Results tagged ‘ Mariano Rivera ’

Dear Mo

Yankees.com recently gave fans the chance to instagram their version of a goodbye card to Mariano Rivera.  The Yanks started a campaign entitled #DearMo which is almost like the fans’ personal way of saying thank you to the greatest closer to ever live.

I do not have an instagram account, so instead I took matters into my own hands and simply tweeted the card I made. My words were simple and genuine; they can even be found at the end of my story on yesterday’s festivities.

Here’s my little ode to Mo:

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Off to Never Never Land

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

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

The Number Retirement

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

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See?

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

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

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

Familiar Faces

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

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

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

And the years I fell in love with baseball.

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

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

Enter Sandman

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

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

Heartfelt Words

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

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

The Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A collapse after a collapse

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

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

Then cue the Yankee bullpen.

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

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

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

Final: Orioles 7, Yankees 3

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

Allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final/12: Yankees 6, Renegades 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bobby! Bobby! It’s just as good!”

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

Ironically Enough

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

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

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

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

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Small Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Phil Fails: Nothing looking good for Hughes

If you were on Twitter last night and went to the search box and typed in “Phil Hughes” this came up:

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Appropriate, because these days if you’re watching Hughes pitch, you might need aspirin.

In the Red Sox 11-1 thrashing of the Yankees last night, Hughes was the losing pitcher, dropping to 2-4 on the season with an ERA in the sky at 5.37. The big blow yesterday came off the bat of Mike Napoli, a grand slam home run in the third inning, a blast that stuck a pin in the Yankee balloon effectively giving the short-handed Bronx Bomber lineup no chance at a comeback.

Napoli’s slam marked the second time this season Hughes has let up a home run with the bases loaded – and the 12th meatball he’s served up this year. What’s more, it was the 100th tater he surrendered in his career – a career in which he’s made 114 starts, coming out to nearly one home run allowed per start.

Opponents are taking advantage of every pitch Hughes throws at them, on average batting .292 against the right-hander this season. He’s also allowed 69 hits in the 58.2 innings he’s pitched this year, not exactly fooling anyone he faces.

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The 24-32 Seattle Mariners proved that to be true when they beat Hughes up on May 15, chasing him from the game after just two-thirds of an inning pitched in what wound up being a 12-2 Yankee loss. (Worth noting Hughes delivered a grand slam in the first inning of that nightmare stinker to former Yankee Raul Ibanez).

Putting it nicely, this season Phil Hughes has been “Phail Hughes.”

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To his credit, he recently went on record as saying, “Everyone has been taking me out of the park these days.” At least, if nothing else, he’s self-aware of how poorly he’s been pitching. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that every time he toes the rubber, Yankee Universe has to hold its collective breath because there’s usually a good chance Hughes will put the team in a hole, not giving the Yankee offense – which has only mustered 223 runs this year (11th in the American League, 18th in the majors) – a chance to come from behind.

A la, last night.  

There hasn’t been anyone who has been a bigger critic of Hughes than me. Ever since Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS, an elimination game that Hughes lost decisively to the Texas Rangers (the Yankees ousted and unsuccessful in their attempt to defend their 2009 World Series title) I’ve never had faith in him.

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He hasn’t given me reason to trust his stuff. His fastball is flat with no tailing action, he hooks his breaking balls, and he gets ahead in counts, but somehow always manages to fall behind and turn what should be easy innings into long, dragged-out marathons.

Just sitting through a Hughes start is torture.

In what might be an upside for most Yankee fans that are becoming tired of every home run derby that ensues each time Hughes takes the ball, this is the final year of his contract – and he isn’t exactly making a great case for a return to the Bronx in 2014, given his crummy numbers and ineffectiveness. Additionally, considering his age (26, 27 on June 24), one has to wonder,

If he hasn’t found it yet, when the heck will he? There are pitchers younger than Hughes finding significantly more success than he is. If you don’t believe me, talk to Matt Moore, Chris Sale, and Alex Cobb.

On the downside, the Yankees may be stuck with Hughes for the remainder of 2013. Even if the Yankee brass looks to move him, Hughes’s trade value, at this point, is incredibly low. If the Yanks wanted to move him for purposes of finding a player to help them reach the playoffs, the odds of anyone taking him are likely astronomical, despite the fact that he’ll come cheap. I just cannot think of a team that would take him, otherwise.

After all, no team wants a pitcher who does nothing but toss batting practice, right?

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I suppose what the Yankees could do is put Hughes into the bullpen; give him a relief role. To fill his void in the rotation, they can always call on Vidal Nuno, Ivan Nova, or David Phelps – or try to make a trade before the non-waivers deadline, although it’ll be difficult to make a swap, seeing as how the market for a starting pitcher is, as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal described last night, “uninspired.”

In 2009 Hughes flourished in his role of setup man, bridging the gap to Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning. In fact he pitched so well, he filled in for Rivera a few times and picked up three saves that season; striking out 96 batters in 86 innings and posting a respectable ERA of 3.03 along the way.

That almost begs the question, “Why did they pull him out of a role which he clearly embraced and succeeded at?”

I’ll never know.

Luckily for Hughes, the Yankees (31-24) are only two games behind Boston in the AL East standings heading into their series finale/rubber game tonight; a chance to close the deficit to just one game.

So throughout all the bad news, there’s a shred of decency.

Yet whether Hughes sticks it out as a starter or is placed in the bullpen this season, an adjustment needs to be made; a solution must be found to this ongoing problem. If we see more of what we saw out of Hughes last night – and this entire season, thus far – it’s going to be a long summer.

A very, very long summer.

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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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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

So Long, Swish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yankees are old.

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

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

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

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

 

Out of the ‘pen…sort of

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

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

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

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

September 8 was his date

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

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

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

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

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

A World Series Homer

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

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

Beating Tampa Bay for Bob Sheppard & “The Boss”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking out the Red Sox in grand style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of luck with the tribe.

New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles April 24,  2011

Russell Martin’s Greatest Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A part of history

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

But Martin came up with a plan.

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

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

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

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

Helping spoil the centennial

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

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

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

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

 

Winning with the bat – and the arm

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Twitter shout-out

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

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

RussellMartinTweet

RussellMartinTweetTwo

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Walking off a hero

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

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

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

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

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

Leading the way in Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Early off-season yapping

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

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

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

Allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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