Results tagged ‘ Boston Red Sox ’

Yankees Are Swinging, Red Sox Must Rise

This week Spiderman once again webbed his way onto the big screen and into our hearts. In just about two weeks’ time, Batman will yet again make everyone say “oooohhhh” and “aaaahhhh” when “The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters.

While Spiderman and Batman will be squaring off against their sworn enemies – the Lizard and Bane, respectively – the Yankees will do battle this weekend against their primary foes, the Boston Red Sox.  The Yanks will travel into enemy territory tomorrow and play four games (including a doubleheader on Saturday; making up a rainout from April 22) in three days.

The Yankees are standing about as tall as the caped crusader on top of a Gotham City skyscraper at press time; 49-32, in first place, five games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. The Red Sox on the other hand look more like a defeated Joker, at 42-40 in fourth place in the east.

Tomorrow night Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA) will put on his cape and cowl, to do battle with one of New York’s fiercest adversaries, Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA). Kuroda has only faced the Red Sox once in his career – and it was a losing effort – but did not see many of Boston’s current hitters in that game.

However, two hitters Kuroda must look out for are Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross. Gonzalez is .261 lifetime off Kuroda with two homers and five RBIs. Ross is just as pesky, as he is .263 in his career with a homer and four RBIs against him.

Beckett has to watch out for Robinson Cano, who currently owns a .302 lifetime BA against him with two homers and 10 RBIs. Curtis Granderson has also punished Beckett in the past, hitting .241 with three home runs and four RBIs.

If they want to escape tomorrow night with a win, the Yanks have to step up. Despite his poor numbers on Cano and Granderson, last year Beckett puzzled the Yankees, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA against the Bronx Bombers.

Although it hasn’t been formally announced yet, Phil Hughes (9-6, 4.29 ERA) will throw on his cape and start one of Saturday’s games, coming off his spectacular winning performance on Sunday over the Chicago White Sox. Hughes will likely go head-to-head with Franklin Morales (1-1, 2.50 ERA).

Hughes is in a groove right now, but does not have good career numbers against Boston (2-5, 6.65 ERA).  He must be on the lookout for David Ortiz, who yesterday clubbed his 400th career home run. Two of those 400 came off Hughes, and he’s knocked in seven runs off the 26-year-old righty – all while possessing a lifetime .471 batting average against him.

The Yankees haven’t seen much of Morales, but Russell Martin does have an RBI on him.

Freddy Garcia (2-2, 5.94 ERA), almost playing the role of Robin filling in for Batman – helping fill the rotation void for a hobbled Andy Pettitte and an injured CC Sabathia – is slated to start the other game of the doubleheader.

Last time Garcia toed the rubber in Boston, it wasn’t pretty. At least not to begin with.

The Red Sox put a hurting on him, lighting him up for five runs in just 1.2 innings pitched on April 21. With some super-duper heroics, the Yankee offense bailed him out though, rallying from a huge deficit to beat the Red Sox, 15-9.

Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.42 ERA) started Boston’s losing effort on April 21, and will probably face Garcia again. Doubront has to beware of Granderson: he homered off Doubront last time and drove in two.

Who knows? Maybe Garcia vs. Doubront II will be another roller coaster ride; one that would put butterflies in the stomach of the Incredible Hulk.

Finally on Sunday night Ivan Nova (9-3, 4.05 ERA) will suit up to take on lefty Jon Lester (5-5, 4.33 ERA). Nova will look to get back in the win column on the road, having suffered his first loss away from Yankee Stadium since June 3, 2011 on Tuesday at the Rays.

No Red Sox hitter has numbers against Nova that jump out, except Dustin Pedroia, who has a .600 BA vs. the 25-year-old righty and two RBIs. Lucky for Nova and the Yanks, Pedroia has been ruled out for this weekend’s series with a thumb injury.

Lester meanwhile needs to be careful with several Yankee hitters. Granderson, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira have each homered off Lester in their respective careers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jayson Nix in the lineup Sunday, as he sports a .333 average against Lester with two homers and five RBIs.

When facing the Yankees Lester must feel like Lex Luthor, trying to beat Superman. But his biggest form of kryptonite has to be the Yankee third baseman.

Alex Rodriguez has three homers lifetime off Boston’s southpaw, with six RBIs. A-Rod has a chance to add to that total and hurt the Red Sox ace even more to close out the series.

Like Spiderman, the Yankees are swinging. But the Red Sox need to be more like Batman – and rise – if they wish to keep their postseason hopes and dreams alive.

And this weekend could be their only chance.

If the Yankees were to unleash a Boston Massacre, and sweep these four games in three days, it would put the Red Sox in a position where they would need to do nothing but win after the All-Star break.

Clean Rocket Fuel

Perjury was the case that they gave him. And he’s innocent.

Innocent?

In May, 2007 I sat in a sports bar with my dad. Roger Clemens had just agreed to return to the New York Yankees days before, having spent three seasons with the Houston Astros, dipping in and out of retirement.  I overheard another fan sitting at a nearby table, fawning over Clemens’s comeback.

