Results tagged ‘ Yankee Stadium ’

Omega, 2014: Derek Jeter announces this season is his last

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If you pick up a Bible and thumb your way through to last book – the book of revelation – you’ll find the story of the end of the world, otherwise known as the apocalypse. Flying, fire-breathing dragons, the harvest of the earth, and the final battle between good and evil are discussed, and it advises all readers to maintain faith. In its epilogue, the Bible’s final line is, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”

Now, we will never know when, exactly, the apocalypse will transpire; it’s an unknown phenomenon in terms of its timing. But if you’re a member of Yankee Universe, you found out today the end of the world will come at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Or at least the end of a significant era.

This afternoon Yankee Captain Derek Jeter announced (via his “Turn 2 Foundation” Facebook page) that this coming year will be his last, and he will retire when this forthcoming season is over.

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“…it was months ago when I realized that this season would likely be my last. As I came to this conclusion and shared it with my friends and family, they all told me to hold off saying anything until I was absolutely 100% sure.

“And the thing is, I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last playing professional baseball.”

This is the end. The day we all had nightmares about.

Jeter has pretty much earned the right to hang ‘em up though, having conquered basically everything there is to conquer in baseball. Cooperstown, for all we know, might already have a special room designated for the wonders of Jeter’s career; there’s no question he’ll be enshrined in upstate New York’s hallowed halls with the ghosts of baseball’s past.

Here’s a little bit of input on my part:

Why now?

For one, his age. Although in recent times certain players have been able to suit up and take the field at 40 years old (and beyond), eventually they can’t do it anymore, for whatever reason. Some players, like Randy Johnson for example, hang around to meet career goals. In Johnson’s case he stayed in the game to reach 300 wins, but he put his cleats away almost immediately after he reached the milestone.

Jeter has no more real goals to reach, being a five-time World Series champ, a World Series MVP, an All-Star game MVP; having 3,000 career hits, being the all-time Yankee hit leader . . . and so on and so forth. Think of doing something unfathomable in baseball, and then realize Jeter has been there and done that.

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Summing it up, Jeter will be 40 in June and he has nothing left to accomplish on the field.

Another reason, clearly, was the injury to his ankle that he sustained in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS. Since that fateful October night, nothing has been same for him. He only played 17 games in 2013 because his ankle wasn’t quite right, batting an uncharacteristic .190 (12 hits in 63 at-bats) which was a sizable drop from the .316 BA he put up in 2012.

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It was evident his afflictions impacted him in 2013. He didn’t have it last year – and he knew it.

“Last year was a tough one for me. As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward.”  

One last piece of info Jeter slipped into his reason for retiring: his desire to be more of a businessman and start a family.

“Now it is time for the last chapter. I have new dreams and aspirations, and I want new challenges. There are many things I want to do in business and in philanthropic work, in addition to focusing more on my personal life and starting a family of my own . . .”

It’s good the captain is willing to dive into the business world and try to master it the way he did the game of baseball. The question is, however, as far as beginning a familial lifestyle,

With whom will he start a family?

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Given his glorious track record of dating attractive women, he can practically pick any woman he wants at this point, and then take it from there. Lucky guy.

How he announced it

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Facebook. It shocked most people in the press, including myself.

Jeter isn’t the type of person who takes to social media every time a thought pops into head (like the rest of us), so the fact that he wrote up a note and threw it on his foundation’s Facebook page was a little bizarre. This writer even kept saying to himself, over and over again after the news broke,

“Facebook? Really?”

You would think he would’ve waited until Spring Training started, and called a press conference for all to see. At the very least it would’ve been a little more formal than a Facebook post, but kudos to Jeets going against the grain and breaking the huge news in an unconventional manner – well, at least unconventional by his standards.

He rose through the ranks of pro ball by being an uncommon player, so he might as well go out doing things in uncommon ways.

What it means for the Yankees

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In a nutshell, they’ll need a shortstop after this year. The questions about whether or not the Yankees will pursue Stephen Drew are already rising, though they aren’t expected to make anymore deals now that the offseason is on the downswing. That and the fact they’ve already spent nearly half a $billion already.

Buster Olney, ESPN analyst and former Yankee beat writer, speculated that the Colorado Rockies – if their season starts to crumble and they’re non-contenders before July 31 – might explore the idea of moving their All-Star SS Troy Tulowitzki.

Tulowitzki is owed somewhere around $140 million over the next several years. Who better to pick up that contract than the Yankees: a team notorious for having deep pockets and not being afraid to show it, especially when they’re in need of a key player.

Discussing the topic, MLB Network brought up two other names who will apparently be free agents after this year: Hanley Ramirez (LA Dodgers) and J.J. Hardy (Baltimore Orioles). Ramirez however made a statement today claiming he “wants to be a Dodger for life.”

Yet, should the Yankee brass offer him a larger sum of money than LA does, Ramirez might reword that statement. Robinson Cano made similar remarks about staying with the Yankees, and we all saw what happened there.

On the other hand the Yankees could go the in-house route to supplant Jeter next year, which could mean Eduardo Nunez is the guy going forward. But if they want to look beyond Nunez because of his defensive foibles, every shortstop in the farm system needs to perform well enough this season – or do something extraordinary enough this season – to prove they might just be the heir apparent.

Cito Culver, I’m looking at you.

The farewell tour

New York Yankees player Jeter celebrates as he holds the World Series trophy after the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in New York

Like last year (for Mariano Rivera), fans from all over the place are going to flock to wherever the Yankees are just to see Jeter during his last hurrah. The Yankee captain is going to be like a giant neon light in 2014, and the fans are going to be like moths on hot summer nights, flying towards him.

If they can afford it, that is.

