Results tagged ‘ Curtis Granderson ’

Moms are just awesome

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There’s something sweet every year on this day in baseball. The pink bats, the pink wristbands, pink cleats, and for the first time this year, pink seams lacing together each piece of cowhide. And whether they express it or not, every MLB player takes the field with one special person on their mind.

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The one who drove them to baseball practice over the years. The one who came to every game to sit in the bleachers and watch. The biggest fan: mom.  

The Yankees today couldn’t have done a better job honoring their moms, scratching out a 4-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. The Yanks are now winners of five straight and have taken sole possession of first place in the AL East in front of Boston (by two games) and Baltimore (by one game).

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Yes, the Yankees – sans Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Kevin Youkilis – are in first place. That is not a misprint, it is a fact.

It’s difficult to explain how the Yankees continue to do it. It’s not as if they are blowing teams out. With the exception of Friday’s 11-6 win in KC, the rest of the victories during the Bronx Bombers’ current win streak have been decided by two runs or less.

Sure, run scoring remains to be an issue, but when a team is receiving outstanding starting pitching and the bullpen is as solid as a rock, it’s a “no harm, no foul” picture. As a matter of fact, going into yesterday night’s 3-2 win the Yankee bullpen was 5-1 over the previous 14 games with an ERA of 2.23.

Now that’s efficiency.

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Using his pink bat this afternoon Robinson Cano set off a bomb that landed in the seats in right field, a two-run tater that gave the Yanks a lead 2-1. Right after he left the yard Vernon Wells – who has found new life in pinstripes – did him one better: a spectacular solo shot to left field, back-to-back jacks to give the Yanks a 3-1 lead. Wells added an RBI single in the fifth, and that was all the runs the Bombers needed to win.

Though I can’t say for sure, I’m convinced it’s a safe bet to say the Yankee mothers would be proud.

On Mother’s Day I usually like to pull out a special baseball and hold it. When I was 10 years old in 1997 my grandmother gave me a baseball with the printed signatures of the first five inductees of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which by the way are Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner.

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My grandmother passed away in 1998, the year after she gave it to me. I’m going to keep the ball forever, and it’s just a special keepsake I’ll always have.

Along with holding the ball every Mother’s Day a tradition, for me, is the retelling of a classic story proving why my mom is the greatest of all-time.

The night before my fourth or fifth birthday, my mom slaved away all night making me a Batman cake. She baked it, and then labored trying to ice it. My birthday is on June 15 – and it was apparently a hot night. The blue icing kept melting, so my mom had to keep putting the cake in the freezer, thus having to start over several times.

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After all the hard work, it looked perfect. (I had a picture of me next to it, but unfortunately it’s stored away somewhere and I don’t have it and obviously couldn’t include it). When I woke up the next morning she expected me to be overwhelmingly excited at how the cake turned out.

Actually, not so much.

According to her, my exact response upon first view of her hard work was, “it’s great, mom. Where’s my cereal?”

The fact that she didn’t get angry – or even kill me after saying that – is a testament to what type of person she is.

When you’re young you take everything for granted. But as an adult, you start to recognize the types of things your mom does for you; you tend to appreciate her a lot more. Without taking anything for granted, I truly appreciate everything my mom has done, and continues to do, for me.

Yes, I love my mommy. I hope that makes me a good son.

And as for the Yanks: they’ll be looking to keep on making their moms proud tomorrow. In Cleveland they’ll play a doubleheader vs. their old friend Nick Swisher and the Indians, making up two games which were rained out on April 10th and 11th. David Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA) is on the bump in the first game, and as announced after this afternoon’s win, newcomer Vidal Nuno (0-0, 0.00 ERA) gets the ball in the second game.

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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Moving Right Along

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While there’s plenty of offseason left and the Yankees haven’t seen a lot of back page action, there’ve been a few recent stories from the so-called “Bronx Bomber Front,” if you will.

First and foremost, the Yankees signed back 2007’s two breakout pitchers, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, inking both to one-year deals to avoid arbitration. Hughes was signed back for $7.15 million while Chamberlain was given just $1.88 million – startling, considering these two were pegged as the future of the Yankee pitching staff, and they’re coming back on a dime with no long-term commitment.

The 27-year-old promising rookies of ’07 haven’t exactly shown much promise.

