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The Boone Identity: Remembering the Radical 2003 Yankees-Red Sox Saga

10-16-03 Yankees Aaron Boone on his way to9 HP after solo homer yankees victory

If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.

In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.

Join me, will you?


 

The background

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It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.

But so much more happened before Game 7.

In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.

Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.

Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.

The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:

“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”

Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,

“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”

New Boston Red Sox ace pitcher Pedro Martinez resp

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.

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So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.


 

How we got there

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The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.

Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.

Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.

Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.

The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.

Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.

“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.

The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.

Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.

What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?


 

And then, everything explodes

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The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.

What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,

“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”

To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,

“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”

Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.

In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.

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Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”

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The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.

That is, until the bottom half of the inning.

Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.

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Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.

Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.

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Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.

But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.

An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.

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Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.

Yeah. That never happened.

Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.

In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”

That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.

BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:

“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”

The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.

Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.


Is this happening?

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Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.

Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?

“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”

But in the early going, it was  different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.

Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.

A caveat, though:  Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.

Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.

Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.

After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”

Torre quipped back: “I lied.”

Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.

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The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.

Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.

Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:

“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.

“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”

That dread was well-founded and soon realized.

Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.

Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.

The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.

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Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.

“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.

“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”

Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,

“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”

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The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:

Why Did You Keep Pedro In?


We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?


We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Oh, Pedro was awesome for seven,
And it looked like he could hang in.
Those two liners showed he’d become shaky—
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Though whacked cold, Johnny Damon kept waving;
The guys always want to stay in.
Of course, Pedro’d say he could blow them away,
But why did you keep Pedro in?


He could have left the hill as a hero—
We’d say Pedro had smoked them again!
You could not deny that his pitch count was high,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?


With each move you had out-managed Torre.
Yankee cheering was growing quite thin.
With such talented benches for backup,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?

 

The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”


 Sleeping on the X-Factor

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What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.

It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,

“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”

Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,

“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”

Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:

“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”

Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:

“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.

“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”

Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.

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Aaron Boone after hitting homerun in 2003 ALCS

Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.

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The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.

Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:

“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”

The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,

“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”

Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,

“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”

What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.

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“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.


 The aftermath and the impact of another curse

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While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.

Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.

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Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.

He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.

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Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?

Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?

We’ll never know.

To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.

Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.

And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.

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 SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.

DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)

Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)

What we learned in the first half

Tony Pena, Kevin Long, Joe Girardi

Over the first half of this season the Yankees can, at best, be described at “hot-cold.” It seems the Bronx Bombers get into a groove, but begin skidding not long after they appear to hit a good stretch. Nonetheless, they find themselves within an arm’s reach of first place in the AL East at the All-Star break – which, in a word, is miraculous, given their streakiness and injury problems.

There are plenty of storylines to be covered from the first 94 games of 2014. The First topic, of course, has to be

Masahiro Tanaka – Man, not Superman

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If you remember back to the pilot episode of the old TV show Smallville, Lana Lang asks Clark Kent if he’s “man or Superman.” When the news of Masahiro Tanaka’s partially torn UCL broke, it was the only quote this scribe thought of.

The man from Japan was virtually untouchable through his first few starts – dare I say Superman-esque, boasting the best record in baseball at 12-3 with an ERA of 2.27.

Then Tuesday happened. Superman lost his cape.

Tanaka was lit up by Cleveland for five earned on 10 hits. His fastball was flat, his sinker was hanging, and he took the loss in arguably the worst start of his young MLB career.

The bad line and the loss only made the news on Tanaka’s partially torn UCL worse, as he’s been one of the only bright spots in the Yankee rotation this season; with CC Sabathia possibly being done for good, Ivan Nova needing Tommy John surgery, and Michael Pineda being about as useful as a screen door in a submarine.

It’s obvious the loss of Tanaka comes as a huge blow to the Yankees. So far the front office hasn’t made a stunner deal to patch up the rotation holes, although they’ve added Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help, acquired Jeff Francis from the Oakland A’s, and called up the emerging Shane Greene to fill some of the void.

A blockbuster trade for a front-line starter may or may not be in the cards for the Yankees this year – there’s not much out there to take, although Cliff Lee will apparently be off the DL and available come the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.

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Perhaps the Yankees can land the trade that never was in July, 2010. Lee would’ve been tremendously more valuable in ’10 than he is now, but with the rotation in a state of disarray, he may be the closest the Yankees get to a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.

That is, unless they can somehow snatch David Price from Tampa Bay – but the Yankees stand a better chance of a magical leprechaun falling from a rainbow in the sky and bringing them cake and ice cream. It’s extremely improbable.

On the other hand if there isn’t a starter to be had at the deadline, the Yankees simply have to find a way to win with who they have.

As for Tanaka: the Yanks will be without his services for at least six weeks, yet he’ll probably be gone beyond that timeframe; a UCL tear, no matter how large or small, usually spells a lot of time on the sidelines. It’s also worth noting Tanaka apologized for his injury, taking the same road Hideki Matsui traveled in 2006 when he broke his wrist trying to field a fly ball in left field.

We’ve learned a lot about Tanaka over the first half of the season, but the hardest lesson we all learned is that he’s a man. Not Superman.

