The Yankees were winless, in fact 0-for-58 this year, when trailing after eight innings entering play last night. They couldn’t have picked a better time to change that in game number 161 of the regular season; needing a victory to remain a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in first place.
Thanks to the timely hitting and clutch offense of Raul Ibanez, the Bronx Bombers put on a drama show, beating the last place Boston Red Sox 4-3 in a bona fide thriller. The Yanks’ win now sets up these possible scenarios for today:
- A Yankee win over Boston: New York takes the AL East.
- A Yankee loss to Boston and an Orioles loss to Tampa Bay: New York takes the AL East.
- A Yankee loss to Boston and an Orioles win over Tampa Bay: a New York vs. Baltimore game at Camden Yards on Thursday to determine the AL East winner and the second Wild Card team.
What’s more, pending the outcome of the Oakland A’s/Texas Rangers game this afternoon, the Yankees have a chance to enter the postseason with the best record in the American League. If the A’s beat the Rangers – and the Yanks win tonight – they’ll go into October as the top seed, having won the most games of any team in the AL.
While we’ll all have to play the waiting game for division winners and playoff seeds, it’s that time of the year to hand out end-of-the season awards. There are a number of Yankees who have stood out this year, and they deserve to be recognized in one way or another. So without any further ado, here are the 2012 Yankee Yapping awards!
Most Valuable Player
Winner: Derek Jeter
It always seems that just when you think the Yankee Captain is done, he just adds more to his mind-bogglingly illustrious career. Last year he made history, clubbing a home run for his 3,000th hit – a nice, astronomical number to go along with his five World Series titles, seven pennants, his ’96 AL Rookie of the Year, his 2000 World Series MVP, his 2000 All-Star Game MVP…you get the picture.
On Sept. 14, as part of a 19-game hitting streak, Jeter put another notch on his accomplishment belt, passing the legendary Willie Mays on baseball’s all-time hits list, Jeter now in 10th place all by himself.
Jeter will finish this season with a batting average above .300 and he currently has 215 hits, which leads the majors. He’s also at double digits in home runs (15), and if he scores a run tonight, he’ll have 100 runs scored, as he currently sits at 99 for the year.
With more history made this season and a fine offensive campaign, Jeter has earned arguably the most prestigious accolade of his career: the Yankee Yapping MVP. Congrats, Derek!
Best Season from a Newcomer
Winner: Raul Ibanez
After last night, it’s only fitting Raul Ibanez claims this distinction.
I’ll be the first to admit, when Ibanez was signed by the Yankees basically on a dime, I was confused. A 40-year-old designated hitter who was chosen over Johnny Damon?
It didn’t make sense to me at the time. In fact, I dubbed him, “Grandpa Ibanez.”
The joke was on me, because grandpa showed me – and everyone – that he still has a lot of baseball life left in him; with 91 hits, 62 RBIs, and 19 homers – none more important than his blast in the ninth inning of last night’s game.
Not only did Ibanez prove his worth at the plate, but for an aged player signed to be a primary DH, he did a nice job playing left field for Brett Gardner, who sat out most of the year with injuries. Ibanez showed, despite his age, he was worth the signing.
And for that, Raul, we thank you. Congrats on a great season.
Winner: Russell Martin
All season long, Russell Martin was thrown under the microscope for hitting below .200. But all the chatter and criticism probably motivated him to swing the bat better, because look at him now: hitting .210 with a career-high 21 home runs.
All of his long balls were meaningful, but two stand out in my mind.
On Sunday June 10, Martin came up to the plate in the ninth inning against Jon Rauch of the Mets. Tied 4-4, Martin launched a ball deep in the air to left field for a solo, walk-off home run, giving the Yanks a 5-4 win to complete a weekend sweep of the Mets.
Then on Friday Sept. 21, he duplicated the feat vs. the Oakland A’s.
Knotted at one in the bottom of the 10th, Martin lifted what turned out to be another game-winning home run off Oakland reliever Sean Doolittle to push the Yanks past the A’s 2-1 in a crucial game the Bombers needed.
With a flair for the dramatic, Martin got it done. Congrats on not only persevering in terms of your batting average, but also saving the day with some power (twice) this year, Russell.
Ace of the Year
Co-Winners: CC Sabathia & Hiroki Kuroda
Considering the fact CC Sabathia spent time on the disabled list this year, it almost surprised me that he finished with the numbers he did. His 2012 totals aren’t what you’d expect from an ace, but nonetheless, 15 wins with only seven losses and an ERA of 3.38 isn’t too shabby.
What helped put Sabathia in the running for this award was that, despite his DL stints this year, he still logged 200 innings and struck out 197 batters. Plus, having struggled mightily throughout the month of September, Sabathia turned it around to finish strong, striking out 29 batters over his final three outings of the season – going 2-0 over those three games with the Yanks winning all three of them.
And then there’s the guy who piggy-backed him.
Although his 15-11 record isn’t exactly indicative of a standout year, Hiroki Kuroda did a fantastic job this season – better than his record indicates. Basically being thrown into the role of ace in Sabathia’s absence, Kuroda pitched extremely well, albeit he didn’t receive the type of run support I’m sure he would’ve hoped for.