“He is THE greatest pitcher of our era,” he said to his friend. “I’m so glad he’s back.”

Clemens went on to have a mediocre half-season for the Yanks, finishing 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA. He had to leave his only postseason start vs. Cleveland in the ALDS early with a groin injury.

Knowing Clemens’s history – admitting his career was over, only for him to rejoin his team halfway through the year – I never expected his start vs. the Indians in the ‘07 ALDS to be his last game. I got the feeling that Clemens, even at 45 years old, would somehow find his way back to the majors in 2008.

That is, until the can of worms was opened on Dec. 13, 2007; the possible secret to his longevity revealed.

Clemens was named in the infamous Mitchell Report, a 409-page document which deeply explored steroid usage in Major League Baseball.  The Rocket’s name was mentioned 82 times. Upon the release of the report, and his name being linked with steroid usage, Clemens vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs, steroids, HGH, or any other illegal substance in order to gain an unfair advantage on the diamond.

The main whistleblower in the whole ordeal was Brian McNamee, a former personal strength coach of Clemens and his former teammate and friend, the recently hobbled Andy Pettitte. McNamee confessed that he personally injected Clemens with steroids, sparking a huge he said-she said case.

In a nutshell, McNamee claimed, “Yes, Roger took steroids. I know because I gave them to him.” Clemens contended, “No, I didn’t take them. Brian is lying.”

Determined to tell his side of the story, Clemens appeared on 60 Minutes in January of 2007 to plead his case. In the interview, he stated that McNamee only injected him with Lidocaine (a pain reliever) and B-12 (or Vitamin B).

What particularly stood out to me in that interview was his response to Mike Wallace’s question about the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wallace inquired about what Clemens’s chances of making the hall might be, given the steroid allegations.

“What makes you think I give a damn about the Hall of Fame?” Clemens answered, in clearly a frustrated tone.

That did it right there for me. That response alone wiped away a great deal of respect I once had for the Rocket. No player, no matter what, should ever speak that way about the Hall of Fame, because being a member of that exclusive club is an honor every player should “give a damn about.”

The saga continued in February of 2008 when Clemens stood before congress and claimed he never used PEDs, steroids, or HGH. Being that Clemens swore under oath he never used steroids, if it came out that he was lying, he could have faced jail time – such is the punishment for lying under oath, or in judicial terminology, perjury.

The host of congressmen were divided during the hearing. In fact, I recall watching the coverage of the hearing and it seemed half of the committee believed Clemens and the other half sided with McNamee.

Talk about giving new meaning to the phrase, “a house divided.”

Clemens was indicted in August 2010 and his trial began July 13 of last year. The case was declared a mistrial and as a result Clemens was retried.

This whole mess finally came to a head 11 days ago, Monday, June 18, when Clemens was found not guilty on six counts of lying to congress about using steroids, HGH, and performance-enhancing drugs.

Where was I when I learned of the Rocket’s innocence?

Of all places, Yankee Stadium. I guess that’s poetically just.

Perhaps in a way to celebrate his successful trial, Clemens attended a Boston Red Sox game recently. He sat in the Green Monster seats, protected by a group of security guards. Maybe it was the Rocket’s way of attempting to endear himself back into the hearts of his baseball fans in Boston, where he started his career and flourished.

But it was for naught. Clemens was booed by the Fenway Faithful.

Clemens, to me, will now forever be a mystery. Now I have a barrage of questions that I’m not sure will ever be answered.

Should the fans, now knowing he technically didn’t lie, forgive him and consider him one of the most elite pitchers in not only Yankee history, but baseball history?

Does the fact that he was found not guilty really prove he was innocent? Or in other words, did he get away with perjury?

If he really was telling the truth, is he the rightful “greatest pitcher of our era?”

Despite his asinine comments, is he worthy of the Hall of Fame now?

If he came back to Yankee Stadium and sat amongst the bleacher creatures, how would he be received by Yankee Universe in comparison to how Red Sox Nation reacted to his presence?

I don’t know. And I might never know, for sure.

Red Sox Learn the Lesson They Taught

The game was in the bag. The Red Sox tore apart Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia and led 9-0 going into the sixth inning, ready to avenge their 6-2 loss to the Yank…Highlanders the day before – the day they celebrated Fenway Park’s centennial.

But Boston learned what they taught the Yankees in October, 2004: no lead is safe.

Mark Teixeira hammered a solo home run over the Green Monster in the sixth. The round-tripper was followed by a seven-run barrage by the Yanks in the seventh inning. If that wasn’t enough, the Bronx Bombers continued to slaughter the Boston bullpen, adding another seven runs in the eighth to complete an improbable comeback, finishing the Red Sox off, 15-9.

Incredible. An enormous lead and a surefire win for the Red Sox wiped away; another humiliating loss to their most hated rivals.

And to the Yankees and their fans: yet another feather in the cap; another triumph.

