have also moved on. Our starting three does not consist of Wang, Mussina, and Johnson – and thankfully Jaret Wright is no longer in pinstripes. CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.00 ERA), Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA) will head up the Yanks’ ALDS rotation.

Aside from the big one, meaning Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ staff has also changed since 2006.

Throughout the season I knew what Verlander had been doing (24-5, 2.40 ERA). But I hadn’t been keeping up with the rest of Detroit’s starting pitching. In fact, the other day I asked myself,

“Who is their number two starter? RoboCop? He’s from Detroit, it makes sense.”

But then I looked up Doug Fister, who is 8-1 in 11 games for the Tigers this year with a 1.79 ERA. Behind him is Max Scherzer, another starter who is not exactly a slouch: 15-9 with a 4.43 ERA.

What works in the Yankees’ favor, though: no funny business or should I say “greasy action.”  

It’s clearly a different corps of players and it’s a different time. But I can’t help but be reminded of what happened in ’06 and parallel it to 2011.

What Looks the Same

The regular season records. In 2006 Detroit finished at 95-67, while the Yankees ended their campaign at 97-65. They met in the ALDS and look what happened.

Fast forward to 2011. The Tigers ended at 95-67; the Yanks at 97-65. They are about to meet in the ALDS, and…well…I am sure the Yankees hope the outcome will be much different, despite the eerie similarity.

There’s also the A-Rod factor.

This year was probably the worst season for Rodriguez. Numerically he failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 1997. He hit 16 this year with a .276 batting average and 62 RBIs – and he could not stay off the DL.

Rodriguez was hurt for the majority of the season, and even when he came off the disabled list he could not fend off the injury bug. A jammed thumb, followed by a sore knee – he couldn’t stay healthy.

I have this sinking feeling A-Rod is going to perform poorly in the postseason because of his injuries this year – which in a way mirrors what he did in ‘06. It doesn’t look good for him now, but as they say, the postseason is a new season, and maybe he can come out of his funk and get back to making good contact at the plate.

Once he does that, his power will return.

Along with A-Rod, home field advantage was something the Yankees also had in 2006, which didn’t work in their favor. Splitting the first two games takes home field away from the Yankees. Suppose Verlander outduels Sabathia tomorrow night, but the Yankees answer and get to Fister to take Game Two.

New York would have to go into Detroit and win at least one game – and Comerica Park will undoubtedly be shaking and baking; rocking and rolling. It was difficult for the Yankees to handle in 2006, and expect no difference this year.

Differences and similarities aside, this is looking to be an interesting postseason. Can the Yankees, who most skeptics doubted at the start of the year, win the World Series for the 28th time in their storied history?

If they learned anything from 2006, they certainly have a chance.

Boston’s Collapse

 

The Red Sox collapsed. I made a video.

End of the Year Awards

No one gave the Yankees a fighting chance when 2011 started. The lineup and defense was declared “old.” The pitching rotation was called “comically thin,” and the fact that the Yankees did not pick up a huge free agent in the off-season led every skeptic to believe they were going to fail this year.

Now look where they are – and who is struggling for their playoff lives.

The Boston Red Sox were the favorites. They acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, bolstering their already-potent, veteran-laden lineup. All the folks who talked up the Red Sox to win it all this season are probably kicking themselves now, as the Red Sox are just 2 ½ games in front of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL Wild Card race.

Yesterday the Yankees beat the Rays twice, sweeping a day-night double header. The Bronx Bombers won both games by the same count, 4-2, and captured their 17th American League Eastern Division title.

Meanwhile Boston dropped their second straight game – and they are 3-7 over their last 10 games. The Red Sox have gone ice cold at the wrong time and the Yankees have become red hot at the right time.

With the Yanks no longer having to worry about winning the division and the end of the regular season right around the corner, it’s that time of the year again: the time to reward the Yankee players for what they have achieved this season.

It’s the third annual Yankee Yapping End of the Year Awards!

Let us all find out who this year’s winners are.

 

Yankee Yapping Milestone Man Award

Winners: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera

In 2009 both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera accomplished something special. Jeter became the all-time Yankee hits leader and Rivera captured his 500th career save.

Fast forward two years later and both of these perennial Yankees are still making history.

