Results tagged ‘ Andy Pettitte ’

End of the Year Awards

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

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

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

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

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

Three Trophies

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

Without any further ado, here they are! …

Yankee Yapping Platinum Slugger Award

Winner: Robinson Cano

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

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

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

Congrats Robinson!

P.S. Please come back next year.

Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year Award

Winner: Andy Pettitte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congrats Andy!

Yankee Yapping Warrior Award

Winner: Derek Jeter

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

It was obvious Jeter just wasn’t ready.

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

You cannot replace Derek Jeter.

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

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

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

Congrats Derek!

Yankee Yapping Hot Hot Hot! Award

Winner: Alfonso Soriano

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

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

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

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

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

Congrats Alfonso!

Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year Award

Winner: Mariano Rivera

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Obvious, right?

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

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

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

Congrats Mariano!

Yankee Yapping Yakety Yak, Don’t Come Back Award

Co-Winners: Phil Hughes & Joba Chamberlain

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

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

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

Proved them right, that is.

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

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

So much for him.

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

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

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

Happy blowing elsewhere, fellas.

Yankee Yapping MVP

Winner: Mariano Rivera

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

Oh, wait. Maybe I can.

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

Can you top that?

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

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

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

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

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

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Yankee Yapping Rooting For You Award

Winner: Don Mattingly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not one. Including me.

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

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

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

Off to Never Never Land

One of the most overused and clichéd phrases is perhaps “bittersweet.” In the sports context it means pleasure coupled with pain. Pleasure and pain. Joy and agony. The only visible emotions present and felt by everyone in attendance at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. There’s no other way to describe the ceremony given for the great Mariano Rivera.

So much to cover here. We’ll begin with…

The Number Retirement

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If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll believe me when I tell you I predicted the surprise number retirement.

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See?

Now Rivera’s number 42 will rightfully sit alongside the rest of the Yankee legends in Monument Park.

What first came to my mind was, without sarcasm, professional wrestler Ric Flair. In 2008 the WWE (formerly WWF for fans who grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s) inducted the “Nature Boy” in its Hall of Fame the night before his final match in the company. Flair was the only active wrestler to ever be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

You can’t help but make the comparison to Rivera, who – to this writer’s knowledge – is the only Yankee to have his number retired while on active roster.

Familiar Faces

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The Yankee organization did a fine job bringing back all of Rivera’s noteworthy former teammates and dignitaries. From the man he succeeded as closer, John Wetteland, to Jeff Nelson and David Cone. From Bernie Williams to Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill; and Hideki Matsui, it was truly a “Dynasty reunion,” if you will.

Even the man who led the charge during those winning years of the ‘90s, the great Joe Torre, was on hand to send Rivera off.

With each name announced, I found myself getting more and more misty-eyed. Eventually I put my head down and realized I was full-on crying; tears pouring down my face. I can’t say exactly why I became so overwrought with emotion. Possibly because each player – each face – was a happy reminder of the teams I grew up watching.

And the years I fell in love with baseball.

What was also special was the presence of Rachel Robinson and her daughter Sharon. Of course it was only fitting representatives and relatives of Jackie Robinson – the innovator of the number 42 – were in attendance to pay their homage.

As for Rivera, he couldn’t have looked any happier to see his old friends. The expression on his face told the whole story.

Enter Sandman

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It wasn’t just old teammates in the house to send Rivera off into the sunset. The band that performs his entrance theme was in the Bronx to play him off. That’s right; Metallica appeared at Yankee Stadium and gave a live rendition of “Enter Sandman” for Rivera and the crowd.

This ceremony (again, without sarcasm) could have been the most extravagant and brilliant way to send a person into retirement.

Heartfelt Words

Without any notes, Rivera was given the microphone. Extemporaneously, he addressed everyone with words from the bottom of his golden heart.

I had trouble embedding the video. Click HERE for Rivera’s speech!

The Game

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Up until the sixth inning, it looked as if the day was going to get even more special than it had already become. Given the fact Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball at the end of this season (again) on Friday, it seemed perfect that he started the game on the day his longtime teammate Rivera was honored.

And perfect he basically was. That is until he faced the Giants’ rookie shortstop.