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In this writer’s opinion, 2013 will be their final chance to prove whether or not they are truly the new breed of Yankee arms. Last year Hughes went 16-13 with an ERA of 4.23, which is somewhat respectable for a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but he was second in the majors in the home runs allowed category with 35. Not to mention he gave up two more long balls in the playoffs while posting a record of 0-1 in October.

If Hughes doesn’t get it straightened out this coming season, I’m afraid his time in pinstripes may be up. His main problem, as noted every year in Spring Training, seems to be his faith, or lack of faith, in his breaking ball. Hughes is characteristically a high-fastball pitcher, and when he hangs his breaking ball, hitters absolutely feast off it.

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Bottom line: Hughes needs to right many wrongs this year, if he wants to stay a Yankee.

Chamberlain’s biggest problem in recent seasons has undoubtedly been his inability to stay healthy. In 2012 Chamberlain logged just 20.2 innings in 22 games, a bizarre ankle injury claiming most of his season.

It got worse for him in the playoffs when, in Game 4 of the ALDS, Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles shattered his bat facing him; the broken shard of wood coming back and striking Chamberlain in the elbow, forcing him out of the game.

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Aside from an electric debut in 2007 and a 2009 World Series ring, I would say it’s not unfair to compare Chamberlain to another injury-prone pitcher: Carl Pavano – who, I just read today, ruptured his spleen shoveling snow.

Why am I not surprised? Only Pavano. I mean…who else would that happen to?

But back to Chamberlain.

2013 will be a test for him. And if he fails, like Hughes, Chamberlain might have to bow out of the Bronx – and as we saw with Nick Swisher, it could potentially be a not-so-gracious departure.

Along with Hughes and Chamberlain, the Bombers announced the re-signing of another 27-year-old pitcher, David Robertson. The setup man from Alabama received $3.1 million for one year, also avoiding arbitration.

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Typical move that made sense. Obviously the Yankees weren’t letting go of him. I suppose they got him for so cheap because of his 2-7 record last year – as he also proved he may not be suited to fill Mariano Rivera’s cleats. In his first save opp following Rivera’s season-ending injury, Robertson blew it vs. Tampa Bay and lost the closer role out to Rafael Soriano, who as we recently learned walked to the Washington Nationals.

Thankfully for the Yankees, Rivera is returning. And I expect Mo to be Mo, barring any lingering effects from his torn ACL. If his body responds nicely, it’s good news for the Bombers. However, as we saw with Chien-Ming Wang a few years back, leg injuries can damage a pitcher’s footing, causing a world of problems.

Then again, Wang’s injury was different from Rivera’s. Wang injured his pivot foot running home during an interleague game in Houston. Nonetheless, we’ll find out just how Mo will do after he runs out of the Yankee bullpen in April, “Enter Sandman” blaring through the Yankee Stadium speakers.

In addition to the retention of some pitchers, the Yankees announced that on March 30, in their last exhibition before Opening Day, they will travel to West Point and face the ARMY baseball team at the United States Military Academy.

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Ever since they announced this special game, I’ve been wondering which key players the Yankees will bring to West Point. Being two days before Opening Day, I’m not exactly sure if many of the regulars, like Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Ichiro, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano, will be playing.

I could see them bringing a few bigs, but certainly not all of them. I’d also like to explore the possibility of covering this game, if humanly possible. I might have to ask my publisher and editors to contact West Point for a credential to get in. I’d be honored to cover such a game, even though it’s simply an exhibition.

One player who won’t be at West Point on March 30 (at least not there to play, anyway) is Alex Rodriguez. The third baseman had surgery on Jan. 16 to repair a torn labrum, a procedure that was said to have gone off without a hitch.

Today Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman was interviewed on WFAN radio in New York and said Rodriguez may miss the entire 2013 season, although it is believed he could be back after the All-Star break.

A-Rod is signed on for a long time – through 2017, to be exact. I’m probably not in the minority here; a lot of folks probably feel the same way, but I for one would be interested to see how the Yanks would fare for a whole year without the 37-year-old slugger-in-decline. The postseason, should the Yankees make it, would be most interesting sans A-Rod, for sure.

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Think about it: if the Yankees go all the way with no Rodriguez, it’ll be the classic “we never needed A-Rod to win” mind frame. By chance the Yankees get ousted early – or don’t make the postseason at all, for that matter – it’ll be the heavy “we need A-Rod to win” spiel.