On July 9, Jeter stepped up to the plate at home and clubbed a home run to deep left-center field, his 3,000th career hit. He became the first Yankee to ever record 3,000 hits and the second person since Wade Boggs to leave the yard for 3K.

Rivera became the all-time saves leader on Monday, nailing down his 602nd career save, securing a 6-4 Yankee win over the Minnesota Twins.

   

With 602 saves under his belt he passed Trevor Hoffman for most career saves all-time. Including the postseason, Rivera has 644, as he also has saved 42 playoff games.

Jeter and Rivera have only solidified what we as Yankee fans have known all along: that they are legends. No one may ever duplicate what both of these men have accomplished. In the foreseeable future, there won’t be another Yankee to get 3,000 hits.

There’s also a good chance no one will ever do what Rivera has done in terms of closing ballgames.

I don’t have to sell the Captain and Mo at all; there is nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times. Jeter and Rivera have earned the love and adoration of every Yankee fan in the world. Both are five-time World Series champs, and have an opportunity to become six-time champs this year.

Time will tell if they get there, but until then, there are Yankee Yapping Milestone Man winners. Congrats guys!

Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player Award

Winner: Curtis Granderson

These past few years the Yankees have had a number of players in the running for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Last year it was Robinson Cano, this year it is Curtis Granderson. The centerfielder’s .270 batting average may be the only statistic that is holding him down, but he has done very well for himself in every other offensive category.

At press time Granderson leads the majors in runs scored (134) and RBIs (119), and is second in home runs (41) to Toronto’s Jose Bautista (42).

Yet, remember the old saying, which originated in 2005 when David Ortiz was in the running for MVP: it should go to “full-time players” only. Defense is part of being a baseball player too, and Granderson has exhibited excellent D.

In the field he is showing off his capability with 11 assists and a .992 fielding percentage.

Throughout the year Granderson has come up in some huge spots on both sides of the field, and has turned into the elite player the Yankees traded for before 2010. He has made a lot of progress and stepped up, especially against left-handed pitching – which was something scrutinized when the Yanks acquired him.

The big fuss about Granderson was his strife against lefties. But that has not affected him this year.

In fact, Granderson is actually hitting .277 off southpaws, as opposed to his .266 BA vs. righties. 16 of his 41 homers have come off lefties and his slugging percentage vs. left-handers is .614. Against righties, Granderson is slugging .549.

He has a chance to win the AL MVP this year. But if he doesn’t, he can always take solace knowing he has won the Yankee Yapping MVP Award. Congrats Curtis!

Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year Award

Winner: CC Sabathia

I started this blog in 2009 and this will be the third Ace of the Year Award I will be handing out. All three years it has gone to the same man and rightfully so.

It was announced tonight that CC Sabathia will not make another start before the American League Division Series begins, which means he went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA this year. He racked up 230 strikeouts, logged 237 1/3 innings, and registered three complete games (one of which was a shutout).

Sabathia has been the horse since day one; the leader. He takes the ball every fifth day and the Yankees seem to have a certain confidence and swagger whenever he’s on the mound. I think they take the field knowing they have a great chance to win with Sabathia pitching.

When the postseason begins, Sabathia has to be his usual self. Not that he pitched all that poorly last year, but he did end the American League Championship Series with a 6.30 ERA while surrendering seven earned runs in just 10 innings. If he can be that dominant pitcher we have seen, the Yanks can certainly win a lot of games. If not, they are in big trouble.

But we know what to expect from him – and he usually delivers. Sabathia won’t win the Cy Young Award because Justin Verlander of Detroit basically has that locked up. But he did win Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year for the third consecutive time.

Congrats, CC!

Yankee Yapping Silver Slugger Award

Winner: Robinson Cano

The Yankees have a lot of players to thank for where they are. But the biggest thanks probably deserves to go to the studly second baseman Robinson Cano.  

After he showed off his might winning the Home Run Derby, Cano continued to portray exemplary power – which is something that sometimes doesn’t happen. There has been a theory going around these past few years that the derby messes up a hitter’s swing.

Take David Wright on the other side of town, for example. He came close to winning the Home Run Derby in 2006, but according to some experts, never put up the same power numbers after that year. Same thing goes for Bobby Abreu, who won the derby in 2005, but never hit more than 20 dingers in a season following it.

