Results tagged ‘ CC Sabathia ’

What we learned in the first half

Tony Pena, Kevin Long, Joe Girardi

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

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

Masahiro Tanaka – Man, not Superman

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

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

Then Tuesday happened. Superman lost his cape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Alfonso Soriano just not built to last

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mark Teixeira still has it

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

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

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

 

David Robertson can indeed close

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

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

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

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

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

Get it?

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

 

Dellin is dealin’

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Swan Song of Derek Jeter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Renegades Stun Yankees with Lockwood’s Walk-Off Homer

By A.J. Martelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All ex Yankees kill the Yankees

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The Yankees are currently on a cold streak that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze in the god-awful Joel Schumacher film “Batman & Robin” look like an Oscar-worthy portrayal. The Bronx Bombers have become the Bronx Bums, losing four straight, however they did snap the losing skid by beating the Oakland A’s 2-1 this afternoon. The Yanks have dropped six of their last 10, falling to third place in the AL East standings in the process.

Six games out of the division lead behind both first place beasts the Toronto Blue Jays and second place contenders the Baltimore Orioles, the Yanks obviously have some catching up to do. What’s unfortunate about some of their recent bad luck has been, specifically, the players who have been beating up on them.

A slew of former Yankees have come back to burn the Yankees – and as a junior baseball historian (if I may call myself that) I’ve noticed the evident concept of former Yankees punishing the Yankees, and it’s not a series of random isolated incidents; rather a pattern that’s developed over time: all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

Allow me to demonstrate.

April 27, 1982 – Reggie Jackson

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Reggie Jackson became one of the most beloved Yankees in the late 1970s, helping carry the team to two World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. With three home runs in (the series clinching) Game 6 of the ’77 fall classic, a candy bar named after him, and a tremendous amount of popularity, his legions of Yankee fans were disappointed when management didn’t bring him back for the 1982 season.

So, in his first at-bat in his return to Yankee Stadium, Mr. October showed them what they’d lost.

As a California Angel, he hammered a home run off former teammate Ron Guidry. Yankee Universe was so upset that he wasn’t in pinstripes anymore, that as he rounded the bases they chanted “REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” in support of its old flame.

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George Steinbrenner would later say, “letting him go was the biggest mistake I made as Yankee owner.”

This is where it started.

 

June 14, 2003 – Tino Martinez

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Tino Martinez was not re-signed after the Yankee Dynasty fell in the 2001 World Series, getting supplanted by powerhouse Jason Giambi (to play first base). He went to the St. Louis Cardinals, and was pleasantly surprised when a trip to Yankee Stadium appeared on the 2003 MLB schedule.

When the “Bam-Tino” returned he was greeted with open arms by the Yankee fans; cheers and fond memories abounded the night of June 14.

He dug in to a chorus of applause in the second inning, and took his former teammate Andy Pettitte deep for a two-run homer – much to the delight of all in attendance.

After the game Martinez lightheartedly said, “Andy Pettitte was a little flustered because, here I hit the home run and they’re giving me a standing ovation. He’s like, I really love you, but c’mon!”

And he wasn’t done.

In the ninth inning he clubbed yet another two-run tater, showing the Yankees what they’d been missing. He accounted for all four runs the Cardinals scored, albeit it was a 13-4 Yankee win.

“My teammates were like, this is the greatest place I’ve ever seen,” Martinez continued. “And I said, I told you – this is the greatest place of all to play.”

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It’s also worth noting that Martinez smacked his 300th career homer on March 30, 2004 against the Yankees as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He touched up Felix Heredia for the milestone home run in an 8-3 Rays win.

It’s no wonder the Yankees brought him back in 2005.

 

July 10-12, 2009 – Bobby Abreu

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Bobby Abreu was a stellar trade deadline pickup in 2006, filling a void the Yankees needed to plug in right field. He may not have been the best when it came to defensively playing the outfield wall, but man could he swing the bat.

And when the Yankees didn’t return him for the 2009 season, he made them pay.

Like Jackson, Abreu went to the Angels. When the Halos hosted the Yankees for three games right before the ’09 All-Star break, he slammed his former ‘mates hard. The numbers tell the whole story.

In those three games, Abreu went 6-for-14 (.428) with six RBIs and three runs scored. He played a huge part in the Yankees losing all three games – getting swept before a few days off. The Angels beat the Yankees 10-6 in the first game, 14-8 in game two of the series, and 5-4 in the finale.

Abreu also smacked a grand slam on April 13, 2010, the day of the Yankees’ 2009 ring ceremony, off now-Yankee closer David Robertson. He nearly spoiled the day, crushing the slam in the ninth inning, but the Yanks held on for a 7-5 win.  

April 15, 2010 – Hideki Matsui

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The man known as “Godzilla” pieced together quite an amazing career in pinstripes. Coming over from the Far East in 2003, he was a Yankee through 2009, when he went out with a bang: winning the World Series and collecting MVP honors of the ’09 fall classic.

Yet, like Jackson and Abreu before him, the Angels came calling when the Yanks didn’t bring him back for 2010.

The night of April 15 in his first year not playing Major League Baseball in pinstripes, Matsui took his former teammate Phil Hughes deep in the second inning.