Kuroda pitched 212.2 innings – and obviously that total will go up tonight, as he’s starting this evening’s game. Opponents are only hitting .249 against him, and he’s given up less than a hit per inning going into his final start (198 hits allowed).
There’s no doubt Kuroda proved his value through his impressive pitching this year, and teamed up with Sabathia to make a pretty fearsome 1-2 punch. Congrats on the award, fellas.
Reliever of the Year
Winner: Rafael Soriano
The Yankee clubhouse was said to have the feel of a morgue on May 3 when Mariano Rivera blew his knee out shagging fly balls in Kansas City during batting practice. The great Rivera was carted off the field and diagnosed with a torn ACL, his season over and the Yankees unsure of his future.
Manager Joe Girardi tried plugging David Robertson into the closer role, only for him to blow his first chance at a save. As it turned out, Robertson wasn’t the right fit for the closer role, and in fact, scuffled in a lot of his appearances throughout the year; currently with a 2-7 record.
Enter the man whom I call “the silent assassin,” Rafael Soriano.
In 46 save opps this season, Soriano has nailed down 42 – quite impressive for a reliever who wasn’t the closer for a full year. When Rivera went down, Soriano stepped up in a huge way, a way the Yankees needed.
Without him, there’s no telling where the Yankees would be right now; perhaps eliminated from playoff contention, without his spectacular ability to finish off opponents in the final inning.
Congrats on a wonderful season, Rafael. You won Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year.
Slugger of the Year Award
Winner: Robinson Cano
It seems as if the Yankees’ second baseman has made his whole life baseball. Aside from maybe Derek Jeter, personally, I don’t think there’s a player who works harder than Robinson Cano. In my mind, he’s one of the best all-around players in the game today.
Cano went through a couple of dry spells this year at the plate, but that didn’t stop him from hitting .308 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs. He clubbed a pair of grand slams this year and kept the Yankees in many games with his clutch hitting and flashy defense.
On Monday Cano smacked his latest home run, a moon shot that caromed off the Mohegan Sun sports bar over the center field wall at Yankee Stadium. Prior to the game Cano’s cousin (also a ballplayer, who actually played for the Hudson Valley Renegades – the team I interned for in 2010 and covered this year) was tweeting.
He posted, “Add ‘ya heard!’ to the end of all your tweets.”
I tweeted to him, “Robinson Cano will hit a homer tonight. YA HEARD!” He replied simply with “!!!”
Sure enough, I called that shot. I had to point that out after it happened.
Overall Cano had yet another remarkable season. There are only more good things to come in his career, and at this point in time, he’s the best hitter on the team. Congrats, Robinson!
Home Run Champion
Winner: Curtis Granderson
For the second consecutive season, Curtis Granderson has smacked 40 home runs or more, this year currently with 41 dingers. When it comes to hitting for power, Granderson sure knows what the heck he’s doing, and has emerged as one of the premiere power hitters in the AL.
On April 19 this season, Granderson proved that.
In a game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins, he cracked three homers in the first four innings, becoming at the time only the 12th player in MLB history to go yard three times in a single game. On the strength of his power surge, the Yanks went on to beat the Twinkies, 7-6.
Although he can hit for power, Granderson must improve on his average stroke. Going into tonight’s 162nd game, Granderson is only batting a measly .230 at the plate – hitting for average probably being the only facet of the game he seems to struggle with.
But this isn’t the “Batting Average Champion” award. It’s the Home Run Champion award. And Curtis, you’ve earned it. Congrats!
Best Trade Deadline Pickup/Earned a 2013 Contract
The Yankees added two pieces before the trade deadline passed. One being a small pickup, Casey McGehee – a utility man a lot of fans probably forgot about, by now. But there’s no way anyone forgot about the second player the Yanks traded for.
Ichiro joined the team on July 23 and since then has basically not stopped hitting. He brought 12 years of excellence with the Seattle Mariners when he was swapped, and has reached base safely 77 times (72 hits, five walks) in the 66 games he’s played in pinstripes. He has also ignited the team on the base paths, stealing 13 bags.
Something tells me Ichiro is going to perform well in October, in what will be his first postseason since 2001. And although he’s somewhat up there in age, 38 (he’ll turn 39 on Oct. 22), I feel he deserves a chance to come back to the Yankees and play in pinstripes in 2013.
Ichiro is a lot like Jeter: ageless. It doesn’t matter how old he is because his numbers have never really seen a steady decline; he is always close to 200 hits a year.
For his experience and veteran know-how, the man from Japan – in my humble opinion – earned another season in the Bronx, and was a solid acquisition over the summer.
Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki. Congrats!
Well there you have it. Congrats to all the 2012 Yankee Yapping award winners, and make sure to check back here at the Yankee Yapping blog throughout the playoffs. I’ll be posting previews, recaps, and I’ll be writing about anything newsworthy this October.
With the Texas Rangers’ win over the Los Angeles Angels tonight, the Yankees have officially clinched a spot in the postseason this year, but they will go in knowing full well it took almost all 162 games to get into the party.
This afternoon was an indication of that.
Tied with Baltimore for the AL East lead entering play today, the Bronx Bombers weren’t helping themselves when they trailed the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 after five innings; Phil Hughes pitching about as poorly as it gets in a hugely important game.
Thankfully for him, the offense bailed him out.