Cano on the other hand has 27 homers, 116 RBIs, and is batting .305. He has been a consistent force in the Yankee lineup, taking on the cleanup hitter role in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. He has thrived in everything that has been thrown at him and continues to impress with his sweet swing and smooth stride.

Like Granderson he may be considered for AL MVP Award – last year he finished third in the voting. Whatever happens, he has been a major reason for the Yanks’ success. Congrats Robinson!

Yankee Yapping WTF?! Award

Winner: A.J. Burnett

When Spring Training started, Yankee analysts (namely Ken Singleton) raved about the difference in A.J. Burnett. Singleton called his pitching delivery “completely revisited” and after watching a bullpen session, said Burnett’s fastball and curve ball were “crackling through the strike zone.”

Under the tutelage of first-year pitching coach Larry Rothschild, I thought he could finally go back to that dominant form he once displayed when he pitched for the Florida Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. A lot of other fans also felt Burnett was primed for a big year.

But those thoughts were not well-founded.

The man who was signed to a lucrative five-year, $82.5 million contract has not lived up to it, as he is 10-11 with a 5.28 ERA – after going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. He has given up 107 earned runs in 182 1/3 innings pitched, and has allowed more than a hit per inning. He also leads the league in wild pitches with 25 – and this is the third time in his career he has led the league in that category.

For the past few years I have attempted to defend Burnett for the sake of our initials. I can’t take away from the fact that he pitched the game of his life in Game Two of the ’09 World Series. If he had not won that game and pitched as effectively as he did, I’m not convinced the Yankees would have beaten the Phillies.

Yet New York sports supporters have one question, Burnett: what have you done for me lately?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And there is no way I can defend an ERA of 5.28 in a pitcher who cost $82.5 million. Burnett was supposed to be a solid number two starter and he hasn’t even proved to be a good number four starter; maybe an acceptable number five man, but he is nowhere near what the Yankees expected him to be.

I lost a little bit of respect for him when he made a start in Minnesota vs. the Twins on Aug. 20. Burnett tossed just 1 2/3 innings before Joe Girardi came to the mound to take the ball from him. He allowed seven earned runs on five hits, walking three batters and striking out only one.

As he left the mound, Burnett lipped off at his manager and stormed into the clubhouse.

In my mind it was a complete and utter display of unprofessionalism.  

After this year he is still owed $33 million – which is a lot of money. Unless the Yanks can get rid of him somehow, they might be stuck with him for at least another year and a half. I just don’t know what to make of him anymore.

Burnett I have one question for you: WTF?!

Yankee Yapping “He Proved Me Wrong Award”

Winner: Ivan Nova

I had serious doubts about Ivan Nova when the year began. In a big game, I did not want to trust him with the ball, being that he was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 games (seven starts) last year. In my mind I drew a comparison between him and Ian Kennedy (when he was a Yankee), thinking he would flop.

But soon after I found myself comparing him to Kennedy, I found myself comparing him to Chien-Ming Wang, being that his sinker ball has worked so effectively and he has induced a good amount of ground ball outs. Using that pitch, he has cruised to a 16-4 record this year with a 3.62 ERA.

Nova is in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year and is probably going to be the number two starter in the postseason – quite a responsibility for a 24-year old.   

Although he has certainly proved me wrong as far as the regular season goes, he still has to show he can get it done when it matters. It remains to be seen whether Nova can help carry the Yanks in the postseason. But for now, he has shown an outstanding capability on the mound.

For the past two years pitchers have won Rookie of the Year; Andrew Bailey of Oakland in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of Texas in ’10. I wish Nova the best of luck to keep the line of pitchers winning ROTY moving.

And if he doesn’t win it, at least he won a Yankee Yapping Award. Congrats Ivan!

Yankee Yapping Best Season From a Newcomer

Winner: Russell Martin

He may be Canadian but after this year, I think he is officially a New Yorker.

Russell Martin was a wonderful pickup by the Yanks before 2011 commenced. He has displayed sheer durability, playing in 121 games this year. His batting average is hovering around.236, but he has smacked 17 home runs and knocked in 62 runs while scoring 55.

There’s an old saying about catchers: having one that can hit is a bonus – and we have that bonus.