I watched the game up until the sixth inning. Basically I saw Teixeira’s solo home run, watched Philip Humber complete his perfect game vs. Seattle, and left the house, having covered a girls’ lacrosse game earlier in the day, and having been invited out to dinner by a group of friends last evening.

Assuming the Yankees were going to lose, I didn’t listen to the game on the radio in the car. I was left in utter disbelief when I found out the Yankees had pulled to within one run – and even more stunned when I heard they came back to win it.

As a matter of fact I was so excited, I did cartwheels in the rain. Here’s the proof:

Here’s what I made of the whole game…

Implosion

These past few seasons, the Yankees have a strange way about them when it comes to facing pitchers they haven’t seen. They don’t seem to generate sufficient offense against pitchers they have never faced. Because of that, it came as no shock to me that Felix Doubront was mowing the Bombers down one by one through the first six innings.

But Teixeira’s home run chased Doubront from the game and Boston’s bullpen – which is thin and weak – blew it. The Red Sox ‘pen pitched three innings, surrendered 14 runs (13 earned), issued four walks, and only struck out two batters.

It’s impossible to win when the relief corps can’t finish the game. Boston proved that yesterday.

Giving the Red Sox ‘pen the most problems was Nick Swisher, who not only clubbed a grand slam in the seventh inning, but picked up a go-ahead two-run double in the eighth which gave the Yankees a 10-9 lead.

Swisher finished the day with six RBIs – and he wasn’t the only Yankee with that many runs driven in.

Teixeira also punished the Boston relievers, notching six RBIs. He hit a three-run homer in the seventh to pull the Yanks within one run and later gave his team a cushion, smacking a two-run ground-rule double in the eighth to pad the lead.

Overall, what I took away from the bullpen collapse: a huge hole in their arsenal; a major vulnerability. If the Yankees were able to overcome a gigantic deficit and dismantle the Red Sox relievers, any team can – especially when the closer is blowing the game.

Alfredo Aceves is filling in for Andrew Bailey, the closer Boston signed to supplant Jonathan Papelbon.  The Red Sox have played 14 games this young season, and Aceves already has two blown saves.  He took the loss yesterday and his ERA is currently a bloated 24.00.

And it’s not just him.

Five of the six relievers the Red Sox used yesterday have an ERA over 4.00.

Boston is 4-10 right now, good for last place in the AL East. And if they don’t straighten out that bullpen in a hurry, things are only going to get worse for the boys from Beantown.

Freddy Garcia

Last weekend I covered a high school baseball game. It was a tight one, with one team winning by just one run, 4-3. The winning pitcher’s brother drove in what turned out to be the deciding run, and when I interviewed the pitcher after the game, he had one thing to say about his brother’s clutch hit that secured a win for him:

“I’ll be making a big dinner for him tonight.”

Freddy Garcia probably did the same for Swisher and Teixeira. They bailed him out of what would have been his second consecutive loss.

Garcia has not pitched a good game this year, at 0-1 with a 9.75 ERA. He’s averaged just four innings pitched per start, and only lasted 1.2 innings yesterday. The Boston offense did a nice job knocking him around in the early-going. Garcia let up five earned runs on seven hits without walking a batter and without recording a strikeout.

Not good.

It’s obvious his spot in the rotation is in jeopardy with Andy Pettitte about two and a half weeks away from being ready to re-join the show.

Via Twitter and Facebook yesterday, I read a lot of fan complaints about Garcia’s pitching. Lucky for them, he probably won’t be in the starting five much longer. When Pettitte returns, Garcia will most likely be relegated to the bullpen while the veteran southpaw gets slid into his rotation slot.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira

 

Twelve of the 15 runs the Yankees scored were driven in by Swisher and Teixeira. Both have been so streaky and hot-cold, but in the early part of this year have in a lot of ways cemented their value to the Yankees.

Swisher played a pivotal role in the second series the Yankees played this season in Baltimore, blasting what turned out to be the game-winning home run on April 11. The switch-hitting right fielder has 20 RBIs, which at the moment leads the American League.

There has been a lot of speculation (at least among some fans) about Swisher possibly being traded this year. But right now it’s not an option; the Yankees would be foolish to let him go, considering the way he’s been swinging the bat.

To bottom line it: Swisher is raking, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

As for Teixeira…

I don’t know how many times I heard Tim McCarver proclaim yesterday how much of a “notoriously slow starter” Teixeira is. Not that I usually agree with anything McCarver really ever says, but it’s true. Historically, the Yankee first baseman never comes out of Spring Training strong.

But in mid-2009 Teixeira claimed that his “home runs come in bunches” – and while it’s true he typically never gets off to a hot start, Teixeira’s statement about home runs coming in bunches is true.

Case in point: his two homers over the Green Monster yesterday.

Teixeira now has three homers on the year and is batting .288 with 11 RBIs. I wouldn’t exactly call that a slow start, but he has to become more of a situational hitter – like he’s been, so far.