Ticket prices for the Thursday, Sept. 25 game vs. Baltimore – the Yankees’ final home game of the 2014 regular season – have absolutely skyrocketed. Before Jeter announced his plans, it was just an average game. Now that his final appearance at Yankee Stadium could potentially fall on that date, you cannot buy a ticket for less than $397. At press time; that figure could be inflating as I’m typing this.

While Sept. 25 may be Jeter’s final game at the big ballpark in the Bronx notwithstanding a playoff run, it’s possible the Yankees honor him with a special day on Sunday, Sept. 21 at home vs. the Blue Jays. Tickets for that game have also become astronomical in terms of price, and it would make sense they pay homage to the captain on that day, being that the Yanks honored Rivera on Sunday, Sept. 22 this past year.

Fitting.

Either way, fans will be coming from near and far to see Jeter this year. 2014. The final year. The apocalypse. The end of the world, or at least the true end of the Yankee dynasty era.

Mo vs. Mick: Why Mo is better

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I will assume most of the readers of Yankee Yapping are familiar with the Wall Street Journal, a prestigious newspaper founded in 1889, based out of New York City. Now, unless you are a journalism major or have taken a newspaper history class, I will assume most readers are unaware of how the Wall Street Journal developed its own style of story.

A Wall Street Journal-style story always starts with a specific example; names and situations, usually focusing on one topic. The story then gradually delves into that topic with general information, and then at the end reverts back to the specific example used to start the story.

And most of the endings have what’s called a “circle kicker” or a twist; a turn of events.

It’s all very fantastic, genius even. Think of what’s about to happen here as a Wall Street Journal-style blog post. Chances are there will be some backlash, another journalistic term, meaning a strong or adverse reaction by a large number of people. Although some readers might very well agree and feel the same way I do about this next graf.

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Mariano Rivera was better than Mickey Mantle.

(Ducks, hides, takes cover)

There. I said it. That’s your specific example; the topic. Now, general information might contradict that statement, or at least suggest otherwise.

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Mantle, in 18 seasons with the Yankees, was a 20-time (allow me to reiterate, 20-time!) all-star, a three-time AL MVP, and a seven-time World Series champion. The “Commerce Comet” won the Triple Crown in 1956 (52 HR, 130 RBI, .353 BA), and was selected (first ballot) to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. Mantle’s number 7 is lying proudly behind the center field wall in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

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Rivera, in 19 seasons in pinstripes, was a 13-time all-star, an ALCS MVP (2003), a World Series MVP (1999), an All-Star game MVP (2013), and a five-time World Series champion. He saved more games than any other closer in baseball history (652), owns more saves than any other closer in the postseason (42), and his number 42 was also placed in Monument Park – even before his last game, making him the first Yankee to have his number retired while still a part of the active roster.

In general consideration, both of these Yankee legends’ numbers speak for themselves. It’s difficult to even compare their numbers, as Mantle was a hitter; a position player, while Rivera was a specialty pitcher. Many folks may even say the two are incomparable – or, there is simply no comparing them. It’s impossible to say who was better on the field.

On the field, yes. Maybe incomparable. But here’s where it gets specific again.

In 1973, Yankee Stadium was coming up on its 50-year anniversary. The president of the Yankees at the time, Robert Fishel, reached out to a number of former Yankee players before the House that Ruth Built’s anny, asking them to write down their “most outstanding” Yankee Stadium moment.

Fishel sent a letter to ”The Mick” and asked him to name his most outstanding moment at Yankee Stadium, and also asked him to describe it as best he could: where it took place and when. Mantle’s answer was childish and disturbing.

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I had to censor some of Mantle’s answer, for fear of MLBlogs and the MLB community becoming offended, but using your knowledge, it’s not difficult to determine what Mantle wrote.

A lot of people undoubtedly laughed at the response. Some surely even commended it. “That’s our Mickey! Ha ha ha! Way to go!”

When I first read it, however, I didn’t find humor in the sophomoric response. I didn’t think of the way everyone most assuredly got a chuckle out of Mantle’s answer. Perhaps I just don’t think the way everyone else does, because I only thought of one person:

I thought of Mariano Rivera. I thought of what “The Sandman’s” response would have been to that letter. I thought of what moment he might have picked – and how classy the answer would have been. I thought of how Rivera would have thanked God for whatever the moment was.

Maybe Rivera would have selected celebrating the 1996 World Series victory on Yankee Stadium soil as his favorite moment. Mo’s most outstanding memory could have also been closing out Game 4 in 1999, riding out of the big ballpark in the Bronx on the shoulders of his teammates after being named MVP of the fall classic.

Collapsing with pure joy on the mound after Aaron Boone clubbed the Yanks into the World Series on that fateful October night in 2003 – perhaps that was Rivera’s special moment. Or maybe Sept. 22, 2013, “Mariano Rivera Day” would have been what he wrote back.

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Whatever his answer would’ve been, it would’ve defeated Mantle’s in classiness.

Readers are certainly entitled to their own opinions on this rather controversial topic, but the specific example is what it is. Rivera outclassed Mantle in every way over the course of his career, even if their stats are incomparable.

And that’s why Rivera was better. There’s your circle kicker.

Shipp’d up to Boston

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Without you, there’s no us. The greatest lesson I took from these past two days.

I spent this weekend up in Boston, Mass., my first trip to Beantown since a field trip I took with my seventh grade class in either 1999 or 2000. The primary reason I was in Boston this weekend was for the WWE’s annual November event, Survivor Series, which was held at Boston’s TD Garden.

My best friend and main bro Brian Chaires was able to snatch incredible floor seats for the show, and we even managed to get ourselves in the line of the TV cameras during World Champion and Boston native John Cena’s entrance for his title match vs. Alberto Del Rio.