Again, interesting for sure.

In the meantime, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Tampa on Feb. 12 and their first full workout will take place the very next day. Position players report to camp on Feb. 17; their first full team workout scheduled, again, for the following day.

The Yanks’ first exhibition game will happen on Feb. 23 at the Braves – the tune-up games beginning nine days earlier because of the World Baseball Classic this spring. Teixeira will play for the USA team, which will be managed by former Yankee skipper Joe Torre.

Cano will play for the Dominican Republic squad, so even though real, meaningful baseball will not completely return until April 1, we’ll be treated to some Yankees playing in games featuring quality competition.

Until then, basketball and next Sunday’s Super Bowl are dominating the sports pages. Just for the heck of it, I’ll entertain you guys with a story from a high school girls’ basketball game I covered a couple weeks back.

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Basically this winter my editor put me on the girls hoops beat. My responsibility is to attend games and write about the girls’ basketball teams in our coverage area – and our newspaper has two of the top-ranked teams in New York state, which makes the job a lot of fun. The girls have been enjoying a tremendous amount of success these past two months.

On Thursday Jan. 10 I was covering a game; the final score being 38-32. Pretty close and low-scoring game, all the way through.

After interviewing the coaches from the winning team and the losing team, collecting their thoughts and impressions, I went to interview the girl with the most points on the winning side. The young lady, a junior forward, finished with 19 points (including two, 3-point field goals) leading all scorers.

Before I could conduct my interview, her friend ran up to her and embraced her, giving her a big hug. Standing next to her with my recorder in hand, ready to conduct the interview, her friend (in an attempt to be discreet, although I heard every word) asked her,

“Is that your boyfriend?”

She looked at me chuckled and replied, “No, he’s…the interviewer.”

Confused, yet aware of what her friend had asked her, I looked at her and said,

“Wait, did she just…”

Smiling, and clearly a little embarrassed, she mustered the response,

“Yeah, she did.”

With a beat red face I tried my best to shake it off, and then carried on, conducting my interview with her.

First of all, at 25 years old I’m so glad I look young enough to still be in high school. Makes me feel so grown up. And secondly, when things like this happen, it gives me more and more motivation and incentive to want to take the next step in my career; cover pro sports and not just high school games – risking incidents similar to this one because I apparently look as if I belong on “Barney & Friends.”

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Not that I haven’t had a taste of pro sports coverage – I did, covering the Hudson Valley Renegades and Eli Manning’s appearance at the Guiding Eyes Golf Classic this past summer – but I’d like to expand upon that; do a lot more of it, more consistently.

MLB.com. YES Network. #GetAtMeBro

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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A part of history

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

But Martin came up with a plan.

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

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

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

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

Helping spoil the centennial

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

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

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

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

 

Winning with the bat – and the arm

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Twitter shout-out

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

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

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(Follow me on Twitter @AJ_Martelli)

Walking off a hero

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

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

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

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

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

Leading the way in Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Costume Party: Who the Yankees Should be for Halloween

As a sage Yankee once said: it’s déjà vu, all over again.

Last year around this time, most of us on the east coast were knee-deep in snow, shoveling our way out of a Halloween blizzard. Right about now, everyone on the east coast is scrambling; bracing themselves for Hurricane Sandy, which is supposed to smack New York and the surrounding area sometime tomorrow.

Mother Nature might once again put a damper on Wednesday’s holiday.

While the hurricane might have everyone in a melancholy mood, it’s time to once again play dress-up and suggest Halloween costume ideas for the Yankees. I had some pretty innovative ideas last year for the players, and this year I have some more.

You ready? I don’t know if I am. But nonetheless…

Raul Ibanez: Yul Brynner

Towards the end of the regular season and into the postseason this year, there was no one more clutch than Raul Ibanez. With game-tying homers and walk-off bombs, Ibanez became a Yankee fan-favorite.

Therefore it’s only fitting he goes as a man who portrayed a king.

Yul Brynner’s acting career was highlighted by his performance as the king of Siam in “The King and I.” What’s more, he played the Pharaoh of Egypt in “The Ten Commandments.”

It’s a perfect fit for Ibanez.