Yes, Ehire Adrianza smacked his first career home run in the sixth inning off Pettitte; a solo shot over the left field fence to tie the game, 1-1. The shot took away a no-hitter the veteran lefty was throwing up until that point. Pettitte in fact lost his perfect game bid in the fifth when he issued a two-out walk to Pablo Sandoval.

Mark Reynolds had gotten the Yanks on the board in the bottom of the third with a solo shot of his own, but by the eighth inning it was a moot homer. Tony Abreu doubled in pinch-runner Nick Noonan. Noonan pinch-ran for Sandoval, who had doubled earlier in the frame to set up the game-winning run.

Rivera, albeit in a non-save situation, made an appearance on his special day. As per usual, he was lights out. 1 2/3 innings pitched, one hit, no runs, no walks, and a strikeout.

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A 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants. But certainly not a loss Rivera – or Pettitte, for that matter – should apologize for. The two veteran aces pitched their hearts out.

Final Thoughts

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Think back to the movie “Rocky Balboa” for a second. Right before Rocky walks to the center of the ring for the final round of his last career match, his brother-in-law and corner man Paulie yells back to him.

“Rock-O! Last round of your life! The last round…”

It’s almost as though today, Rivera took on the role of Rocky and the Yankee organization played the part of Paulie. It did have the feel of the start of Rivera’s proverbial final round, in light of the Yankees’ slim chances of making the 2013 postseason.

And there only being six games left on the regular season schedule.

He may not collect a World Series ring in his final season, but it’s pretty much understood the great one, the man they call “Mo,” is his own “walking championship,” so-to-speak. He himself is a title; an institution. He earned that by being an instrumental part in championships and important games, all while maintaining a humble attitude with undying faith.

Basically, Rivera is the Yankees’ version of, well, Rocky Balboa.

Rocky may not have gone out a technical winner – he lost his final match to Mason Dixon – but if you paid attention, it didn’t matter. What he accomplished throughout his career transcended everything about his final match: the same way everything Rivera has done throughout his illustrious career goes above and beyond the Yankees’ 2013 foibles.

He closed out games, slammed the door, won our hearts…and became so much more.

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A collapse after a collapse

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Excruciating. A word this writer has become familiar with over the last 24 hours or so.

The Yankees needed a win today in order to keep themselves in good position in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, and for the first six innings things were looking good; the Yanks up 3-0, a weekend sweep of Baltimore seemingly imminent.

Then cue the Yankee bullpen.

Shawn Kelley entered the game, relieving Andy Pettitte, who pitched superbly. Kelley however was anything but superb, letting up a home run to JJ Hardy, giving the Orioles a 4-3 lead after Baltimore scored one to cut the lead to 3-1.

Kelley turned it over to Boone Logan, who then passed the baton to (gulp) Joba Chamberlain.

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Things only got worse when Chamberlain came on in relief. Adam Jones rocketed a home run over the centerfield fence, the Orioles taking a 7-3 lead the Yanks could not catch up to.

Final: Orioles 7, Yankees 3

While today was surely a collapse by the Yankees – and quite possibly the unofficial end of the so-called “Joba Chamberlain Era” in New York, it might pale in comparison to the unmitigated disaster that took place last night in the minor leagues.

Allow me to explain.

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I spent most of my summer “down on the farm” covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, much like I did last summer. The Renegades were dominant in 2012, and even went on to win the New York-Penn League championship for only the second time in team history.

Although Hudson Valley boasted an incredibly talented group of future Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, this season they haven’t been as fortunate as they were last season. And after I tell you the story of last night’s game, you’ll understand why.

The Renegades hosted the Staten Island Yankees last night, the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate. Tied 2-2 in the top of the 12th, Staten Island loaded the bases with no one out. Up to the plate stepped the left fielder, Daniel Lopez.

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This 21-year-old baby bomber cracked a liner up the middle that should have scored two runs and gone down as a single. It turned into a nightmare for the Renegades, as their center fielder James Harris made an offline throw to the plate.

The error allowed three runs to score and Lopez to go the third. And it wasn’t over.

Renegades’ catcher Ryan McChesney tried to catch Lopez at third base, throwing wildly down to the hot corner. The throw was errant and allowed Lopez to come home and make it a four-run play. The miserable 12th inning took all the air out of the Renegades.

Final/12: Yankees 6, Renegades 2

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Believe it or not, I couldn’t help but think of Seinfeld after witnessing the mess.