 

Alfonso Soriano just not built to last

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When the Yankees picked up McCarthy, it was almost shocking to see Alfonso Soriano’s name on the “designated for assignment” list. The Yanks acquired their old pal “Fonsy” last year from the Cubs and he turned back the clock, becoming an exciting piece of a rather bland and dry 2013 offense.

Soriano said at the outset of the season he was considering retirement at the end of this season as it was; but I’m not sure he – or anyone else – expected the 38-year-old slugger to be cut in what may be his final season.

This year Soriano was batting a weak .221 with 71 strikeouts in 238 plate appearances. He only clubbed six homers and drove in just 23 runs in the 67 games he played – clearly not playing with the fire that burned last summer.

Perhaps it was a classic case of going back to the place, but not the time.

Derek Jeter, for one, was not happy with Fonsy’s release, telling the Star Ledger “Soriano is like family to me. I’m going to miss him. He’s like a brother to me. He should be proud of what he’s been able to do.”

If it really is the end of the line for Soriano, he put together a nice little career with 412 homers, two World Series appearances, and seven All-Star nods. Certainly not a Hall of Famer worthy span, but he was good enough to be a recognizable ballplayer and a bona fide difference-maker.

 

Mark Teixeira still has it

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Soriano wasn’t able to light up the offensive categories this year, but one man who has been ripping and tearing it up with his bat has been Mark Teixeira. The big first baseman is leading the team in homers with 17 and has knocked in 48 runs, which overshadows his somewhat low .239 batting average.

For Teixeira, a guy who missed basically all of last year and even spent time on the DL this year with a nagging hamstring injury, the above average power numbers and situational hitting are pleasantly surprising.

Generally after suffering season-ending injuries players don’t respond with such decent numbers right away. Teixeira looks as good as new and is offering some positive results. It might even be fair to say he’s putting the Yankees on his back and carrying the team this year.

 

David Robertson can indeed close

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Last season the biggest story was Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the big question that went with it: can David Robertson, who was set to supplant the great Rivera as Yankee closer, actually do it?

What’s sad is, he’s answered the question this season with a giant “YES” but it’s flown under the proverbial radar; nobody is really talking about it.

Robertson has saved 23 games for the Yankees while only hitting two speed bumps: blowing a save in Chicago to the White Sox on May 23 and failing to save the game vs. the Minnesota Twins at home on June 1.

Other than those two instances Robertson has been as solid as a bull, closing out games without the fans even having to often utilize his famous “Houdini” nickname. Robertson has been shutting down other teams in the ninth with relative ease, evading trouble and doing Rivera proud.

By the way, the official Yankee Yapping term for a Robertson save is “Alabama Slam” because Robertson is an Alabama native and he slams the door in the ninth.

Get it?

It hasn’t quite caught on just yet, although some YY Twitter followers approve.

 

Dellin is dealin’

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Rightfully so, Dellin Betances has been named an AL All-Star this year. As a reliever he’s struck out 84 batters in 55.1 innings pitched, making the best hitters in the league like Mike Trout and Jose Bautista look like hitters trying to strike a pea with a twig.

Betances has emerged as firearm and a practically an automatic 1-2-3 inning out of the ‘pen, but I think the difference between Betances and someone such as Joba Chamberlain (or Phil Hughes for that matter) is that he found what didn’t work and has now found what does work – and that’s where he’s staying.

The Yankees discovered that the role of starting pitcher was just not clicking for Betances. When he didn’t make it as a starter, he found his way as a reliever, and that’s who is – and who he’ll be from here on out.

Unlike, however, Chamberlain and Hughes, who constantly flip-flopped roles and eventually didn’t make it either way.

Bottom line: the Yankees have done the right thing with Betances, and the decision to make (and keep) him a reliever is paying off royally.

 

The Swan Song of Derek Jeter

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Through the first half of 2014, the Yankee Captain is hitting .271 with two homers and 25 RBIs. He’s slugging .321 and has swiped six bases while only getting caught once. He has 91 hits thus far, and has moved up on MLB’s all-time hits list; in fact, at press time, he’s 13 away from tying the legendary Carl Yastrzemski for eighth place on the all-time list.

But it’s not exactly about his numbers this season, or the records he’s shattering. It’s about the atmosphere every time he comes to bat at Yankee Stadium – or anywhere else. Opposing fans cheer him when he steps into the box, showering him with appreciation and respect, while the opposing teams themselves shower him with adulation and parting gifts.

It’ll only get more exciting, or maybe more fittingly bittersweet, when he takes the field in his final All-Star Game Tuesday night at Target Field in Minnesota.

Fans everywhere can appreciate what Jeter’s done over the years, and how much he’s meant not only to the Yankees but baseball in general. It’s nice to see this fine ballplayer get the respect of his peers and those with whom he works.

The atmosphere is going to be surreal on the final day of the Yankees’ season, whenever it may come; whether it be in the playoffs sometime, at the end of the regular season, or at the end of the World Series.

It’s tough to consider right now, but whenever it ends – and however it ends – the Captain will go out a respected winner in the eyes of the baseball fans. And if you can go out with the adoration of everyone around you, isn’t that the greatest thing in sports?