Martin has also done very well working with a pitching staff he has never worked with before. He has done very well with every hurler on the staff and in the bullpen, and can easily call a good game behind the plate.

I’m looking forward to another year with Martin in pinstripes and he deserves the honor of being called the best newcomer to the team. Congrats Russell!

Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year

Winner: David Robertson

This will be David Robertson’s second consecutive Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year win. Last year he grinded through a slow start, only to become a lights-out relief man.

This year Robertson was an All-Star and in relief he is 4-0 with a tiny 1.11 ERA. The young man out of Alabama has struck out 96 batters in 64 2/3 innings pitched, has notched 39 holds, and has carved his niche as the primary setup man for Rivera.  

He’s also earned the nickname “Houdini” for being able to get out of tight jams and sticky situations.

Robertson has been an asset ever since he joined the Yanks in 2008, and they have been lucky to have such a consistent bullpen pitcher on their roster. He scuffled a bit in last year’s postseason, but if he maintains that consistency he displayed all season, he will do just fine.

Congrats David!

Yankee Yapping Future Star Award

Winner: Jesus Montero

On Sept. 1 Jesus Montero made his much-anticipated debut in a game against the hated Boston Red Sox. He went 0-for-4 while getting hit by a pitch, and didn’t impress many fans in his first game.

But he collected his first hit in the next game against Toronto, and a few days later on Sept. 5 crushed his first two homers against the Baltimore Orioles at home. He became the first Yankee since Shane Spencer (1998) to hit his first two Major League homers in the same game.

Montero has only played in 14 games and still has a long way to go in terms of showing off what he can do. There are certainly high hopes and expectations, but from what he has given us so far, I believe he is capable; he can live up to the hype.

With Jorge Posada likely on his way out and Francisco Cervelli constantly getting knocked in the head, Montero is likely the catcher of the future.

With Martin around for at least another year, he can learn the ropes a little bit and still act as a designated hitter. That way when his time comes and he is the every day catcher, he will be more than ready.

In the meantime, it was smart of the Yankees to call him up and at least give him a taste of the majors. If he gets his little bit of experience now, I have no doubt he will be very dangerous in the future. And for that, he wins the Yankee Yapping Future Star Award.

Congrats Jesus!

Well, that about does it for this year’s awards blog. Congrats to all the winners (save for A.J. Burnett; I’m just sorry for him at this point) and congrats to the Yankees on the AL East crown. Within the next few days we will have our ALDS opponent, so look out for previews and playoff analysis.

October, here we come.

September 11, 2001 From My Eyes

It was only my fourth day as a freshman at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – and I was hating it with a true passion. I was struggling to fit in and although I hadn’t been there very long, I somehow got the feeling I was an outcast; barely anyone knew who I was and if I wasn’t there, 90% of the people in the school would not have known the difference. I only had a handful of friends from middle school and I wasn’t in a lot of the classes they were in.

I was a minnow in the Atlantic Ocean – and I could not stand it.  

Some of the teachers weren’t making it any easier for me. Every freshman was placed in a biology class entitled, “The Living Environment,” as their first science credit. In eighth grade I had heard horror stories about an unbelievably stringent biology teacher by the name of Mrs. Cuesta. From the day I heard about her, I prayed every night that I would not get her as my biology teacher.

What do you think happened? Yes. Of course I got her (this is, after all, my life we’re talking about here). I was not very good in science as it was, so she and I were a very, very bad combination. I was terrified just to step foot in her classroom every single morning.

She would not allow her students to utter the words, “Yeah,” “What,” or “Huh” in class. If you were answering a question affirmatively, you were to use the word “Yes,” because “the word ‘Yeah’ is not in the dictionary.” If you could not hear a word someone said, you were not permitted to say, “What?” or “Huh?” You were to say, “Pardon me?” or “Excuse me?”

If you did use any of those words in her presence, you were required to give $1 to her – which she would then donate to some type of fund or mission charity. Luckily for me, I avoided ever giving her any money for saying “Yeah” “What” or “Huh.”

I made sure to choose my words carefully in her class – and most of the time I just tried not to talk at all, unless I was called upon to answer a question. Not for nothing it was for a good cause, but if you ask me, it is overkill.