The Yanks pieced together an epic rally, shredding away at the Jays’ four run lead, scoring one run in the sixth, three in the seventh, and two in the eighth and ninth innings for a necessary 9-6 victory.
Unfortunately for the Yanks, the Orioles also won their game this afternoon, beating the Red Sox 6-3 at home, and thus leaving the AL East in a stalemate going into the final three games of the 2012 regular season.
While the Yankees staged their comeback on the road, I spent the better part of my day at their home – Yankee Stadium. My friends and I were fortunate enough to take a tour of the ballpark, a trip I’ve wanted to go on for a long time.
We even took the tour with Ichiro’s brother!
Just kidding. But he looked almost exactly identical to him.
The first stop on the tour was the Yankee museum inside the Stadium. Our tour guide, a nice guy by the name of Tim, showed us the new Mickey Mantle exhibit. He then told some neat stories (most of which I already knew about) highlighting Mantle’s career.
For instance, during the 1951 World Series Mantle tore all the cartilage in his knee chasing down a fly ball struck by Willie Mays of the Giants – one of the multiple injuries Mantle suffered over the course of his legendary career.
I first learned of that story in the movie 61*
From the museum, we journeyed to Monument Park, behind the center field wall. I’ve been to Monument Park a number of times, and never knew the story behind the door.
According to Tim, there originally was no door linking the Yankee bullpen to Monument Park. Mariano Rivera made a special request for a door to be put in – all because of his pre-appearance ritual. Before every time Rivera runs in from the bullpen, he goes into Monument Park and rubs Babe Ruth’s monument.
Don’t ask me why. For luck, I suppose? Like he needs it…
At any rate, it was a nice little factoid; nothing I knew about before. I also bent over and picked up a rock from behind the Monument wall, and discreetly put it in my pocket for keeping. I’m not sure if was allowed to do that or not…
But I won’t tell if you don’t. I just wanted to keep a piece of the day – and Yankee Stadium – for myself.
After our tour of Monument Park concluded, we made our way to the Yankee dugout, which in my opinion was the best and most fun part of the tour. We were allowed to snap pictures and make all the funny poses we wanted. My friends and I actually came up with a small running joke for this picture:
I was told I could be “Ellen Page’s boyfriend.” Don’t ask.
We then decided to pretend we were in the middle of a heated game, and posed as if the Yankees crushed a walk-off home run. We made sure to take full advantage of the dugout photo-ops.
I’ve always dreamt what it was like to be in the Yankees’ dugout – and it was pretty cool knowing that, in only a matter of hours, the entire team would be back and buzzing; right in the same spot I was in, as the Yanks come home to host Boston tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday to close out the year.
Before we left, I sat down and slid my rear end across the entire bench, then declared,
“Derek Jeter always sits on this bench. And now I did, too.”
The two security guards laughed hysterically at my shenanigan.
We were then taken into the clubhouse, but with one small caveat: no pictures allowed. The organization feels the clubhouse is the Yankee players’ personal space, and snapping photos inside that personal space isn’t right.
I have to agree – if I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t want people coming in and taking pictures of my locker and my personal belongings which it holds.
Some things I did take notice of, albeit I don’t have pictures – and some clubhouse facts from Tim:
- Boone Logan has a Yankee lawn gnome in his locker.
- Jayson Nix had a bottle of what looked like prescription pills in his locker. And an iPhone charger.
- For most of the season, Derek Jeter has two lockers: one for his baseball equipment and one for fan mail and gifts from his sponsors. In fact, Tim said, “If they could fit a Ford truck into this clubhouse, they would, and it would be right in that locker with the rest of Jeter’s stuff.”
- With all the September call-ups, Francisco Cervelli is using Jeter’s second locker, for now.
- David Aardsma, who was just activated, didn’t have a name/number plate above his locker. That was to be expected, however. He hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium yet.
- Ichiro’s locker is the same locker Hideki Matsui used.
- The visiting clubhouse is “big and nice, but not as big and nice as the Yankees’ clubhouse.”
- When leaving the new Stadium, the players don’t have to leave from the outside of the building – unlike the old Stadium.
The elevator from the clubhouse took us right up into the Great Hall where the tour started, and Tim gave everyone a little souvenir: a Yankee Stadium tour keychain. My friends and I then took a walk over to the Hard Rock Café for some lunch, which surprisingly was very affordable and not overly pricey. (My friend Alicia over at Ballparks on a Budget would appreciate it!)
We watched the Yanks take the win over the Jays as we ate, and before we left, we basically got a little bonus. It turns out part of the frieze from the old Stadium is now sitting outside Heritage Field. We went over and took some photos with it, and I placed my hand on it; kind of touched it with my heart, in a way.
As much as I like the new Stadium, I truly enjoyed the original House that Ruth built. And it felt only right to pay homage to a relic.
Overall, it was one of the best and most fun days of my life.
Was I the happiest kid in New York today?
Yes. But then again, I was probably the happiest kid alive.
It was almost laughable when the Yankees were a cool10 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings on July 18, but right now, there is nothing to laugh about. July 18 is practically a lifetime ago, and the Yanks are now only a slim 1.5 games up on the O’s with just nine games left in the 2012 regular season.