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Some inside jokes and infamous quotes of this trip include:

“This looks like a post office, not a rest stop.”

“Dude, Zack Ryder is in the bathroom!”

“These drivers are Mass-holes.”

“I’m a New York driver. … I got this.”

“We are stuck in this hotel stairwell. We may need to call 911 to get us out. Help! Help!”

(Walking the TD Garden in Yankee gear) – “Where’d this guy come from???”

“Sweet home Oklahoma! Lord, I’m coming home to Normand!”

“Break me off that whole Kit-Kat bar, King!”

You had to be there to really appreciate how funny the situations were from which these quotes stemmed, but believe me, it was a riot. The wrestling event last night was just awesome, and today the baseball journey of our trip commenced.

Brian and I took a tour this morning of (you guessed it) Fenway Park, home of the reigning World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox.

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Typing that made me cringe, but the ballpark and the tour itself were absolutely marvelous. It was a little different than the Yankee Stadium tour, which I experienced last year, but overall I’d rate the tour of Fenway with a solid A+.

The tour, believe it or not, began at the Red Sox team store across Lansdowne Street. Each tour begins at the start of every hour; we missed the 10 a.m. tour and settled for the 11 a.m. go-around. We made some bad timing, arriving at Fenway only a little after 10, and had to brave the arctic freeze for a little while, but it didn’t stop us from some shenanigans while we waited.

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Our tour guide took notice of our obvious Yankee apparel, and joked with us about it. He went on to tell us that he doesn’t know what all the Yankees-Red Sox hype is all about sometimes, and that there are teams far more hated by the Red Sox right now than the Yankees. In his words,

“I probably hate the Rays more than the Yankees, at this point!”

After everyone assembled, we journeyed from the team store into the historic Fenway Park to begin the jaunt. Our tour guide first explained (briefly) the history of the ballpark; its age (101), how many World Championships the team occupying the park has won (8), and even went on to explain that a number of movies have been filmed at Fenway, including a pair of my favorites: Ted  and Field of Dreams.

The first thing I took notice of upon entry into Fenway was the “Boston Strong 617” jersey hanging from the wall, and in light of the tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon earlier this year, I thought it was pretty neat.

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From there we ventured inside and saw the field. It was quite a sight, not having seen Fenway in-person and only seeing it on TV, watching Yankees-Red Sox games. The television really doesn’t do the ballpark justice; you have to see it for yourself to truly understand its glory.

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They then let us into the visitor’s clubhouse. With couches and HD TVs, it looked like pretty nice accommodations, for a visiting team’s locker room. While we were in there, all I kept asking was, “Which one is Jeter’s locker?”

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We were then taken to seats along the left field line, which we were told are the oldest seats in Fenway; a section of wooden, navy blue seats. There we sat and got a more in-depth history of Fenway, with a lot of facts I didn’t know – and some I already knew. Here are some of my favorite factoids spoken about today:

  • Harry Frazee is the person most Red Sox fans blame for the Curse of the Bambino. Frazee, owner of the Red Sox in 1920, apparently disliked Babe Ruth so much because of his hardcore lifestyle (partying after games, etc.) that he sold him to the Yankees – that was of course after the Red Sox won five of the first 15 World Series in history. Additionally, Frazee cared more about Broadway musicals than baseball.
  • The Yankees owned Fenway Park when they signed Ruth, because the pact included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on the Red Sox home field.
  • New England schoolteachers apparently disliked the spelling of “Sox” initially. Also, the Red Sox only started spelling their team name with an “x” because the White Sox had done it.
  • The Green Monster was built to keep fans from watching the games for free behind the left field wall. Our tour guide called this “the biggest overreaction in baseball history.”
  • The ladder on the Green Monster: “the most pointless ladder in baseball history,” according to our guide.
  • Three men work the manual scoreboard inside the Green Monster. “There were four, but Manny Ramirez left,” kidded our tour guide. (I’ll admit, he was a knowledgeable joker). There are only three light bulbs inside the monster and no air conditioning during the summer or heat in the fall/early spring/winter. Two of the scoreboard operators have been doing their job for 20 years; the other has been there for 10. Those positions won’t be opening up anytime soon.

From there we scaled our way up to the top of the Green Monster to take in the view.

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I liked how “Boston Strong” was still mowed into the outfield grass.

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After the view from atop the Green Monster we climbed up to the press box, which seemed like a longer ascension than going up to the monster. Not for nothing, it was a hike! On the way there, we came across an artifact that made for a great story.

The Los Angeles Angels apparently gave every team in baseball a statue of Mickey Mouse for their respective ballparks – and each statue corresponds to each team. For instance, they gave the Yankees a statue of Mickey Mouse painted with pinstripes and interlocking NYs, looking like a real Bronx Bomber.

The Red Sox were given their Mickey Mouse in poor condition; in fact, his arm was broken when they received him. They made a joke out of it though, going as far as putting a sling around his broken arm. However, they eventually fixed him– and almost immediately after they fixed their statue of Disney’s lovable mouse, they started winning. And, as we know, went on to win the World Series this year.

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Perhaps I should’ve re-broke the arm before leaving.

Once we arrived at the press box, we got some more history of the park. A cool fact about the Fenway press box is that there is a row reserved for the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. It’s fantastic that Fenway acknowledges that elite group of baseball writers.

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We then went over a lot of things I already knew about, such as the instance of assigned seating in the press box, the names of the foul poles: the left field being the (Carlton) Fisk pole and right field being the (Johnny) Pesky pole, and the Red Sox retired numbers.

Number 42, as we all know, is retired throughout all of baseball. Our tour guide asked us, “who is this number retired for?”

In the spirit of the pinstripes I vociferously answered, “Mariano Rivera!”