Paul O’Neill: Ted Danson

He may not be a current Yankee, but this one was too difficult to pass up.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, former Yankee and YES Network announcer Paul O’Neill epitomized what a Bronx Bomber should be: a hard worker with a dynamic attitude, and a player who hates to lose. In fact, George Steinbrenner nicknamed him “The Warrior.”

I’m not sure if the same can be said about Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone, a retired Boston Red Sox pitcher who ran his own bar, on “Cheers” – but they do bear a striking resemblance to each other.

Curtis Granderson: Mushmouth

The Yankee center fielder put up fantastic power numbers during the regular season, but suffered a real power outage during the postseason. According to reports the Yankees picked up his $13 million option for 2013, meaning he’ll be back in pinstripes next year.

Hopefully, the coaches can work on him and improve his swing in terms of hitting for average.

Until then, Granderson can celebrate Halloween as Mushmouth, the slow-witted member of Fat Albert’s Junkyard Gang.

Nick Swisher: Robin

It’s all in the spiky hair.

Nick Swisher will most likely not return to the Yankees, what with his contract up and his subpar 2012 postseason performance. He will however always be remembered as a real “Yankee guy,” as some fans might put it; a player the fans loved to cheer and root for because of his fun-loving persona.

If he needs a costume idea for this year, here’s the logical choice. Yes, just based on the hair.

David Robertson: Eli Manning

I’ve had several folks (notably my friend Dean) tell me I look like David Robertson.

I’m not sure I see it that much, but him going dressed as me for Halloween just doesn’t seem probable.

However, if Robertson is looking for a costume, he can just as easily go as two-time Super Bowl MVP and this evening’s winner over the Dallas Cowboys by a finger, Eli Manning.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Manning earlier this year, and hopefully one day, I’ll have the honor of interviewing Robertson. Like Manning, he’s a clutch player and huge part of his team.

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I wish Halloween these days could be as fun as it was when I was younger, as I wrote last year. I used to love dressing up, going out trick-or-treating, and of course getting free candy.

I was honestly tempted to go the store today and buy a Spiderman costume – he was the only superhero I never got to dress up as when I was younger. Unfortunately with the unforgiving Sandy looming, it would probably serve no use; odds are I’ll be stuck home on Wednesday night.

For those who are going out, stay safe. And Happy Halloween!

In peril and fading fast

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Swisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Curtis Granderson  

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

If the fans thought that, they were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

Robinson Cano

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Problems

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

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

On the Bright Side?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantages

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

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

Disadvantages

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

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

 

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

Well, now that I mention it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one told Raul

Nobody must’ve told Raul Ibanez that the Orioles were 76-0 this year when leading after seven innings. Before he stepped up to the plate for Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth with one out, they probably didn’t mention to him that the Baltimore closer, Jim Johnson, led the league in saves with 51.

Ibanez came out of the batting cage, to the on-deck circle, and eventually the plate; the Yanks trailing 2-1. The 40-year-old, notorious for being a low-ball hitter, took Johnson’s offering deep over the right field wall, a solo home run to dramatically tie the game up, 2-2.

In the bottom of the 12th, they once again probably forgot to tell Ibanez that the Orioles had previously won 16 consecutive extra-inning games, because Ibanez caught lightning in a bottle twice. He pounded the first pitch he saw over the wall in right and into the second deck – a shot that traveled even further than his game-tying home run – for a walk-off homer and a 3-2 Yankee victory in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Just like that, the Yankees lead the series, two games to one.

Rodriguez has been in a serious playoff funk: 1-for-12 out of the three hole in the lineup with no RBIs and seven strikeouts.

Manager Joe Girardi looked like an absolute genius, pinch-hitting for him in that spot.

“I went to him {A-Rod} and told him ‘you’re scuffling a little bit right now’ and we got a low-ball hitter and a shorter porch in right field, and left field, obviously,” Girardi said to the media after the game.

“Raul’s been a great pinch-hitter for us and I’m just going to take a shot.”

What’s perhaps funny is the first thought that entered my mind after Ibanez tied the game in the ninth. I remember covering a sectional high school baseball game in the spring, and the Head Coach made a similar move that paid dividends. The team wound up winning the game because he chose to pinch-hit one kid for another – and the pinch-hitter knocked in what turned out to be the deciding run with a sharp, RBI single to left field.

