Results tagged ‘ American League Championship Series ’

Early off-season yapping

Here we are roughly a month and four days removed from the Yankees’ ugly elimination in the American League Championship Series at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, a nasty sweep to end the season.

But Karma, I suppose, always comes back to collect because the Tigers went on to get broomed themselves by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. The Giants have now captured two world titles in the last three years. What makes it funny to me is the fact that the football Giants and the baseball Giants were both champions in 2012.

The “Romo” factor also made me believe the sports gods work in mysterious ways.

Allow me to explain.

On Oct. 28 the San Francisco Giants closed out the Fall Classic – the same day the New York Giants faced off with the Dallas Cowboys, beating them 29-24. The football Giants defeated a Romo (Tony) while the baseball Giants ended the World Series with another Romo (Sergio) on the mound.

Fascinating. But maybe I’m over-thinking things.

At any rate, the Giants will enter the 2013 season wearing the title of defending champs. As for the Yankees: they remain the last American League team to win the World Series, three years ago in 2009.

Now, all the attention is focused on off-season news, and building the team for next year. There hasn’t been a “big bang,” so-to-speak, at least not yet. The Yanks’ front office hasn’t made a blockbuster move, but then again, the off-season is remarkably young.

The Baseball/General Managers Winter Meetings will take place next month in Nashville, so perhaps by the time they conclude, there will be a lot more to consider.

Until then, quite a few minor things around baseball and the Yankee community have transpired.

  • Robinson Cano finished fourth in the AL MVP voting while Derek Jeter finished seventh. As much as I wanted to believe either Yankee could win the MVP, no one was beating Miguel Cabrera. The Triple Crown sealed the deal for him. At least Cano and Jeter both captured Silver Sluggers for their respective efforts.

 

  • Just last night, the Yanks and Hiroki Kuroda agreed to a one-year deal. I had read Kuroda, 37, was deciding whether or not to pitch here in the states next season or return to Japan. After such a solid year in pinstripes in 2012, I for one am glad he opted to stay in America – and not just in America, but in the Bronx.
  • Mark Teixeira didn’t have the best year offensively, but he still proved what a fantastic defender he is at first base, claiming a Gold Glove Award. Cano also took one home – and home to the good old U.S.A., I guess, because he recently became a U.S. citizen.
  • Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract, after declining the Yankees’ qualifying offer. Good luck, buddy.
  • Nick Swisher is as good as gone, also declining a qualifying offer. His absence will obviously create a void in right field the Yankees will need to fill.

  • The Yankees’ 2012 first round draft pick Ty Hensley favorited a tweet of mine. It was “Skyfall” related. If you haven’t been to the movies lately, treat yourself to “Skyfall.” It will blow your mind.
  • Raul Ibanez wants to come back. Being the player who did the heavy lifting and carried the team toward the end of 2012, he may have earned a chance to play in New York again.
  • Two classics, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, have expressed interest in pitching next year. I don’t really have any predictions or ideas on what to expect. If anything, Pettitte will come cheap if he returns and Rivera will probably be looking for a sizeable amount of money. I think I’ll just kick back and see what happens with these two.

 

  • There will apparently be a Broadway play about the Yankees. I’m not much of a theatre guy, although I have seen “The Lion King,” “Beauty & the Beast,” and “Mary Poppins” on Broadway in New York. I might have to get some tickets, however, to see this Yankees production. If and when I do, you can be sure I will write a full review of it.

 

  • Ichiro sent some favors to the woman in Seattle who manned the “Ichi-meter.” What a guy.
  • According to MLB trade rumors, the Yankees (among other teams) are interested in shortstop Stephen Drew and catcher Mike Napoli. Again, I’ll kick back and see what happens. Both players would be key additions to any team.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays decided they want to try and be contenders. I almost wish the season started tomorrow – that’s how anxious I am to see if all these additions pay dividends for them.

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There will undoubtedly be a lot more to report on as the off-season continues and the MLB hot stove cooks, or boils, or broils, or bakes, or does whatever the heck it does.

In the meantime, everyone have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Top 12 of 2012

Following the untimely and bitter end of the 2012 season last night, the Yankees are undoubtedly heading back to Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers, and are going to prepare for what will be about a five month layover until Spring Training kicks up in February.

Now that the season has come to a close, it’s time to reflect on everything that made 2012 a great baseball season. There’s no need to dwell on the tragic ALCS sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, so instead, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments and times of this past season.

Just a note, I’ll be including some personal highlights as well; some moments that made it personally a fun season for me, as a writer, a reporter, and most importantly, a fan. Without any further ado, Yankee Yapping is proud to present its Top 12 of 2012!

12. Catching up with Bernie Williams

Believe it or not, one of the best highlights of the season (for me) came before the season even began!

While I was covering a high school girls’ basketball game in February, I happened to be sitting next to none other than the former Yankee center fielder, Bernie Williams. His daughter Bea led her team to a win, and getting to sit next to a Yankee legend – and a proud father – while it happened was truly an honor.

Read all about my evening with Bernie here!

11. The return of Andy Pettitte

He had an itch to come back, and he went ahead and scratched it.

In March, retired longtime Yankee favorite Andy Pettitte announced that he would be coming out of retirement. He signed a contract, got back in shape, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for him in the end.

Pettitte was sidelined for the majority of the season after getting struck in the left ankle with a come-backer on June 27 – fracturing his fibula.

I’ve discussed my feelings on the whole “coming-out-of-retirement” spiel, but when Pettitte went down, I legitimately felt bad for him, knowing he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees. At the very least, however, he pitched well in the postseason, as he always does.

10. Home opener shutout

There is nothing like Opening Day. Spring; the feeling of new life is in the air, and baseball is back.

The Yankees made their home opener this year one to remember, beating Albert Pujols and the LA Angels 5-0 behind a brilliant start from Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankee win was one of the first of their 95 victories in 2012, setting the table for yet another strong, winning campaign.

9. Beating up the BoSox

On April 20 the Yankees’ most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, honored Fenway Park; their home that turned 100 years old. Red Sox Nation could only hope a nice ceremony and a champagne toast would be followed by a Red Sox win over the Yankees.

No such luck.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox quite decisively, 6-2, ruining their centennial celebration.

And it only got sweeter the next day.

Boston rebounded from the loss with a bang, touching up the Yanks for nine runs through the first six innings. Leading 9-1 in the seventh, the Red Sox had seemingly answered their loss with a win, but things are rarely what they seem in Beantown. The Yanks came back with a vengeance; plating seven runs in the seventh and adding another seven in the eighth, clawing their way back for a huge, 15-9 win over Boston.

Without question those two losses took a lot of air out of Red Sox Nation, and the BoSox went on to have one of their worst seasons since the 1970s.

8. A YES contribution

On June 8 the Yankees absolutely clobbered the Mets, beating their inferior cross-town rivals, 9-1. Robinson Cano led the way with two homers off Mets’ ace Johan Santana, and Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones followed with homers of their own.

As a matter of fact, the Yanks smacked three consecutive homers that night.

During the game, I submitted a tweet to the YES Network, and they used it on their “Extra Innings” postgame show – marking the third time they have used my insight on TV.

Hosts Jack Curry and Bob Lorenz even agreed with my comment.

More YES Network action to come later.

7. A win over Atlanta

There’s nothing like going out to your first game of the season. It took me a couple months, considering covering Minor League Baseball basically consumed my summer, but on June 18 (three days after my birthday!) I finally got out to the big ballpark in the Bronx.

The Yanks hosted the Atlanta Braves in an inter-league showdown, and backed by a dominant, complete game performance from CC Sabathia, won 6-3. The victory kept a 10-game Yankee winning streak alive; Cano and Mark Teixeira each going yard to pace the Yanks at the plate.

I did get out to one more game on Aug. 31 – yet it wasn’t as memorable, the Yankees losing 6-1 to the team they eventually ousted in the ALDS, the Baltimore Orioles.

6. Welcome, Ichiro!

The Yankees made a splash before the trade deadline, acquiring Ichiro from the Seattle Mariners. The 38-year-old veteran outfielder joined the team on July 23, and certainly did a fine job on both sides of the field.

Ichiro played in 67 games for the Yankees – and 162 overall, proving just how durable he really is. In those 67 games in pinstripes he recorded 73 hits and scored 28 runs with 14 stolen bases, 13 doubles, and five homers.

Yes. He’s still got it. Much like Derek Jeter, Ichiro has shown he is ageless. And he certainly helped propel the Yankees down the stretch and into the postseason.

Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki.

5. YES Network Games

Another game, another YES Network appearance.

On Aug. 6, my tweet was used on the YES Network, during their “YES Network Games” competition. Michael Kay even admitted my question was difficult, although he, John Flaherty, and Meredith Marakovits all came up with the correct answer.

It’s only too bad the content and nature of the question in a way foreshadowed the season’s end.