Bobby Valentine

Throughout his tenure as Red Sox skipper, I never had anything negative to say about Terry Francona. I thought he did a lot right by his team; keeping troublemakers like Manny Ramirez in check and dealing with the unconventional, fun-loving ways of David Ortiz.

He led the Red Sox to the playoffs five times in the eight years he served as manager, winning two World Series titles along the way.

Francona will always be a beloved figure in Boston, like Joe Torre is in New York.

But after failing to make the postseason the last two years, the Red Sox brass moved him out as manager and moved in the always-controversial Bobby Valentine – who is a polar opposite of the type of manager Francona was.

Valentine has dug himself a fine hole, and hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the Red Sox fans. In both losses to the Yankees this weekend, the capacity crowds at Fenway Park in unison chanted, “We Want Tito!” at Valentine, showing their displeasure at how he has handled his team thus far.

I can’t say as I blame them.

Valentine has done a lot of talking and not a lot of winning, and I can see why that has rubbed the Red Sox fans the wrong way. He called out Kevin Youkilis, questioning the veteran third baseman’s commitment to the team. Valentine also agreed to appear on Michael Kay’s ESPN New York radio show once a week – another reason the BoSox fans are unhappy with him.

I’m not one to ever make predictions, because there’s an old saying about never being able to predict baseball. But looking at things objectively right now, I don’t see a way Valentine keeps his job all the way through the season. In other words, by the time the year is up, I don’t think he will be Red Sox skipper.

He may have been hot stuff in Japan, and he was able to maintain his post as head of the Mets for awhile, but Boston is a different type of baseball city. Valentine is a long way from Japan and even though New York and Boston are only 206 miles apart, he is light years away from his days as Mets’ manager.

The only way I see Valentine staying in Boston is if he closes his mouth and does some winning. Otherwise…

The game tonight has been postponed due to rain – probably the best thing to happen to the scuffling Boston team.

The Yankees (9-6), on the other hand, will go to Texas to play the Rangers tomorrow night, looking to roll their three game win streak into four.

Centennial Spoiled: Yankees Beat Red Sox

I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. People my age were getting ready to fight in the First World War, the Titanic sank like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and gas cost 7 cents per gallon.

Oh, and Fenway Park opened. And while many things have changed a century later, the home of the Boston Red Sox has not. Fenway has such a rich history and what some people may not know is that the 100-year-old ballpark once belonged to the Red Sox most hated rivals.

That’s right. The Yankees once owned Fenway Park.

When the Yankees signed Babe Ruth, the deal included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Ergo, not only did the Yanks receive Boston’s best player, they owned Fenway Park at the time. 

But the Red Sox eventually gained back ownership of their home. And yesterday Boston’s favorite sons honored their ballpark’s centennial with a beautiful pregame ceremony – and to a Yankee fan like myself – an even more beautiful 6-2 loss to the Bronx Bombers…or should I say the New York Highlanders.

A lot to go over here.  First of all…

Pregame Respect

The Red Sox celebrated Fenway’s 100th year with a wonderful ceremony before the game. Countless players from the days of old were brought back and honored, not unlike the last game at the old Yankee Stadium in September, 2008.

I have to admit, watching it gave me goosebumps. The Red Sox fans are just as passionate and as sentimental about their players (past and present) as the Yankee fans are. The history is another comparable aspect of both teams. Obviously a comparison can be drawn, considering the long and storied existence of the Red Sox and Yankees.

Personally, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw legends Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky in wheelchairs, being wheeled out to the field by recently-retired Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

Doerr and Pesky mean so much to their franchise, and it was nice to see them get the ovation they did.

It seemed the loudest reaction of the afternoon went to ex-manager Terry Francona. Tito came out and Fenway became unglued. I think the Boston faithful truly miss him, and would rather have a smart leader at the helm of the team (like him) rather than what they have now in Bobby Valentine.

Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, the Red Sox offered (an awkward) toast to the fans and to the ballpark. Longtime Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez saluted the crowd, then he and Kevin Millar grabbed microphones, and had some words while everyone went bottoms up.

“Who’s Karim Garcia?” Martinez asked, referencing the Game 3 brawl the Red Sox had with the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

“One more time,” Millar shouted. “Cowboy up!” – his catchphrase during the ’03 and ‘04 playoffs.

After that bizarre exchange of words, the ceremony ended. And with the Red Sox sporting the uniforms the team wore in 1912 – and the Yankees donning the vintage Highlander outfits, the game began.

Ivan Nova

What can you say about this young stud, other than that he has been the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher thus far. Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings and gave up just two earned runs on seven hits.

He didn’t issue a walk and struck out five batters.

Nova has really done a lot of good for himself, only three starts into this young season. It’s obvious he is locked in and focused; mixing his pitches, attacking batters with his slider, fooling hitters with his curve, and getting them to groundout with that tricky sinkerball.