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It’s been a great first half of the 2014 season. Here’s to a fun second half!

But before I go, here’s some Yankee Yapping “Extra Innings”…. !!!

For the third straight summer I’ve been “down on the farm” so-to-speak, covering Minor League Baseball – more specifically the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Tampa Bay Rays’ short season Single-A affiliate.

The last two games I’ve covered ended quite dramatically, as Hunter Lockwood, the Gades’ left fielder, ended the game in extra innings with one swing; first a solo homer to beat the Staten Island Yankees on July 5, and just last night a two-run homer to beat the Batavia MuckDogs (a Miami Marlins affiliate) 12-10.

Just for the heck of it, I’ll post my game story from Lockwood’s walk-off home run that beat the Baby Bombers last weekend. This story ran in my newspaper (The Examiner) this week, so those who don’t get a chance to read my regular recaps in the paper, here’s a taste of what you’re missing:

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Renegades Stun Yankees with Lockwood’s Walk-Off Homer

By A.J. Martelli

Hudson Valley Renegades relief pitcher Isaac Gil had a whipped cream pie ready for designated hitter Hunter Lockwood at the end of their game against the Staten Island Yankees Saturday night. It was the only way to celebrate what had just happened.

In the bottom of the tenth tied 3-3 with two outs, Lockwood delivered a solo, walk-off home run – a spectacular shot over the left field wall at Dutchess Stadium to give the Renegades a 4-3 win, extend Hudson Valley’s win streak to seven in a row, and send the sold out crowd home happy.

“It’s a huge rush for me and I know it’s just a huge rush for the rest of my team,” Lockwood said moments after clubbing the death blow. “Everybody has all the dog piles and stuff you see on TV, and it’s just a lot of fun to be able to go out and produce for our team and for our fans out here.

“We’ve been playing good as a team, we trust everybody to get the job done, coming through in clutch situations, and that helps us stick together as a team and keep playing hard. We’ve had a bunch of late walk-off wins; a bunch of games where we’ve held tight and came through late – it allows us to keep playing hard, and since we’ve done it in the past we know we can do it in the future.”

The dramatic homer was Lockwood’s team-leading fourth of the season. Perhaps more importantly, the win was Hudson Valley’s fifth walk-off style victory of 2014, and its fourth win of the season in extra innings. Skipper Tim Parenton doesn’t mind playing in close games, given the results he’s seeing right now.

“The guys just never quit and they’ve done it all year,” he said. “Hunter Lockwood hit the ball hard a couple times tonight, but got one up in the air a little bit and it got out of here. It’s just a great win for the guys. They just believe in each other, and we just have a resilient group.”

The Gades’ resiliency was never more evident than in the top of the tenth inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out, looking primed to break the 3-3 stalemate. But reliever Gerardo Reyes, who notched his first win of the year, pitched out of it, getting a line out to left, a pop out to short, and a groundout to end any danger.

“We just hung in there,” Parenton said. “You sit there as a coach and say ‘put it in the zone and see if they can make the hit or we can make the play.’ We were able to get a couple pop ups and the ground ball out.”

The Renegades took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning; scoring in the sixth on an RBI double off the bat of second baseman Jace Conrad, and an RBI single from left fielder Clayton Henning in the seventh. Conrad plated the Gades’ third run in the eighth, scoring from third on a wild pitch.

The Yankees were able to tie it in the top half of the ninth on two RBI singles off Reyes to send it to extras.

Renegades’ starter D.J. Slaton did a fine job keeping his team in the game, tossing six innings of three-hit ball. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven – and also had to wiggle out of trouble in the fifth inning, escaping a second and third, no out jam.

“The biggest thing for me was getting ahead, finishing off batters when I had the chance and trying to keep a low pitch count,” he said. “For me it’s fastball changeup and when those two are rolling for me, usually it’s a good night.

“The fifth was a tough, sucky inning, but the biggest thing was, you just have to get a quick out in the infield somewhere, and a strikeout, and go from there. Once you get those two outs you don’t relax a little bit, but you look for that third out any way you can get it.”

Southpaw Ryan Pennell, a Rye Neck alum and Mamaroneck native, was solid in the role of the middle man. He threw two innings in relief of Slaton and allowed one run on just two hits. He walked two and struck out two.

The Renegades (15-5) are sitting pretty with the New York-Penn League’s best record and are in first place in the McNamara division. With doubleheaders coming up on the schedule – and no days off until next Tuesday – Parenton plans on fielding his entire team to keep the winning recipe cooking.

“It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to rotate our lineup, put fresh guys in there,” he said, “and just keep playing and hopefully keep winning.”

Side note: The photo of Lockwood was taken by me, whilst conducting my postgame interview. I’m not much of a photographer, but my editor has some fantastic shots of Lockwood. He’s a pro, I’m an amateur.

No hits and hat tips

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If you watched the brilliant 2007 miniseries The Bronx is Burning, which detailed the radical 1977 New York Yankees season, you might remember how eccentric former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was portrayed. The Boss would get ticked off very easily at the most minute happenings, if you recall.

“We lost an exhibition game to the Mets – to the METS!” he snarled in one scene.