4. Not so fast, Oakland

The 2012 Yankees had a handful miraculous late-game wins under their belt – maybe not as many as the ’09 Yankees – but when the Bombers fought back this season, you could be sure they would win.

Case in point: Sept. 22 at home vs. Oakland.

Tied 5-5 in the top of the 13th, the A’s were able to score four times and take a 9-5 lead.

Facing a surefire loss, the Bombers showcased some resiliency, and battled back to knot it up at nine, highlighted by a game-tying, two-run homer off the bat of Raul Ibanez. Ichiro later scored on an error for a 10-9 Yankee victory.

To think, while all this was happening I was hanging out with (of all people) Hulk Hogan.

3. Taking the tour

Game after game, the Yankees sit in their dugout; chill in the clubhouse. On Sept. 30 I got a taste of what that feels like.

The Yankee Stadium tour is offered year-round and on Yankee off-days during the regular season. It was something I had wanted to do for awhile, and I finally had my day.

Read all about my Yankee Stadium tour here!

2. Raul Ibanez’s heroics

Baseball in October is sometimes defined as, “unlikely hero.” And the Yankees certainly had one this year.

At the end of the regular season and into the postseason, Raul Ibanez proved to be the Yankees’ most clutch player. With game-tying and game-winning hits, he made a name for himself and earned the respect and love of all Yankee fans.

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth on Oct. 2 vs. Boston, Ibanez slammed a two-run home run, tying it all up, 3-3. Three innings later he came up and sank the Red Sox with a walk-off single – a hit that gave the Yankees a 4-3 win over their humiliated hated rivals, but more importantly, kept them alone in first place in the AL East going into the game number 162 of the regular season.

Talk about enough drama for one season. But it was only the beginning.

Against the Orioles – the team that crept up on the Yanks for first place in the AL East towards the end of the year – in Game 3 of the ALDS, Ibanez put on an encore performance.

Down 2-1 this time in the ninth, Ibanez swung his bat hard, lifting the ball deep into the New York night and into the seats for another incredible, game-tying homer. He came up, again in the 12th, and clubbed another death blow; another long ball to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory, sending the Bronx faithful home with smiles on their faces.

Two game-tyers and two game-winners within eight days of each other. And he still had some left.

Last Saturday in Game 1 of the ALCS when defeat looked imminent, Ibanez tied the game with one swing yet again, taking Detroit closer Jose Valverde’s offering into the seats in right field.

Sadly for Ibanez and the Yankees the magic stopped there. But there’s no question that Ibanez had the best October of any Yankee player on the roster.

1. Getting past the O’s

The ALCS may not have ended the way the Yankees would have hoped for, but if nothing else, they should take winning the ALDS away from this postseason as a huge step in the right direction.

After all, the Yankees had not beaten a team in the ALDS not named the Minnesota Twins since 2001, when they beat the A’s. By the numbers, the Yankees were 4-0 vs. the Twins in the ALDS – and 0-5 vs. everyone else. The biggest question on my mind entering October was, “if it’s not the Twins, can the Yankees even win?”

Yes, they can. And moving forward, hopefully it gives them confidence. Let’s say (hypothetically) the Yankees are up against the Chicago White Sox, or the Texas Rangers, or the Angels – or even the Tigers again in the ALDS next year. With the win over the Orioles this year, they now know they can win an ALDS against a team other than the Twins.

Beating the Orioles may have taken a lot of effort, but perhaps it gave them some knowledge.

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Honorable Mention: The Hudson Valley Renegades

As I’ve written about several times, I had the pleasure of covering the Hudson Valley Renegades this season, a MiLB team. The ‘Gades were a huge part of my summer. I spent many nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box, watching the team battle to win after win.

The Renegades went on to beat the Tri-City Valley Cats in the New York-Penn League Championship Series, winning their first league title since 1999 – and only their second league title in team history.

I had so much fun covering the Renegades, and it meant a lot when their manager, Jared Sandberg, told me that not only had he read several of my articles about the team/game recaps, but he was impressed with how well-written they were.

Very encouraging to hear, especially from a former big leaguer and the nephew of a Hall of Famer.

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It’s tough to say goodbye to the 2012 baseball season, because it was one heck of a time.

My only hope now is that 2013 will be just as awesome.

The bitter end

The Yankees made all kinds of history in the American League Championship Series. Unfortunately for them, it was the type of history they didn’t want to be making. For the first time since 1976, the Yankees were swept in a four-game postseason series, thus ending their run for what could have been their 28th World Series title.

The Detroit Tigers have clotheslined the Yanks to the canvas on their chase for 28.

There’s always blame to go around when the postseason ends prematurely, but most of it lies on the lack of production at the plate. The Yankee offense went about as frozen as a cooler in Antarctica, batting .188 overall for the playoffs and a miserable .196 with runners in scoring position.

Any self-respecting manager or coach would say those numbers will just not get the job done in October, and obviously it didn’t for the Yankees.

Up until CC Sabathia’s rough Game 4 outing, the pitching was certainly a bright spot for the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS. As a matter of fact, every pitcher (save for Sabathia this evening) turned in a quality performance. Phil Hughes left Game 3 early, but David Phelps and the bullpen piggy-backed him, and the Tigers only scored two runs – the Yankee offense flaking and falling 2-1.

It’s clear pitching wasn’t the problem this postseason.  The bats just died.

Now with the off-season on the horizon, the Yankee front office has a number of decisions to make. The hitters have around 4-5 months to think about what happened in 2012, but will some of them be back in pinstripes in 2013?

Let’s start with the giant elephant in the room.

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod was once again the center of October attention – and again, not in a good way.

After being benched in Game 5 of the ALDS for batting .125, Rodriguez only saw seven at-bats in the ALCS. He finished with an overall BA of .130 with no homers, no RBIs, and 12 strikeouts.

Aside from 2009, A-Rod has been a non-factor in the postseason.

What really caught everyone by surprise were his antics in the dugout during the ALCS, sending the ball boy to give two women (reportedly models) sitting in the stands a baseball with his phone number on it. His act garnered all kinds of media attention, and may have led to his benching in the ALCS. He only played in six of the Yanks’ nine postseason games.

Then, out of nowhere, speculation and trade rumors came up about the Yankees possibly moving Rodriguez to the Miami Marlins. General Manager Brian Cashman quickly squashed the rumors as bunk, but later several sources claimed the possible deal wasn’t as false as Cashman initially said it was.

During his postgame interview Rodriguez didn’t indicate that he wants to leave New York – and he does have a no-trade clause in his contract, although according to sources he told his close friends he’d approve a deal to be traded, if it meant going to another big-market team.

“I will be back,” he said after tonight’s loss. “I have a lot to prove. I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is on staying here. Let’s make that very, very clear.”

If A-Rod opts to stay, it will be a tough road moving forward for the Yankees. Rodriguez has been plagued by injuries these last few seasons, his offensive numbers have steadily declined, and as evidenced by this October, he struggles in the postseason – to the point where they’re paying him, a key player, to sit on the bench in important games.

The way I see it, if the Yankees can move A-Rod and receive decent, younger players in exchange for him, jump at the chance. Rodriguez is 37 and will be 38 next year – and he is under contract for another five years.    

Bottom line: if you can get out of it, get out of it, Yanks.

Nick Swisher

Unlike Rodriguez, Nick Swisher is a free agent. He durably played in 148 games this season and hit 24 home runs, knocked in 93 runs, and batted a respectable .272 for the season.

Sadly for Swisher, once the postseason begins everyone forgets about those solid numbers.

Swisher absolutely tanked in the playoffs, batting .167 with no homers, just two RBIs, and 10 strikeouts. He came up short in several key spots in the ALDS and ALCS, and wasn’t his normal self before Game 2; not even facing the crowd in right field while warming up. He also missed a ball in the lights in Game 1, which in turn helped lead to the Yankees’ loss.

Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch at one point tweeted, “The Yankee faithful have seen enough of Swisher, I’m afraid.”

I’m afraid he may be correct.

Although Swisher did hint that he does in fact want to return to the Yankees, there’s a good chance it might not happen. He will certainly find another team willing to take him on if he doesn’t come back to the Bronx, because he offers such a strong, positive presence wherever he goes – and his success reflects that.

It’s just unfortunate that in what could have been his last game at Yankee Stadium, the fan-favorite was booed and jeered off the field – an ungracious way to bow out, if it was indeed his last game in pinstripes.

Other Free Agents & Decisions

  • Hiroki Kuroda. The righty from Japan signed a one-year deal during the off-season and won 16 games – and probably would have won more had he received better run support. If I’m Brian Cashman, I’d certainly try to return Kuroda. He earned it.