I sat there in Mrs. Cuesta’s biology class on that fateful Tuesday morning, in the worst mood a 14-year old ninth grader could possibly be in. I would have wanted to be anywhere in the world but there in that classroom with a teacher who was more strict than most of the professors I had at Mercy College.

Looking back, however, I am grateful I was safe in school and not in New York City, like many other unfortunate people.

Around 10:15 the principal came over the PA system and addressed the student body. He only claimed there “was a fire at the World Trade Center” and he asked us to pray for those involved: the rescue workers and those inside the twin towers.

It’s funny how I can remember the exact thought that first ran through my mind the second after he made that announcement.

“The New York City Fire Department is the best of the best,” I thought.

“I’m sure they are going to do all they can to make sure everyone is safe and it probably won’t be a big deal; it’ll probably just be something I see when I pass by Dad watching the news on the couch later tonight and mom might briefly mention it over dinner, or something.”

It may have been ignorance or maybe me just being aloof. Then again it may have been the fact that I was a freshman and I was young, but I didn’t notice anyone’s franticness that day. There must have been kids in the school who were scared because their parents worked in New York City, but I never picked up on it.

Although the thought never even occurred to me, I didn’t have to worry about my parents. They weren’t divorced yet (as they are now) and neither one of them was in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks. My dad was working for a software company in Connecticut and my mom worked at a radio station in nearby Fishkill, N.Y.

When I got on the bus to go home that day – that was when I was told real story; that it wasn’t just a fire at the World Trade Center. The principal only told us there was a fire so panic would not ensue within the walls of his school. The principal’s version of the story wasn’t altogether false – but it wasn’t altogether true, either.

I suppose I understand why he offered that explanation, though. He didn’t want his students to freak out. In hindsight, it was probably wise to go with that explanation rather than cause chaos among the students.

The bus driver, on the other hand, explained that not only did planes fly into the twins towers, but one smashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. What’s more, a plane supposedly headed for the White House came down in a Pennsylvania field.   

It was a little overwhelming. I just wanted to get home, turn on the TV and see this for myself – and getting home took forever; it was just another reason I disliked school. I was living in Beacon, N.Y., some 16 miles away from my school in Poughkeepsie. I got out of school at 2:30, but it practically took all afternoon to get home because there were a number of stops on the way back.

When I finally made it home a little before 4:00, I turned on the TV and bore witness to the carnage; thousands of people dead. Innocent people lost their lives at the hands of a sadistic and soulless man named Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorists.

The image of those two buildings imploding has not left my brain since that day.  

My mom came home from work a few hours later in tears; her car had an American flag waving proudly from the antenna. She was devastated, and the gravity of the situation didn’t strike me until I saw her face. I had never seen my mother in such disarray; she’s always been the strongest woman I have ever known, and to see her that heart-broken was scary.

I obviously knew what was troubling her, but I couldn’t understand why she was crying. So I asked her.

“Do you realize how many people, just like you, won’t ever see their moms or dads again?” she said to me.

“A.J., I’m sad more than anything else; sad for everyone who lost their lives today and their families and friends. And I’m a little scared. What happened today – you can see that on the news any day of the week. But it happens in places that are on the other side of the world. This happened an hour and a half away from my house.”

After she said that, I understood her tears.

Even my dad, a strong-willed man himself, was visibly shaken.

“This may be worse than Pearl Harbor,” he pointed out. “This is tragic; so sad.”

My neighborhood friends couldn’t believe it, either. A lot of them were just as young as I was, some of them even younger. We tried to wrap our heads around the whole thing and played a game of kickball that evening to take our minds off what had happened. We had some fun in the wake of such tragedy; we kicked the ball, caught the ball, ran the bases, and played until dusk fell and the porch lights came on.

I think it may have been our way of showing that the American spirit, although dented on 9/11, was not dead. We may have even dedicated our kickball game to those who lost their lives that day – it’s something we would have done. It’s just the type of kids we were – always thinking of other people before ourselves.

Just as we turned to kickball to take our minds off the terrorist attacks, a lot of people in New York turned to baseball – and New York’s favorite team – the Yankees. The Bombers were looking like another championship-caliber squad. It seemed as though nothing was going to stop them on their quest for their 27th title, and their fifth in six years.

MLB halted play for a week following September 11 and when the Yankees (and to be fair, the Mets too) returned to the diamond, they were cheered by every baseball fan. I remember one sign a fan held up that read, “We are all New Yorkers today.”