 “Nice try,” he replied, as everyone laughed. He assured us that Boston, collectively, is relieved Rivera has hung ‘em up.

Relieved. Get it?

(Of course we all know 42 is retired for Jackie Robinson).

We were also told a wonderful story in the press box – fitting, because wonderful stories are usually produced in the press box.

According to this tale, the Citgo sign is Boston’s proverbial North Star; if you see the Citgo sign, you know Fenway isn’t far.

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A great player by the name of Joe Carter, famed for being a Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, loved hitting at Fenway because of the Citgo sign. A reporter remarked,

“C’mon, Joe. Citgo’s a gas station.”

Carter replied, “When I hit, I can C-IT-GO (see it go)!”

You can’t script baseball. And you have to be romantic about it.

After our time in the press box we walked down to the right field deck, where we got a good look at the famous lone red seat in the right field grandstand – denoting where the farthest-hit ball landed in Fenway’s 101-year history. Ted Williams owns the blast measured at 502 feet, crushed on June 9, 1946.

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The ball struck a straw hat-wearing gentleman in the head, who apparently fell asleep at the game. When the man woke up he was flanked by a medic and a reporter. The journalist asked him, “how do you feel?”

He replied, “How far away must one sit to be safe in this park?”

Poor guy.

The tour concluded in the Red Sox archive room, where a plethora of notable memorabilia is shown off. Among the hardware displayed: a bat signed by Babe Ruth, lineup cards, pictures of Red Sox teams past, ticket stubs to notable games (including the 1999 All-Star Game held at Fenway), MVP awards won by various Red Sox players, and the American League Championship trophies.

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I asked for the whereabouts of the World Series trophies, as they weren’t present in the archive room. They are stored in the corporate offices and there aren’t any replicas of them showcased. I explained how, at the museum in Yankee Stadium, there are replicas of the 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 trophies for show.

Even the tour guide and personnel at the end of the tour admitted there should be replicas for Boston’s trophies on display.

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I would say Brian and I had a lot of guts, strutting around Boston this weekend with enemy colors. It wasn’t easy; we heard some boos, received some heckling, ran into only two other Yankee fans, and we were even told the “NY” on our hats stands for “next year.”

On the tour a professional photographer took our picture at Fenway. He looked at us and asked, “Yankee fans?”

We apologized. “Sorry.”

But he didn’t make a joke out of it. He said something that’ll stick with me for the long haul:

Hey. Without you, there’s no us.

I had never really considered that. Every hero needs a villain. Every team needs a nemesis. Batman needed The Joker. Superman needed Lex Luthor. And the Red Sox need the Yankees, although in our minds, the Yankees are the heroes and the Red Sox are the villains. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, would the Yankees be . . . the Yankees?

I knew going to Fenway I would learn a lot I didn’t know – and I did learn a lot. Harry Frazee’s role in the Curse of the Bambino, the history of the Green Monster, and even an amusing anecdote about Mickey Mouse.

But I didn’t think going to Fenway would teach me a lesson. I suppose that’s the beauty of baseball.

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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He ain’t heavy, he’s our third baseman

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If you remember the movie “Spiderman 2” you may remember a scene on a New York City train that involved Spidey trying to protect innocent citizens from the hijinx of the evil Dr. Octopus. The Daily Bugle newspaper had done all it could to make Spiderman look like a menace rather than a hero, but being the true guardian he is, Spiderman still fought the villain.

As “Doc Ock” began to get the better of Spidey, a large Italian man – dare I say a stereotypical New Yorker – went to bat for Spiderman and said, “We’re New Yorkers. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!”

Might as well have been the slogan of last night’s fireworks during the Yankees-Red Sox game.

As Yankees fans, we may not be happy with Alex Rodriguez. There’s usually a media circus in baseball every season, but this year, it’s A-Rod who is driving the tiny car. The Biogenesis mess has turned Yankee fans on one of their own, as evidenced by A-Rod’s mixed reaction the day he made his first start at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 9. Up until last night, Yankee Universe only made time to cheer for A-Rod whenever he did something noteworthy at the plate, while booing him at every other chance.

But after last night there’s a better chance more Yankee fans will rally behind him.

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After Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster threw behind Rodriguez, he buzzed him inside on two more pitches – and it’s worth mentioning all three pitches were fastballs. On a 3-0 count, Dempster plunked A-Rod on the elbow, singlehandedly igniting the Yankees-Red Sox feud: a feud that’s been dormant for the better part of five years or so.

The benches cleared, the bullpens emptied, giving Fenway Park the ambience of old: the heated atmosphere once made famous by Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, and Pedro Martinez and Jorge Posada – and even Rodriguez and Jason Varitek. Heck, even Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis.

This time however it wasn’t Rodriguez who was all that upset, but Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, who had some choice words for Dempster. Girardi was absolutely infuriated with home plate umpire Brian O’Nora, as he never issued Dempster a warning, or even ejected Dempster, after clearly throwing at Rodriguez with intent.

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Girardi got his money’s worth and then some, vehemently arguing with O’Nora; getting in his face for a bad judgment call, not punishing a pitcher for an oh-so-obvious wrongdoing. Girardi may have been ejected as the Fenway faithful cheered wildly, but A-Rod had the last laugh.

In the sixth inning, Rodriguez took Dempster’s offering deep; 446 feet, as a matter of fact, over the center field fence, an A-Bomb which, according to ESPN, was the longest home run tape measured by a Yankee this season. The solo tater cut Boston’s lead to 6-4.

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Brett Gardner ironically enough stood up for Rodriguez during the fracas, and wound up clearing the bases later in the frame with a triple to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead, which they never relinquished. The Yanks got what they called “ultimate payback” by going on to win 9-6, taking the series from the Red Sox.