Now, the Yankees and Orioles in a nose-to-nose race, the AL East Division will more than likely come down to the last day of the season – the winner claiming the East and the short straw punching a ticket to a one-game Wild Card playoff.
On a positive note for New York, the Yankees have caught some late-season magic, never more evidenced than by Saturday afternoon’s thrilling 14-inning, 10-9 victory over the Oakland A’s at home.
Locked up at 5-5 in the 13th inning, Oakland managed to plate four runs to untie the game on the strength of three home runs. Trailing 9-5 in the bottom of the frame, defeat looked imminent for the Bombers.
But they made sure to make it interesting.
In a stroke of sheer resiliency, the Yankees scored four runs to knot the game up, highlighted by a huge two-run home run off the bat of Raul Ibanez. The next inning, Eduardo Nunez reached on an error allowing Ichiro to come home for the win.
It wasn’t the cleanest victory of 2012, but it was probably the most meaningful. All season long, the Yanks have fallen when they trailed after the eighth inning but on Saturday afternoon they proved they can win in the face of a sure loss; they gave us a taste of the old days of 2009.
While the Yankees were experiencing a radical win, I was experiencing something just as fun – meeting pro wrestling and pop culture icon, Hulk Hogan.
The Hulkster was signing autographs and making an appearance at a wrestling show at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, N.Y. – the same Stadium I spent most of my summer nights this year, covering the Hudson Valley Renegades.
My cousin Joe and I patiently waited on line for several hours, but it was worth it. Once we got to the front, I shook Hulk’s hand, which is about as large as a tree trunk, and told him what an honor it was to meet him. Hulk was as nice as can be about it.
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, brother! It’s good I got you protecting me now, you’re a young guy!”
Joe was mesmerized, being a huge “Hulkamaniac” (or in other words a fan of Hulk’s) since he was five years old. We each gave Hulk a “bro-hug,” if you will, after we took pictures with him. He joked for a minute with Joe, nearly hip-tossing him, and then we were on our way.
I have to say, meeting Hulk was pretty cool; a nice little memory I’ll hold onto. During the show he went face-to-face with one of his old foes from back in the day, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. It was pretty surreal; almost felt as if we were thrown into a time machine and sent back to 1985, the year Hogan and Piper headlined the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden.
On a side note, super heavyweight wrestler Vader also made an appearance. From the front row, I led the crowd in a Boy Meets World chant, as he held a recurring role as Frankie’s dad (for fans of the show who would know that). In fact, he wrestled Jake “the snake” Roberts in an episode, on the night of Topanga’s Sweet 16 party.
Vader saw me yelling Boy Meets World, smiled and shook his head. Then he looked at me from the ring and simply said,
“Ok, Ok. We got it, we got it…”
When the summer commenced and the high school sports season ended, my editor contacted me and asked if I wanted to cover some Hudson Valley Renegades games. Having interned for the Renegades over the summer of 2010, and needing to keep busy with work while school was out, I leaped at the opportunity, and spent many summer nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box.
Little did I know how far Hudson Valley was going to go, in terms of its season.
This past Thursday night, the Renegades captured the New York-Penn League title, beating the Tri-City Valley Cats 8-3. It marked the first time since 1999 Hudson Valley won a title and it was only the Renegades’ second championship in the team’s history.
Manager Jared Sandberg was nearly speechless after his team won it all, and was happy his squad was victorious for such a loyal fan base. His team pied him in the face while I was interviewing him, but he wiped it off and said,
“Hudson Valley has always meant a lot to me and my family, and to win a championship for these fans is amazing. The team had fun, but it was a focused fun; they came to play every single day and they came to work every single day. You really have to tip the cap to these players.”
What struck me about the Renegades from the first game I covered up until their champagne celebration after Thursday’s win was their resiliency. If they trailed late in the game, you could be almost certain they would find a way to come back and win it.
In fact, that resiliency was never more evident than in the playoffs. The New York-Penn League postseason is almost set up the way the MLB playoff system used to work. Four teams make it; three division winners and a Wild Card team. Elimination is best two-out-of-three – and twice the Renegades were down 1-0 after Game One, facing elimination in Game Two.
In the first round, Hudson Valley lost the first game to the Wild Card team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. With their backs to the ropes, the Renegades rebounded for two straight wins to advance to the League Championship Series.
Once it got there, Hudson Valley lost the first game to the Valley Cats. On the ropes again, and one win away from becoming a team who almost won, the Renegades came from behind and survived to win Game Two last Wednesday before reaching baseball nirvana on Thursday.
A big first inning highlighted the deciding game, as Hudson Valley wasted no time scoring runs. First baseman Ryan Dunn rocketed a two-run single to center field to give the Renegades a quick 2-0 lead. Shortstop Leonardo Reginatto and catcher Jake DePew then followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give Hudson Valley a commanding 4-0 edge in the early going.
The Valley Cats chopped the lead in half by the sixth, but the Renegades fought back for more runs. Left fielder Marty Gantt drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and later in the frame, Dunn came to the plate on an error.
Tri-City tacked on one in the seventh, but in the eighth Hudson Valley put it away, adding two more runs to its 6-3 lead. Gantt drove in a run with an RBI single to the right-center field gap, and eventually scored on a wild pitch to cap the night on offense.