Longtime Yankee favorite Bernie Williams once said that whoever he could get his hands on during that time, whether it was a police officer or a firefighter, he would hug them. The players were just as shaken as the citizens and it was clear they did all they could do help those affected on 9/11.

The Yankees had some incredible moments the following October. One of the more famous plays happened in the American League Championship Series vs. Oakland, when Derek Jeter made the famous flip play.

Jeter raced out of position and flipped the ball to Jorge Posada, nailing Jeremy Giambi at home plate to preserve a 1-0 Yankee lead in the bottom of the seventh. The play might have saved the Yankees’ chances at going to the World Series.

One word: spectacular.

When the Yankees reached the fall classic, the four -year old Arizona Diamondbacks awaited them. New York dropped the first two games, but the Yanks took Game Three, winning a tight one, 2-1.

Before Game Three, then-President George W. Bush was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. He wore an FDNY fleece, complete with a bulletproof vest underneath. In the clubhouse before he took the field, the President ran into Jeter, and asked him if he should throw off the mound or the grass in front of the mound.

Jeter advised Bush to throw from the mound – but not to bounce the ball, because if he had, the fans would boo him.

The President walked out to the mound and gave a thumbs-up, symbolizing that America was going to be OK. He then tossed a perfect strike, a perfect way to begin the night. Nobody booed; everyone in attendance at Yankee Stadium chanted “U-S-A!” in unison. It also marked the first time a President threw out an honorary World Series first pitch since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.

Game Three was historic. But Game Four, however, was the game to be at.

Jeter came up in the bottom of the 10th, the game tied 3-3. The clock had just struck midnight and for the first time ever, there was baseball being played in the month of November.

With Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim (who had been lights-out automatic throughout the ’01 season) in to pitch, the Yankee shortstop pounded a pitch that landed in the short porch of the old stadium. As Jeter rounded the bases, he held his arm in the air; his fist clenched. World Series knotted, 2-2.

The next day at school my Global History teacher Mr. Umlauft lectured us about many things; the Byzantine Empire, the Code of Hammurabi, and the four noble truths. But at the end of class he had one last thing to teach us.

“There is some footage I want to show you that is very significant to the world,” he explained. “Let me show you.”

He rolled out his TV and proceeded to show us the clip of Jeter’s walk-off home run the night before, and the shot of the person in the crowd who held up a sign that read, “Mr. November.” According to Mr. Umlauft, he knew the person holding the sign quite well.

“You see that guy?” he asked us, pointing to the sign. “That’s my nephew. He was the one who held up the sign.”

Fascinating. Of all the people in New York who could have held up the famous “Mr. November” sign, it was my Global History teacher’s nephew.

The Yanks did it again in Game Five, coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the ninth inning (on the strength of a two-run homer hit by Scott Brosius). The Yanks went on to win the game in the 12th on an RBI single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.

Magic and aura were appearing nightly at the big ballpark in the Bronx. But their momentum disappeared in the desert, as the Yankees dropped Game Six in the worst way, losing 15-2.

Game Seven was the last night of the Yankee Dynasty. The Yankees held a 2-1 lead going into the ninth with the greatest of all-time, Mariano Rivera, on the mound. He allowed two runs in the inning and the D’Backs won the Series. Sitting in my room stunned watching that game, I could only let out four words:

“The other team won?”

I had been so used to the Yankees winning the World Series year in and year out that it left me all but speechless. It would have only made sense for the Yanks to win the 2001 World Series, and give the people of New York a ticker tape parade – it would have helped even more in terms of coping with September 11.

Truthfully baseball wasn’t the main issue that year. America regaining its composure and getting back to its feet was more important. Yet, baseball did exactly what it is there to do during that tragic time: make people happy. In that regard, it was important and helped people deal with the tragedy.

Over the years I have become a little bit more understanding about things that happened on 9/11; I have heard people’s stories and have seen how crushed and heart-broken they were (and still are). Each of them lost loved ones to a senseless and callous act of terrorism. I have watched documentaries and it pains me to see some of these people who no longer have friends and family members.

I have also come across still frames of the twin towers while they were under attack. A pair of them piqued my interest…

It looks as though a demon’s head appeared in the fire when the second plane hit the south tower.