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If you recall, there was an episode that involved the character Kramer asking Paul O’Neill to hit two home runs for a sick boy in the hospital. Kramer and Bobby, the bedridden-yet-hasty little boy, watch on the hospital TV as “The Warrior” crushes a home run.

In his last at-bat of the game, O’Neill lines a ball into the outfield and digs for third base – all of this according to what we, the viewers, hear from the play-by-play man calling the game. A throwing error allows O’Neill to come in and score.

“Oh Yeah! Inside-the-park home run!” Kramer exclaims.

“They are ruling the hit a triple and an error on the throw,” says the play-by-play man.

Because it was ruled a triple, the hit wasn’t good enough for the young man. He wanted two home runs, not a home run and a triple. But Kramer makes the point:

“Bobby! Bobby! It’s just as good!”

And although Lopez’s hit was not ruled an inside-the-park grand slam by the minor league official scorer, it was indeed just as good.

Ironically Enough

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O’Neill’s nephew, Mike O’Neill, is on the Staten Island Yankees. He was not involved in the scoring in the four-run 12th inning, but he did play in the game; Mike batted second and played centerfield.

The Seinfeld scenario and the Lopez hit in the 12th – talk about eerily similar. And the O’Neill name was the link to it all.

(On a side note, Mike O’Neill has not enjoyed a lot of success this season; going into last night’s game he was batting .230 and leading the New York-Penn League in strikeouts with 84 – and picked up his 85th, 86th, and 87th strikeouts in last night’s game to extend his lead)

As for the big Yankees, they’ll need to play awfully well in the month of September in order to gain a Wild Card spot. Fortunately they’ll be welcoming the all but extinct Chicago White Sox tomorrow for a three-game set, looking to avenge the sweep the White Sox handed them in the windy city at the beginning of August.

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Small Update

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Most readers may have taken notice that the Yankee Yapping blogging this summer has been a little slow. I have been working a lot and have been very busy; obviously covering the Renegades (basically working as their beat writer for my newspaper) has taken a lot of time, as well as the other work I do for my newspaper/company.

There are only so many hours in a day, though.

Looking back, I think I only published two blogs this summer: one in July, one in August.

I promise to get back to it this month a little bit more. Whether or not the Yankees make the playoffs, I’ll be customarily handing out the annual Yankee Yapping Awards, as well as counting down the best moments this season in the “Top 13 of 2013.” (I wrote the “Top 12 of 2012” last year and enjoyed it, therefore I will certainly pen one for this year).

In addition to that, I’d like to do a career retrospective on Mariano Rivera at some point. I’ve done similar blogs about Jorge Posada and others. With time, I will write one for Mo and it will be up before the end of the year. Obviously spanning Rivera’s entire career and picking out his best moments will take time!

Thank you all for reading and look out for more posts and more Yankee Yapping!

Class always on display at West Point

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Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer once said, “I’ve never rooted against an opponent. I’ve never rooted for him, either.”

Some of what I’ve witnessed these past 20 days might leave Mr. Palmer rethinking his words.

On March 10 I made my way to Christl Arena at West Point to cover the New York State girls’ basketball regionals. The best team in my newspaper’s coverage area, Ossining, was matched up against a team located not far from the United States Military Academy, Monroe-Woodbury.

Ossining this season had arguably the best girls’ hoops player in New York State girls’ basketball history: a young lady who next year is heading to UConn by the name of Saniya Chong. This past season Chong broke the New York State all-time scoring record.

Along with that she holds countless records and has won an endless amount of awards – and if you have never heard of her, you’ll probably see her playing in many “March Madness” games for the UConn Huskies somewhere down the line, within the next few years.

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Ossining handed Monroe-Woodbury a 79-50 loss to advance to the Class A New York State girls’ basketball finals, which, by the way, they went on to win. But after winning the game for the region crown, I noticed how players from the losing Monroe-Woodbury team approached Chong, after being defeated.

And with appreciative and respectful smiles across their faces, the losers posed for pictures with her – in my two-and-a-half years of doing this, the most dignified gesture I have ever witnessed. In fact, the Ossining head coach called it “a class act” when I inquired about it in my postgame interview.

Twenty days later, some of the exact same class was clear and present at West Point.