What’s more, he isn’t killing himself with walks. He’s only issued two free passes this season – and both base-on-balls came in the same game (last Sunday vs. the Angels). He isn’t going out there and beating himself, to say the least.

With the win, Nova has now been the winner in his last 15 decisions, going back to last June – he hasn’t lost since June 3, 2011. His streak is the second-longest in Yankee history, behind Roger Clemens who won 16 consecutive decisions back in 2001.

Now at 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA for the year, Nova will have at least one more start this month (Wednesday April 25 @ Texas). If he manages to beat the Rangers, who are one of the hottest teams on the planet right now, I think it’ll be safe to say Nova is undoubtedly going to go on to have a wonderful year; possibly a Cy Young Award candidate when it’s all said and done.

It never hurts a pitcher to get off to a great start.

Long Ball

Derek Jeter reached base on an error by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the top of the first; as a matter of fact, “Luis Castillo” trended on Twitter because of the miscue. Alex Rodriguez came up later in the frame, smacking a single to bring Jeter to the plate.

But from that point on, it was a home run derby, Highlander-style.

Nick Swisher took Boston starter Clay Buchholz deep in the second inning, an opposite field homer over the Green Monster. Later in the frame Eric Chavez took Buchholz’s offering over the centerfield wall.

And he wasn’t done.

Chavez homered in his next at-bat, another shot that just cleared the wall in center. It marked the first time since Sept. 18, 2005 that Chavez smacked two home runs out of Fenway Park. He previously accomplished the feat as a member of the Oakland A’s.

After Chavez’s homer barrage ended, it was Rodriguez’s turn. A-Rod absolutely slaughtered a ball over the Green Monster, out of the park and onto Landsdowne Street. It marked Rodriguez’s 631st career homer, and with it he passed his old teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. on baseball’s all-time home runs list.

A-Rod is now in fifth place on the all-time homers list. In front of him? Now, only Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

You’d think that would be enough taters for one day, but it wasn’t.

In the top of the sixth, Russell Martin got a hold of one, smacking a home run over the monster and hitting the Sports Authority billboard. It was Martin’s first home run of the year, and it was all the Yankees needed to beat Boston.

What surprised me the most was that each home run the Yankees hit today was a solo home run; not one runner was on base when each hitter went yard.

Buchholz gave up all five solo blasts – and it wasn’t the first time this year a Boston starter surrendered five round-trippers in a single game. Josh Beckett gave up five home runs to the Detroit Tigers on April 7.

It’s encouraging to see the Yanks hit some bombs, but there’s an old saying about “living by the home run and dying by the home run.” They cannot be reliant on the long ball all year, but I suppose if you get an exemplary start, as Nova gave them today, it doesn’t matter.

Overall

This was a big win for the Highlanders…Yankees today. Beating the Red Sox the day they celebrated their ballpark’s centennial: that’s huge.  

Imagine if the Yankees had hosted the Red Sox instead of the Baltimore Orioles in the final game at the old Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox had beaten them. What kind of feeling would every Yankee fan have had?

Probably a very sick feeling. And that’s probably the feeling the Boston fans had today. As for the Yankee fans…it’s just another reason to gloat; another notch in our belts.

It was a major battle won for the pinstripe patrol, but the war is far from over. In fact, the soldiers will be right back out on the battlefield today at 4:00.

Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97 ERA) will lead the Yankees into battle, facing off with Boston starter Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA).

Breathing Down Our Necks

The 2012 MLB season is just about three weeks away. Players are currently in camp fighting for roster spots, getting in shape, and preparing for what will be a summer-long grind.

29 teams have the mentality of, “let’s put a good team together and have a fun season.”

The Yankees on the other hand have the mentality of, “when camp breaks we need to win the division, win the pennant, and then win the World Series.”

Good logic.

And as usual, it won’t be easy. A number of teams have bettered themselves during the off-season, and will pose huge threats to the Yankees bringing title number 28 home to the Bronx in October. A few teams will be breathing down the Yankees’ neck and they need to keep a sharp eye on them.

The top five are…

The Rays

When the Tampa Bay Rays first entered the league, they were almost a laughingstock; a joke that always finished at the bottom of the AL East. But in 2008 they came out of nowhere, capturing the division over the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and then going on to win the AL pennant.

Since then, the Rays have been pests; a team that won’t go away, no matter how many times a knockout blow is delivered to them. Last year they swiped the AL Wild Card from underneath Boston’s nose, and have been to the playoffs three of the last four years.

On offense this season, Tampa Bay might be under the microscope, at least a little bit. The Rays didn’t re-sign Johnny Damon in the off-season, but signed Luke Scott – who hit just .220 last year – to supplant him. After a year with the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays – and he only averaged .225 at the dish in 2011.

One of the only true powerhouses the Rays have at the plate is Evan Longoria, who only batted .244 last year, yet clubbed 31 homers.

With their seemingly thin offense, one might get to thinking, why are the Rays such a threat?

The answer is their starting pitching.