Hughes watched the ball sail over the right field wall at the big ballpark in the Bronx with the countenance of a stiffened corpse.

More from Hughes later.

 

May 10, 2010 – Johnny Damon

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Johnny Damon was one of the Yankees best turncoats, putting on the pinstripes after becoming a revered player in Boston. Following Matsui’s example, he helped the Yankees reach and win the World Series in 2009, stealing two bases in one deft move in Game 4 to damage the morale of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The proverbial “man of steal” went to the Detroit Tigers after 2009, and was pitted up against his old team on May 10 the following season; the Yankees in MoTown for a four-game set.

In his first game facing off with his old friends, Damon blasted a solo home run off starter Sergio Mitre. His round-tripper proved to be significant, being that the Tigers beat the Yankees by one run, 5-4.

Damon wound up collecting four hits on his former team in the four-game series while scoring two runs.

 

May 14-15, 2013 – Raul Ibanez

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Raul Ibanez was as clutch and as solid as they come in 2012 for the Yankees, seemingly creating magic on a nightly basis in the ’12 postseason. Time after time he came up to bat in key spots, and always delivered.

The Yanks let him go after 2012, and he signed with the Mariners for 2013 – and he basically wasted no time showing the Yankees what they were missing.

On May 14 Ibanez teed off on CC Sabathia, warping a two-run homer. He finished the night 2-for-4 with the tater and a run scored, although the Yankees escaped the night with a 4-3 win.

The next night, however, Ibanez stuck it to the Yankees big time.

In the first inning he took Phil Hughes deep for a grand slam, and ended the night with six RBIs and two runs scored. The Mariners went on to win in a squadoosh, 12-2.

April 4-6, 2014 – Melky Cabrera

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Melky Cabrera spent 2005-2008 up and down with the Yankees, but in 2009 found a permanent home on the 25-man roster. Like Damon and Matsui he left after winning the ’09 title, getting traded for Javy Vazquez.

One of radio announcer John Sterling’s quirky calls for Cabrera (whenever he did anything positive as a Yankee) was, “the Melk man always knocks twice.”

At the beginning of this season, the Melk man knocked his old team three times as a Toronto Blue Jay.

On Friday April 4 he welcomed newcomer Masahiro Tanaka to the bigs with a leadoff home run; a rude welcome to MLB for the Japanese import. The Yanks had the last laugh, however, beating the Jays 7-3.

The next day he gave David Phelps something to think about, taking him deep in the eighth inning. His solo job paid dividends, because the Jays won 5-4.

The third time was the charm on April 6 – the series finale. Cabrera punished the Yankees yet again, homering off his former teammate CC Sabathia. The Yankee offense picked the big man up, and the Yankees went on to win 6-4.

The Yankees may have won the series, yet three homers in three consecutive days – off the bat of a player they gave away for a lousy pitcher (Vazquez) – is enough to make any Yankee fan face-palm.

May 11, 2014 – Mark Reynolds

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Mark Reynolds was acquired by the Yankees on Aug. 15 last year after being designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians. The Yanks may have thought they could catch some lightning; perhaps get a much-needed offensive spark from an unlikely source.

In all, Reynolds played 36 games in pinstripes. He finished his short-lived Yankee career with six homers, 19 RBIs, 15 runs scored and with a .236 BA. However, combining his numbers with the Indians, he finished 2013 overall with 21 home runs, 67 RBIs, a .220 BA and 55 runs scored.

Not too bad, but maybe his low batting average and his strikeout count from ’13 (154) was too much for the Yankees. Whatever the reason, they allowed him to walk and he caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Mother’s Day this year, as fate would have it, Reynolds had a chance to remind the Yankees what they let go of when he was at the plate with a runner on third in a 5-5 game at Miller Park in the bottom of the ninth.

Reynolds wrapped a single to left field to plate Rickie Weeks, giving the Brew Crew a walk-off, 6-5 win over the Yankees.

A former player burned the Yankees yet again, and something else to chew on: Reynolds has 13 homers this year and 28 RBIs – more than the Yankees’ team leader in both categories. Mark Teixeira leads the Yanks in homers with 10 and RBIs with 27.

 

May 12-13, 2014 – Curtis Granderson

New York Mets at New York Yankees

Not long after Reynolds made the Yankees remember him, Curtis Granderson gave them a grim reminder of how deadly he can be. Granderson, a Yankee from 2010-13, became a fan favorite while in pinstripes. His stroke was perfect for Yankee Stadium, and it showed.

When his four-year Yankee career was all said and done, Granderson finished with 115 homers (for the Bronx Bombers, not counting his time in Detroit) and 307 RBIs. Yet a cumulative batting average of .242 – and an injury plagued 2013 – most likely made the Yankee brass shy away from bringing back the “Grandy Man.”

That’s when the cross town Mets came calling. Granderson answered for four years and $60 million.

When he returned to Yankee Stadium May 12, Granderson took his old buddy Hiroki Kuroda deep in the sixth inning, a two-run bomb that proved significant: the Mets beat the Yanks by two, 9-7.

The very next night he showed the Yankees up again, this time with a three-run tater in the top of the first off Vidal Nuno. The Mets wound up winning 12-7, taking two Subway Series games at the big ballpark in the Bronx.