It leads me to believe that if Steinbrenner was still alive, and saw what happened last night in Panama, he would have lost his marbles. Not only did the Yankees lose an exhibition to the Miami Marlins, baseball’s biggest joke in the eyes of most fans, they were no-hit.

I repeat: the Yankees were no-hit by the Marlins.

Though only an exhibition, or a game that doesn’t count, Joe Girardi was not thrilled, saying afterwards,

“You never want to be no-hit. I don’t care what game it is, what level. You never want to see that.”

The fact that the game was being played in honor of Mariano Rivera in his native Panama at Rod Carew Stadium – and the fact that Rivera was in attendance to witness this negative piece of history – only hurt more, in this writer’s eyes.

Now granted, a number of big names like Ichiro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Brian Roberts didn’t participate in the no-hitter, as they were stateside in Florida playing the Baltimore Orioles. Yet a few of the key regulars didn’t impress. In fact, they played a royal hand in being no-hit.

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Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli were a combined 0-for-14 with one walk and six strikeouts. Gardner was the only one of the five regulars to reach base via a walk, and was only one of two base runners all night. Zelous Wheeler drew a walk in the eighth inning but that was all the offense – if you can call it offense – the Yanks could muster.

The question I kept asking myself was, when is the last time the Yankees were no-hit in spring training? Better question: have they even ever been no-hit in spring training?

The last time they were no-hit (to any capacity) was June 11, 2003 at the hands of the Houston Astros. Coincidently enough, Jeter and Soriano were a part of the no-hitter in ’03 to Houston, as well as a part of last night’s struggle.

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What’s funny is today, in the second game of the Legends Series in Panama, the Yankees no-hit the Marlins through six until Giancarlo Stanton singled to begin the seventh inning. So, the day after being no-hit by the Marlins, the Yanks took a no-no of their own deep into the game.

Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Luckily after all the excruciating, no-hit nonsense to report on last night, the Yankees took out their frustrations in split squad action this afternoon. The stateside crew beat the Atlanta Braves 7-4 and the team that was no-hit last night pounded out 15 hits today, and shutout the Marlins 7-0.

Everyone looked good in this afternoon’s action, including Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Tanaka pitched 4.1 innings at “The Boss” vs. Atlanta and only let up one earned run on just three hits. He walked two but fanned six, looking as tactical and as effective as Mike Mussina once looked.

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Mussina, if you remember, was not incredibly overpowering but so methodical in facing hitters; he had a game plan. Tanaka looked to possess that “Moose”-like style today, at least in my opinion.

Sabathia, in the meantime, worked his best outing of the spring, tossing a perfect five innings against the Marlins; no walks and five Ks. Coming off such a subpar 2013, and not exactly turning any heads this spring, you have believe he needed a performance like today.

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Tip of the Hat on #TBT

I’ve recently become “one of those people” on Twitter who partakes in #ThrowbackThursday, posting an old picture from the past and describing it.

This past Thursday, March 13, was the five-year anniversary of my story on John Flaherty; the former Yankee catcher and current YES broadcaster came to my college (Mercy; Dobbs Ferry, NY) in 2009 to speak to the baseball and softball teams at their fundraiser breakfast.

Flaherty told some awesome stories that morning, including how he was hung over the day he was called up to the major leagues – because he and his friends had gone out for “sodas” the night before.

To celebrate the fun memory, naturally I decided to post a collage photo of my newspaper article on the former Yankee catcher, the ball Flaherty signed for me that day, and the picture he took with me.

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Tweeting the photo at him, Flaherty remembered the day and offered me kudos on a job well done, which was very nice of him.

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Thanks for the kind words, John!

You can follow me on Twitter @YankeeYapping and @AJ_Martelli

End of the Year Awards

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For the first time since 2008 and for only the second time in 19 years, the Yankees are enjoying October from the comfort of their respective living rooms. Uncharacteristically, the 2013 Bronx Bombers failed to clinch a playoff berth, thanks to a cavalcade of injuries to key players, a lack of home runs, shoddy pitching, and coming up short when men were in scoring position.

Whatever negative notion you might have in your mind, the 2013 Yankees fit the bill.

However they were still able to finish with a winning record; boasting 85 wins – a feat teams like the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, and a host of others could only dream about. Yes, just because the Yanks are not a part of this year’s postseason tournament doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be proud of them.

In the meantime a number of former Yankees including Nick Swisher, Bartolo Colon, Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, Jose Molina, Freddy Garcia, Mark Melancon, and even the great Don Mattingly have had – or are going to have – a taste of autumn baseball this year with a chance to capture a ring.

Only problem is, all of them are not wearing those beloved pinstripes.

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Yet, in keeping with tradition, Yankee Yapping is pleased to introduce this year’s version of the end of the year awards for our Yanks. As per the end of every year, the awards are adjusted to fit each of the winners.

Without any further ado, here they are! …

Yankee Yapping Platinum Slugger Award

Winner: Robinson Cano

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In a season plagued by injuries and a power outage, Robinson Cano was a constant. The scorching second baseman from the DR demonstrated his solid durability, playing in 160 of the 162 games, and he led the team in basically every offensive category for the full season.