Number one man James Shields went the distance last year, tossing 11 complete games to lead the league in that category. He also threw four shutouts to lead the league, winning 16 games along the way.

Behind him is the pride of Vanderbilt, southpaw David Price. Last year Price compiled a 12-13 record; not the best numerically, but he was an All-Star and was coming off a season in which he won 19 games. He did prove to be a workhorse despite his uneven record, logging 224.1 innings and making 34 starts, which led the league.

Behind the 1-2 punch of Shields and Price is a supporting cast of excellent arms. 24-year-old Jeremy Hellickson is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. He threw 189 innings in ’11, won 13 games, and notched an ERA of 2.95.

Jeff Niemann won 11 games last year, as did Wade Davis, giving the Rays five pitchers with double digit wins.

If a team has that kind of efficiency out of their starting five, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Red Sox

Boston seems to be in a little bit of a state of flux. This off-season was busy in Beantown, as they let go of revered manager Terry Francona and signed on the ever-colorful Bobby Valentine to be their skipper. They allowed closer Jonathan Papelbon to walk, as he took his flame-throwing arm to Philadelphia to be the Phillies’ closer.

Two of their big-ticket starters, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, have undergone Tommy John surgery. Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season and Dice-K will be out until at least June or July, leaving the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their top starters.

Other than Beckett and Lester, the Red Sox have a ton of questions marks as far as their rotation in concerned. How will Daniel Bard make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation? Is Clay Buchholz going to perform at a high level?

Will Felix Doubront be a factor? What about Alfredo Aceves, who has had back problems in the past?

The starting pitching is not the only part of the team under scrutiny. Boston signed Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon in the closer role, and will insert former Yankee Mark Melancon into the setup spot, supplanting Bard.

How will Bailey handle closing in Boston as opposed to Oakland? Will Melancon rise to challenge of setting him up in close-game situations?

All of these questions won’t be answered until the season commences, but if the Red Sox score runs – and they are capable of scoring runs – it won’t be a problem. Although Boston got off to a horrendous start and a fatal finish, they still scored 875 runs, which was good enough to lead the majors in ‘11.

And they always seem to give the Yankees a hard time.

Last June Boston swept the Bombers in three games at Yankee Stadium, being led by Yankee killer David Ortiz. Big Papi smacked two homers in the series, and stirred up controversy when he flipped his bat in what many felt was a move to show up the Yanks.

Bottom line: Ortiz proved he still has it when it comes to making the Yankees’ lives miserable.

Along with Ortiz, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will undoubtedly be swinging a hot bat this year, as will All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .338 last season with 27 homers and 117 RBIs.

Like the pitching, speedy left fielder Carl Crawford and butch third baseman Kevin Youkilis are question marks. Crawford is dealing with a wrist injury that many analysts say caused a decline in his numbers last year. Youkilis had season-ending thumb surgery last August.  

If Crawford and Youkilis come back – and return to form – the Yankees, and all American League pitchers for that matter, need to look out. These two sluggers have the potential to cause major problems for the Yankees when they are at 100%.

All things considered, the Red Sox will have a potent lineup. And no matter what anyone says, the Red Sox are always in the back of the Yankees’ minds. Always.

The Tigers

Last October the Detroit Tigers dashed the Yankees’ hopes and dreams of winning the World Series, eliminating the Bronx Bombers in five games in the ALDS. New York was forced to watch the Tigers celebrate on their soil, as the team from the Motor City proved to be too much for the Yankees to handle.

And it may have just gotten more difficult to beat them.

This off-season the Tigers signed power-hitting lefty Prince Fielder, who clobbered 38 home runs and drove in 120 runs last year. The hefty first baseman has twice averaged .299 at the plate (2009, 2011) and in 2007 Fielder led the National League in homers with 50.

It’s what you can expect from a big guy, but don’t let the size fool you.

Despite his heavy, 275-pound frame, Fielder is durable. He has played in all but one game since 2009, appearing in all 162 games in 2011 and 2009. He played in 161 games in 2010.

Fielder will join the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, two powerhouses who have already proven their worth in Detroit. Last season Cabrera led the league in doubles (48) and batting average (.344). Like Fielder he is also durable, as he appeared in 161 games in ’11.

Young dazzled in last year’s ALDS vs. the Yankees, punishing them with a .316 BA while clubbing three homers and posting a .789 slugging percentage. He collected six hits in the five game series and drew two walks, showing his worth when the stakes were high.

Detroit is obviously the front-runner to once again win the AL Central, and behind ace Justin Verlander – the reigning AL Cy Young winner and AL MVP – their chances of taking the central are high. The other teams in that division pose virtually no threat, and potentially the Yankees could face the Tigers in the ALDS again this year.

If a rematch is in the cards, the Yankees have to adjust accordingly. It didn’t work out for them in last year’s postseason.

The Rangers

It’s no secret that Texas is one of the prime teams to beat, as they have represented the American League in the World Series the past two years. The Rangers lost their number one starter C.J. Wilson to a division rival, the LA Angels, but something tells me it’s not going to matter. The Rangers’ pitching will still be top notch.