Afterward during my interview, I asked him if there was any rhyme or reason to making the move, and he simply told me,

“I figured I’d give it a shot and it worked out well…it made me look good.”

With the huge, dramatic hits, I’d say it’s a safe bet Ibanez will be in the lineup tonight. Having spent the past two games on the bench without starting, and coming up huge in two key spots, I think he’s earned it; perhaps Girardi should let Nick Swisher take a day, allow Ibanez to patrol left field tonight, and move Ichiro to right.

That would be my move, anyway.

Really though, an unsung hero of last night’s win was Hiroki Kuroda. Aside from two mistakes – pitches he left up for Orioles rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado to hit out for home runs – he was about as solid as they come.

Kuroda pitched into the ninth inning and let up only those two runs on just five hits. He only walked one batter and struck out three, giving the Yankees a stellar performance from a number three postseason starter.

Derek Jeter also deserves a fair amount of praise, knocking in the Yankees’ first run in the third with an RBI triple. The Captain also fouled a ball off his left foot in the first inning, giving himself a bone bruise – yet stayed in the game, valiantly, until the ninth inning when he was lifted for Jayson Nix.

You’d have to kill Jeter to keep him out of a postseason game, because he was adamant about playing today; shrugging off his foot pain and declaring he’d be ready for Game 4 tonight.

Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA) will take the ball for the Yankees, hoping to close out the ALDS on a high note. Hughes has struggled mightily this year with command, serving up 35 home runs to opposing hitters, which was second most in the league.

The Orioles roughed Hughes up on Sept. 2, shellacking him for five earned runs in five innings on eight hits. The key for him tonight will be to keep his fastball moving and to not hang his breaking pitches. If his fastball has tailing action on it and his off-speed pitches drop, he’ll be fine. If not, the 26-year-old righty – and the Yankee bullpen – will be in for a long night.

He’ll be opposed by lefty Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA) who beat the Texas Rangers in Baltimore’s Wild Card play-in game last Friday. Saunders also handed the Yanks a loss on Sept. 8.

However, quite a few Yankees have enjoyed a strong amount of success vs. Saunders in their respective careers. Last night’s hero Ibanez has homered off Saunders, the struggling Curtis Granderson has a home run off him, and the goat of this postseason thus far – Rodriguez – has even taken Saunders deep twice.

Don’t be surprised to see Nix in the lineup tonight: he has gone yard off Saunders three times in his career. If the Bombers are swinging the bats the way they have vs. Saunders in the past, it’ll be a good night to be wearing pinstripes.

Much like it was last night.

End of the Year Awards

The Yankees were winless, in fact 0-for-58 this year, when trailing after eight innings entering play last night. They couldn’t have picked a better time to change that in game number 161 of the regular season; needing a victory to remain a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in first place.

Thanks to the timely hitting and clutch offense of Raul Ibanez, the Bronx Bombers put on a drama show, beating the last place Boston Red Sox 4-3 in a bona fide thriller. The Yanks’ win now sets up these possible scenarios for today:

  • A Yankee win over Boston: New York takes the AL East.
  • A Yankee loss to Boston and an Orioles loss to Tampa Bay: New York takes the AL East.
  • A Yankee loss to Boston and an Orioles win over Tampa Bay: a New York vs. Baltimore game at Camden Yards on Thursday to determine the AL East winner and the second Wild Card team.

What’s more, pending the outcome of the Oakland A’s/Texas Rangers game this afternoon, the Yankees have a chance to enter the postseason with the best record in the American League. If the A’s beat the Rangers – and the Yanks win tonight – they’ll go into October as the top seed, having won the most games of any team in the AL.

While we’ll all have to play the waiting game for division winners and playoff seeds, it’s that time of the year to hand out end-of-the season awards. There are a number of Yankees who have stood out this year, and they deserve to be recognized in one way or another. So without any further ado, here are the 2012 Yankee Yapping awards!

Most Valuable Player

Winner: Derek Jeter

It always seems that just when you think the Yankee Captain is done, he just adds more to his mind-bogglingly illustrious career. Last year he made history, clubbing a home run for his 3,000th hit – a nice, astronomical number to go along with his five World Series titles, seven pennants, his ’96 AL Rookie of the Year, his 2000 World Series MVP, his 2000 All-Star Game MVP…you get the picture.