Lucky for the Yankees he cooled off when the Subway Series took the Citi Field: Granderson went 0-for-7 in the final two rivalry games with three strikeouts.

 

 

June 1, 2014 – Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez

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Phil Hughes came up in 2007, dubbed by The Sports Illustrated the “next Roger Clemens” or in SI’s own words, “the pocket rocket.” Hughes was anything but, finishing his tenure in New York with a record of 56-50. Last year alone, his final year in pinstripes, he went 4-14 with an ERA of 5.19, letting up 170 hits in 145 2/3 innings.

Altogether he allowed 112 home runs as a Yankee pitcher, so naturally the Bombers had a chance to chastise him for all that grief this past Sunday, when he made his return to Yankee Stadium as a Minnesota Twin.

No such luck.

Hughes tossed eight innings of two-run ball on just three hits. He walked only two and struck out six, on the way to his sixth win of 2014. The Yanks couldn’t figure out their former middle-of-the-rotation hurler.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins

And it only got worse.

Earlier this year the Yankees opted to designate shortstop Eduardo Nunez – the untouchable piece they wouldn’t let go of in a deal that would’ve sent ace Cliff Lee to the Yankees in a potential 2010 trade that fell through. Nunez was acquired by Minnesota on April 7.

On Sunday the Twins took a 3-2 lead in the ninth – doable, perhaps, for the Yankees to battle back from. But Nunez came up and doubled in Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier, padding the Twins’ lead. Thus, the game was out of reach and the Yanks ended up falling 7-2.

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A double dose of former Yankee torture.

 

April 29, May 1, & June 2, 2014 – Robinson Cano

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Robinson Cano is not welcome at Yankee Stadium anymore, as evidenced by these three games. After inking a lucrative deal with Seattle this offseason, leaving Yankee fans high and dry, it seemed, Cano made his return to Yankee Stadium on April 29.

An RBI and a run scored on Cano’s part helped the Mariners win a 6-3 game against the Yanks.

A rainout pushed the second game of the series back a day, and on May 1, Cano snatched another hit off his old team and drove in two more runs. Seattle won 4-2.

The makeup of the rainout happened this past Monday night; Cano went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two walks. Seattle once again bested the Yankees, 10-2.

The numbers don’t exactly leap off the page, but looking at the box scores closely, the former beloved second baseman quietly helped slam the Bombers down in the Mariners’ games vs. New York this year. Cano still has a chance to do more damage on his former ‘mates next week, when the Mariners host the Yanks June 10-12 at SafeCo.

And more damage was exactly what Cano did. The slugging second baseman once adored by Yankee fans and now reviled homered off Masahiro Tanaka in the ninth inning to break up a shutout, although the Yankees won 4-2.

After all this proof one has to wonder what’s next. When the Yankees host the Tigers Aug. 4-7, is Joba Chamberlain going to record some saves on the Yankees?

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Will Hughes throw a perfect game vs. them when the Bombers go to Target Field on July 3? Is Cabrera going to smack three more home runs off Yankee pitching on June 17, when the Yankees get back from their upcoming road trip and host the Blue Jays?

It wouldn’t be shocking if they did. Because it’s as factual as it gets.

All ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

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July 10 – UPDATE!

As I typed this blog up on June 4-5, I continually had to go back and keep adding to it. Now, a little over a month later, (not thinking it was possible) I am returning to pile on even more pain caused by former Yankees.

Here goes.

Steve Pearce – June 20-22, 2014

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If you blinked at all during the 2012 season, you may have missed Steve Pearce. He was acquired by New York from the Astros for cash on Aug. 27 and designated for assignment on Sept. 25, probably going hardly noticed bysome fans.

A journeyman, he made his way to the Orioles this year – and made sure the Yankees knew what they’d willingly given up not even two years ago.

On June 20 Pearce went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored in what would’ve been an Orioles win over the Yanks had it not been for some late-game heroics off the bat of Carlos Beltran.

The next day Pearce duplicated his performance from the day before; in fact he did it in more spectacular fashion. Pearce homered off Vidal Nuno, a two-run tater that helped lead the O’s to a 6-1 win over the Yankees.

In the series finale he finished off his assault with a 2-for-4 clip. In that three-game set, overall he went 6-for-13 with a homer, four RBIs, two runs scored and two walks.

Not bad for a guy the Yankees axed right before the playoffs. He’ll have a chance to leave more of a lasting impression on his old team this weekend, as the O’s host the Yankees right before the All-Star break.

 

Nick Swisher – July 7-10, 2014

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The “Swisher Salute” was a staple of every roll call at the outset of every Yankee home game from 2009-2012, but when Nick Swisher got offered a huge deal from the Cleveland Indians, it was time to say goodbye to the beloved right fielder.

This week Swisher darn sure made the Yankees pay for giving him up.

On Monday night he took a mighty hack and broke up Shane Greene’s no-hitter in the fifth inning, homering over the big wall in left-center field.

That’s right. One Swisher swing; no-hitter gone, shutout gone. Yet it made little difference, because the Yankees went on to get the better of the tribe, 5-3.

However Tuesday night, he took another swing that surely made a difference.