  • Andy Pettitte. I’ll be the first to admit, I was at first a little unhappy when Pettitte decided to come out of retirement (in my personal view, I feel he went back on his retirement, a la Roger Clemens and Brett Favre). However, when he was struck in the leg by that come-backer, and he was sidelined for the majority of the season, I felt bad for him, because I know he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees, and he didn’t exactly get the chance to. I could see him returning for 2013 but ultimately it’ll be a decision he makes over the winter. If he does come back, I’d expect him to come back for a cheap price.
  • Rafael Soriano. The man who filled in so nicely for Mariano Rivera this year can opt out of his contract and attempt to test the open market for more money. If so, the Yankees will have to decide whether or not to pursue him in free agency. But will they have to if…
  • Mariano Rivera returns? Rivera is a free agent and reportedly made a decision about retirement following 2012, but after his season-ending knee injury in May he told the world he will be back. I can’t imagine him being with another team other than the Yankees, especially if 2013 is his final year.
  • Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. The way I see it, the Yankees have to get younger. Chavez and Jones are both past their prime; their best playing days behind them. I covered a high school football game last week, and as it was, I happened to catch up with the school’s baseball coach – also a Yankee fan. He raised a legitimate question: “Where’s our versions of (Bryce) Harper, (Mike) Trout, and (Manny) Machado?” I answered him, “Playing for the Seattle Mariners,” referencing Jesus Montero. The Yankees have to breed their younger guys better – and they can’t do that clinging to the older guys.

  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Both made their respective debuts in 2007, and both were touted to be the future aces of the Yankees. Six years later, neither has lived up to the hype; both with injury-ravaged careers and mediocre-to-subpar numbers. The Yankees are facing a tough decision with Hughes and Chamberlain. I could see them bringing one back and not the other, but right now I couldn’t tell you which would stay and which would go.
  • Raul Ibanez. About as clutch as clutch can be in the postseason, Ibanez is now a free agent. However, he’s also 40 years old. If he does return, I can’t see him coming back for a lot of money; he’d have to sign back for an inexpensive price. Looking at it objectively though, he may have earned himself another contract, simply by his late-inning October heroics. It’s just another decision the Yanks will be faced with.

  • Ichiro. Although he’ll turn 39 on Monday – and this kind of goes against my plea to develop younger players – Ichiro this year proved he can still field, hit, and run just fine. If it were up to me, I’d try to get him back. It’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees make him an offer to play next year, and if they do, what type of money they’ll offer him. I’d imagine it’d only be a one-year deal. Anywhere between $7-9 million, perhaps?
  • Derek Lowe. No I don’t expect him back. He was a rental.
  • Jayson Nix. He’s a maybe. We’ll have to wait and see.

There are also a number of free agents on the open market; potential players from other teams the Yankees can pursue. I’m anticipating a busy off-season, given the number of possible moves the Yankees can make. I’m also anxious to see what happens, considering Cashman and the front office are hoping to keep the payroll under $189 million.

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As per the end of every season, I’d like to thank the loyal readers of Yankee Yapping! I know 2012 didn’t end with a World Series Championship like we wanted, but it was still a fun year for baseball and the Yankees.

Be sure to keep up with YY during the off-season. I’m sure I’ll have stories, and analysis and highlights of what’s happening as the hot stove cooks. Also be sure to follow me on Twitter (@AJ_Martelli) and keep up with YY on Facebook (#ShamelessPlug)

Thanks again, everyone. And Go Yankees!

In peril and fading fast

Funny, how in a matter of 48 hours, everything changes. On Friday Yankee Universe was in a state of euphoria. Fast forward to now and Yankee Universe is in a state of flux.

The Yankees had no times to rest after ousting the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS, but still celebrated with happiness and champagne in the clubhouse. The good feeling of moving on to the last round before the World Series was short-lived however, given the circumstances surrounding the first two games of the American League Championship Series.

New York dropped Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night, even after staging an incredible game-tying comeback in the ninth inning, and then proceeded to drop Game 2 yesterday without plating a run.

Just like that, the Yankees are down 0-2 in a best-of-seven, heading into the Motor City.

There are several reasons – well, culprits – for the Yanks’ deficit. It’s difficult to single out just one player, or one event in which the Yankees squandered a chance to take a lead or win an ALCS game. Therefore, it’s only fitting to place the blame on all those who deserve it – basically all of the Yankee hitters that are guilty of folding in key spots.

Nick Swisher

On Saturday in the top of the 12th, the game tied 4-4, Nick Swisher misplayed a ball struck by Delmon Young in right field. Miguel Cabrera scored as a result and later in the frame Don Kelly came to the plate on a single by Andy Dirks.

The miscue proved to be the difference in the game, the Yankees losing Game 1, 6-4.

The situation may have been forgivable had it not cost the Yankees the game – and if Swisher wasn’t batting .154 with eight strikeouts, no homers, and one RBI for the playoffs. What added a fair amount of fuel to the fire was the fact that later in the inning the Yankees’ worst nightmare manifested itself, Derek Jeter suffering a postseason-ending ankle fracture.

Swisher didn’t help his cause, not only barely acknowledging the bleacher creatures before Game 2, but also claiming the fans blamed him for Jeter’s injury.

“I missed that ball in the lights and the next thing you know I’m the reason that Jeter got hurt. It’s kind of frustrating. They were saying it was my fault.”

Nobody can rightfully blame Swisher for Jeter’s injury; it wasn’t his fault, and injuries in baseball can never be predicted. However, Swisher shouldn’t make excuses or in any way call out the fans. The media jumped all over it, saying he blamed the fans for his current trifles.

He’s always been a fan-favorite, but there’s already been plenty of chatter about whether or not Swisher will return next year. If he doesn’t turn things around in Game 3 and moving forward, his leave will not be very gracious; Swisher might bow out of the Bronx in a not-so-endearing fashion.

 

Curtis Granderson  

In the final game of the ALDS on Friday Curtis Granderson lifted a solo home run to help put the Orioles away. Many Yankee fans probably thought the round-tripper was the end of his terrible funk, considering he struck out nine times in the Division Series with a batting average of .158.

If the fans thought that, they were wrong.

Granderson hasn’t yet recorded a base hit in the ALCS, and added five more strikeouts in seven at-bats. His BA has sunk to a measly .115 and his on-base percentage is a joke: .207.

While I was covering a high school football game on Friday, I happened to be standing on the sidelines next to the school’s baseball coach. Before the football game began we were discussing Granderson’s batting stance and mechanics. The coach mentioned that Granderson’s stance and his swing look incredibly awkward, and he’s always trying to uppercut the ball.

This writer can’t argue. Looking at each of his strikeouts this postseason, he’s whiffing on breaking balls in the dirt, swinging under them; almost as if he’s trying swing a nine iron, and horribly missing the tee. His swing isn’t level and it’s costing him.

His offensive neurosis is inexplicable but in a lot of ways isn’t surprising. Granderson homered 43 times during the regular season and knocked in 106 runs. But if you sum up his home run and RBI total, it doesn’t even add up to the number of times he struck out this season: 195.

Bottom line, when he hits, he hits. When he misses, boy does he miss. And he has been missing a lot lately – the wrong time to go ice cold.

Robinson Cano

Another classic case of a hitter going from juggernaut to jugger-not.

Robinson Cano set a career-high in home runs in 2012 with 33 and finished the year with a solid .313 batting average. He closed out the regular season with a bang, homering twice while knocking in six in a 14-2 win over the Red Sox – a nice hitting show to end the year.

Too bad it was curtains for Cano’s hitting show once the postseason began.

The Yankees’ second baseman is batting a mind-boggling .063 this postseason with no hits thus far in the ALCS. Instead of lifting the ball he has been beating it into the ground for easy outs, mostly pulling it to the right side for the first baseman to make unassisted plays.

Unlike Granderson, Cano’s offensive slump has been surprising. He has always had an easy, effortless, and otherwise sweet swing. It seems as though he’s been swinging late at pitches he normally hits, fouling them off then missing them altogether.

If the Yankees want to win, he needs to straighten himself out. Cano has been the best hitter on the team throughout the year – and when your best hitter isn’t hitting, winning is rare. Trailing by two games in the ALCS, Cano must come alive, because .063 just will not cut it.

Alex Rodriguez

Notorious for being a poor producer in the month of October, minus 2009, it doesn’t come as a shock that Alex Rodriguez is struggling as much as he is. It seems as if every key spot which requires the Yankees to score a run comes down to A-Rod – and in each of those spots, he fails.

Unfortunately, with every failure comes boos and jeers from the Yankee faithful.

Rodriguez struck out nine times in the ALDS and tacked on three more Ks in the first two ALCS games. Not that it’s saying much, but his batting average (.130) is at least better than Granderson’s and Cano’s. He hasn’t doubled, tripled, homered, or driven in any runs this postseason.

At this point, it’s a safe bet to say it’s a mental issue with Rodriguez. Even at his worst times, he has never been this bad.

Is he pressing and trying to do too much in every trip to the plate? Yes.

Is he really this bad, though? I don’t know.

In Game 5 of the ALDS Rodriguez was benched – which I saw mostly as a “mental health day,” hoping he’d take the day off and come back with a vengeance. It proved to be ineffective as it was, because he went right back to not hitting when the ALCS started.