As the tower collapsed, it almost resembled another demon.

Who is to say if these really mean anything at all, but the fact is there is evil in the world; 9/11 proved that. These pictures look as though they are demons, but then again I understand that demons were the ones who orchestrated these horrific attacks.                                  

Although there is evil that manifests itself in our lives, it’s important to know that divinity and goodness are also present. New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, and America in general banded together during 9/11. Citizens helped each other and showed that even in the wake of such disaster, good things can come of it, like people doing everything and anything they can to aid a stranger.

There were so many Good Samaritans as a result of 9/11.

A lot of things have happened in my life since September 11, 2001. But I don’t believe a day has gone by when I don’t at least once think about sitting in Mrs. Cuesta’s biology class and the principal telling us of a fire at the World Trade Center – and the footage of the planes slamming the twin towers when I got home that day.

My mom crying, my dad upset: it’s still very fresh in my mind. I remember it all.  

But when I think of that time, I also think about good things, like the kickball game my friends and I played that very night, and the ’01 World Series.

No, the Yankees did not win which isn’t good, but if you were to ask me one thing I remember about that fall classic, it’s Jeter’s arm outstretched triumphantly in the air, rounding the bases after crushing that walk-off home run. It’s the one picture in my head I took away from the entire World Series.

That home run lifted everyone in New York, including me.

The point is to never forget where you were, how it affected you, and consider everyone who was affected. September 11 has been dubbed “Patriot Day” and the best way to honor it is to always think about those people on the airplanes and in the buildings; how many kids went home from school that day to no one, and were left wondering if their mom or dad was going to come home at all.

Remember those people; never forget 9/11/01.

I promise, for as long as I live, I will never forget.

CC a Warrior, But Won’t Win Cy

Today he got hungry – and forgot his manners.

Yankee ace CC Sabathia ate up 7 1/3 innings this afternoon, giving up just two earned runs on six hits en route to the Yanks’ 9-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at home. He walked just one batter and struck out 10 for the second straight game.

With the win, Sabathia has collected at least 19 wins in each of his three seasons in pinstripes – which ties him for most 19 win seasons (as a Yankee) with Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, and Mel Stottlemyre. He now has four career 19 win seasons and he has a good chance to win 20 (or more) before the 2011 campaign wraps.

Of late, the big man has been dealing like he’s been playing blackjack in Vegas.

But it hasn’t just been the past couple of starts that have put Sabathia in the running for the Cy Young Award. All season long he has been a horse. In fact, since day one he has done nothing but work, grind, and earn everything he has.

Case in point: his last start on Aug. 30 in Boston, a game the Yanks needed and won 5-2.

The Red Sox had gotten the better of Sabathia all season going into that game. His numbers proved that, as he boasted a poor 0-4 record with an inflated 7.20 ERA against the Yankees’ hated rivals. More than anything he needed to showcase his capability to win a hugely important ballgame in 2011 vs. the Red Sox.

And that’s what he did, although it wasn’t easy.

To start the game, Sabathia plunked Jacoby Ellsbury with a pitch – which probably sent a lot of skeptics and cynics into saying, “here we go again.” But he rebounded nicely, getting Marco Scutaro to ground into a force out before striking out Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia swinging to end the frame.

In the second inning, Sabathia threw a wild pitch with Jed Lowrie on first, getting himself into a first-and-second, one out jam (He fanned David Ortiz to open the frame). Boston eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but the Yankee ace responded by getting Ellsbury to ground out to second to end the threat.

The fourth was a bad inning for Sabathia, as he surrendered two runs – one of which came on a solo homer off the bat of Carl Crawford. He also allowed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to score on a double by Scutaro, giving Boston their only two runs in the game.

The Yanks had already put three runs on the board and never trailed.

However in the fifth, he got himself into more trouble. He gave up a one out single to Ortiz, followed by a Lowrie double, setting up the BoSox second and third, one out.  But Sabathia continued to refuse to buckle, as he got Crawford to line out and then whiffed Saltalamacchia to end another threat.

The big man labored; worked his tail off to earn the win – six innings pitched, 10 hits, two earned runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts, and he chucked a career-high 129 pitches to get through the game.   

If that performance doesn’t have the word “Warrior” written on it, what does?