Cano smacked 27 homers (Alfonso Soriano launched 34, though only 17 of them were hit in pinstripes), and knocked in 107 runs with a batting average of .314 – the same BA Alex Rodriguez posted in his absurd, 2007 MVP campaign.

2013 may have been difficult to watch because of the woes at the plate, but Cano was good enough swinging the bat to be named “Platinum Slugger.”

Congrats Robinson!

P.S. Please come back next year.

Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year Award

Winner: Andy Pettitte

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When veteran southpaw and longtime fan favorite Andy Pettitte came out of retirement before 2012, there was no bigger critic of his return than me. Personally, I’m not a fan of players sitting in front of a podium becoming teary-eyed, proclaiming to the world “I’m done. I’m not playing anymore. Thank you”…

Only for them to come back and have the “retirement show” be just that: a show. A meaningless, attention-hogging show. Brett Favre, Roger Clemens – I’m looking at you.

Pettitte entered that class, but it made little difference. He barely had the chance to pitch in 2012 after being struck in the leg with a comebacker, forcing him to the sidelines for most of the season. And 2013, in a lot of ways, was his final round, as he announced toward the end of the season this year would be his last.

Perhaps he meant it this time. I suppose we’ll find out in 2014.

At any rate, there was no reason to be a critic of Pettitte in 2013 because, in all honesty, he became the Yankees’ best pitcher. CC Sabathia went through some sort of pitching neurosis this year; couldn’t get batters out and served up an inordinate amount of taters. Hiroki Kuroda would have won this award, had he not been the victim of fatigue toward the end of the year.

Pettitte made 30 starts at the ripe old age of 41, going 11-11 in a season where run support was in short supply. He even tossed a complete game and logged 185.1 innings, which is impressive for a pitcher who went a full season without playing, only to come back – and sat out with injury upon his return.

Nonetheless, Pettitte was an integral part of the Dynasty of the late 1990s, and turned back the clock in a way this season, in being the best pitcher on the staff. He also dethroned Sabathia, who has won “Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year” every year since the inception of this blog.

Congrats Andy!

Yankee Yapping Warrior Award

Winner: Derek Jeter

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In Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, the Yankees took a critical blow when their Captain landed awkwardly on his ankle fielding a groundball, fracturing it to effectively end his postseason. All offseason Derek Jeter rehabbed and in his first game of spring ball came up a bit lame after knocking a single to left field in his first at-bat.

It was obvious Jeter just wasn’t ready.

Upon further examination, the Captain had another smaller fracture in his bone, and all systems were not go for Opening Day. A slew of other players including Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, and David Adams all saw time at short in the absence of the legendary number 2, but reality eventually became evident:

You cannot replace Derek Jeter.

Despite a bad ankle, the Captain worked as hard as he could to return to the field and played 17 games this season when he could have just as easily packed it in; not played a single inning because of his bad wheel.

There weren’t too many moments to write home about this season for Jeter (simply because he didn’t see enough playing time) yet his best moment was probably his first at-bat of the season when he clobbered a home run on the first pitch he saw vs. the Tampa Bay Rays on July 28.

You cannot say Jeter didn’t try. Not this season, not any season. And for that, he is indeed a warrior that deserves recognition.

Congrats Derek!

Yankee Yapping Hot Hot Hot! Award

Winner: Alfonso Soriano

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Before the trade deadline Alfonso Soriano was acquired from the Chicago Cubs and became sort of the metaphorical life preserver for a drowning Yankee offense. Soriano, a Yankee from 1999-03, was welcomed back with open arms by Yankee Universe, and he gave them a lot of reasons to cheer upon his arrival back to the Big Apple.

On Aug. 11 he recorded his 2,000th career hit, and two days later drove two pitches out of the ballpark and knocked in a career-high six runs in a single game. It’s difficult to top a performance like that, but he upstaged himself the next day, recording seven RBI.

From Aug. 13-16 Soriano had 13 hits and 18 RBIs, becoming the talk of SportsCenter, Twitter, and the baseball world in general. Fonsy also became the only player in history to knock in 18 runs and have at least 12 hits in a four game span, earning himself AL Player of the Week honors.

He capped off August with a two home run game on the 27th – the second round-tripper being the 400th of his career.

Milestones, home runs, records and a nightly hitting show in the dog days. Soriano was, in a word, hot. And for that, he gets the nod.

Congrats Alfonso!

Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year Award

Winner: Mariano Rivera

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Obvious, right?

After suffering an ACL tear on the warning track in Kansas City on May 3, 2012 while shagging fly balls during batting practice, I had doubts that Mariano Rivera, at age 43, would be able to return back to his normal, dominant ways. Those doubts weren’t well-founded however, because the Sandman dazzled this year, and went out with one last solid round of work.

Rivera might have hit a rough patch in the middle, blowing seven saves, yet it didn’t stop him from showcasing that always-dangerous cutter, as the great Rivera nailed down 44 saves in 2013 – after only posting five saves in six chances last year because of the injury.

David Robertson earned himself Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year in 2010 and ’11, while Rafael Soriano, who supplanted Mo last year, took it home for 2012. But now, for the first time since 2009, Rivera is rightfully the YY Reliever of the Year.