Today, in the Yankees’ final tune-up of the spring before Opening Day on Monday, the Bombers visited the Army Black Knights for an exhibition; the 22nd time in the Yankees’ history they’ve played the Army baseball team. Coming into today, statistically, the Yankees had never lost to the Black Knights; a perfect 21-0 for the Yanks over Army.

If you watched closely though, today wasn’t really about stats, or even the action on the field.

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Yankee players were given a tour of the campus upon arrival at the Military Academy, ate pulled pork in the mess hall with the cadets, and in a lot of ways really embraced their opponents. Despite beating the Black Knights 10-5 (maintaining the win streak, the Yanks now at an undefeated 22-0 vs. the USMA), the Bombers went out of their way to show their appreciation for Army.

While not just posing for pictures with them, the Yanks (most notably Andy Pettitte, the injured Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner) hung out with the Black Knight players during the game in their dugout, while Joba Chamberlain left the bullpen for awhile and sat with the cadet spectators in the bleachers.

The Yanks signed autographs before the game and after, and in the spirit of sportsmanship high-fived the Army team following the final out – like a regular old Little League, high school, or college game.

The class just seems to pour out of West Point, doesn’t it?

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In this writer’s opinion, what transpired in these two games at the USMA within the past 20 days have proven that, no matter the sport or the level, gracious losers and respect for a team’s opponent do exist. The realm of sports is such a competitive environment, and in a world where the whole idea is to beat the other team, it’s nice to see.

Yet, we can’t expect the same kind of attitude from the Yankees on Monday. Opening Day they’ll face off with their fiercest rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

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Funny how quickly the Yankees are going to go from caring about their opposition to wanting to beat the other team more than anything in the world in a matter of roughly 48 hours.

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So Long, Swish

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Four years ago this very day – two days before Christmas, 2008 – the Yankees agreed to terms with free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, having already made agreements with free agent studs CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. By signing all three of them, the Yankees poised themselves for a strong playoff run; one that was capped by a 2009 World Series title.

Four years later on Festivus, or Dec. 23, it’s almost as if the Yanks are living in the Bizarro world. Instead of adding key players, the Yankees seem to be losing them.

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Catcher Russell Martin chose the Pittsburgh Pirates on Nov. 29, and just last night, the Yanks’ seemingly only clutch player in October, DH Raul Ibanez, signed back with one of his old teams: the Seattle Mariners.

And now, just this morning, it was reported that free agent right fielder Nick Swisher signed a four year, $56 million deal to play for the Cleveland Indians, a nice early Christmas gift for the tribe.

It was almost common knowledge that Swisher was leaving. The fans didn’t expect him to return, and although I have no way of knowing, I would think the front office didn’t expect him to return, either. After a difficult 2012 postseason, both offensively (5-for-30 at the plate) and defensively (a costly misplay in right field in Game 1 of the ALCS) Swisher’s chances of returning to the Bronx were slim to none.

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What strikes me the most is how the Yankees signed back three players who are older – Mariano Rivera (43), Andy Pettitte (40), and Ichiro (39) – but let two young(er) players in Swisher (32) and Martin (29, 30 in February) walk. Yes, they let Ibanez go, who is 40, but he was also basically the only hitter who did anything worthwhile in the postseason, so perhaps it evens out.

Bottom line: when the Yankees are accused of being a so-called “older team,” there’s no defense for it. If Red Sox fans – or Yankee haters anywhere in the world, for that matter – wish to call them the “Bronx Geezers” they are perfectly within their right, only because it’s accurate.

The youngest player the Yanks signed this winter was Kevin Youkilis – who’s 33 and will turn 34 on March 15, before the regular season begins. Add Youkilis to the mix of the 38-year-old Derek Jeter (39 on June 26 next year), the 37-year-old and injured Alex Rodriguez (38 on July 27 next year), and there’s no way around it:

The Yankees are old.

The way I see it, the only way for them to field a productive, young team again, like they did during the dynasty of the late ‘90s, is for them to draft better players (easier said than done, being that the Yanks will never have the first pick overall) – however, they will receive a first-round pick from the Indians because they signed Swisher and he declined the Yankees’ qualifying offer of one year and $13.3 million, an offer the Yankees made him on Nov. 9.

The Yankees get the pick as a result of a rule instituted under the collective bargaining agreement.