Off Tanaka, the Yankee ace, Swisher smacked a go-ahead two-run homer over the wall in right-center to give the Indians a 4-3 lead. Cleveland would go on to hand the Yanks a 5-3 loss, playing to win from behind.

If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday Swisher was at it again; knocking in two runs with a single right away in the first inning off new Yankee starter Brandon McCarthy. The Yankees would fight back and take that game 5-4 in 14 long innings, but just for good measure, Swisher added a base hit in the series finale tonight – which ended in a 9-3 victory for the Indians

 

Chris Dickerson – July 7-10, 2014

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Believe it or not, Chris Dickerson was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2000, but opted for college instead of pro ball. He was good enough to be drafted again, the second time by the Cincinnati Reds. After making his MLB debut in Cincy in 2008 and enjoying a stint with the Brewers, he was eventually picked up by the original team that drafted him in a deal that sent Sergio Mitre to Milwaukee.

Dickerson was up and down with the Yankees throughout 2011 and 2012, but they ultimately designated him for assignment and released him.

The reason? An overabundance of left-handed hitters.

Great reason to cut somebody, right?

A free man, he went to the Orioles and Pirates before finding a home recently with the Indians. In this past four-game set this week, Dickerson collected seven hits and scored four runs on the Yankees.

That’s not even the best part.

In an even funnier story, last year when he was with Baltimore, he clubbed two homers off Phil Hughes on May 21 – this of course being in 2013, when Hughes was still wearing pinstripes.

Dickerson gets bonus points: he went back-to-back; killed the Yankees last season and this season.

I’m just going to go ahead and end this post with,

To be continued….

UPDATE! Sept. 23

Yes. There is more.

Kelly Johnson – Sept. 14, 2014; Sept. 23, 2014

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Kelly Johnson, we barely knew ye. This year Johnson became the first player ever to put on the uniform of every team in the AL East. In fact, in 2014 alone he’s played with three of the five beasts from the east. He started with the Yankees in New York, where he played 77 games and hit .219 with six homers and 22 RBIs.

At the trade deadline Brian Cashman swapped him for Stephen Drew, shipping him over to Boston. Johnson played in just 10 games with the reigning champs and batted .160 with no homers and just one RBI.

The Red Sox let him go and the Baltimore Orioles took him from there.

On Sept. 14, in a Sunday night game the Yanks needed to take from the O’s for the sake of the standings, Johnson delivered the death blow in a 2-2 game; an RBI double capping a ninth inning Orioles rally to finish off the pinstripers by a count of 3-2.

Johnson proved yet again that all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees Sept. 23 in the Bronx when he homered off Brandon McCarthy. He finished the night 3-for-5 with the round-tripper, in what turned out to be a 5-4 Baltimore win over New York.

 

No hits and hat tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

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

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

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

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

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Tip of the Hat on #TBT

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks for the kind words, John!

You can follow me on Twitter @YankeeYapping and @AJ_Martelli

Keys to the Kingdom

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‘Tis the season of the cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather. Yes, MLB Spring Training is finally here, and yesterday the Yankees began their string of exhibition games. As it is, the Bronx Bombers dropped both of their first two Grapefruit League games to Pittsburgh, losing 6-5 Wednesday and 8-2 today – though we all know final scores are probably the least important stat when it comes to Spring Training.

It’s all about fine tuning and getting ready for April, when the scores count and the Yanks embark on their quest for World Series title number 28. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, who as we all know announced his retirement after this upcoming season, declared today that he wants to go out a winner:

“We’re the last team standing and we win the championship.

That’s the only way I envision it ending.”

In order for that happen, a lot has to go right. First of all…

CC Sabathia needs a bounce-back campaign

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Last year CC Sabathia faced arm problems, really for the first time ever in his career. The Yankee ace lost 13 games in 2013 and only won 14, coming off 2012 when he won 15 – a far cry from the 21 and 19-win seasons he put up in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last season Sabathia’s ERA was 4.78, the highest earned run average he’s ever posted in his career.

If you’re the type of analyst who likes to throw wins and ERA out the window, here’s something to chew on: Sabathia let up 28 home runs in 2013 – another career-high for a single season. If that isn’t enough, here’s something else to consider: Sabathia served up more taters than Phil Hughes last season, the former homer-happy Yankee and now-Minnesota Twin. Hughes allowed 24 hitters to leave the yard last year compared to Sabathia’s 28.

Yes. You know it’s bad when you’ve given up more long balls than Hughes.

There’s no debating the fact that Sabathia needs to turn it around; be the ace the Yankees bought him for prior to 2009, or at least be close to what he was. It’s not too much to ask, mostly because he’s already proven the type of anchor he can be to a pitching staff.

To his credit, Sabathia slimmed down and lost some weight. According to Michael Kay of YES, Sabathia came into Spring Training last year just under 300 lbs., whereas this year he showed up around 275 and visibly thinner.

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Obviously Sabathia is taking serious steps towards getting back to form, but he needs to cut down on the home runs and be clutch this year if the Yankees want to be that last team standing.

Stay healthy, New York

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You cannot predict injuries. It’s a fact of sports life. In recent times the Yankees have had a ton of hard luck when it comes to injuries, and they haven’t been able to field a complete team.

New Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury has failed to appear in 100 games in two of the last four seasons because of injuries. In 2010 the speedy center fielder only played 18 games and in 2012 he played just 74, thanks to fractured ribs as a result of an outfield collision (’10) and a collision on the base paths trying to break up a double play (’12).

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In between he’s been as solid as they come, though. 2011 was Ellsbury’s best season to date. With 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, a .321 batting average, 212 hits, and an All-Star nod, he was arguably the best all-around player in the American League. Being the runner-up for the AL MVP award, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, is only a testament to how fantastic he truly was in ‘11.

That begs the question, which Ellsbury will be showing up in 2014? The perennial All-Star or the injury prone player who gives up his body en route to disabled list stints?

And Ellsbury is just one example.

To supplant Herculean second baseman Robinson Cano, who split for Seattle, the Yankees signed Brian Roberts – a 36-year-old second sacker once feared by all as a Baltimore Oriole, but has only played 192 games over the last four seasons on account of injuries. (Roberts managed to play 77 games last year, 17 in ’12, 39 in ’11, and 59 in ’10).

Doing the math, Roberts has missed 456 games over the past four seasons; DL stints and concussions have eaten him up. Keep in mind, specifically, he ruptured a tendon behind his right knee last April vs. Tampa Bay attempting a steal of second base.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

Knowing all that, will Roberts be a comeback player and offer reliability, or will he simply be unproductive and relegated to the disabled list for a large chunk of the season?

The question marks of Ellsbury and Roberts are of course piled on top of apprehension about Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Jeter (39, 40 in June) as we all know is coming off ankle injuries that limited him to 17 games in 2013, while Teixeira (33, 34 in April) is coming back from wrist problems that only allowed him to play 15 games last year.

How each of these players respond is obviously a “to be determined” but at the same time there is no crystal ball in existence to let us know if they’ll be able to grind out the entire season injury-free.

The bullpen has to be effective

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It’s fair to say the Yankees’ bullpen was probably their weakest link last year, even with the legendary Mariano Rivera at the back end closing everything out – which really tells you the whole story. This writer keeps asking himself,

“If the bullpen wasn’t that good with Rivera last year, what can we expect without him this year?

David Robertson, as of now, is expected to succeed Mo in the closer role, which is scary to think about. If you recall in 2012 when Rivera’s season ended on May 3 on the warning track in Kansas City, Robertson was plugged into his spot as closer, but he didn’t cut it.

In just his second save opp a week after Rivera went down, Robertson failed to protect a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay, giving up a three-run homer to Matt Joyce. He later gave up another run and the Yankees went on to lose, 4-1. Robertson called it afterward “the worst feeling in the world.”

Luckily in 2012 the Yankees had the option of using Rafael Soriano in Robertson’s stead – an option that worked out well, given that Soriano saved 42 games in Rivera’s absence.

Now, similarly, the Yankees have signed former Oakland A’s closer (and 2009 AL Rookie of the Year) Andrew Bailey, albeit to a minor league contract. Bailey has 89 saves to his name in his short career, with experience as a closer, making him the logical choice to succeed Rivera over Robertson.

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However…

Bailey, like a lot of other Yankees, has a history with injuries. In 2012 he had reconstructive surgery on his right thumb, and just last year an MRI revealed he had a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.

It’ll come down to whether or not Bailey can make it back from injury and be a shutdown pitcher like he once was. For now though, the Yankees have a premiere setup man in Robertson – and that’s about it, because Robertson isn’t a proven closer.

At least not yet.

Looking outside the back end of the bullpen, the middle relievers need to step up too. Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne are going to be two important pieces to the bullpen, along with newcomer Matt Thornton, the tall order who’ll replace Boone Logan (now with the Colorado Rockies) as the main southpaw out of the ‘pen.

Sources are saying former top Yankee pitching prospect Dellin Betances will be vying for a spot in the bullpen this spring, as it’s already been established by Yankee GM Brian Cashman that he will be a reliever in the long run. Betances could either prove to be a key middle reliever or long reliever, yet he has to pitch well enough for the Yankee brass to have faith in him – and well enough to keep himself off mopping duty.

The Opening Day bullpen is likely going to come down to whichever relievers are effective during Spring Training, and the point stands: they have to be effective, whoever they may be when camp breaks.

Masahiro Tanaka has to adapt

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Nobody is expecting Masahiro Tanaka to go 24-0 and post an ERA under 2.00 in his rookie season, but if there is one thing the new, prized Japanese import must do, it’s get acclimated to the MLB style. His numbers in Japan were far better than a lot of the other Japanese-born pitchers who’ve come over from the land of the rising sun, meaning he could potentially have a huge year, but the average fan might not realize a couple of things.

First off, pitchers in Japan throw only once a week, whereas here in the states, Tanaka will have to toe the rubber once every five days. Not only that, but the NPB in Japan also uses smaller-sized baseballs compared to an official MLB rock, therefore an adjustment needs to be made in that respect.

The biggest difference will be the hitters Tanaka faces. Monsters such as David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Prince Fielder will probably pose bigger threats (and are more intimidating) than the more tactical batters he went eye-to-eye with in Japan.