Rodriguez called Dempster’s decision to hit him “stupid, silly and “unprofessional” – and the thought never occurred to this writer that Dempster beaned Rodriguez because, being heavily involved in the union, he doesn’t like the fact that Rodriguez is allowed to play while his 211 game suspension is being appealed.

Actually, it didn’t occur to me until Girardi’s postgame presser.

“Ryan Dempster has hit six guys in 320 innings; he threw the first ball behind him – intentionally – he threw the next one inside, he didn’t hit him – intentional. At some point Brian O’Nora’s got to give him a warning,” Girardi told a crowd of reporters around his desk in the clubhouse.

“The one thing you can’t do is start changing the system because you don’t like it. Ryan Dempster has been a player rep, he has been very involved in the union, and he knows, this is what these guys decided to do [allow suspended players to play while appealing]. You can’t change it, just take your potshots.

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“I thought it was handled very poorly. Ryan Dempster didn’t hit Nelson Cruz. He didn’t hit Francisco Cervelli, you know? I think it’s flat wrong.”

Girardi went on to mention that he would be disappointed if Dempster didn’t get suspended and miss a start. In his own words, “it has to cost him (Dempster) something.” The Yankee manager added how he thought the Boston fans – more specifically the kids in the stands – cheering a hit-by-pitch was not right.

“What is wrong with people?” he continued. “You cheer when someone gets hit? What if that was your son? What if your son got hit? Breaks an arm, gets hit in the head, gets a concussion? I’d be embarrassed. And I see little kids in the stands. I wonder what’s wrong with our world today.”

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After Girardi said his peace, Red Sox manager John Farrell and Dempster both denied the intent behind A-Rod’s HBP; both said he was just trying to set up pitches on the inner half of the plate and establish the strike zone.

Now that it’s become apparent, what really may not make sense to many people is that Dempster and the union voted that players can play during suspension appeals, yet he still went after Rodriguez. Then again with the news of Rodriguez supposedly outing Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and teammate Cervelli, dropping their names in connection to

Biogenesis – perhaps he took issue with that.

Maybe that was the real reason he hit him?

What’s bogus were Dempster’s postgame comments. It was obvious there was indeed intent behind the bean ball; although there haven’t been too many pitchers who have struck batters intentionally like Cole Hamels (as he did with Bryce Harper) and openly told the tale of how he proudly and maliciously plunked a hitter.

If nothing else, A-Rod may have gained back support from Yankee fans. It’s possible, in fact likely. He himself even said the whole thing brought he and his teammates together. Yankee Universe of course has the mentality of, “it’s OK for us to be angry with our guy – with A-Rod – but it’s sure as heck not OK for anyone else to kick him when he’s down. Especially Boston.”

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Fully expect Rodriguez to get a huge hand during tomorrow’ doubleheader vs. Toronto at Yankee Stadium. Dempster may have done him a favor by plunking him, and in the process, refueled the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry tank: a tank that’s been seemingly running on empty for awhile now.

Boston and New York have seven games remaining against each other this season (four in the Bronx Sept. 5-8) and the last three at Fenway (Sept. 13-15). Therefore it’s possible Dempster and Rodriguez may meet again, which you can be sure, will
be quite an interesting encounter.

Rodriguez described himself as “pissed” after Dempster hit him. He added that the thought of charging the mound never entered his mind, because getting ejected and punished for a fight wasn’t an option. He called himself “too valuable to lose” when the Yankees are trying to win games. And while that may seem like an egotistical statement, A-Rod went on to say every Yankee player is too valuable to lose when they are trying so very hard to make a run right now.

Instead of starting more trouble Rodriguez kept his cool and got revenge a much better way: obviously a long, loud, momentum-swaying home run. Better than getting ejected and (gulp) suspended for a basebrawl.

Yet keep in mind, Girardi mouthed off to Dempster, and in his haste before getting ejected by O’Nora defiantly claimed, “Someone’s getting hit.” It may not have been last night, but with seven games remaining – bank on a Red Sox player getting beaned by a Yankee pitcher at some point in retaliation.

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Again, it will undoubtedly be interesting, however it all unfolds.

Because after all, we’re Yankees, right? You mess with one Yankee, you mess with all Yankees. Even if it’s A-Rod. I mean, he’s not heavy. He’s our third baseman.

Right?

Domo arigato, Mr. Matsui

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In 2003 Godzilla came to New York. No, not the monster. Although one could argue what Hideki Matsui accomplished over the course of his MLB career was pretty scary; enough big hits to bring any city in the world – New York, Tokyo, anywhere – to its knees. Today the man from Japan has announced his retirement, the end of an outstanding career. And in a lot of ways, the end of an era in baseball.

What sometimes gets lost when talking about Matsui’s career is the fact that it didn’t begin in the United States. In 1993 Matsui started his baseball career in the Far East, in Nippon Professional Baseball, to be exact. He collected several awards and accolades as a member of the Yomiuri Giants, including three Japan Series Championships in 1993, 2000, and 2002, among countless other notable achievements.

As a matter of fact, there is a museum in Japan dedicated to Matsui’s baseball career. Think about it: the man is basically (and maybe arguably) the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball. To the fans in Japan who have followed his entire career, today can be considered comparable to the day “the Great Bambino” hung up his cleats.

Throughout his time in pinstripes, Matsui afforded the Yankees many moments of excitement, and now it’s time to once again say goodbye and thank you – or domo arigato – to another beloved Bronx Bomber.

Grand opening

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They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Matsui made the most of that chance in his debut at Yankee Stadium in 2003. In the first game of the season at home, the left fielder stepped up to the plate in front of Yankee Universe and with one swing became an instant fan favorite.