Just as the Renegades’ bats were clicking, Hudson Valley’s pitching also held up. The Renegades used seven pitchers to piece together the clincher and were carried by a two-inning, four-strikeout performance from Brandon Henderson, who recorded the win.
Henderson also notched the win in the Renegades’ 2-0 victory over Brooklyn last Monday, setting down 13 consecutive Cyclone batters through 4.1 innings. He maintained the relaxed mentality throughout the playoffs.
“I just took it one pitch at a time, that was the mindset,” Henderson said. “I tried to dial in each pitch, and we got the job done. It was great energy, and all year we played really loose.”
Tampa Bay Rays’ first round draft pick this year, third baseman Richie Shaffer, finished the playoffs with five RBIs, three runs scored, and a triple.
Shaffer knocked in one of the Renegades’ two runs in the final game of the Brooklyn series, not to mention he crushed a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth inning of Game Two of the LCS to force a Game Three. The Renegades’ win overwhelmed Shaffer, and marked the first time he captured a team title.
“It’s incredible and this is why you play the game,” he said. “I could tell we had something special here and the chemistry among this team was unparalleled. This is one of the first times I ever won a championship in my career in baseball, since I was eight years old, and it’s just an awesome feeling.”
Like the players, after it was all over, Sandberg felt a huge sense of satisfaction.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Both series we were down 1-0 and that’s how we played this entire season. We never gave up. It was a special season – they turned it into a special season.”
I’d like to thank the Renegades right now for allowing me to be a part of the team this season, albeit a small part. It was extremely fun to cover this group of players and I’m also happy manager Sandberg enjoyed my articles – he even went out of his way to compliment them several times.
I can only hope covering the Renegades this season served as just a prelude of what is to come for me in my career as a journalist. Perhaps a few years down the road, I’ll make the big press box at Yankee Stadium.
Let’s hope so.
In October of 1999 my parents took a two week vacation to Hawaii. During their vacation I spent a few days with my cousins Joe (although he’ll always be Joey to me) and Kelly, my Aunt Terry and my Uncle Mike. One night Joey and I were bored, and Uncle Mike took us out to see “For Love of the Game,” a baseball movie that has become one of my all-time favorites.
This past year my Uncle Mike suffered from myelodysplastic syndromes, commonly known as MDS – a form of leukemia. Sadly this past Sunday evening, my Uncle Mike passed away.
What I’ll always remember about my Uncle Mike was how caring he was; how willing he always was to make others around him happy. As kids, every time Joey and I would be in the backyard of my grandpa’s house playing baseball, wiffle ball, or tossing the football back-and-forth, my Uncle Mike would always come and join us. We used to have to get down on our hands and knees and beg the other adults to come and pitch the wiffle ball to us, or pass the football.
With Uncle Mike it was never like that. We never had to beg him. When we were younger, he would always take time and hang out with us, and that’s what made him such a special person.
In the summer before I started fourth grade, my Aunt Terry and Uncle Mike invited me on vacation, to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania. Joey and I had a blast, but the highlight of the trip came on the first night. We all went out to dinner to (if memory serves me correctly) TGI Friday’s. On the way, we passed a mini-golf course, and over dinner we thought it might be a cool idea to go mini-golfing after we ate.
By the time dinner was over, the golf course was closed. But Uncle Mike came up with a plan.
“I thought I saw a place across the street from the hotel called Caps City,” he said to us. “Maybe they have baseball caps there; maybe it’s got an arcade and batting cages or something.”
Thinking it couldn’t hurt, we took a ride there. But little did we know what Caps City really was.
“Aw man!” we heard Uncle Mike exclaim. “This isn’t an arcade, it’s a truck place!”
As it was, Caps City didn’t mean baseball caps, batting cages, or arcades. Just caps for pickup trucks.
For as long as I live, I will never forget that story – and it just proves what a great person my Uncle Mike was. He tried so hard to think of something fun for my cousin and I to do, and although it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, it was still fun.
I last saw Uncle Mike a couple of months ago. He asked me how I was doing and how work was going, to which I responded, “Fine” and “It’s going well.” It was difficult to see such a wonderful person and someone that I love so sick. But my uncle had a huge heart, and he used it to fight his illness for as long as he could.
Uncle Mike, I wish you peace. You will never be forgotten. Now that I am an uncle to my nephew Ryan, I can only hope I live up to what a fun-loving and caring uncle you were. You’ve set the bar pretty high!
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where o’ death, are your plagues? Where, o’ grave, is your destruction?” – Hosea 13:14
Tonight Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale dominated the Yankees, and for as crummy and as inconsistent as Phil Hughes has been this year, he didn’t pitch poorly. Hughes, allowing just two runs in a solid seven innings pitched, came up on the short end of the stick – as did the Yankees, losing 2-1 and getting swept in three games at the hands of the pale hose.
The best part of this trip to Chicago for the Yankees, aside from leaving: Derek Jeter, who homered in all three losing efforts. It marked the first time in the captain’s career he went deep in three straight games.
Thankfully for the Yankees, they will not play the White Sox again during the regular season. However if the two teams meet in October, Chicago can head into the series with a positive mindset, knowing they took five of seven games from New York this season.
If you saw my tweet from earlier tonight, the White Sox scare me.