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They also need to develop the minor leaguers they already have in their system now; groom the “Baby Bombers” to be big leaguers instead of letting their young guys fade away into obscurity down on the farm.

But I digress.  Now that he’s officially leaving town, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to Swisher; remember all the great moments he’s afforded the Yankees and Yankee Universe over the past four years.

 

Out of the ‘pen…sort of

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What sometimes gets lost in the Yankees’ run for the 2009 World Series title is how awful a start they got off to. They were beaten 22-4 in April by the very team Swisher signed with today (the Indians) and in a lot of ways couldn’t buy a win, the Bombers taking their lumps in the early going of a championship season.

On April 13, 2009 – the Yankee bullpen already taxed and in need of assistance – Swisher came in, not from the ‘pen, but like a regular Little Leaguer right from his position in right field, and a tossed a perfect eighth inning on the road vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. It marked the first time Swisher took the mound since he was a freshman in high school.

Swisher was the first Yankee position player to pitch since Wade Boggs came on in relief on Aug. 19, 1997 vs. the Angels.

Manager Joe Girardi laughed about it after the season saying, “You have to wonder why I didn’t bring him in (to pitch) more. Swisher was the only one of our pitchers that didn’t have an ERA.”

September 8 was his date

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The Yanks gradually got a lot better following the rough the start in ‘09, winning 103 games when it was all said and done – none of those wins more important than Sept. 8 at home vs. the Rays.

In the bottom of the ninth tied 2-2, Swisher came up and lifted Dan Wheeler’s offering into the seats in right-center field, giving the Yankees a 3-2 win over the Rays, putting them one step closer to their eventual AL East crown.

Exactly a year later to the day, it was the same story, only against a different division rival.

At home vs. the Orioles on Sept. 8, 2010, Swisher once again came up with a chance to end the game, and did so with one swing. Swisher clubbed the ball deep off Koji Uehara, all the way into the visiting bullpen, giving the Yankees yet another 3-2 win – a win that prevented a sweep.

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Call it coincidence, freak luck; call it what you will, Swisher had a knack for winning games on Sept. 8.

A World Series Homer

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Swisher may not have put together the strongest postseason in 2009 in terms of offensive numbers, but he did manage to do what most players can only dream of doing: he hit a home run in the World Series.

In Game 3, the fall classic knotted at 1-1, Swisher homered to help propel the Yankees to an 8-5 victory over the Phillies, an impressive road win in the hostile environment of Citizen’s Bank Park. The round-tripper was one of only two hits Swisher collected in the World Series, but hey, at least he made it count.

Beating Tampa Bay for Bob Sheppard & “The Boss”

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The Yankees suffered two losses off the field in July of 2010. Bob Sheppard, the “voice of God” at Yankee Stadium had passed away on July 11 – and principal owner George Steinbrenner passed two days later on July 13.

The Yankees were off for the All-Star break when Steinbrenner died and when the news broke of Sheppard’s death. The Bombers faced the Rays in their first game back at Yankee Stadium on July 16, almost a must-win game.

After a beautiful pre-game ceremony, which concluded with Mariano Rivera placing flowers on home plate in memory of the fallen Yankee family members, the Yanks fell behind the Rays; trailed 4-3 going into the eighth.

Enter Swisher, who wouldn’t allow the Yanks to go down easy.

In the bottom of the eighth, Swish tied the game with a solo home run, and then ended it in the ninth with a spectacular, sharply-lined RBI single into right field for a 4-3 Yankee victory – one Sheppard and Steinbrenner would be proud of.

As per his classy personality, Swisher dedicated his big hits to the Boss.

“On a day like this when we celebrate his life, got to take him out on a W,” he told the media after the win. “Today was Mr. Steinbrenner’s day. Regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, we went out there and played that game as best as we could for him today.”

Taking out the Red Sox in grand style

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When the Yankees trailed 9-0 on April 21 this year on the road vs. the Red Sox, most fans (including myself) had given up hope; the game a lost cause and the afternoon a stinker.

But, as the Yankees learned in 2004, no lead is safe. And the Red Sox learned the same lesson they taught, as the Bombers rallied back from a nine-run deficit.