With the bases chucked and a flurry of light snow falling, Matsui clubbed a grand slam home run which helped the Yanks beat the Minnesota Twins 7-3 in their ’03 home opener – the first Yankee in history to go to granny’s house in his first game at the “House that Ruth built” and a picture perfect way to kick-start a strong tenure in New York.

“I never dreamed of it,” he told the media after the game. “Certainly I feel a little relief.”

Helping stage the comeback

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Matsui pieced together a strong 2003 season. 16 home runs, a .287 batting average, and 106 RBIs were not a bad way for him to introduce himself to the Yankees and for his solid production, he nearly captured the ’03 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Because of his age at the time, 29, a pair of voters didn’t include him on the ballot – in this writer’s opinion, a whimsical reason to leave any player off the ballot for such an award. If it’s a player’s first season in the league, that said player is a rookie, whether they be 19, 29, 39, or 49.

But the ROTY award seemed inconsequential when Matsui and the Yanks made the ’03 postseason – a World Series title set in sight as opposed to individual titles. Matsui proved to be incredibly valuable to the team down the stretch and into the month of October.

That was never more evident than in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

What most people remember about that night is, of course, Aaron Boone’s glorious blast in the 11th to send the Yankees to the World Series. The image of Boone swinging at Tim Wakefield’s hanging knuckleball is burned into all of our brains; the cowhide lifted deep into the New York night, and finally landing in the left field seats for an ALCS-ending win over the Red Sox.

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We all know that. However, what sometimes gets forgotten is how the Yankees fought back in the eighth inning that fateful night.  It was 5-2 Boston in the bottom of the eighth.

Derek Jeter leads off with a double.

Bernie Williams brings him in with a single, 5-3 Boston.

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Matsui sharply lines a ground-rule double down the line in right to set up Jorge Posada, who knocked a blooper into center field, bringing both Williams and Matsui home to knot it up, 5-5, thus setting up the game’s happy ending.

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World Series home run: a first

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The Yankees made the fall classic in ’03, but fell in six games to the Florida Marlins, not the most gracious way to finish the season following the amazing fight back vs. Boston in the ALCS.

However in Game 2 of the World Series – a game the Yankees won, 6-1, Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to homer in a World Series game – a round-tripper in the first inning on a 3-0 pitch.

It was merely a small sample of Matsui’s World Series power: something we all became familiar with six years later.

A classy warrior

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On May 11, 2006 the Yankees hosted the Red Sox at home, an early season rivalry game. In left field Matsui dove for a ball and landed awkwardly. He fractured his wrist; an injury that not only landed him on the DL and sidelined him for a good chunk of the season, but put an end to his streak of 518 consecutive games played with the Yankees – and 1,768 games in a row played professionally, going back to his days in Japan.

Matsui became the only player I’ve ever known who apologized for an injury.

He gracefully stood before the Yankee brass and said he was sorry for diving for the ball and hurting himself, something no common ballplayer would ever do.

When Matsui returned to the team on Sept. 12 he showed no signs of rust, going 4-for-4 with a walk, an RBI single, and two runs scored.

2,000 and 100

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Matsui enjoyed two dates in 2007 that marked milestones in his illustrious career.

First, May 6 vs. Seattle at home. While Roger Clemens basically stole the show with the announcement of his comeback, Matsui made history with his 2,000th career hit, professionally; again dating back to his days with the Yomiuri Giants.

If that wasn’t enough, he made history again on Aug. 5, 2007 at Yankee Stadium vs. the Kansas City Royals – and was in the shadow of another Yankee who had just accomplished a career landmark.

The day after Alex Rodriguez smacked his 500th career home run, Matsui belted his 100th career home run (as a Yankee) in the bottom of the third; a homer off Gil Meche that cleared the wall in right field.

I remember the details of that home run fondly, only because I was in attendance that Sunday afternoon; box seats behind the third base dugout.

Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to reach 100 home runs in MLB, a feat that has only since been matched by current Yankee Ichiro Suzuki (104 home runs).

Birthday bashing

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Matsui celebrated his 34th birthday on June 12, 2008 – and celebrated the best way possible: a grand slam home run. Coincidently, it was the only four runs the Yankees scored, as they went on to beat the Oakland A’s 4-1.

It doesn’t get much better than that. But how does he follow it up on his 35th birthday in 2009?

With a three-run shot. Against the Mets at home, Matsui homered in the sixth inning to give the Yanks a 7-6 lead over their cross-town rivals. The Bombers eventually won on a walk-off error on the part of Luis Castillo – another birthday present Matsui undoubtedly appreciated.

2009

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Matsui enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during his final hurrah in the Bronx. After a knee injury forced him out of left field Matsui took on the role of full-time designated hitter, a move that paid off royally for both him and the Yankees.

Comfortably Matsui smacked 28 home runs and drove in 90 runs while batting .274 in ’09, helping lead the Yanks to some big wins throughout the season.

On July 20 vs. the Orioles Matsui ended the game with one swing, crushing a walk-off home run to keep the Yankees’ win streak of four in a row following the All-Star break alive.

He earned the elusive Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month honor in August, mostly for his mind boggling performance vs. the Red Sox down the stretch and knack for multi-home run games during the month. On Aug. 21 Godzilla homered twice and drove in seven runs on the road vs. Boston on the way to a 20-11 win, becoming only the second player in Yankee history to knock in seven runs in a single game at Fenway Park since Lou Gehrig in 1930.

And he wasn’t done there.

Two days later he once again smacked two home runs in a game, and when he hit his 26th of the season on Sept. 19, he broke the Yankee record for most home runs hit by a designated hitter – a record previously held by Don Baylor.