Though one could argue Tanaka won’t be fazed by the Goliath-like giants he faces here in the U.S., given his cool demeanor and calm presence at his introductory press conference.

While it’s perfectly fine to expect Tanaka to succeed – and he will – it’s reasonable to presume he will go through his growing pains. Adjustment is the biggest part of his game.

We’ll get our first live look at Tanaka on Saturday afternoon in the Yankees’ exhibition vs. the Phillies.

They have to make each other better

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The key to any successful team is chemistry. Most of the 2014 Yankees will be first-time teammates, not having played with each other before. While some like Jeter, Teixeira and Brett Gardner have been together for a few seasons, newbies like Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have not had a chance to jell as teammates.

If you look back to 2009 – and the Dynasty years, for that matter – a player could have an off-night, but the rest of the team would be on. For example,

In 1998, Tino Martinez might have an “0-for” night, but Jeter, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill would be firing at will, and the Yanks would win. The next night Jeter could have gone 0-for-4, but Martinez and everyone else would still be en fuego.

Those teams were the masters of picking each other up.

If the 2014 Yankees can perfect that same art, they’ll be as lethal as any team in baseball.

And the kingdom will be theirs.

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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!

Back to yapping

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

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

But since then, the vanguard has vanished.

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

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

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

Stray-Rod

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a lifetime ban fair to A-Rod?

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

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

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

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

 

Could they hit land if skydiving?

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

Consider these rankings:

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

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

Could the Yankees hit land if they were skydiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps…

Sori, not Sori

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

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

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

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

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

A fair point. 

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

 

A “Mo”ment for the ages

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

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

One way to describe it: beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

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

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

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

 

A look at the Baby Bombers

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final quick hits

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

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Hey, we’re not so bad! Yankees survive, raise eyebrows in April

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A weak lineup full of holes. A shoddy pitching rotation. One or two strong arms in the bullpen. No Derek Jeter, no Alex Rodriguez, no Mark Teixeira, and no Curtis Granderson.

No faith; no belief.

The mentality of most Yankee fans on Opening Day was, to put it mildly, not good. The Bombers bombed on April 1, losing in convincing fashion, 8-2, to their most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox; a bad loss on their home diamond to begin the season. But after a couple of games they started to get it right, and here we are a month later, the Yanks looking at a 17-10 record – in second place, and just two games out of first.

Get some faith. Start to believe.

As usual, a few storylines have enveloped the first month. First, and probably most important…

Mariano Rivera is back & better than ever

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On May 3, 2012 Mariano Rivera’s future looked bleak. After suffering a torn ACL on the warning track shagging fly balls in Kansas City, the “hammer of god” watched the majority of last year from the sidelines. With the veteran, 43-year-old closer’s future in question, he opted to return in 2013.

And boy, has he made his comeback mean something thus far.

Rivera slammed the door 10 times in the month of April and upon sealing last night’s 5-4 victory over the Astros has 11 saves for the year. The best part of it all: he is 11-for-11 in save opps.

Mo has been his usual, perfect self.

I attended Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Blue Jays, and sat in the right field bleachers above the Yankee bullpen. When Rivera got up to start warming, readying himself to enter the game and eventually close the game, he received a huge ovation – even before he customarily ran out of the ‘pen.

Expect this to be a recurring theme all season, given the announcement of his retirement at the end of 2013. Not to mention other teams have (and will) go out of their way to send Rivera off in a respectful manner. And it’s all well-deserved.

What can you say? He is bigger than the game.

Low-scoring affairs and one-run wonders

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For a team beat up, battered and bruised, the Yankees have obviously been able to keep their collective heads above the proverbial water. However, it hasn’t exactly been easy to do. Of their 17 wins this year, there haven’t been too many blowouts; not a lot of huge wins.

Aside from a 14-1 thrashing of the Cleveland Indians back on April 9, the Yankees have played in some incredibly tight ballgames. Three of their last four wins have been one-run victories, and their two previous wins before those last four victories were decided by just two runs: a 5-3 win on April 25 and a 6-4 win on April 26 – both over the Blue Jays.

It would be nice to have a few more of those 14-1 type games, and see the Yankees put some runs on the board. Yet it’s not as if the formula isn’t working, because the Yanks are 10-1 in games decided by two runs or less this season – which is good for the best in the bigs in games of that kind.

If nothing else, they’re becoming battle-tested in close games, which down the stretch will help them.

Robinson Cano still swinging a hot bat

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A power outage was anticipated when the Yankees lost Nick Swisher (24 home runs in 2012) and Russell Martin (21 home runs in 2012) – that of course went with temporarily taking away all the power numbers Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter provided.

But the one constant power player in the lineup is Robinson Cano.

Last night Cano clubbed his eighth home run of the year, which put him at 185 taters for his MLB career, tying him with another Yankee warrior – Paul O’Neill – for 17th place on the all-time Yankee home runs list.

O’Neill, by the way, who is NOT portraying Ted Danson’s character Sam Malone in a Cheers remake.

In any event, Cano is carrying the offense; lighting up the scoreboard on the Yankees’ side in most of these games in the early going. His sweet swing keeps getting sweeter and his defense continues to be top-notch. There’s no doubt his RBI count is going to climb higher and higher, and his average will be significantly over .300 throughout the course of the year.