But the Yankees can concern themselves with the postseason when the time comes, and for now worry about fending off the Tampa Bay Rays – who have pulled to within three games of the AL East lead. That once comfortable nine-game division gap has thinned and the Rays now have a chance to swipe the East from the Yanks.
Better pitching and series wins are what the Yankees need to put first and foremost in their minds down the stretch and into September.
For tonight, though, I’d like to make reference to something that not a lot of people really know about; perhaps it’s my way of dealing with the recent sweep and being at the mercy of the White Sox.
If you follow football, which is rapidly approaching, you know that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl in February, beating the New England Patriots, 21-17. Their last game before the Super Bowl, as most fans know, took place in San Francisco. The Giants beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game on a game-winning field goal booted through the uprights by Lawrence Tynes.
What most people don’t know is that Kyle Williams – San Francisco’s punt returner who fumbled the ball, setting up the Giants’ game-winner – is the son of White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams.
That’s right. The White Sox GM’s son was the goat of the NFC Title game.
Chicago may have completed its little sweep of New York tonight, but if you ask me, the NFC Championship game is proof of why Chicago is called the “second city” and New York is number one – which they’ve proven 27 times in baseball and most recently in football.
It may not be much, but hey, it’s something to hang our hats on.
Coming off a night when Hiroki Kuroda spun an absolute gem for the Yankees, beating the Texas Rangers 3-0 with a complete game, two-hit shutout, the baseball world has learned former Bronx Bomber Melky Cabrera has been suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone.
Apparently it was never the “Melky Way.” It was the “Juicy Juice way.”
Cabrera had been leading the majors in the hits and runs offensive categories; he even captured the MVP Award of this year’s All-Star Game in Kansas City.
To my knowledge, this is the first time anything of this sort has occurred: a player wins the ASG MVP and later in the season gets suspended for violating the drug policy. It came as a little bit of a surprise to me, but I get the feeling the topic of whether or not PEDs affect a player’s performance will come up as a result of this recent finding.
Anyhow, for this specific blog topic, I figured I would try something different ; something a little more original, as opposed to ranting about the Yankees’ last two victories over Texas. As I’ve written about these past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity this summer to cover a Minor League Baseball team, the Hudson Valley Renegades, several times.
Instead of writing a typical opinionated piece, I figured I would share my latest Renegades article, which just so happened to be a win last Thursday over the Vermont Lake Monsters, a MiLB team affiliated with the Oakland Athletics.
Enjoy the story and be sure to comment on how you like the article!
Renegades Slug Lake Monsters in Extras
By: A.J. Martelli
The Hudson Valley Renegades celebrated Irish night on Thursday at Dutchess Stadium. Therefore it was only fitting designated hitter Justin O’Conner came up with the game-winning hit in the 10th inning, a bases-loaded infield single bringing home Charlie Epperson, to give the Renegades a thrilling 5-4 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters, completing Hudson Valley’s second consecutive sweep.
O’Conner embraced the challenge, remaining calm in the pressure-laden situation.
“I just wanted to do a job,” he said of the big at-bat that sank the Lake Monsters. “I got down in the count 1-2 and just wanted to put the ball in play. I’ve just been trying to relax in every at-bat and I did the job.”
Renegades Manager Jared Sandberg was left almost in disbelief following the extra inning victory.
“Wow,” he said. “It’s a lot fun, the way we’re winning. It seems somebody different is stepping up every single time, whether it’s a pitcher, a base-running play, a defensive play, or an offensive play. Every night it’s somebody different and it’s fun.”
The Renegades had to fight for the win, as they trailed 4-3 in the bottom of eighth. But after O’Conner crushed a booming, one out double into the right field corner, he took third on a passed ball and came home on a wild pitch, capitalizing on a few Lake Monster mistakes to tie it up.
Vermont had taken the lead in the seventh, knocking around Hudson Valley reliever Kris Carlson to take the lead. The Lake Monsters were down 3-1 heading into the frame, but sent eight batters to the plate and put up three runs.
The Lake Monsters plated their first run in the top of the sixth, but Hudson Valley had an answer in the bottom half of the inning, taking the lead with three runs. An RBI single off the bat of first baseman Michael Williams and a two-run single from shortstop Leonardo Reginatto accounted for the Renegades’ offensive strike in the sixth.
Sandberg knew his resilient team wasn’t going to lose without putting up a battle.
“There’s no real panic,” he said. “There’s no give-up, and there’s a ton of fight in this team.”
Jeff Ames, one of six Renegades who have been selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star team, toed the rubber and gave a solid performance. Ames tossed 4.2 innings and allowed no runs on three hits. He walked one and struck out four, lowering his season earned run average to 1.68.
“Jeff Ames came out and gave us five zeros on the board,” Sandberg said of his starting pitcher. “He did a nice job battling through his outing.”
Reliever Ryan Garton, who pitched a scoreless 10th inning, notched the win, improving to 3-0 on the year. Rob Finneran also contributed with 2.1 scoreless innings, relieving Carlson and preventing further damage in the seventh. Lefty Jose Molina came on in relief of Ames, and threw in 1.1 innings and allowed Vermont’s first run in the sixth.
With yet another tenacious win under his team’s collective belt, Sandberg is becoming more and more impressed with his squad every time they take the field.