On Sept. 14, as part of a 19-game hitting streak, Jeter put another notch on his accomplishment belt, passing the legendary Willie Mays on baseball’s all-time hits list, Jeter now in 10th place all by himself.

Jeter will finish this season with a batting average above .300 and he currently has 215 hits, which leads the majors. He’s also at double digits in home runs (15), and if he scores a run tonight, he’ll have 100 runs scored, as he currently sits at 99 for the year.

With more history made this season and a fine offensive campaign, Jeter has earned arguably the most prestigious accolade of his career: the Yankee Yapping MVP. Congrats, Derek!

Best Season from a Newcomer

Winner: Raul Ibanez

After last night, it’s only fitting Raul Ibanez claims this distinction.

I’ll be the first to admit, when Ibanez was signed by the Yankees basically on a dime, I was confused. A 40-year-old designated hitter who was chosen over Johnny Damon?

It didn’t make sense to me at the time. In fact, I dubbed him, “Grandpa Ibanez.”

The joke was on me, because grandpa showed me – and everyone – that he still has a lot of baseball life left in him; with 91 hits, 62 RBIs, and 19 homers – none more important than his blast in the ninth inning of last night’s game.

Not only did Ibanez prove his worth at the plate, but for an aged player signed to be a primary DH, he did a nice job playing left field for Brett Gardner, who sat out most of the year with injuries. Ibanez showed, despite his age, he was worth the signing.

And for that, Raul, we thank you. Congrats on a great season.

Walk-off Hero

Winner: Russell Martin

All season long, Russell Martin was thrown under the microscope for hitting below .200. But all the chatter and criticism probably motivated him to swing the bat better, because look at him now: hitting .210 with a career-high 21 home runs.

All of his long balls were meaningful, but two stand out in my mind.

On Sunday June 10, Martin came up to the plate in the ninth inning against Jon Rauch of the Mets. Tied 4-4, Martin launched a ball deep in the air to left field for a solo, walk-off home run, giving the Yanks a 5-4 win to complete a weekend sweep of the Mets.

Then on Friday Sept. 21, he duplicated the feat vs. the Oakland A’s.

Knotted at one in the bottom of the 10th, Martin lifted what turned out to be another game-winning home run off Oakland reliever Sean Doolittle to push the Yanks past the A’s 2-1 in a crucial game the Bombers needed.

With a flair for the dramatic, Martin got it done. Congrats on not only persevering in terms of your batting average, but also saving the day with some power (twice) this year, Russell.

Ace of the Year

Co-Winners: CC Sabathia & Hiroki Kuroda

Considering the fact CC Sabathia spent time on the disabled list this year, it almost surprised me that he finished with the numbers he did. His 2012 totals aren’t what you’d expect from an ace, but nonetheless, 15 wins with only seven losses and an ERA of 3.38 isn’t too shabby.

What helped put Sabathia in the running for this award was that, despite his DL stints this year, he still logged 200 innings and struck out 197 batters. Plus, having struggled mightily throughout the month of September, Sabathia turned it around to finish strong, striking out 29 batters over his final three outings of the season – going 2-0 over those three games with the Yanks winning all three of them.

And then there’s the guy who piggy-backed him.

Although his 15-11 record isn’t exactly indicative of a standout year, Hiroki Kuroda did a fantastic job this season – better than his record indicates. Basically being thrown into the role of ace in Sabathia’s absence, Kuroda pitched extremely well, albeit he didn’t receive the type of run support I’m sure he would’ve hoped for.

Kuroda pitched 212.2 innings – and obviously that total will go up tonight, as he’s starting this evening’s game. Opponents are only hitting .249 against him, and he’s given up less than a hit per inning going into his final start (198 hits allowed).

There’s no doubt Kuroda proved his value through his impressive pitching this year, and teamed up with Sabathia to make a pretty fearsome 1-2 punch. Congrats on the award, fellas.

Reliever of the Year

Winner: Rafael Soriano

The Yankee clubhouse was said to have the feel of a morgue on May 3 when Mariano Rivera blew his knee out shagging fly balls in Kansas City during batting practice. The great Rivera was carted off the field and diagnosed with a torn ACL, his season over and the Yankees unsure of his future.

Superman lost his cape. Or, Thor lost his hammer.