At this point, I don’t know what the answer is for A-Rod. Hitting Coach Kevin Long can only do so much, and extra batting practice can only go so far. Rodriguez’s swings are some of the weakest hacks I’ve seen him take.

My advice would be to get him to a psychiatrist. Or maybe just give him a hug and hope for the best.

Other Problems

  • Derek Jeter is out for the remainder of the playoffs. It comes as a huge blow to the Yankees, being that the Captain was one of the only players actually hitting. Jeter left the postseason with a .333 BA, a double, a triple, and two RBIs. His ankle fracture will take three months to recover from, and he won’t be with the team in Detroit. The Captain will be in Charlotte, NC seeing a specialist for his injured ankle.
  • Second base umpire Jeff Nelson made a costly mistake in Game 2 yesterday, calling Omar Infante safe when he was obviously out, trying to get back to the base. The blown call proved to be a game-changer because the Tigers, clinging to a small, 1-0 lead in the inning, went on to score two runs following the blunder. Not that Nelson should be blamed for the Yankees’ dead offense, but different scenarios are possible with a 1-0 lead and a 3-0 lead in the late innings – just ask Raul Ibanez.

  • RoboCop…errm…Justin Verlander is starting Game 3. Verlander, the reigning Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP doesn’t exactly have his work cut out for him; not that he ever really does, considering how dominant he always is. Facing a nearly extinct Yankee offense without Jeter, Verlander and the Tigers must feel invincible going into tomorrow night’s game.
  • The Yankees stranded 12 runners on base in just three instances in Game 1, leaving the bases loaded three times. With that, they made postseason history. And no, not in the good way.

On the Bright Side?

  • CC Sabathia will start Game 4. Even if the Yankees drop Game 3 tomorrow, it’s possible they salvage a game in this ALCS, what with the big ace on the hill in Game 4.

  • June 3. Phil Hughes pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout in Detroit, the Yankees winning 5-1 – a victory over Verlander. He’ll match up again with Verlander tomorrow night; the history on the Yankees’ side.
  • The starting pitching overall this postseason. All four of the Yankee starters have gone out and given the team a chance to win. In fact, every start has been a quality start. The problem lies in run support, as the root of the losing problem stems from the non-existent offense.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Nothing has really fallen the Yankees’ way over the first two ALCS games. Perhaps losing Game 2 will be a wake-up call, and the bats will come alive; the offense finally breaking out and scoring some runs for the battling starting pitchers.

Maybe Joe Girardi needs to call an angry meeting. Maybe A-Rod needs therapy. Maybe Brian Cashman needs to storm the clubhouse and recreate the scene from Moneyball that portrays A’s General Manager Billy Beane lighting a fire under his players, calling them out on their dead bats.

Something needs to happen. Or else this could very well be the end of the 2012 Yankees.

Yanks oust O’s, now out for RAWR-demption

It wasn’t the Twins, but the Yankees still won.

Coming into the 2012 playoffs, the Yankees were 0-5 against teams not named the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series. Finally, they got over the hump; eliminated a team other than Minnesota with a 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles last night to advance to the American League Championship Series.

Although they did leap the ALDS hurdle, it will only get more difficult for the Bombers from here. Waiting for them in the ALCS are none other than the Detroit Tigers – the team that not only beat them in five games in last year’s ALDS, but booted them in four in the first round of the 2006 postseason.

The Yankees have a lot going for them in the ALCS, but at the same time, a lot is working against them.

Advantages

  • The possibility of only facing Justin Verlander once. It took five games for the Tigers to finish off the Oakland A’s in the ALDS, and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP pitched twice. In a best-case-scenario, they deal with Verlander once and be done with it.
  • Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Derek Jeter’s numbers vs. Detroit’s Game 1 starter, Doug Fister. Teixeira has a homer and four RBIs in 12 at-bats lifetime off Fister, while Swisher holds a homer and two RBIs over his head. Jeter owns a .385 batting average with two RBIs off him. If they can swing the bats the way they have in the past off Fister, they might be able to take some wind out of the Tigers’ sails, right from the start.
  • Andy Pettitte starting Game 1. It kind of goes with the “taking the wind of out the Tigers’ sails” motif. Pettitte is battle-tested in the postseason, and if he takes the ball tonight and gives the Yankees quality, there’s a good chance the Bombers can get a quick, 1-0 series lead. Pettitte always affords them a chance to win.
  • June 3. Phil Hughes, who hasn’t been consistent this year to say the least, pitched his way to a complete game, four-hit victory in Detroit. Hughes only allowed one earned run to the lead the Yanks to their 5-1 win – and it’s worth noting he outdueled Verlander for that win. The long ball was a problem for Hughes this season (35 homers allowed, second most in the majors), but if he turns in a performance like he did in Game 4 of the ALDS, it’s good news for New York.
  • CC Sabathia and a rested bullpen. Sabathia really strutted his stuff in the ALDS – especially in the clinching game last night, going the distance. Not only did he give the Yankees an extreme amount of confidence going forward, but he rested a rather taxed bullpen, what with two ALDS games going beyond nine innings.

  • The Tigers’ bullpen. Jose Valverde blew a key save to keep the Oakland A’s alive, and is notorious for flirting with disaster. In a close, late-game situation the Yankees can easily capitalize on his mistakes. Valverde saved 35 games for Detroit during the regular season, but he’s not exactly Mariano Rivera, or even Rafael Soriano.

Disadvantages

  • Obviously, the way the Yankees have been swinging the bats. Offensively, the Yankees had about one inning in the ALDS – the ninth inning of Game 1 – in which the bats were clicking on all cylinders. Other than that one frame, the Bombers have been (to put it mildly) struggling at the plate. Swisher, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro, and, well…virtually everyone might benefit from some extra batting practice.

  • The psyche of Alex Rodriguez. It’s no secret when it comes to the postseason, A-Rod is constantly being thrown under the microscope; then being ragged on for folding at the plate. Outside of the 2009 playoffs, it’s not unfair to say Rodriguez has been an October goat. In the four games he played in the ALDS A-Rod was 2-for-16 with no homers, no RBIs, and the stat that sticks out like a sore thumb: nine strikeouts. He was benched for the deciding game because of his poor performance in the ALDS, but he has an opportunity to channel his inner 2009 and put it behind him. In my opinion, it’s a mental issue – one that he must get over in order to be successful.
  • The King with three crowns. Miguel Cabrera, for his entire career, has never been an easy out for the Yankees; in fact, he’s a Yankee killer. And if you’re talking about the all-time champion Yankee killers – players like Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz – Cabrera must be mentioned in the same breath. It’s going to be quite the task pitching to him, and the guy behind him, big Prince Fielder. The poisonous 1-2 punch in the heart of the Tigers’ batting order will undoubtedly pose the biggest offensive threat and potentially supply the Tigers with plenty of offense.

 

  • Verlander. Kind of tough to ignore the giant elephant in the room. Verlander may not have had the best season numerically vs. the Yankees, but he’s still one of the most feared pitchers in the American League. Like Sabathia he closed out the ALDS with a brilliant complete game gem. I’d like to see what it’d be like if he matched up with Sabathia in the ALCS; a showcase of virtuosos and a pitcher’s duel would be my bet.
  • Postseason history vs. Detroit.  The Yankees were able to get over beating a team not named the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, but now can they get over a team that has twice eliminated them in October?

Well, now that I mention it…

The last time the Yankees faced a team in the ALCS that had twice eliminated them in the ALDS: the Angels, in 2009. They were able to get over the halo hurdle in six games, then go on to claim the World Series. If the Yankees are lucky, history will repeat itself.

But they have to tame the Tigers if they want it to.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Before the ALDS, my cousin C.J. from Baltimore (yeah, I know about the A.J. – C.J. thing, heard it a million times) wrote me a little message on Facebook:

“Here come the O’s, buddy. Gonna be a good series!”

I responded, “Definitely! O’s have a fire in them, but it’ll be tough to cool off Robinson Cano. May the best team win.”

Obviously it wasn’t tough for them to Cool off Cano, but the Yanks still won. I wrote back last night,

“Good series, cuz. O’s battled like warriors, came up just short. Hope the Yankees can knock off the Tigers now!”

C.J., the class act he is, replied, “Aw man, what a classic series. Already can’t wait for next year. Best of luck to you guys!”

I’d just like to thank C.J. for being (in a way) a gracious loser; not making me, a Yankee fan, feel bad about winning the ALDS, him being an O’s fan – and even going as far as wishing me luck (as a fan) in the next round.

Thanks again, Ceej. And it was a classic series. I hope the Yankees and O’s meet again in the playoffs next year. I’m up for another series.  

The Very Best of Jorge Posada

When Jorge Posada made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 4 1995, he got to Yankee Stadium early. The 24-year-old switch-hitting second baseman-turned-catcher walked from the clubhouse down the tunnel to the dugout to soak in what would become his home for the next 17 seasons.