Last year Sabathia came in third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, losing to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners (who won, coming in first in the voting; 13-12, 2.27 ERA) and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (first runner-up; 19-6, 2.72 ERA). Sabathia won 21 games last year while only losing seven, and his ERA was 3.18.

Most proponents for Hernandez’s Cy Young win argue that his individual numbers were better than Sabathia’s and Price’s – and that’s true. He led the league in batters faced (1,001), games started (34), ERA (2.27), innings pitched (249 2/3), and hits-per-nine (7.0).

Plus, he was able to post a winning record on a ballclub that gave him virtually no run support, another factor contributing to his winning of the award. Hernandez had a lot going for him; the writers recognized that and rewarded him for it.

I have always maintained that the Cy Young Award should go to the Most Valuable Pitcher – because the award says MOST VALUABLE PITCHER on it.

Sabathia (and Price, for that matter) were more valuable to their respective teams. Sabathia carried the Yankees into the stretch run and helped get them into the American League Championship Series. Price did much of the same. He stood at the forefront of the Rays’ pitching staff, leading them to the AL East crown.

There’s no doubt that Hernandez had an incredible year in 2010 because the numbers do not lie. Yet, the question has to be asked: if he was on a team (like the Yankees or Rays) that was locked a tight pennant race, would he be the same pitcher?

The Mariners were not going to the playoffs last year. Hernandez could have taken the mound every fifth day with no pressure whatsoever. Win or lose at the end of the day, Seattle wasn’t in the running for the AL West. Hernandez probably pitched “hakuna matata,” if you will; with no worries in his head.

Sabathia and Price had a lot to worry about, though. Both were the aces of pitching staffs that were going to be playing autumn baseball; they were under much more scrutiny and more likely than not, were thinking hard about the postseason.

But that was last year. Hernandez won. It’s over and done with.

With Sabathia’s outstanding numbers this year (19-7, 2.99 ERA) he is once again a candidate for the Cy Young Award. His stiffest competition is, without a doubt, Justin Verlander (21-5, 2.34 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers.  Verlander has put the Tigers on his back and carried them to first place in the AL Central.

You name the pitching category, Verlander leads it.

I think what is going to win him the award, along with his numbers, is this question: where would the Tigers be without Verlander?

It’s a legitimate question. The answer: probably not in first place.

But another question needs to be raised: where would the Yankees be without Sabathia?

Same answer: probably not in first place.

The Yankees have three pitchers in their rotation with losing records. Bartolo Colon is 8-9, Phil Hughes is 4-5, and A.J. Burnett is 9-11. Without Sabathia’s 19 wins and brilliant workmanlike efforts, the Yankee ship would be sunk.     

I still find it amazing the Yankees are in first place, considering three of their starters don’t own winning records. It’s pretty incredible that they have been able to continue to win games despite receiving subpar starting pitching at times.

Verlander has a little bit of an edge over Sabathia in terms of the Cy Young voting, as his numbers are a hair above the Yankee ace. Knowing the writers, they will give it to Verlander – and if he does win the award over the big man, I cannot dispute it in any way – certainly not the way Hernandez’s  Cy Young win can be brought into question .

It was easy to point out why Sabathia (or Price) should have won over Hernandez, but Verlander is for real.

If a pitcher has 21 wins and September just started, he is doing something right.

There are, however, a couple different Yankees who are in consideration for other awards, namely the AL Most Valuable Player Award and the AL Rookie of the Year. Curtis Granderson is leading the majors in runs scored with 125 and in RBI with 107. He is second in home runs with 38 to Toronto’s Jose Bautista, who has 40.

The only thing that’s killing Granderson is his .271 batting average. If he can raise his BA, he’s a shoo-in for MVP.

Meanwhile Ivan Nova (15-4, 3.89 ERA) is up for AL Rookie of the Year. Each of the past two seasons a pitcher has captured the award (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010). Nova will hopefully keep the line moving and become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter won it in 1996.

Last year I truly felt Sabathia deserved the Cy Young. Although he is having a great season, Verlander looks to be the favorite this year. But there are other Bombers who are in the running for league-wide end-of-the-year accolades. If not one player wearing pinstripes takes home an award, I will be thoroughly convinced that…well…

The writers hate the Yankees.

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