Manager Joe Girardi tried plugging David Robertson into the closer role, only for him to blow his first chance at a save. As it turned out, Robertson wasn’t the right fit for the closer role, and in fact, scuffled in a lot of his appearances throughout the year; currently with a 2-7 record.

Enter the man whom I call “the silent assassin,” Rafael Soriano.

In 46 save opps this season, Soriano has nailed down 42 – quite impressive for a reliever who wasn’t the closer for a full year. When Rivera went down, Soriano stepped up in a huge way, a way the Yankees needed.

Without him, there’s no telling where the Yankees would be right now; perhaps eliminated from playoff contention, without his spectacular ability to finish off opponents in the final inning.

Congrats on a wonderful season, Rafael. You won Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year.

Untuck!

Slugger of the Year Award

Winner: Robinson Cano

It seems as if the Yankees’ second baseman has made his whole life baseball. Aside from maybe Derek Jeter, personally, I don’t think there’s a player who works harder than Robinson Cano. In my mind, he’s one of the best all-around players in the game today.

Cano went through a couple of dry spells this year at the plate, but that didn’t stop him from hitting .308 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs. He clubbed a pair of grand slams this year and kept the Yankees in many games with his clutch hitting and flashy defense.

On Monday Cano smacked his latest home run, a moon shot that caromed off the Mohegan Sun sports bar over the center field wall at Yankee Stadium. Prior to the game Cano’s cousin (also a ballplayer, who actually played for the Hudson Valley Renegades – the team I interned for in 2010 and covered this year) was tweeting.

He posted, “Add ‘ya heard!’ to the end of all your tweets.”

I tweeted to him, “Robinson Cano will hit a homer tonight. YA HEARD!” He replied simply with “!!!”

Sure enough, I called that shot. I had to point that out after it happened.

Overall Cano had yet another remarkable season. There are only more good things to come in his career, and at this point in time, he’s the best hitter on the team. Congrats, Robinson!

Home Run Champion

Winner: Curtis Granderson

For the second consecutive season, Curtis Granderson has smacked 40 home runs or more, this year currently with 41 dingers. When it comes to hitting for power, Granderson sure knows what the heck he’s doing, and has emerged as one of the premiere power hitters in the AL.

On April 19 this season, Granderson proved that.

In a game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins, he cracked three homers in the first four innings, becoming at the time only the 12th player in MLB history to go yard three times in a single game. On the strength of his power surge, the Yanks went on to beat the Twinkies, 7-6.

Although he can hit for power, Granderson must improve on his average stroke. Going into tonight’s 162nd game, Granderson is only batting a measly .230 at the plate – hitting for average probably being the only facet of the game he seems to struggle with.

But this isn’t the “Batting Average Champion” award. It’s the Home Run Champion award. And Curtis, you’ve earned it. Congrats!

Best Trade Deadline Pickup/Earned a 2013 Contract

Winner: Ichiro

The Yankees added two pieces before the trade deadline passed. One being a small pickup, Casey McGehee – a utility man a lot of fans probably forgot about, by now. But there’s no way anyone forgot about the second player the Yanks traded for.

Ichiro joined the team on July 23 and since then has basically not stopped hitting. He brought 12 years of excellence with the Seattle Mariners when he was swapped, and has reached base safely 77 times (72 hits, five walks) in the 66 games he’s played in pinstripes. He has also ignited the team on the base paths, stealing 13 bags.

Something tells me Ichiro is going to perform well in October, in what will be his first postseason since 2001. And although he’s somewhat up there in age, 38 (he’ll turn 39 on Oct. 22), I feel he deserves a chance to come back to the Yankees and play in pinstripes in 2013.

Ichiro is a lot like Jeter: ageless. It doesn’t matter how old he is because his numbers have never really seen a steady decline; he is always close to 200 hits a year.

For his experience and veteran know-how, the man from Japan – in my humble opinion – earned another season in the Bronx, and was a solid acquisition over the summer.

Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki. Congrats!

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

Well there you have it. Congrats to all the 2012 Yankee Yapping award winners, and make sure to check back here at the Yankee Yapping blog throughout the playoffs. I’ll be posting previews, recaps, and I’ll be writing about anything newsworthy this October.

Also check out the YY Facebook page and my Twitter for postseason news, updates, and of course my witty observations!

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