Posada looked around at the majesty of Yankee Stadium. Tears of joy filled his eyes. In the years that followed he afforded the Yankees and their fans countless unforgettable moments, and basically became the Bronx Bombers’ unofficial co-captain.

A leader, a gamer, and one of the most intelligent and fiery Yankees to ever don the pinstripes, Posada, 40, is expected to announce his official retirement from baseball in the coming weeks. The Yankees will lose one of the “Key Three” members of their Championship Dynasty of the late 1990s.

Off the top of my head I can come up with a number of Posada’s best moments as a Yankee. Here are some of his most memorable achievements; a few of his accomplishments that made him such a special Yankee.

Breaking Out and a Perfect Day

Although Posada got the call to the show in 1995, he didn’t become a full-time player until later on in his career. In ’97 he replaced Jim Leyritz as backup catcher to current Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who was filling the position as the Yanks’ everyday backstop.

Posada started 52 games behind the plate in 1997 and played in a total of 60 games for the season. He only managed to smack six homers and knock in 25 runs for the season, but had a sort of “coming out party” in 1998.

An old baseball adage suggests that having a catcher that can hit is a bonus – and the Yankees had that bonus. At the plate Posada crushed 17 homers and batted .268 while recording 68 RBIs in ’98, but arguably his best feat of the year came defensively, on May, 17, 1998 when he caught David Wells’ perfect game at home against the Minnesota Twins.

When a pitcher throws a perfect game, sometimes it gets overlooked that the catcher is the one calling the signs, and most of the time the first person the pitcher credits after notching the perfecto is the catcher. It takes the battery of a pitcher and a catcher to complete a perfect game and Wells recognized that, rewarding Posada and the rest of the team with diamond rings when it was all said and done.

Before the Yanks moved into the new Stadium in 2009, Posada was asked what his favorite moment in the old Yankee Stadium was. His answer was simple.

“Catching David Wells’ perfect game was probably (the best moment) for me. It was just a day that…nothing went wrong. We were in sync from the get-go. He had a bad bullpen session but he got stronger and stronger as the game went along. I get chills, still.”

A Sweet Moment before the ‘02 All-Star Game

Posada and the Yanks capped 1998 with a World Series title, their second in three years. In ’99 he appeared in 112 games and hit 12 homers, knocked in 58 runs, and averaged .245 at the plate. The Yankees once again won a World Series title in ’99 and again in 2000 – which to that point was Posada’s best year numerically: 28 homers, 86 RBIs, and a BA of .287.

For his outstanding numbers he was selected to his first of five All-Star games in the year 2000. In 2002 Posada started the Midsummer Classic and during player introductions a Posada took the field – but it wasn’t Jorge.

Well, it was, actually. Posada’s son Jorge Luis, who has craniosynostosis (a bone condition which affects the skull of an infant), dashed out onto the baseball diamond when Posada’s name was called. The short man was playfully wrangled by Yankee nemesis and then-Red Sox player Manny Ramirez, who presented Jorge Luis to his proud father.

You Talkin’ to Me, Pedro?

Posada pieced together one of his best seasons in 2003, clubbing 30 homers to become only the second Yankee catcher along with Yogi Berra to ever hit 30 home runs in a season.

He also drove in 101 runs, batted .281, and scored 83 runs. At the end of the year he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, showing just how important he was to his team.

But all of that was basically overshadowed by the biggest rivalry in sports.

In ’03 the Yankees and their archenemies, the Boston Red Sox, played in some heated games. Over the summer Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano were beaned with fastballs by the hated Boston ace Pedro Martinez. Roger Clemens, the Yanks’ outspoken number one hurler, plunked Kevin Millar in retaliation.

As fate would have it, the Yankees and Red Sox met in the 2003 American League Championship Series; the winner would go to the World Series. Both squads were not shy about their feelings towards one another, as they exchanged words in the media. You couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on ESPN without hearing what the Yanks and BoSox were saying about each other.  

The ALCS was tied 1-1 and with tensions running high, all Hell broke loose in Game Three.

Yankees’ right fielder Karim Garcia was hit on the back by what looked like an intentional bean ball thrown by Martinez. Garcia didn’t take kindly to Martinez’s throw – and neither did Posada, who began to mouth off to Martinez from the dugout.

Some serious jaw-jacking ensued between Martinez and Posada, and eventually Martinez began to make seemingly threatening gestures at Posada from the mound. He put his index finger to his temple as if he was saying to the Yankee catcher, “I’ll hit you in the head.”

Things settled down and the game resumed after awhile, only for another fracas to begin in the next half-inning. Clemens threw a pitch high and tight to Ramirez; clearly no intent, yet the Boston left fielder tried to charge the mound and the benches cleared.

Don Zimmer, the Yanks’ 72-year-old bench coach, was tossed to the ground by Martinez in the brawl, proving just how ugly emotions between the two teams really were.

The ’03 ALCS was forced to a Game Seven, and with the Yankees trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning, it looked as though it was Boston’s time to “reverse the curse.”

But after a single by Bernie Williams that scored Derek Jeter, and a ground-rule double by Hideki Matsui, Posada stepped up to the plate in a huge situation: runners on second and third with one out.

And he was as clutch as can be.

Posada popped a blooper into shallow centerfield, a hit which no Boston outfielder or infielder could come up with. Williams and Matsui came to the plate to tie the game while he wound up on second base. Fired up, Posada clapped his hands together and pumped his fists in jubilation.

The game-tying bloop double set up Aaron Boone’s glorious home run in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Yankees to the World Series for the 39th time and the Red Sox home for the winter.

If it weren’t for Posada’s gritty, “never say die” attitude and his piece of late-game clutch hitting, Boone never would have had the chance to swing his bat in the 11th; the Yankees may have been doomed in the ‘03 ALCS.

As far as the Martinez-Posada feud: the two publicly expressed how they felt about one another: they both said they disliked each other.  However aside from the argument in the ’03 ALCS, nothing physical ever transpired between the two.

Unless you count the four career home runs Posada hit off Martinez.

On a side note, over the course of his career Posada hit 275 home runs. The most he smacked off a single pitcher: five off another Red Sox hurler, Tim Wakefield.

A Wild and Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas

On Wednesday May 17, 2006 – exactly eight years after Posada caught Wells’ perfect game – I got up and went to class. Nearing the end of my first year in college, I was amazed at what I had seen the night before. Everyone knew what a huge Yankee fan I was, and when I got to class I was asked the age-old question from one of my classmates:

“Did you see the game last night?!”

Of course I had. It was one of the most improbable and incredible comebacks ever.

On May 16, 2006 the Yankees had been getting creamed by the Texas Rangers at home. In fact, through the first two and a half innings the Bombers were losing 10-1. But they never gave up, slowly chipping away at the deficit. The Yanks were able to knot the game at 12 before the ninth inning, only for Texas to plate a run on a Rod Barajas double and take a 13-12 lead going into the Yanks’ final set of at-bats.

When it looked as though the rally was for naught, Posada clubbed a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Rangers’ closer Akinori Otsuka to complete the comeback and give the Yankees a serious come-from-behind, 14-13 win.

Posada drove in five of the Yanks’ 14 runs and also showed off his strength, as he survived a collision at home plate with future teammate Mark Teixeira. Posada nailed Teixeira at home plate for an out, but after the game admitted it was the hardest he had ever been hit.

“I never played football in my life,” Posada told the press after the game.

 “But I think that’s what it feels like.”

2007 Resurgence

 

One could argue that by age 35 most catchers are reaching the so-called “downhill side” of their careers. Their offensive numbers seem to dwindle and they just aren’t the same players they were at, let’s say, age 25.

That never happened to the Yankee catcher.

In 2007 Posada recorded the highest batting average of his career, securing a BA of .338. He also posted the highest slugging percentage of his career with .543 and for the first time since 2003 he made the All-Star team.

The rest of his numbers also looked solid: 20 homers, 90 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 42 doubles, and he even stole two bases.

With his ’07 power show he became the first catcher in MLB history to average .330 or better, record at least 40 doubles, hit 20 homers, and knock in at least 90 runs in a single season.

2007 was a renaissance year for the backstop, and you might say Posada turned 35 into the new 25.

Even the Red Sox Want to be Yankees

In a little comic relief, Posada starred in an ESPN commercial with hated Yankee killer David Ortiz.

When I first saw this, I couldn’t get enough of it.

The First Home Run

After the 2008 season wrapped, the Yanks moved from their beloved cathedral to their new house across the street. They started the 2009 season on the road, but on April 16 it was time for Opening Day in the new ballpark in the Bronx vs. the Cleveland Indians – and it was a day of firsts.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the old Yankee Stadium, and in the fifth inning Posada became the first player to homer in the new Yankee Stadium. He took a pitch off Cliff Lee deep to centerfield, a poetically just shot that landed in the netting above Ruth’s monument.