Congrats Mariano!

Yankee Yapping Yakety Yak, Don’t Come Back Award

Co-Winners: Phil Hughes & Joba Chamberlain

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In 2007 two young pitchers emerged into Yankee land, with stuff that promised bright days ahead for the Bronx Bombers, at least in terms of their pitching. Their names were Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Hughes was dubbed the “Pocket Rocket” by the Sports Illustrated because his style resembled the style of Roger Clemens so closely.

Chamberlain came in with all the hype in the world, sporting a 100 mph fastball and sliders that clocked out at 85. He was given the moniker “Joba the Heat” and as a reliever, some even went as far as saying he would be the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.

Yet both have only proved the folks who claim the Yankees don’t draft well.

Proved them right, that is.

Outside a stint in the bullpen in 2009, and an 18-8 regular season record in 2010, “Phil of the Future” has been anything but good. This year alone Hughes posted a record of 4-14: completely ineffective as a starter. He let up 24 home runs to opposing hitting, coming off 2012 when he was second in the league in the home runs allowed category with 35.

Hughes’s ERA after seven years is an unsatisfactory 4.54. Not to mention the fact that he was the losing pitcher in two pivotal games of the 2010 ALCS vs. Texas, a series in which he posted an 11.42 ERA and gave up 11 earned runs in 8.2 innings pitched. What’s more, he’s been riddled with arm and rotator cuff issues throughout his career.

So much for him.

Chamberlain was in and out of the starting rotation, and also battened down with injuries. Tommy John surgery and all, Chamberlain never gave the Yankees more than 28.2 innings in three of the seven years the organization has let him hang around (24 IP in ’07, 28.2 IP in ’11, and 20.2 IP in ’12). 2013 was not his year either; his ERA up around 4.93 and control was a problem: 26 walks in 42 innings pitched. The once-electric reliever was relegated to mopping duty.

Had the Yankee brass not reversed their roles so many times, it’s possible things could have worked out nicely for at least one of these youngsters – who aren’t youngsters anymore. They are now ineffective pitchers in the middle of their careers on a team that desperately needs solid pitching.

As both are free agents now, the so-called “Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain era” is likely over in New York. Hence, their winning of this award.

Happy blowing elsewhere, fellas.

Yankee Yapping MVP

Winner: Mariano Rivera

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I can’t think of anything better than the night of the All-Star Game this summer, July 16, when Mariano Rivera entered the game to a standing ovation from every living, breathing person at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens. And after a perfect inning was named ASG MVP.

Oh, wait. Maybe I can.

The afternoon of Sept. 22 when the Yankees retired his number 42 in Monument Park with a collection of his past teammates and friends; a beautiful send off to a bona fide baseball legend.

Can you top that?

Um. How about when his “Core Four” brothers Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte took him out of the game on Sept. 26: his final appearance ever on an MLB mound; a packed Yankee Stadium crowd becoming misty-eyed.

There were too many unreal “MOments” this season, and each of them were well-deserved by the great Rivera. Other teams, even the hated Boston Red Sox, recognized what Mo has meant to this sport, and showered him with earned love, praise, and respect.

For all the wonderful memories he afforded us all throughout his Hall of Fame worthy career; for his stellar numbers this season, and the fact that he bounced back from a potentially career-ending knee injury, and most importantly for his humble nature during his farewell tour, Rivera is unquestionably the Yankee Yapping MVP this year.

If you were to ask this writer, he should be the league MVP too. But that’s just me.

Congrats Mariano, we love you and we will sorely miss you!

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Yankee Yapping Rooting For You Award

Winner: Don Mattingly

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As it’s already been documented, the Yankees are not playing this October. Yet, a beloved Yankee who will forever live in the hearts and minds of the Bronx Bomber faithful is playing a key role this postseason. Of course I’m talking about the former, graceful, popcorn-stealing Yankee first baseman, Don Mattingly.

Good ol’ number 23 is now wearing number 8 in Dodger Blue, having been at the helm of a huge turnaround season for LA, leading them to the NL West crown and a shot at a World Series ring.

A ring, by the way, Mattingly missed by one year. Back problems forced Mattingly to retire after the 1995 season, and the Yankees supplanted him with Tino Martinez. Mattingly’s successor and the new wave (which included Jeter, Pettitte, and Rivera) went on to win it all in 1996, the sacred ring eluding “Donnie Baseball” by one year.

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That was of course after Mattingly spent his entire career in pinstripes.

As I’m typing this, the Dodgers are up 6-1 in Game 1 of the NLDS over the Atlanta Braves, certainly off to the right start; the quest for the ring Mattingly never got beginning the way a manager would want it to begin.

It’s only fitting to root for him, given all the loyal years of service Mattingly gave the Yanks, coming away empty-handed year after year and coming up short by just one season.

A lot of folks I’ve chatted with want the Pittsburgh Pirates to win, given their postseason drought. The St. Louis Cardinals disposed of them 9-1 in Game 1 of their NLDS, however. Unlike the Dodgers, they’re off to a slow start.

I’ve heard others say they are rooting for Oakland; wanting A’s General Manager Billy Beane to win the last game of the season he never won in the Moneyball movie.