Colby Lewis won 14 games last year, as did Matt Harrison. If you were to ask manager Ron Washington, he would probably say both Harrison and Lewis possess the stuff to be number one aces.  Alexi Ogando went 13-8 last year with a 3.51 ERA and he’ll be another weapon in the Rangers’ rotation.

Throw Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish into the mix, and you have quite a set of pitchers, although there are some questions surrounding Feliz and Darvish.

Feliz is making a transition from the bullpen to the rotation, so much like Bard in Boston, his performance depends on how well his stuff translates; how well he works being stretched out. If it goes well for him, and he throws as hard as he did working in the closer role, he’ll be a feared pitcher in the American League.

Like Feliz, Darvish is making a transition – but not from the bullpen. He’ll be making the switch from Japan to MLB. In his native country, Darvish was one of the finest and most revered pitchers. Last year alone Darvish struck out 276 batters over 232 innings of work, and won 18 games with a 1.44 ERA.

Those numbers can be deceitful, however.

Ask Matsuzaka, or Hideki Irabu, or Kei Igawa, or any pitcher who sparkled in Japan and fell apart here. Pitching in the states is much different than pitching in the Far East, so Darvish is basically going to be an enigma until we really see what he can do – and we won’t know what he can do until he logs some innings here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

As far as the Rangers’ offense goes, they won’t have many problems if Josh Hamilton stays healthy. Even if he spends time on the disabled list, they have plenty of power to make up for it. Mike Napoli, the Rangers’ catcher, smacked 30 homers and drove in 75 runs last year.

You know you’re going to be alright when you’re getting that kind of production out of the catcher spot.

Along with Hamilton and Napoli, there’s Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young – a perfect combination of veteran and youthful offense.

A message to the Yankees: when you’re in Texas, look behind you. ‘Cause that’s where the Rangers are going to be! (I couldn’t resist the cheesy/obscure Walker, Texas Ranger reference).

The Angels

In recent times the Angels have almost had the Yankees’ number, being the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bronx Bombers. LA’s pesky hitting coupled with their stellar pitching are going to make the Halos one of the best teams in the league this season, if not the best.

And it starts with one of their gigantic off-season acquisitions.

The biggest, obviously, is first baseman Albert Pujols. The slugging 3-time NL MVP signed with the Angels on Dec. 8 – and, as if LA wasn’t hard enough to beat already, they just got that much more difficult; that much deeper.

Pujols adds a surefire power bat to the lineup that already includes scrappy, young hitters like Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu gives the Angels a veteran presence, as do outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Last year LA scored 667 runs. Expect that number to go up in 2012.

Along with their strong offense, the Angels have stacked the deck as far as their pitching is concerned. As noted, the Halos snatched the Rangers’ ace C.J. Wilson over the winter, and he will join Dan Haren and Jered Weaver – who were both in double figures in the wins category last year. Haren notched 16 Ws while Weaver put up 18.

Ervin Santana sealed 11 wins last year with an ERA under four. If he does the same working in the back end of the Angels’ rotation this year, they are going to win a lot of games.

The Angels are pretty much the team that has it all; the complete package. If you were to ask me for my World Series pick, on paper, it would be the LA Angels.

But as Yankee Captain Derek Jeter always says, “on paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

True. But the Angels look awfully dangerous, and have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs twice, in 2002 and 2005. The last time the Yankees and Angels met in October (2009) the Yankees came out on top, beating the Halos in six games.   

They may need to do it again if they want to win number 28.

That Championship Season

*To all of my football lovers out there: this one is for the Giants. Because we were ALL IN.*

Before Super Bowl XLII in February of 2008, then-Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted his team would beat the Patriots by a score of 21-17. New York wound up beating New England in exciting fashion, 17-14. It may have taken another four years but last night Burress’s prediction finally came to fruition.

In Super Bowl XLVI the Giants beat the Patriots 21-17, in another exhilarating title match.

I can’t really explain why – maybe it’s just God’s way – but whenever the Giants and Patriots meet, the Giants seem to have their number. Two weeks ago I wrote about all the similarities between this year and their last Championship season.

And both Super Bowls proved to be just as comparable.

2007: The Patriots led at halftime, but not by a lot: 7-3.

2011: The Patriots led at halftime, and again, not by much: 10-9.

2007: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 17-yard line, Giants trailing 14-10 with just 2:39 left in the game.

2011: Eli Manning had the ball on his own 12-yard line, Giants trailing 17-15 with just 3:46 left in the game.

2007: On third and five Manning evaded what looked like a sack, threw up a Hail Mary, and miraculously hit David Tyree, who pinned the football up against his helmet for a 32-yard completion and a first down. The catch laid the groundwork for the winning touchdown.

2011: On the first play from scrimmage, Manning found Mario Manningham near the sideline and beating double coverage, hooked up with him for a 38-yard gain, giving the Giants prime field position to set up a score.