Unfortunately the Yanks had a bad day, dropping their first game at home 10-2. After the game Posada was proud to have done what Ruth did in terms of christening the ballpark, but was unhappy with the final score.

“I’m going to remember the home run, no question about it,” he told the press. “But right now it’s a little disappointing.”

Yankee manager Joe Girardi could not have been happier that his successor was the first player to homer in the new Stadium.

“For Jorgie to hit the first home run…he’s been here a long time and he’s meant a lot to this franchise. I was extremely happy for him.”   

2009 Walk-Offs

Resiliency (noun) -  the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, change or misfortune.

Resilient (adjective) - the ability to withstand, or recover quickly from, difficult conditions.

There is no better way to define the 2009 New York Yankees.

‘09 was a magical season for the Bombers. Solid pitching, all-around hitting, and if the score was close late in the game, you could almost be certain the Yankees were going to win.

The Yanks played the LA Angels at home on May 1, and squandered away a 4-0 lead when the Halos plated six runs in the sixth. They added three in the seventh and it seemed as though the Yankees were well on their way to an inevitable loss to the Angels, the only team in baseball with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers.

Not on Posada’s watch.

The Empire struck back in the eighth scoring four runs, setting the stage for one of their many comeback victories. Posada came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with Teixeira and Angel Berroa aboard, and whacked a two-run game-winning single to finish the game, his first walk-off hit of the year.

When it was all said and done teammate A.J. Burnett gave Posada a whipped cream pie to the face, a tradition that became custom after every walk-off Yankee victory.

And there were more pie orders to fill.  

On July 4 the Yanks hosted the Toronto Blue Jays and played them to a 5-5 tie into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th Posada came up and singled home Alex Rodriguez, giving the Yanks a 6-5 walk-off win on America’s (and George Steinbrenner’s) birthday.

Another win, another pie.

The game-winner may have been huge but it wasn’t all Posada did in that game. In the fourth he smacked a solo round-tripper, which at that point in the game gave the Yanks a 3-2 lift over the Jays.

A Cushion in Game Two

The Yankees’ resilient nature brought them to the World Series in 2009 for the 40th time and the first time since 2003. They squared off with the Philadelphia Phillies and in Game Two (after dropping the first game of the Fall Classic) the Bombers needed a win at home.

Facing a familiar adversary, Pedro Martinez, the Yanks trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. Teixeira came up and knotted the game at one with a solo homer. Hideki Matsui followed suit, breaking the tie with a solo home run of his own in the sixth.

Clinging to a small 2-1 lead in the seventh, Posada gave the Yanks a little breathing room. He hit a seeing-eye single off reliever Chan Ho Park to plate Jerry Hairston, Jr. and the Yanks went ahead, 3-1.

They would win Game Two by the same count.

The Texas Two-Step

In June of 2010 Posada had a chance to flex his muscles.

On June 12 in an interleague matchup at home vs. the Houston Astros, he clubbed a grand slam off Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the third, breaking a 2-2 tie to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead. They went on to win 9-3 on the strength of Posada’s go-ahead trip to granny’s house.

And he was just getting warmed up.

The very next day, June 13, he crushed another grand slam in the fifth inning off Brian Moehler, giving his team a sizeable 7-1 lead. The Bombers once again were en route to another win, a 9-5 decision over the Astros.

With his two slams in two days, Posada became the first Yankee since Bill Dickey in 1937 to homer with the bases loaded in consecutive games. Ironically enough, Dickey was also a catcher.

A Bittersweet Home Run

On Aug. 22, 2010 vs. the Seattle Mariners at home, the Yankees practically had the game won in the fourth inning. Austin Kearns hit a solo homer in the fourth, which was pretty much all the offense the Bombers needed because CC Sabathia was in shut-down mode, setting down the Mariners hitters one by one.

The game turned into a stinker for Seattle in the fifth when Robinson Cano clubbed a grand slam. The Yanks added three runs in the sixth to distance themselves even further from Seattle, who did not put up any runs in the game.

The Mariners eventually called on Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher whom I have interviewed, in a mop-up situation.

Posada came to the plate to face Sweeney and took his changeup for a ride into the right field seats, giving the Yankees a 9-0 lead. The Bombers would add another run in the eighth on an RBI single off the bat of Marcus Thames, winning by a knockout score of 10-0.

For this writer it was bittersweet. I was happy for Posada; that he hit a home run for my favorite team, yet at the same time I was unhappy and I felt bad. I would have liked to see Sweeney maybe get a strikeout, being that he and I both came from the same college.

From the experience, I can say this: it feels weird wanting to simultaneously root for both the pitcher and the batter.  

The Last Stand

2011 was a rollercoaster of sorts for Posada. There were ups and downs, lefts and rights. He was removed as the Yanks’ everyday catcher and made to be the team’s designated hitter. Everyone knows about the mountain made of the molehill when he took himself out of the game on May 14 against the Boston Red Sox, and he was limited at best when it came to playing.

On Aug. 13, his first start since the benching incident, he was 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBIs. It marked the 10th slam of his career and with it he passed Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra on the all-time Yankee grand slams list.

Later in the month on Aug. 25 Posada played second base for the first time in his career, fielding the position in the ninth inning. He recorded the final out in the Yanks’ 22-9 win over the Oakland Athletics, cleanly taking a grounder and completing the 4-3 putout.

He might have had a perfect frame at second base, but on Sept. 10 against the LA Angels he returned to familiarity. Russell Martin was injured behind the plate by a foul tip and Francisco Cervelli was unavailable to catch due to concussion-like symptoms. Girardi had no choice but to allow Posada to catch – and he made it count, throwing out Howie Kendrick attempting to swipe second base in the third.

The Yankees made the postseason for the 16th time in Posada’s career and for his last playoff series, he performed extraordinarily well. He recorded six hits – one of which was a triple – scored four runs, drew four walks, and at the DH position notched a .429 batting average with a .579 on-base percentage.

Not bad for his last hurrah.

The Yankees and their fans will never forget Jorge Posada. He spent his entire career in pinstripes, somewhat of a rarity these days; not a lot of players in this day and age remain with one team their entire career.

Girardi, who has always been close to Posada, credits him for a lot of the strength the Yankees showcased throughout the years.

“He’s been a big part of the Yankees since really 1997, and (a big part of) the success that we’ve had here.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Friend and teammate Derek Jeter once said Posada would make a great baseball manager someday.

Who knows. Posada succeeded Girardi once in his life – as the Yankees’ everyday catcher. Maybe in the future he will succeed him as Yankee skipper.

I’m not going to try and argue right now about whether or not Posada is worthy of the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t matter to me; whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, he’ll always be a real Yankee soldier in my eyes.

Yankee Yapping would like to thank Jorge Posada for all the memories and congratulate him on a wonderful career. I don’t know if the team will be the same without him, but nonetheless, we love him.

THANK YOU, JORGE.

True Colors: Athletes and Expression of Self

Famed martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Always be yourself, express yourself, and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

One could say any professional athlete is successful at what they do. If they were not, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whether it is starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or starting quarterback for the New York Giants, pro athletes are where they are because of their capabilities.

But what about their personalities? Should they be allowed to express themselves on the field after they accomplish something or reach an achievement?

A lot of critics these days are saying no.

When Joba Chamberlain was first called up in the summer of 2007, he was a flame-throwing middle reliever who tossed fastballs clocked in the high-90s and he sometimes struck triple digits on the speed gun. Usually after he fanned a batter to end an inning Chamberlain would wildly pump his fists in pride as he gleefully marched off the mound.

     

Fist pumping is defined as, “A celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion.

The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.”

Knowing that, a big strikeout can call for a little fist pumping.  So why exactly did critics jump all over Chamberlain and call him on his jubilation, turning his joy into a topic of debate?

Some analysts and sports pundits suggest that getting overly excited and expressing it is a way of “showing up the other team” or in other words rubbing it in their faces after they have failed to some capacity.

I don’t happen to see it that way. I see it as a player simply being honest and outwardly showing how they truly feel after they have done something noteworthy.

And it can work both ways. When a player is on the other end of it – losing – should they be allowed to express it?

I think so.

Think back for a moment to Oct. 16, 2003: Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, otherwise known as the famous “Aaron Boone game.”

When Boone crushed that home run in the 11th inning sending the Yankees to the World Series – and broke the hearts of every fan in New England – the Red Sox were, for the lack of a better term, crushed. I specifically remember the reaction of one Boston player, namely outfielder Trot Nixon.

On his way to the clubhouse, Nixon took his frustration out on a Gatorade cooler, picking it up and then slamming it to the dugout floor in what looked like unadulterated anger.

Nixon and every other Red Sox player were well within their rights to be frustrated in terms of the outcome of that game and the series overall – and they had the right to express that frustration after it was all over.

These days expression in sports has gone to a new level. Looking outside the world of baseball for a minute, ESPN and every other form of sports media seem to be on the case of a young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.