Even some fans would like to see Tampa Bay do it, since the Rays have never won. No surprise: no Yankee fan I’ve spoken with wants to see Boston win it all.

Not one. Including me.

If an NL team wins the World Series this year, the Yankees can still claim they were the last AL team to win it all, obviously in 2009. (SF Giants 2010, Cardinals ’11, Giants ’12).

Again, perfectly fitting to root for Donnie. Yankee Yapping is pulling for you, Mr. Mattingly! You “think blue” and go get that ring.

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Well, there you have it. The 2013 Yankee Yapping awards are a wrap. Congrats again to all who won!

Back to yapping

Editor’s note: I know, it’s been awhile. Sincerest apologies for the lack of blogging. Life has once again gotten in the way of Yankee Yapping, but I assure you I am alive and well; I’m here, and we’re back in action!

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This 2013 MLB season, which is almost ¾ of the way over, has quickly turned from interesting to nearly unwatchable – at least if you are a Yankee fan. At the end of April the Yankees were a group of unlikely heroes; a vanguard of veterans taken off the scrap heap that carried the team to the top of the AL East.

But since then, the vanguard has vanished.

The battered and aging Yanks fell off, due in large part to their inability to score runs. Of course the surging Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles didn’t help matters, either. It’s always difficult to reach the top when the teams in front of you won’t get out of the way.

While first place in the division seems so far off with the Yankees (54-48) sitting 6.5 games out in fourth place at the moment, a chance to make the play-in game for the AL Wild Card spot isn’t impossible: the Bombers just three games out.

During this up-and-down stretch, a number of storylines have surrounded the Yankees. A lot needs to be discussed, and we’ll start with the giant elephant in the room…

Stray-Rod

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The biggest news of the week involved the suspension of Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers for his connection to the infamous Biogenesis clinic – a clinic in Miami, Fla. which was responsible for selling PEDs (namely HGH) to players. Braun, who was banned for the remainder of this season and postseason, was one of 20 players on the Biogenesis list. A list, by the way, which an injured-yet-nearly-ready-to-return Alex Rodriguez’s name is also on.

Rodriguez underwent surgery on his hip in the offseason, and was originally scheduled to return to the Yankees on Monday after rehabbing in the minor leagues. A grade one left quad strain, however, put his comeback on hold.

And now, a suspension could put potentially set his comeback even further back.

Many believe in light of Braun’s suspension A-Rod is next, but in fact, some feel it could be worse than just a season-ending ban. Rumors are floating around that the three-time AL MVP could face a lifetime exile from baseball by MLB for his involvement in Biogenesis – probably because A-Rod already admitted, prior to the 2009 season, he used steroids in his career.

Or, perhaps it’s just because baseball dislikes him.

The Yankees seem to be distancing themselves from A-Rod; almost excommunicating him by keeping him in the minors and dragging out the process of his return as much as possible. As we all remember, General Manager Brian Cashman had some choice words for him when he tweeted that he was cleared to play baseball, making it clear the Yankees aren’t happy with him. According to reports today, Rodriguez will rehab his quad, start playing in simulated games, and will be reevaluated after the first of August.

Is a lifetime ban fair to A-Rod?

Probably not. No one else on the list, including Braun, is facing a possible lifetime banishment from baseball; no one else linked to Biogenesis is in danger of never playing another game. A-Rod is under intense scrutiny because he’s the highest-paid player in the league, and for that reason, every critic wants nothing more than to see the mighty fall – and no, it’s not fair.

Yet, would a lifetime ban for Rodriguez benefit the Yankees?

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Probably. The organization, at this point, seems to be doing everything and anything possible to void the fat contract they handed A-Rod following his monster 2007 season – an MVP campaign in which he averaged .314, smacked 54 home runs, and batted in 156 runs. The third baseman is still owed $86 million over the next four years, and if the Yanks are able to somehow get around paying him that sum, they could potentially use the money to rebuild their thin lineup.

The so-called “A-Rod drama show” is bound to continue for the rest of the season, and undoubtedly will keep on playing throughout the offseason. But if the baseball brass has its way, it could be curtains for the Yankee third baseman; the “A-Rod drama show” closing on Broadway.

 

Could they hit land if skydiving?

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The Yankees have used 46 different players this season, constantly trying to figure out how to right the offensive ship which has been off course for the entire year.

Consider these rankings:

The Yanks are currently 22nd in the majors in runs scored (393), 25th in the majors in hits (817), 25th in the bigs in batting average (.242), 24th in the bigs in homers (88), 29th overall in slugging percentage (.371), 24th in on-base percentage (.306), and 28th in on-base plus slugging (OPS, .677).

For such abysmal numbers and terrifying offensive ranks, it’s actually quite miraculous the Yankees are only three games out of one of the Wild Card spots. The 2013 Yankees are the masters of soft grounders, lazy pop flies, and lead the league in at ‘em balls. Sometimes watching this team, it begs the question:

Could the Yankees hit land if they were skydiving?

Well, according to the truthful numbers, the answer is no.