Once again Swisher proved his value on offense, being at the forefront of the comeback. He smashed a grand slam and a two-run double in the seventh to put the Yankees ahead, 10-9. They added five more runs in the eighth and embarrassed Boston 15-9 for a stunning victory; one that left Red Sox Nation in disbelief.

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On Aug. 17 Swisher continued to make the Red Sox collective life miserable.

He smacked two homers on the way to a 6-4 Yankee win over Boston at home; pouring salt in Boston’s wound and adding to forgettable Red Sox season.

To Swisher, at least, the game possessed the atmosphere of a normal, heated Red Sox-Yankees game.

“The way this game started, man, two teams battling it up…it felt just like a Yankee-Red Sox rivalry game.”

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On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere THANK YOU Nick Swisher for four fun-loving years of service. The patented “Swisher Salute” to the bleacher creatures in right field during roll call will be sorely missed, as well as your affinity for big hits and ear-to-ear smiles following Yankee victories.

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Although your time in New York ended on a sour note – a nasty elimination in Game 4 of the ALCS and a round of the blame game to boot – we truly appreciated everything you did in pinstripes.

Congrats on your lucrative, new deal and going back to your old stomping grounds in Ohio.

Best of luck with the tribe.

New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles April 24,  2011

Russell Martin’s Greatest Hits

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The Yankees got some good news this week and some bad news.

The good? Crafty veteran Andy Pettitte and the greatest closer of all-time Mariano Rivera will indeed be pitching in the Bronx next season, the Yanks inking one-year deals with both hurlers. Pettitte was signed for $12 million for 2013 while Rivera was locked up for $10 million.

For one more year, the Bronx Bombers will be treated with each pitcher’s services. Yes, good.

The bad news? The Yankees lost their starting catcher, Russell Martin, to free agency last night. Martin agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates; a deal worth two years, $17 million.

Just like that, the Bronx Bombers are without a viable starting catcher.

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It was quite surprising the Yankees didn’t at least pursue Martin in free agency, coming off a year in which he set a career-high in home runs with 21. His batting average (.211) may have been the lowest of his career, but the subpar BA shouldn’t have completely ruined his chances of returning.

Last year Pettitte came back on a dime, only signing for $2.5 million. The 40-year-old lefty was injured most of last season with a fractured ankle, as was the 43-year-old Rivera – who as we all know tore his ACL shagging fly balls on the warning track in Kansas City in May.

Martin, only 29 (although will be 30 on Feb. 15), (in this writer’s opinion) should have, at the very least, been offered something. Perhaps the Yanks could have given Pettitte and Rivera a little less – being that they’ll only be around for one more year, anyway – and reached out to the catcher for a deal.

Now, along with the likelihood of right fielder Nick Swisher not making a comeback and the Yankees needing to fill the void in the corner outfield spot, they will now need to seek an everyday backstop – which they’ll most likely be hard-pressed to do.

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Right now their options include signing A.J. Pierzynski, a 35-year-old (36 on Dec. 30) with a history of not being the “nicest kid in class,” so-to-speak; striking a deal with Mike Napoli, the 31-year-old free agent who put up numbers somewhat similar to Martin’s in 2012 (.224 BA, 24 HR, 56 RBI); or just using Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and/or Austin Romine in 2013.

Stewart served as Martin’s backup last season, mostly working as CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, while Cervelli spent almost the entire season in the minors – not to mention Cervelli has suffered a number of concussions over the course of his young career. Romine also has an injury history and has not played a full Triple-A season his entire career.

Now the course of action is up to the Yankees’ front office; a catcher possibly on the Yankees’ wish list. In the meantime, I’d like to look back on a few of Martin’s best moments in pinstripes. Although he was only a Bomber for two years, he provided the team with jolts and boosts to make them a better ballclub in 2011 and 2012.

A part of history

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The Yankees were off to a poor start vs. Oakland on the afternoon of Aug. 25, 2011. They had given the A’s a 7-1 lead by the third inning, the day looking like a lost cause; a stinker.

But Martin came up with a plan.

In the fourth inning he cut the lead down to 7-2 with a solo home run. Robinson Cano followed in the fifth with a grand slam to chop the lead to 7-6. Then in the sixth, Martin came up with the bases chucked and did Cano one better, crushing a grand slam of his own for his second homer in the game, giving the Yankees a 10-7 lead.

You would think the grand ol’ day was over, but there was more to come.