After the Denver Broncos’ stud scores a touchdown, or when his team wins, he takes a knee, bows his head and offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In fact, the pose has taken on a life of its own and people have turned it into a verb: “Tebowing.”

Everyone and their mother has put Tebow under the microscope and criticized him for this particular pose after a TD or a win. Tebow let it be known when he played football at the University of Florida that he lives his life a certain way (I.E. he has chosen to remain chaste until he gets married) and strongly holds onto what he believes in.

Is it wrong of him to show it when he does something good?

In my view, no. I think it is perfectly fine.

If Tebow feels taking a knee and praying is how he wants to express his happiness when his team wins, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I view it as a more civil way to show a good feeling when something positive happens.

A lot of people have made claims that, because it’s a sort of religious action, it’s wrong and should not be permitted. But it’s not as if Tebow is constantly projecting his beliefs onto other people; he isn’t standing on the sideline with a microphone in hand and trying to get every fan who attended the game to convert to Christianity.

If that were the case I’d be opposed to it – and probably feel Tebow is out of his mind.

What I find strange about the criticism of Tebow expressing his faith is that other athletes also express their faith – yet nothing is said about it, or even mentioned.

Before Derek Jeter steps into the batter’s box, he makes the sign of the cross. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a one-time Yankee and journeyman catcher always makes the sign of the cross; as a matter of fact, he crosses himself before every pitch during his at-bats.

Where is the barrage of criticism and religious outrage directed at Jeter and Pudge?

Nowhere to be found. It just doesn’t sound very fair to me.

All Tebow is doing is expressing his true personality and incorporating it into what he loves to do – just as I incorporate my personality sometimes when I write these blog entries, with funny inside jokes and obscure references.

As good as it for an athlete to show off their personality, it can get out of hand. It doesn’t happen so much in baseball, but in football and other sports it can certainly be brought to a whole new level. The NFL has banned touchdown celebrations, and if a player crosses the plane, scores, and expresses it, that player’s team will be penalized.

In my view, that’s fair. It’s fine for a player to be happy, and to express that positive energy when they score a touchdown; maybe leap up and bump their teammates’ chests. But spiking the ball and dancing around just makes the player look like a fool, and the NFL did the right thing by outlawing such unprofessionalism.

Perhaps in football things are a little different because there is more contact and physicality; maybe more “heat of the moment” moments. But that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in baseball.

In 2007 former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began to exhibit a different side of himself when he Irish step danced at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series. After Boston defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Papelbon danced around the Fenway Park infield like a loon celebrating the win.

There was no need for that. It’s fine to be happy and celebrate a pennant, but do it in the clubhouse with your teammates. There is no reason to run back out onto the field and commence dancing like a ballerina.  

The bottom line is, it’s fine to express yourself as an athlete. Be creative and be yourself; incorporate your personality into your playing style and do it in a respectful, professional manner.

If you’re excited, pump your fists.

If you’re mad, body slam a cooler or two.

If you have a certain belief system, feel free to show it, without projecting it onto to others.

If you want to dance though, become a Rockette not an athlete.

It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve.

What I’ll Remember About the 2011 Season

Casey Stengel once said, “Most games are lost, not won.” And let’s be honest the Detroit Tigers did not win Game Five of the American League Division Series – the Yankees lost it. The Bronx Bombers dropped the decisive game of the ALDS 3-2, forcing them to an early postseason exit.

It marked the first time the Yanks have been knocked out in the first round since 2007, when they were bumped at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

And with their loss, they collectively became the second person (if you will) to break my heart this year. That’s no lie. More on that later in this entry.

In the bottom of the fourth the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score a run. Russell Martin popped out to first base for the second out, and Brett Gardner – who had been raking this entire series – popped the ball up in foul territory behind third, and it landed in the waiting glove of Don Kelly.

Then in the seventh with one out, the Yanks put the ducks on the pond again. Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, but Mark Teixeira drew a walk forcing home a run to make the game 3-2. But Nick Swisher came up to the plate and murdered the rally with a K.

The Yankees received their first run on a solo home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the fifth, his second of the ALDS  – his first being a Game One  grand slam. Derek Jeter nearly clubbed what would have been a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth.

With Gardner on first, the Captain launched a ball deep to the right field warning track, but it slowly lost wind and fell short of a potential game-winning round-tripper.

What can you say? It just wasn’t meant to be this year.

The Tigers – not the Yankees – will now advance to the American League Championship Series to face the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALCS was just not in the cards.

The postseason magic was not there; the aura was absent. But there are a lot of memories and thoughts I am going to take away from this year. Here are a few things I’ll never forget about the 2011 baseball season:

Opening Day

There is nothing like the thrill of Opening Day. Spring is in the air, you get the sense of new life, and warm, happy feelings envelope you. Baseball is back and the Yankees did what they couldn’t do in the ALDS: they beat the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson punished his former team with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, and threw in some defensive, game-saving web gems, leading the way to a 6-3 Yankee win over Detroit.

The Bronx Broskis started their year with a clean win over the Tigers. I think I speak for most Yankee fans when I say I wish they could have finished off Detroit in the ALDS the way they did on Opening Day.

May 12 vs. the Kansas City Royals

The Yanks hosted the Royals on May 12, and it was my first trip to the big ballpark in the Bronx this year. Just as Opening Day has a certain, special appeal to it, going out to your first game of the season is always fun.

The game turned into a stinker in a hurry, as the Royals put up six runs in the second inning. The Yanks wound up losing 11-5, really only receiving offense from Cano and Rodriguez, who both went yard.

What I remember isn’t so much the game action, but the people (and more particularly a person) I was with at that game. I am not the type of writer who would bury anyone I personally know in this or any other blog or column, but let’s just say (using no names) I was with the other person who broke my heart this year.

If she is reading this, I don’t know about you, but I had a blast at that game; the time of my life, and I was very happy and blessed to have spent that time with you. Thanks again for the chili dog you bought me, too.  I still think it was the best chili dog I ever had. :)

This game was the only time I can ever recall seeing the Yankees lose, but still being happy at the end of the night. In fact, I was probably the happiest person at the Stadium that night, and I can only hope she shared my happiness at the game.

I wouldn’t have traded the feeling I had for anything, not even a Yankee win.

June 15 vs. the Texas Rangers

On my birthday the Yankees met up with the Rangers – the same team that eliminated them from the ALCS in 2010. I once again went out to the Stadium, and wanted so badly for the Yanks to exact a little bit of revenge on Texas – and boy did they ever.

The Bombers squadoosh’d the Rangers 12-4, playing long ball to an eight-run victory.

Teixeira crushed two homers in the game, and Cano and Ramiro Pena also went deep. But the most special home run the Yankees hit probably came off the bat of Eduardo Nunez – it was his 24th birthday too!

A group of people, who I believe was Nunez’s family, were sitting in front of me, going absolutely crazy after his home run.

They held up signs that read, “Happy Birthday Eduardo!” and they were all wearing “Nunez 12” tee-shirts. Plus, they all bore a striking resemblance to him – so I’m convinced to this day it was the Nunez family in the row of seats in front of me that night.

A home run must have been a nice birthday present for Nunez. And a convincing, vengeful Yankee win was a nice gift for me.

Derek Jeter Leaves the Yard for 3,000th Hit

In what was probably the biggest story of the summer, the Yankee Captain, sitting on 2,999 career hits, smacked a home run on July 9, becoming the first player to ever record his 3,000th hit wearing pinstripes.

It was a moment for the ages.

All the Yankees came out of the dugout and congratulated Jeter, hugging him and giving him his legendary credit. The only picture I take away from that moment was Jorge Posada, his teammate since 1995, embracing him in celebration right after he crossed home plate.

If you were to ask Jeter, I’m sure he would say he was happy to have reached his milestone – but even happier the Yankees won the game. The Captain has always put the good of the team above himself and the Bombers topped the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9, 5-4.

Robinson Cano Wins the Home Run Derby

The prelude to the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby. Certain clubs show off their most powerful sluggers, and Cano participated in this year’s home run contest in Arizona. To everyone’s surprise, the studly second baseman won it.

Now, I have to ask, what’s better than having a Yankee win the Home Run Derby?

How about a Yankee beating a Red Sox player to win the Home Run Derby!

Because that is exactly what happened.

Cano outdueled Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, becoming only the third Yankee (Tino Martinez, 1997, and Jason Giambi, 2002) to take home the Home Run Derby crown.

August 23 vs. the Oakland Athletics

 

This would mark my third and final trip to the Bronx this summer, a game against the A’s. My good friend and fellow die-hard Yankee fan Micheal Robinson was in New York, visiting from Atlanta.   

He got incredible seats right behind the wall in left field, and although the Yankees once again lost, they nearly capped an unreal comeback late in the game.

Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks plated three runs on a three-run Swisher home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom of the ninth Posada clobbered a solo home run, and the Yanks later loaded the bases.

We thought we were in for an improbable comeback.