A banner year like 2009 could only be topped off in one way…

World Series Hero

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The Yanks reached the fall classic in 2009 for the first time since Matsui’s first season in the majors in ‘03; a fitting way to conclude his time in New York, ending it the way it began, with a World Series appearance. And lucky for him (and all of us) it ended in much happier fashion.

The Yankees pummeled the Phillies and took the series 4-2 from them – a fall classic stage which allowed Matsui’s star to shine brighter than it ever had.

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With an 8-for-13 clip (.615 BA) three home runs, eight RBIs, a double, and a walk, Matsui captured the World Series MVP award. He was the premier hitter in the clinching Game 6 with six runs batted in – the first Yankee since Bobby Richardson (1960) to drive in six runs in a single World Series game, the first full-time DH to capture the MVP of the World Series, and yet again, the first Japanese-born player to win the World Series MVP.

All kinds of history. And Matsui made it all.

 

A day for the Champs

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Matsui left the Yanks after ’09 and headed out west, joining the LA Angels, signing as a free agent. And when the Angels joined the Yankees for their home opener on April 13, 2010 and for their 2009 ring ceremony, it was all love for the reigning World Series MVP.

Sure, he might’ve been wearing a different uniform. He might’ve been in the visiting dugout. He might’ve been an Angel, not a Yankee anymore. But Matsui received a deafening ovation from the Yankee faithful.

Being called to claim his ring, Matsui was embraced by his team – his old team – as the memory of his dominance in the ’09 World Series was not far from everyone’s mind that Tuesday afternoon.

It was an emotional moment for the team, but as a fan – a fan who was fortunate enough to see it live, in-person – it was even more bittersweet. I was happy for Matsui, but at the same time, much like today, it’s sad; knowing such a classy and extraordinary ballplayer is no longer playing the game.

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It’s tough to gauge in this day and age whether or not a player is worthy of the Hall of Fame. Those who vote – the writers, I mean – sometimes throw away their votes; don’t care who gets in, suspecting every player of using PEDs.

I’ll go out on a limb and, for now, say Matsui is on the borderline. If you factor in all he accomplished in Japan, and then add it onto what he did in MLB, there’s no doubt he’s locked in.

After all, isn’t it called the NATIONAL Baseball Hall of Fame?

Am I wrong? I mean, it’s not the AMERICAN Baseball Hall of Fame, is it?

Derek Jeter, a no doubt first ballot player, once called Matsui his favorite teammate. Matsui’s numbers speak for themselves, but if you’re voting for the HOF based on class, dignity, and the right way to play the game, Matsui is a first ballot inductee.

If he ever gets the call from Cooperstown, I think we all know which cap Matsui will be wearing on his plaque: one with a proud interlocking NY. Even when he had to trade up his jersey number (55) in 2012 while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, he chose to wear 35 – in honor of his old Yankee teammate of six years (2003-08), Mike Mussina.

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Even when he was away from the Bronx, it is evident the Yanks were always in his heart of hearts.

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On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere, THANK YOU HIDEKI! Your contributions to the Yankees and us fans will never be forgotten. You will long live in Yankee lore as one of the best hitters of the last decade, and more importantly the first Japanese player to accomplish so much in Major League Baseball.

I think it’s safe to say you have given a lot of young ballplayers in Japan hope for their future.

Domo arigato, Mr. Matsui. (Bow)

New York Yankees World Series parade

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

If it’s not the Twins, can the Yankees win?

Last year the Yankees were ousted from the playoffs at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, losing the deciding Game Five on Oct. 6. This year will be a much different story, considering the American League Division Series won’t even begin until Oct. 7 – 2012 already a longer postseason than 2011 for the Bronx Broskis.

By the end of tonight’s all-or-nothing Wild Card play-in game the Yanks will know where they’re headed for the first two games of the ALDS: they’ll either be getting on a plane set on course for Texas to play the Rangers, or they’ll be heading to Baltimore to face the Orioles.

Before they square off with their first round opponents, there’s an ALDS history lesson that needs to be taught. In 2001, the Yanks eliminated the Oakland A’s in five games. Since then have had an easy time with one particular team in the first round of the playoffs, but haven’t had much luck against virtually anyone else.

2002 ALDS: Yankees booted by the Los Angeles Angels, three games to one. Loss

2003 ALDS: Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins, three games to one. Win

2004 ALDS: Yankees duplicated ’03, beating the Minnesota Twins, three games to one. Win

2005 ALDS: Yankees once again booted by the LA Angels, this time three games to two. Loss

2006 ALDS: Yankees eliminated by the Detroit Tigers, three games to one. Loss

2007 ALDS: Yankees forced to an early exit at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, three games to one. Loss

2008: Didn’t make playoffs

2009 ALDS: Yankees sweep the Minnesota Twins, three games to none. Win

2010 ALDS: Yankees once again broom the Minnesota Twins, three games to none. Win

2011 ALDS: Yankees eliminated by the Tigers, three games to two. Loss

Obviously there’s a pattern here. The Yankees have no problem beating teams in the ALDS – teams that are only named Minnesota Twins, that is. The Angels, Tigers, and Indians have crushed the Yankees’ dreams in the ALDS, so it begs the question that’s been on my mind since last October:

If it’s not the Twins, can the Yankees win?

Either way, New York has a great deal of experience playing each of its potential 2012 first round opponents. This writer has been asked who he’d rather see the Yankees play in this year’s ALDS: the Rangers or Orioles. I’m not quite sure because the way I see it, there are pros and cons of facing either team.

Texas Rangers

Pros

  • The Rangers played incredibly sloppy baseball to close out the 2012 regular season, committing three errors on the way to a one-sided 12-5 loss to the Oakland A’s on Wednesday, blowing the AL West in the process– and it didn’t start there. Texas lost seven of its last 10 regular season games.