“What can you say about the Renegades?” he said. “It’s a special group, they really feed off each other, and I hope everyone who comes out to the Dutch to see us is having as much fun as we’re having on the field.”
Following the sweep of Vermont, the Renegades (35-19) dropped three straight to the Lowell Spinners, entering the All-Star break in first place – one game ahead of the second place Brooklyn Cyclones in the NY-Penn League McNamara division.
Last night the Yankees continued their recent string of inconsistency, losing 7-2 to the Detroit Tigers in the opening game of their four-game series at Comerica Park. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano accounted for the only two runs the Yanks plated on the night, mustering the lone RBIs. Last night’s game may have been more appropriately titled, “The Justin Verlander Show.”
Verlander was a virtuoso, shutting down the Yankees with a brilliant 14-strikeout performance over eight innings of work. Ivan Nova on the other hand kept his winless streak alive, falling to 10-6. He only tossed 5.1 innings and let up seven earned runs on 11 hits on the way to the loss. Nova hasn’t won a game in five consecutive starts.
The boys from the Bronx didn’t do much better tonight, dropping a 6-5 decision to the Tigers, a ninth inning rally falling just short. Russell Martin clubbed an RBI double to plate Eric Chavez after Ichiro singled to bring in Raul Ibanez, but they couldn’t get that tying run – or potential winning run - across the dish.
In the seventh Ichiro doubled to bring home Nick Swisher, and Chavez smashed an opposite-field two-run homer in the fourth to highlight the Yankees’ night on offense.
Like Nova, starter Phil Hughes struggled. He was pounded for eight hits and allowed four earned runs in the 4.1 innings he pitched. In the fourth he all but lost command, throwing 42 pitches, laboring through the frame. Hughes now falls to 11-9 and his ERA – which was 3.96 heading into tonight’s action - is back up to 4.10.
The Yanks have now gone 9-13 since July 15; a losing record, although New York still sits atop the AL East standings at 63-46, four and a half games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.
While the Bombers were getting bombed these past couple of nights in the Motor City, I enjoyed yet another little accolade. Well, something to blog about, anyway.
The YES Network has recently been featuring the “YES Network Games” during its broadcasts; a mini in-game contest in which viewers can tweet in questions to the announcers. If they pick your question, they will show it on TV (along with your Twitter handle) and the announcers have a half-inning to come up with an answer.
If their answer is correct, they get a point, and my guess is, whichever YES announcer has the most points at the end of the season wins. During the day yesterday I tweeted in my question:
Lo and behold, during the bottom of the sixth inning of last night’s game, my name and question appeared on the YES Network. I thought for a second I had Michael Kay stumped. He seemed a little unsure of himself.
But he came up with the correct answer, Jaret Wright, as did Meredith Marakovits and John Flaherty. I immediately attempted to tweet Kay back, trying to tell him to tell Flaherty that I met him in 2009. Flaherty actually came to my college (Mercy) and I met him and wrote an article about him for the student newspaper.
He must not have seen it though, because I didn’t hear back from him.
However, I did hear from a number of people who saw my name on TV. In fact, two of my friends, Mike and Sean – who coincidently enough are also local sports reporters – each texted me and told me that they saw my name on YES. Mike’s text was pretty cool:
“I see you made it on YES. You are the man. It was Jaret Wright. Funny that was your question. I was just thinking about that disaster of a series in the beginning of tonight’s game. I at least went to Game One of that series before things went downhill. Take care, A.J.”
Sean’s text was just as nice:
“Just saw your name on the YES broadcast. Remember me when you’re famous, broski. LOL.”
I simply replied, “I hope I’m famous someday, Sean. I hope.”
This now marks the fourth time YES has used my name. On June 8 they used my tweet on their “Extra Innings” show after the Yankees squadoosh’d the Mets 9-1, and they’ve used my Facebook comments in 2009 and 2010. My good friend Virginia over at “Eat, Sleep, and Breathe Yankees” wrote on my Facebook wall,
“Seriously, YES should just hire you already.”
That comment sparked a little Twitter hashtag rally – namely among my close friends Brian and Jenn, and my cousin Joe – called, @YESNetwork #HireAJMartelli
I would absolutely love to work for YES; in a way it’d be like a dream. With a lot of support, encouragement, and perhaps some good luck, maybe some day that dream will come true.
Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.
A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.
Ichiro Joins the Yankees
Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.
The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.
The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.
To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.
Right on, Dave.
In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.
This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.
Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.
After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.
The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.
Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks
On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.
Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.
Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.
Thank God we live in the year 2012.
Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.
Obviously that’s not the case this year.
Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it. As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.
There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.
A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.
“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”
The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.
The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners. Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA).
Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.
MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:
Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?
Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.
So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.
Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.
Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.
Some Encouragement from Sandberg
As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.
The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for. I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).
Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.
After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.
“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.
“Yes,” I answered.
Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”
I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”
Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”
The Examiner,” I replied.
“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.
“That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”
I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”
Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.
I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.
Hopefully to a League title.
Yesterday afternoon was almost awesome for the Yankees, in their series finale vs. the Los Angeles Angels. But what’s that old saying? “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
With the tying run on second base, the potential winning run on first base, and two outs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez had a chance to channel his inner 2007 and walk off the Yankee Stadium field a hero. Instead he came up short, popping the ball up behind first base; the cowhide falling into waiting glove of Albert Pujols for a 10-8 loss.