With the bases chucked and two outs, Cano drew a walk, cutting the lead down to 6-5. Then Swisher came up again and clubbed a towering drive to deep left-center field. On the edge of our seats, Micheal and I slowly stood up watching the ball fly, ready for a whipped cream pie celebration…

Only for the ball to slowly die on the warning track for the final out. Yanks lose, 6-5.  

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the game. It was a great night with a great friend. My record in attendance at 2011 Yankee games ended at 1-2.

 

Mariano Rivera Becomes Baseball’s All-Time Saves Leader

On Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list. Rivera, who has been lights-out at the end of each Yankee game for the better part of the past 15 years, only solidified what we have known all along:

That he is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

In typical Rivera fashion, he mowed down the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, wrapping up a 6-4 Yankee win. When he was finished closing the game, he humbly put his head down, and shook his catcher’s hand.

But after that show of sportsmanship Rivera (of course) realized what he had done and acknowledged the love and support he received from his home crowd. Posada even pushed him back out to the mound where he was cheered overwhelmingly.

Again, in typical Rivera fashion he thanked God, his family, the Yankees, and the fans.

It was just another wonderful moment in 2011 – and in Yankee history.

Boston Losing Out of the Postseason

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but for one last time, I’ll tell it again.

All the way back in January I was with a few friends down at a New York City bar watching the Jets’ AFC Title game vs. the Steelers. Although it was a football game, me and each of my friends were wearing Yankee apparel.

In walks a drunken Red Sox fan, wearing a 2004 Championship shirt. And he began to taunt us.

“Are you guys ready for Michael Kay this year? Swisher on the track, at the wall, looking up, SEE YA! Another home run for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox lead, 7-3!”

We just laughed it off and walked away. On the way home from the bar we made fun of him for not even teasing us the right way.

“Hey, at least he gave the Yankees three runs in his little fantasy game,” we snickered. “If he were smart, or maybe sober, he would have made it 15-0 in favor of the Red Sox.”

Boston failing to make the postseason – when practically everyone on this planet had them picked to win the World Series – in my eyes, was just epic; one of the worst, if not the worst collapses I have ever seen.

I would have loved to see that guy’s face when Tampa Bay battled back from nine games behind the Wild Card standings – and when Baltimore crushed Boston’s hopes at a postseason run on the last day of the regular season.

Unbelievable.  

I will never forget how that Red Sox fan basically had his team in the World Series before the season even began and they didn’t even make the playoffs, going 6-20 in the month of September.

The Boston collapse proved two things to me:

1)      You can never speak too soon, and

2)      You can’t win games on paper. The Red Sox may have had the best-looking team on a lineup card, but if the best-looking team folds like an accordion when it matters, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Well, Yankee fans. It was one helluva season; one I’ll probably never forget. It is unfortunate the Yanks could not create the magic for us and bring home Championship No. 28.

I’d like to thank everyone for sticking it out this season and reading Yankee Yapping. I promise to write as much as I can during the off-season while the MLB hot stove cooks, boils, bakes, burns, or does whatever it does.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging about Ivan Nova winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and either Granderson or Cano winning the AL MVP.

Until then, I’ll say the same thing I did when the Yanks got booted in last year’s ALCS:

Keep your heads up, Yankee fans.

And just remember: we still own 27 World Titles, and we’re still the best team in the world.

Back to the Bronx!

Let me tell you a little about my day, and in what direction I thought it was going in.

This afternoon I was in my car, driving of course. I was stopped at a traffic light, minding my own business. Then…BOOM! I got rear-ended by some lady who was not paying attention to the road. Thankfully my bumper was only scratched: not really any major damage to my (new) car. Oh, and if you’re wondering, no. I wasn’t hurt; just a little rattled at the time, although I did have a mild headache when I got home from work.

People, driving requires 100% of your attention. Remember that.

I only thought my headache was going to get more severe, considering A.J. Burnett was starting for the Yankees in Game Four of the American League Division Series, down two games to one, at the mercy of the Detroit Tigers. I’ll be the first to admit, I felt very uneasy with Burnett on the mound, an 11-11 record this season with a 5.15 ERA.

His numbers alone are enough to give anyone a headache, even without getting rear-ended by a car.

Some Yankee fans, most notably Yankee roll caller and lead Bleacher Creature Bald Vinny, started a Facebook campaign: “I Believe in A.J.” Despite the doubt a lot of people had concerning Burnett’s ability to pitch in an elimination game, it is evident the fans got behind him.

All the faith was rewarded.

Aside from one inning, he didn’t disappoint. Burnett helped lead the way to a 10-1 Yankee win in Game Four, forcing a Game Five on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

The key play in the game came in the bottom of the first inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, and Don Kelly smacked a liner into centerfield. Curtis Granderson dove, laid out and made a game-saving grab to end the inning.

Burnett owes his centerfielder dinner after a catch like that.

Had the ball gone over Granderson’s head, anything could – and would – have happened. Kelly would have definitely cleared the bases and he would have undoubtedly made it to third – or even home. In perspective, it could have been an inside-the-park grand slam, and Burnett’s confidence may have disappeared, allowing Detroit to run up the score.  

But it didn’t happen.

Burnett had walked three batters in the first (Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally) and looked a bit jittery, but seemed to settle down nicely after the shaky frame. He ended the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up just one earned run on four hits. Burnett walked four batters and struck out three.

The only blip on Burnett’s radar was a home run to Victor Martinez in the bottom of the fourth, and yet it didn’t really matter because the Yankees had already put two runs on the board.  

When Burnett left the mound, he got a lot of love from his teammates. I’d say if you took one still frame from the game tonight, the picture of the infield players collectively patting Burnett on the back speaks volumes about the amount faith they had in him.

After Burnett left, yesterday’s goat Rafael Soriano came in – and Granderson once again flashed the leather, making another beautiful catch in centerfield to end the inning. Not only did Granderson save Burnett, but he aided Soriano with a spectacular web gem.

The pitching and defense was there, but you need offense to win a game. And the Bomber bats came alive in this one.

The Yankees were retired 1-2-3 in the first and second innings – and it looked as though it was going to be another stagnant and dead night at the plate. But right before Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box, I put on my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slippers.

Right after I put them on the Captain crushed a two-run double to plate Jorge Posada and Russell Martin. The Yankees took the lead and never relinquished it.

“I think my slippers may have been the Yanks’ good luck charm,” I thought to myself. “I’ll keep them on.”

If they were a good luck charm, they were working in the top half of the fifth. The Yanks added two more runs on a double by Granderson which knocked in Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez later hit a sac fly to drive in Jeter.

Hanging onto a 4-1 lead, the Bronx Broskis exploded for six runs in the eighth – and batted around. A balk by Al Albuquerque sent Rodriguez to the plate, a single by pinch-hitter Jesus Montero drove in Mark Teixeira, and then Gardner plated Chris Dickerson (who pinch-ran for Nick Swisher).

And they still weren’t done.

A Daniel Schlereth wild pitch allowed Montero to score, then Robinson Cano knocked Martin and Gardner in with an two-run single.

10 runs in the game. And now we’re heading back to the Bronx, the ALDS tied 2-2.

The last time the Yankees played a Game Five in the ALDS was 2005, and it didn’t go well for them. The Bombers played in Anaheim and were outdone 5-3 at the hands of the Angels.

This time around, however, the Yankees will not be on the road. They will be in the comfort of Yankee Stadium and essentially they have home field advantage and momentum again.

In more good news for the Yanks, the last time they played a Game Five in the ALDS at home, they beat Oakland all the way back in 2001. Strangely enough they won the ’01 ALDS Game Five by the same score they lost the ’05 ALDS by: 5-3.

The Yankees broke the trend tonight. They seemed to be following the 2006 ALDS script a little too closely, but now they have the chance to make a little comeback and beat the Tigers; an opportunity to punch the proverbial ticket back to the American League Championship Series.

Ivan Nova, who dazzled in Game One, will take the mound in the deciding game, hoping to keep the postseason dream alive. He will be opposed by Doug Fister, who the Yankees got to on Saturday.

If the Yanks win Thursday, the Texas Rangers await them in the ALCS – a potential rematch of last year’s Championship Series.

Speaking of breaking playoff trends, the Yankees lost to the Rangers last year.

They will have to break that trend, too. But they have to get there, first. I’ll be working a high school football game Thursday night at 6:00, so I’ll probably only miss the first and maybe the second innings of the game.

When I get home, one thing is for sure: I am putting on my ninja turtles slippers.

RAWR! Bring on the Tigers

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right back to where we started on Opening Day.

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

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

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

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

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

And boy, did the Yanks hurt following that rainout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodriguez was booed off the field – at home.

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

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

Not the case at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even in defeat, the Yankees upstaged the Mets.

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

What’s Different This Time Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Looks the Same

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

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

There’s also the A-Rod factor.

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

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

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

Once he does that, his power will return.

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

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

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

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

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