After Martin added another run on an RBI single as part of a six run seventh, Curtis Granderson smacked the Yankees’ third grand slam of the game in the eighth, the Yankees going absolutely wild on the way to a 22-9 win over the A’s. It was the first time a team had homered with the bases loaded in a single game three times in MLB history.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Martin told the media when it was over. “This game has been played for a long time. Pretty much everything has already happened. I’m waiting to see who’s going to hit four – I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen, but we’ll see. Three is pretty cool.”

Helping spoil the centennial

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On April 20 the Yankees visited Fenway Park, joining the Red Sox in celebrating 100 years at 4 Yawkey Way in Boston. After a rather bizarre toast by former Red Sox Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez, the Yanks got to work, putting some runs on the board and halting the BoSox behind the stellar pitching of Ivan Nova.

The Yanks basically had the game in the bag during the top of the sixth, up 5-2, but Martin added a run for good measure. The catcher clobbered a pitch off Clay Buchholz over the Green Monster – and over the Sports Authority billboard – a solo home run to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead to finish off the Red Sox.

Martin had already earned his pinstripes as a Yankee in 2011 when, towards the end of the season after a Yankee win over Boston, he said,

“We enjoy giving the Red Sox a hard time!”

 

Winning with the bat – and the arm

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Martin had a rough go of it the first half of the 2012 season, only batting .179 before the All-Star break. Manager Joe Girardi even pulled him aside and spoke to him about his struggles, hoping his pep talk might turn his fortunes around.

And in the first game back from the All-Star break, he proved the tables had in fact been turned.

Against the Angels at home on July 13, Martin knocked in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning RBI single. But his biggest contribution was yet to come.

With the Yanks leading 6-5 in the ninth, Howard Kendrick attempted to advance to second base on a ball in the dirt that almost got by Martin. But the catcher recovered nicely; picked up the ball and threw out Kendrick to end the game, propelling the Bombers to a win.

Sometimes it only takes one good game to give a player confidence going forward –and the solid effort certainly did give Martin confidence going into the second half of the season.

“I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself,” he told the media afterward. “And that’s never a bad thing.”

A Twitter shout-out

This is more of a personal moment, but I’ll throw it in, nonetheless.

In April of 2011, Martin conducted a Twitter Q & A. Hoping to get some recognition, I sent him a tweet question. Little did I know he would respond to me! (Note: he answered me back when my handle was @OriginalAJ615)

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(Follow me on Twitter @AJ_Martelli)

Walking off a hero

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Twice this year, Martin made the most of clutch situations.

On June 10 after Rafael Soriano had blown a save vs. the Mets at home, Martin brought his big stick to the plate. Tied 4-4 in the ninth, he hammered a pitch off Jon Rauch deep to left field for a home run to not only lift the Yanks to a 5-4 victory over the Metropolitans, but a Subway Series sweep of their cross-town rivals.

Three months and 11 days later, it was the same story. This time however, vs. the Oakland A’s.

Tied 1-1 in the ninth on Sept. 21, Martin pounded another pitch to left; another solo, walk-off home run to beat the A’s 2-1 with one swing.

It’s safe to say Martin knew how to play the role of hero in 2012.

Leading the way in Game 1

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The Yankees hadn’t beaten a team not named the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS since 2001, when they beat the A’s in five games. This year they were up against a familiar foe, the division rival Baltimore Orioles, in the first round of the playoffs, looking to finally quell a team other than the Twins in round one.

And it was Martin that set the table, playing a huge role in getting the Yanks out of the funk.

Knotted 2-2 in the ninth, the catcher broke the tie with a most impressive home run off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had saved 51 games during the regular season – which led the majors. Martin’s round-tripper started a five-run rally for New York, as the Yanks went on to take Game 1 from the O’s, 7-2.

Yet it wasn’t just his offense that proved to be the difference.

Martin also made two remarkable plays on defense behind the plate in the fifth, preventing a pair of runs from coming in. It seemed he was just grateful to help the team win, no matter how.

“Whether I help the team win offensively or defensively,” he said, “I am happy.”

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On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere, THANK YOU RUSSELL for the two years of service.

Best of luck in Pittsburgh. Tell A.J. Burnett and Jeff Karstens we say hi.

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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!

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.

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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.  

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