Nonetheless, the Yankees still own the best record in baseball at 54-34, and remain in first place in the AL East, a cool eight games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles.
While the Yankees were taking two games out of three from the Angels this weekend, I had the opportunity to cover the same minor league team I interned for in 2010, the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are connected to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since the high school sports scene is obviously voided for summer vacation, my editor thought it might be fun for me to cover some Renegades games, just to give me some work and a chance to cover some professional baseball.
Saturday evening I made my way to up Dutchess Stadium, much like I did every game day two years ago, to cover the Renegades’ game vs. the Mahoning Valley Scrappers – a minor league team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.
It was a different feeling on the way to the ballpark, however, knowing I’d be sitting up in the press box rather than setting up for the game and handling all the oftentimes unpleasant tasks interns have to do. Like this…
When I walked into the Stadium, it felt surreal. Not having been there in two years and having so many memories – and all those memories coming back to me in that moment – was a little overwhelming. All of the players (including Robinson Cano’s cousin Burt Reynolds) and interns who were there in 2010 have moved on; it was so strange looking around and not seeing all the familiar faces.
Wearing my press pass, I made my way up to the breezeway, past the luxury boxes and into the press box, where a number of MiLB personnel and beat writers were.
A group of them were conversing about the recent draft, and speculating about which players were going to make an impact in the future. They also shared with each other some stories about traveling, going from city to city following their respective teams. It was a little intimidating for me, knowing these reporters are the real deal; not that I’m not the real deal, but they are writers that get to experience professional baseball on a daily basis.
I guess it was only natural to feel intimidated; me being just a fresh, relatively new high school sports reporter who was given an assignment – they being writers with years of experience in the business. I’ll admit I was nervous – nervous, but not scared. Believe it or not, a Tweet from one of my former co-workers at the Renegades put my mind at ease.
The other writers eventually left though, and took seats down the left field line in a designated area for press members. I elected to remain in the press box with another reporter, the official scorer, and the girl who runs the Renegades’ Twitter page. The group of us shared a lot of laughs and banter throughout the game.
Before the game started, I kind of soaked it in; took in the view.
The Renegades led off the bottom of the first with a home run from their center fielder Joey Rickard. They then took a 2-0 lead after two innings when their left fielder, DeShun Dixon, led off the bottom of the second with a home run.
Dixon would knock in a run on an RBI single in the third after an RBI single off the bat of Renegades’ shortstop Ryan Dunn (Yes, Ryan Dunn. I’m aware he shares the same name as Bam Margera’s late friend).
Leading 4-0 heading into the fourth, the Scrappers put up two runs on back-to-back RBI doubles off reliever Brandon Henderson. Renegades’ starter, 19-year-old Taylor Guerrieri – who was Tampa Bay’s top pick out of Columbia, S.C. a year ago – left the game after three innings, using up a lot of his pitches.
Following the back-to-back RBI doubles, the ‘Gades bent but didn’t break. They held the score until the seventh when second baseman Tommy Coyle blasted a two-run homer, the Renegades’ third round-tripper of the night.
Trailing 6-2, the Scrappers threatened in the ninth. Mahoning Valley loaded the bases with nobody out, but again, the Renegades refused to fold. Reliever Ryan Garton induced a 6-4-3 double play, which allowed a run to come home, before notching the last out.
Final score: Renegades 6, Scrappers 3
It marked the Renegades’ eighth win at home this year, and they are only a game out of first place in their division behind the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ farm team.
I left the press box and went to the clubhouse where I caught up with Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ manager, ex-Devil Ray, and nephew of famed Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. I had to ask him what makes his team so good when they’re playing at home.
“We get the last at-bats, we make it exciting, and we get the chance to put on a show for the home crowd,” he said.
“The crowd comes out and supports us every night, with 4,000-plus, and it’s fun to play in front of a big crowd. They get behind us and it’s good energy.”
I then questioned him about the home runs, seeing as how a power surge led to the win. He admitted the long ball raised his eyebrows.
“We haven’t hit many homers this year, so it was a little bit of a surprise,” he said.
“It was also good to see because guys aren’t trying to hit home runs and they’re hitting home runs. Any time Joey Rickard can lead off the game with a homer and give us that boost, that’s nice, and then DeShun Dixon hits a two-run homer with a flick of the bat. Then obviously Tommy Coyle’s late home run gave us some breathing room.”
With the top pick on the mound, and a decent job from the relief corps, I inquired about how well the Renegades’ pitching has been anchoring the team.
“The pitching is keeping our season going in the right direction,” Sandberg said.
“We can lean on the pitchers right now because they’re throwing strikes and competing extremely well. The team is playing relaxed but we’re going out there competing every night and that’s what a manager wants.”
Overall I was extremely satisfied with how it went. My editor thought I did a great job with the story, and I hope this is just serving as a warm-up; the start of what I pray is a long career covering pro baseball.
Perhaps I’ll be one of those beat writers in the press box, talking about the new draft picks and sharing stories about life on the road, covering pro baseball teams.
Maybe someday. Until then, I have this story: getting the chance to cover a pro baseball game for the first time.
Bottom line: I loved it.