2007: Manning hit Burress in the end zone for a TD with just 35 seconds left on the clock. Tom Brady and the Patriots failed to move the ball into field goal range as time ticked down and lost by three points, 17-14.

2011: Ahmad Bradshaw hesitantly ran the ball into the end zone for a TD, leaving Brady and the Pats with only 57 seconds to score a touchdown. And once again, Brady and his receivers failed to move the ball down the field, losing by four points, 21-17.

2007: Manning wins the Super Bowl XLII Most Valuable Player award. He went to Disney World and the Canyon of Heroes – in that order.

2011: Take a guess who won Super Bowl XLVI MVP….Yes. It was Manning again. Today Manning was once again at Mickey Mouse’s home – and tomorrow he’ll be with his teammates in the Canyon of Heroes.

This year truly was, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu. Or déjà blue, depending on which way you want to phrase it. New York once again triumphs over New England, and gets the opportunity to celebrate a huge win.

Jubilation in New York. And for the fans in Boston; New England: more heartache.

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe had it right today when he wrote,

“History Repeats:

Instead of celebrating a grand slam–championships in every major sport over a period of four years and four months–New Englanders are spitting out pieces of their broken luck, bracing for the avalanche of grief from those annoying New Yorkers.”

Yeah, pretty much spot on.

Every fan of the Patriots must be saying “Mario (bleeping) Manningham” right now, the same way four years ago they were undoubtedly saying “David (bleeping) Tyree” – and just like most Red Sox fans in the past have exclaimed, “Bucky (bleeping) Dent” and “Aaron (bleeping) Boone.”

A win like yesterday is the type of victory that can carry New York bragging rights over New England for a long way.

I know as a fan of the Giants, and as a fan who doubted they would go anywhere this season, I was enthralled; fascinated. The familiar feeling of sports joy overcame me. One of my favorite teams won a title and I was so happy I got down on one knee and…I’m not calling it “Tebowing.” In the spirit of the win, I prefer to call it “Manning’ing.”

That’s what I did.

Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ Head Coach, seemed just as happy as I was, seeing as how he was on the hot seat when the Giants scuffled. Coughlin became the oldest Head Coach in the NFL to win a Super Bowl at 65 years. He is also only the second coach to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. Bill Parcells was at the helm of the squad for the Giants’ first two Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990.

As for Manning…well…

At the outset of the season he called himself an elite quarterback; a top five-caliber manager who deserves to be put on the same level as Brady. The media jumped all over that statement and put Manning under the microscope. When he struggled, they doubted his words.

But now that he has beaten Brady three times in his career – and twice on the worldwide stage – his bold words are now inarguable. Manning is an elite quarterback, and he is as every bit as good as Brady, if not better. He led his team in a total of eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season (including the postseason).

If that isn’t considered clutch, what the heck is?

And now, if anyone tries to call out Manning; say he isn’t one of the best QBs in the league, their point will be invalid. The proof of his greatness lies in his stat columns and the number of Super Bowl rings on his fingers.

No more Manning-bashing.

The Giants became only the fifth team in NFL history to win four or more Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers own six titles, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers both have five. The Green Bay Packers have four, and now, so does the so-called “Big Blue Wrecking Crew.”

That’s right. The Steelers have the most Super Bowl titles in history with six. Football certainly is a different game than baseball as far as the Championship goes, looking at the 27 World Series titles the Yankees have.

And speaking of the Yankees, Spring Training will be starting shortly. Pretty soon camp will start and before we know it camp will break, bringing the 2012 MLB season. Now that football season has come to a dramatic and happy ending, baseball is soon to begin.

And while we wait, we can enjoy yet another New York Championship.

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.

RAWR! Bring on the Tigers

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right back to where we started on Opening Day.

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

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

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

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

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

And boy, did the Yanks hurt following that rainout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodriguez was booed off the field – at home.

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

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

Not the case at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even in defeat, the Yankees upstaged the Mets.

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

What’s Different This Time Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Looks the Same

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

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

There’s also the A-Rod factor.

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

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

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

Once he does that, his power will return.

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

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

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

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

Boston’s Collapse

 

The Red Sox collapsed. I made a video.

End of the Year Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yankee Yapping Milestone Man Award

Winners: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player Award

Winner: Curtis Granderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year Award

Winner: CC Sabathia

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

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

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

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

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

Congrats, CC!

Yankee Yapping Silver Slugger Award

Winner: Robinson Cano

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Yapping WTF?! Award

Winner: A.J. Burnett

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

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

But those thoughts were not well-founded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnett I have one question for you: WTF?!

Yankee Yapping “He Proved Me Wrong Award”

Winner: Ivan Nova

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Yapping Best Season From a Newcomer

Winner: Russell Martin

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year

Winner: David Robertson

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

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

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

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

Congrats David!

Yankee Yapping Future Star Award

Winner: Jesus Montero

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congrats Jesus!

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

October, here we come.

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