Having Cano on your side is almost the same as playing a game of doubles in tennis, and having a brick wall as your partner. And the Yankees have that brick wall.

CC Sabathia sharp (but twice not sharp)

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I’ll be the first to admit I was a little bit worried (and dejected) when CC Sabathia got absolutely shelled in Game 4 of the ALCS last year, the big ace losing the final game of the Yankees’ season to the Detroit Tigers. My worries were well-founded and even multiplied when I found out he wasn’t pitching at 100% and needed surgery in the offseason on his pitching arm.

Then Opening Day happened: four earned runs on eight hits, four walks and five Ks in only five frames to a loss to the Red Sox.

Not very encouraging to see, but as usual he turned it around. He won his next three starts, beating the Baltimore Orioles, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the very team that slaughtered him in the playoffs last year, the Tigers.

Then came Sabathia’s last two starts.

The big man was once again shellacked, this time by the Tampa Bay Rays. In seven abysmal innings he let up five earned runs – three of which were served up on home runs. He hit a batter, walked two, and in his only good stat of the night, struck out eight.

His fastball was flat, he was hanging his breaking ball, and needless to say it wasn’t pretty.

Things seemed to be going in the same direction in his last start vs. the Blue Jays: a dead fastball and bad breaking stuff. He turned it around though, and battled back to actually pick up a win in one of the most valiant efforts of this young season.

Sabathia went 4-2 in April, and believe it or not, this marks the first time in his career he’s picked up four victories in the first month of the season. I think it only proves that Sabathia is so good that even when he isn’t doing well, he’s doing well.

We’ll see how everything carries over on Friday when he toes the rubber vs. Oakland in his first start in the month of May.

Injury bug still chomping away

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There’s an old saying about foul weather: when it rains, it pours.  And coming into the season without Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, and Rodriguez, the Yankees were short-handed enough.

So it rained, right? Well. Then it poured.

Francisco Cervelli and Kevin Youkilis became two more bruised Bombers, Cervelli fracturing his hand behind home plate on Saturday and Youkilis out with a bulging disc in his back. What hurts even worse is the fact that both players were doing a fine job offensively in a lineup that clearly needs not only effective hitters but more specifically, right-handed bats – Cerv and Youk both being right-handed hitters.

The front office’s hand was forced because of these particular injuries: catcher Austin Romine was called up from Triple-A Scranton to supplant Cervelli, and as announced after last night’s game, the Yankees traded for infielder Chris Nelson, acquiring him from the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named later. Nelson was obviously moved to aid in Youkilis’s absence.

Youkilis was placed on the 15-day disabled list, but Cervelli was put on the 60-day DL. Anymore of these injuries happen, the Yankees might need to start pulling fans out of the bleachers to play.

“You know where the outfield is? Great! Here’s a glove, go stand out there.”

Making a splash

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The day after Opening Day is always an off day. I’m not sure I quite understand why, but as long as I can remember, it always has been. On the off day this year, I was covering a girls’ lacrosse game when my dad called me. It turns out he met Vernon Wells while doing some work at his job.

A very impromptu meeting – nothing major; according to my dad, he just said hi to him, didn’t bother him too much.

The day after his meeting with my dad, Wells hit a home run and he’s been raking ever since. So far the veteran outfielder has smacked six home runs and he’s batting .298, which isn’t bad by any means. In fact, it’s quite a pleasant surprise, and Wells is a reason the Yankees are in such a good position right now.

I’ll go ahead and just say it: Wells is doing…well.

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Then there’s Travis Hafner, who also has six long balls and 17 RBIs. The lefty-hitting slugger known as “Pronk” or “Project Donkey” is helping make up for whatever power was lost to free agency during the offseason.

Brennan Boesch isn’t jumping off the page as much as Wells or Hafner, but for what it’s worth, he’s making contributions to the team when needed. The same can probably be said about Ben Francisco, but in fairness he had a home run last night that narrowly crept over the wall in left field, his first dinger of the year.

If one of them can be as heroic as Raul Ibanez was last year, I think I can safely say we’ll all be happy. However, the four of them are sure as heck a step up from anything Andruw Jones did last year.

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April wasn’t a bad month for the Yankees.

What do ya got, May?

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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.

Swisher Salute!

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

Youk can’t be serious

In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. this morning – a tragedy that hit rather close to home – I thought it might be nice to blog about something good, or at least go back to Yankee matters. Instead of ending the day on a sad note, it might be nice to write about something positive, because positivity is what we all need right about now. Once again, thoughts and prayers are with those affected here in Newtown.

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Within the last 72 hours, the unfathomable has occurred. Longtime Yankee nemesis, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, has jumped ship. The former member of the Red Sox signed a one-year deal valued at $12 million, and will indeed play for the “Evil Empire” in 2013. Youkilis will be filling the void at third base which will be left by an aging and ailing A-Rod, who will not return to the team from rehabbing from his hip surgery until mid-season.

Yes, it’s really happening.

Youkilis joins a number of former Red Sox who have made the switch from Red Sox Nation to Yankee Universe, and even he admitted he was shocked that he’s changing teams – coming to the Yanks being painted so heavily with Red Sox colors.  According to Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch, Youkilis was said to be “humbled” and “amazed.”