  • No Cliff Lee this time. If it wasn’t enough for Lee to hand the Yanks their only two losses in the 2009 World Series, he came back for seconds in the 2010 American League Championship Series; dominating the Bombers in a crucial Game Three with a masterful 13-strikeout performance. He was a huge part of the Rangers’ past success vs. New York – and he’ll be a non-factor this postseason. Speaking of past success…
  • Past success in the ALDS vs. Texas. The Yankees played the Rangers in the ALDS in 1996, 1998, and in 1999 – and knocked them out all three years while twice sweeping them (‘98 and ’99). Although the Rangers knocked the Yanks out in the second round of the playoffs in 2010, the Yanks have never had a problem with them in the first round. Numerically in fact, the Yankees are 9-1 vs. Texas in ALDS play.

Cons

  • The first two games will be played in Arlington. Along with the changes made to the Wild Card, MLB changed the rules in terms of home field advantage. Instead of the team with home field advantage playing the first two games at home, then going on the road for two, then coming home for a Game Five (if necessary), the team with HFA starts on the road for two games, then comes home for the final three (games four and five of course, if necessary). Therefore, the Yankees will have to play the first two ALDS games in Texas, which is a difficult Stadium to win at.

  • Facing Yu Darvish. The Yanks won’t have to worry about the young man from Japan in Game One of the ALDS if the Rangers take the Wild Card, as he’ll be starting the winner-take-all game vs. Baltimore tonight. However, if the Yankees do happen to cross paths with him, they should keep Tuesday, April 24 in mind: the night Darvish shut them down with an 8.1-inning, 10-strikeout masterpiece to lead the Rangers to a 2-0 win. His name might not be Cliff Lee, but Darvish was a virtuoso that night; reminiscent of a Lee performance.
  • Pitching to Josh Hamilton. In the 2010 ALCS Hamilton punished the Yankees, clubbing four home runs, driving in seven, and batting .350. He went on to win the ALCS MVP, and later the American League MVP. His batting average for 2012 may not have been the highest of his career (.285) but Hamilton still smacked 43 homers and batted in 128 runs. He is one of the most dangerous hitters in the big leagues – and obviously he’s more dangerous playing in October, when it matters.

Baltimore Orioles

Pros

  • Familiarity. The Yankees are no strangers to Camden Yards, having played nine games there this year. Yankee fans flock down from New York to root for the team, sometimes giving Oriole Park the feel of Yankee Stadium. And in case you’re wondering, six of the Yanks’ nine wins vs. Baltimore this year were road victories.
  • The Orioles’ postseason drought. Baltimore hasn’t danced in October since 1997 – and their last taste of playoff baseball ended on a sour note: the Indians beating them in the ALCS. It’ll be interesting to see just how the Orioles respond when all eyes are on them this October.
  • The absence of longtime Yankee nemesis Nick Markakis. The 28-year-old outfielder – also a career .295 hitter – was struck by a pitch on his thumb on Sept. 8, fracturing the bone and thus ending his season. With Baltimore boasting such a potent offensive lineup with the likes of Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters, Markakis is one less problem for the Yankee pitching staff to worry about.
  • Inexperience on the part of the Orioles’ third baseman. Manny Machado was called up from the Double-A Bowie Baysox on Aug. 9. He’s done a fine job on offense in his infantile career, with seven homers and 26 RBIs. But on Monday, some shoddy defense at third cost his team a game vs. Tampa Bay – a game the Orioles needed to win in order to stay in contention with the Yankees for the AL East. If Machado falls through the cracks on defense, it might cost the O’s in the playoffs, the same way it did vs. the Rays.

Cons

  • The Orioles knew how to win in extra innings this year. Baltimore posted 16 extra-inning victories in 2012, and won nine games that lasted 12 innings or longer. Some of their dramatics included a 15-inning win, a 17-inning win, and an 18-inning win this year. For the Yankees, playing only nine innings is key, given the O’s dominance in extra frames.
  • Pitching to Mark Reynolds. The Orioles’ first baseman smacked 23 home runs this year – and seven of those 23 were off Yankee pitchers. Reynolds posted a .294 average vs. the Yankees in 2012 and knocked in 14 runs against New York. All season long Reynolds has been a thorn in the Yanks’ side, and he has a chance to continue it in the playoffs.
  • Jim Johnson at the end of the game. Baltimore’s closer nailed down 51 saves this year in 54 save opps. Up until Tuesday, the Yankees were 0-for-58 when trailing after eight innings. Johnson is not a pitcher the Yankees would ideally want to be facing in a late, close game. Johnson was 3-for-3 in saves vs. New York this year.

  • Resiliency on the Orioles’ part. Case in point: Thursday, Sept. 6. At Camden Yards, the Yankees fell behind early and trailed the O’s 6-1 after seven innings. New York rallied for five runs in the top of the eighth to tie it at six – only for Baltimore to answer with a four-run bottom half of the eighth. When it looked as if the momentum swung the Yankees’ way, the Orioles made sure to show the Bombers they possess the ability to battle back. Baltimore went on to win, 10-6.

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As always, there are upsides and downsides of playing any postseason opponent. I’m not one to make predictions, but ESPN is: and 11 of 28 analysts in Bristol, Conn. say the Yankees will be going to the Fall Classic – and six of those 11 have the Yankees winning it all.

This writer can only hope those six are right.

It’s only too bad the Twins aren’t playing for the Wild Card this year. I know the Yankees would be rooting hard for them – and I think, given the history, I’d say the Yankees’ odds of winning the first round would be pretty favorable.

But it’s not the case. It’s not the Twins and if the Yanks want World Series number 28 this season, they’ll have to do what good teams do: find ways to win.

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!

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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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