Three guilty parties that stick out like sore thumbs are Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay. Each are being run out basically every game by Joe Girardi, only to come up short in key spots.

Wells started off hot but cooled off in a jiffy, now only batting .240 after he was averaging close to .300 in April and the beginning of May. His production has been spotty at best, and despite some great moments in the 93 games he’s played, he’s enjoyed several moments of infamy as well.

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Hafner has been next to useless, batting .209 with 76 strikeouts – out of the designated hitter hole, no less. His only job is to hit the ball, and it’s evident he hasn’t been showing up to work the past few months.

Overbay has been the best of the three, averaging .247 right now, yet a sore 0-for-6 with two Ks in the rubber game of the Yanks’ series in Boston on Sunday – a crucial series the Yankees needed to win – puts him in the same breath as Wells and Hafner.

If the Yankees are even going to think about making the postseason, the silent bats need to get loud – and an adjustment, any kind of adjustment, must be made.

Perhaps…

Sori, not Sori

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During the All-Star break, it was reported that Cashman was working the phones like a madman asking other GMs around the league for help on offense. One name that came up was former Yankee and current Chicago Cub Alfonso Soriano.

Though Soriano isn’t what the Yanks need in terms of field positioning (an outfielder when the Yanks are desperate for a hand on the left side of the infield) he could certainly provide them with a jolt with his bat. With 17 home runs on the year, a .254 BA, and 51 RBIs, his offensive numbers are a step up from basically every player the Yankees are currently sending to the plate other than Robinson Cano.

On Tuesday morning George King reported the Yankees and Cubs were “close” to a deal for Soriano, but nothing has come to fruition just yet, other than Soriano announcing he would waive his no-trade clause for the Yankees and knowledge that the Cubs would pay off the majority of the $23.9 million he’s owed on his contract.

Thus meaning a return to the Bronx for Soriano is indeed possible.

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Concerns about Soriano’s age, 37, are being raised; the common Yankee fan arguing, “why take on another aging player?”

A fair point. 

But then again, take a long, hard look at who is stepping up the plate in pinstripes these days. All things considered, Soriano would be an improvement.

 

A “Mo”ment for the ages

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Although the Yanks are in a state of flux, the biggest sports thrill of the summer (for me, at least) had to be the All-Star game at Citi Field on July 16 when Mariano Rivera made his entrance in the eighth inning.

As “Enter Sandman” blared through the speakers of the Mets’ ballpark (sounds weird saying that), and Rivera ran onto the field from the bullpen – all by himself – the fans and players stood and clapped, giving him the respect he so rightfully earned and deserves.

One way to describe it: beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Watching it gave me goosebumps and only made me wish I was there, in-person, to witness such a wonderful moment.

It may have been a little strange to see Rivera in the eighth inning, and he probably should’ve been in there for the ninth, but as long as he didn’t mind pitching the eighth (which he didn’t) it was fine with me.

Rivera was named All-Star Game MVP, becoming the first Yankee to earn the honor since Derek Jeter in 2000.

 

A look at the Baby Bombers

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As noted, life has gotten in the way of my blogging – and a huge part of my life is being a reporter. For the summer I’m covering the Hudson Valley Renegades again (as I did last summer) and the first game of theirs I covered this year was a matchup vs. the Staten Island Yankees, the big club’s Single-A farm team.

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I got a good look at some of the Baby Bombers, including Michael O’Neill, nephew of beloved former Yankee Paul O’Neill, of course. Michael collected a hit and scored a run on the Renegades, but perhaps the best performance I saw was out of young third baseman Eric Jagielo.

Jagielo drove in three runs, leading the Yankees to a 6-0 shutout of the Renegades, and after that game was batting a robust .444 for the season. Given A-Rod’s current foibles, it’s nice to see a third baseman in the system show some promise.

Also taking into account the age of most of the Yankees, the organization should consider giving one of the Baby Bombers an opportunity. It seemed to work out for players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Yasiel Puig, among others.

They have to listen to that popular Imagine Dragons song and take to heart the lyrics:

“Welcome to the new age, to the new age!”

 

Final quick hits

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  • Derek Jeter came back for one game, went 1-for-4, and got hurt again (quad strain, what else is new?) The Captain is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, and from the footage shown today, he looks to be moving even better than he did in his first game back. I guess we’ll see what happens on Saturday.
  • CC Sabathia hasn’t been himself this season. Tough to pinpoint what’s wrong with the big ace, but his slider doesn’t have much bite to it and his breaking balls belong in a closet, because they hang. I don’t think the Yanks can win if he doesn’t get it right soon.
  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were reportedly being pushed hard (by Cashman and the front office) to be traded. If neither gets moved this season, I don’t see them returning next year, as their contracts are up and they haven’t done much to help the Yanks win in recent times.
  • Austin Romine has been part of the Yankees’ offensive struggles, earning the Yankee Yapping moniker “Stone Cold Austin Romine.” However he’s picked it up the last couple games, going 3-for-4 in this afternoon’s 2-0 victory over the Rangers in Arlington with two doubles and a run scored.
  • ·“42” was released on DVD last week. I picked it up. Be sure to read the Yankee Yapping review of “42” here if you haven’t seen it!

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