It’s important to keep in mind Youkilis was moved to Chicago last season and played for the White Sox before becoming a free agent this off-season, and the Red Sox never made him an offer to return. That might take a little bit of heat off him in the eyes of the Boston fans, but the reaction he receives when the Yankees first visit Fenway Park on July 19 this season will be interesting.

What will also be interesting will be his relationship with (now) teammate Joba Chamberlain.

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Youkilis and Chamberlain have a noted past – and by “noted” I mean hostile. Chamberlain has thrown at Youkilis multiple times over the years, and the so-called “Greek god of walks” never took too kindly to it. However, I did read earlier today that Chamberlain has already reached out to Youkilis on the phone – but Youkilis has said he hasn’t had time to return the call.

Hmmmm. OK.

Now, the Yankee fans can only hope Youkilis will help them, as oppose to punishing them, as he has in the past wearing the Sox; do some great things for them rather than against them. With Boston and Chicago Youkilis smacked 13 lifetime home runs vs. the Bronx Bombers, including one of the loudest blasts this writer has ever heard on April 24, 2009 – when he smashed a walk-off home run over the Green Monster off Damaso Marte; a well-struck shot to lift the Red Sox past the Yankees.

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If history shows us anything, this move could be good for the Yankees and has the potential to pay dividends. A few noted former BoSox have gone on to thrive in pinstripes.

It all started with

Babe Ruth

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Yes, the Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout. The King of Crash…and every other one of his nicknames we learned in “The Sandlot.” The Babe brought his power and might to the Yankees, as we all know, after a stint in Boston.

It seemed almost instantly when Ruth joined the Yankees they became relevant. The Bombers won their first World Series in 1923 and the rest is basically history. His presence made the Yankees a better team – and before he got there, he was a member of the Red Sox.

Of course later in the century there was

 

Wade Boggs

Boggs brought his six batting titles from Beantown to the Bronx, where he rode off into the sunset in 1996. The one picture that remains printed in everyone’s mind is undoubtedly Boggs on the back of the horse after the World Series that year.

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Then after Boggs was

 

Roger Clemens

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Like Youkilis, Clemens spent time with another team after his time in Boston – the Toronto Blue Jays – before making his debut in New York in 1999. The Rocket accomplished with the Yankees what he couldn’t with the Red Sox: winning the World Series (in ’99 and 2000).

Clemens also captured the AL Cy Young in 2001, and remains the last Yankee to ever win the coveted award (CC Sabathia won the AL Cy in 2007, but as a member of the Cleveland Indians).

It might even make sense for Youkilis to take Clemens’s number, 22. I don’t think there’s a chance they give him number 20, which belonged to Yankee fan-favorite Jorge Posada for 16 years.

Anywho, the next notable BoSock to turn heel was

 

Johnny Damon

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Or, as the Red Sox fans called him, “Judas DamoNY.”

In making the leap from Boston to New York, Damon had to shave his beard and cut his hair; and it obviously didn’t affect his play on the field. The outfielder gave the Yanks four remarkable years of service, capping it off by stealing the show in the 2009 World Series.

Literally.

World Series Game 4 - New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Damon, in one of the most heads-up plays of all-time, stole second base and third base in one deft move, putting himself in scoring position to line the Yanks up for a 7-4 Game 4 win over the Phillies.

There are also a number of other players to go from Boston to New York and vice versa: Derek Lowe, Ramiro Mendoza, Alan Embree, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Myers, Don Baylor…the list can go on and on. Some have made lasting impressions, other haven’t.

Of the players mentioned, Ruth, Mendoza, and Damon are three that have won the World Series with both Boston and New York. Youkilis, a World Champ in 2004 and 2007 with Boston, will look to add his name to that list.

If the history among Ruth, Boggs, Clemens, and Damon is any indication, it’s certainly possible. And from a fan’s perspective, maybe Youkilis can serve as a lightning rod; spark the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which was in a lot of ways dormant for most of 2011 and all of 2012.

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In other news

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Ichiro has decided to return to the Yankees, agreeing to come back on a two-year deal worth between $12-13 million.

The Yankee Stadium outfield, through 2014, can be called “Area 31.”

It surprised me to see Ichiro get two years, being 39 years old. The reason may have been because of the Phillies – they might have forced the Yanks’ hands.

From what I gather, Philly was ready to offer Ichiro two years and close to $14 million, probably looking to fill one of their outfield holes. Last year Philadelphia traded away center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers – and now Victorino has signed with Boston for three years.

Lucky the Yanks were able to negotiate with Ichiro and get him back before Philly snagged him, being that Nick Swisher is basically gone and the option of signing Josh Hamilton is off the table. Not that I expected the Yankees to make a run for him, anyway, but nonetheless the option no longer exists with Hamilton’s agreement with the LA Angels yesterday afternoon.

Next year’s Yankee outfield is looking like:

 

                                             CF Curtis Granderson

LF Brett Gardner                                                                        RF Ichiro

 

If nothing else, the Yanks will have an awful lot of speed and athleticism in the outfield.

Russell Martin’s Greatest Hits

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at New York Yankees

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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