Results tagged ‘ Yankee Stadium ’

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.

Swisher Salute!

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

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

Best of luck with the tribe.

New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles April 24,  2011

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!

The Grand Tour

With the Texas Rangers’ win over the Los Angeles Angels tonight, the Yankees have officially clinched a spot in the postseason this year, but they will go in knowing full well it took almost all 162 games to get into the party.

This afternoon was an indication of that.

Tied with Baltimore for the AL East lead entering play today, the Bronx Bombers weren’t helping themselves when they trailed the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 after five innings; Phil Hughes pitching about as poorly as it gets in a hugely important game.

Thankfully for him, the offense bailed him out.

The Yanks pieced together an epic rally, shredding away at the Jays’ four run lead, scoring one run in the sixth, three in the seventh, and two in the eighth and ninth innings for a necessary 9-6 victory.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, the Orioles also won their game this afternoon, beating the Red Sox 6-3 at home, and thus leaving the AL East in a stalemate going into the final three games of the 2012 regular season.

While the Yankees staged their comeback on the road, I spent the better part of my day at their home – Yankee Stadium. My friends and I were fortunate enough to take a tour of the ballpark, a trip I’ve wanted to go on for a long time.

We even took the tour with Ichiro’s brother!

Just kidding. But he looked almost exactly identical to him.

The first stop on the tour was the Yankee museum inside the Stadium. Our tour guide, a nice guy by the name of Tim, showed us the new Mickey Mantle exhibit. He then told some neat stories (most of which I already knew about) highlighting Mantle’s career.

For instance, during the 1951 World Series Mantle tore all the cartilage in his knee chasing down a fly ball struck by Willie Mays of the Giants – one of the multiple injuries Mantle suffered over the course of his legendary career.

I first learned of that story in the movie 61*

From the museum, we journeyed to Monument Park, behind the center field wall. I’ve been to Monument Park a number of times, and never knew the story behind the door.

According to Tim, there originally was no door linking the Yankee bullpen to Monument Park. Mariano Rivera made a special request for a door to be put in – all because of his pre-appearance ritual. Before every time Rivera runs in from the bullpen, he goes into Monument Park and rubs Babe Ruth’s monument.

Don’t ask me why. For luck, I suppose? Like he needs it…

At any rate, it was a nice little factoid; nothing I knew about before. I also bent over and picked up a rock from behind the Monument wall, and discreetly put it in my pocket for keeping. I’m not sure if was allowed to do that or not…

But I won’t tell if you don’t. I just wanted to keep a piece of the day – and Yankee Stadium – for myself.

After our tour of Monument Park concluded, we made our way to the Yankee dugout, which in my opinion was the best and most fun part of the tour. We were allowed to snap pictures and make all the funny poses we wanted. My friends and I actually came up with a small running joke for this picture:

I was told I could be “Ellen Page’s boyfriend.” Don’t ask.

We then decided to pretend we were in the middle of a heated game, and posed as if the Yankees crushed a walk-off home run. We made sure to take full advantage of the dugout photo-ops.

I’ve always dreamt what it was like to be in the Yankees’ dugout – and it was pretty cool knowing that, in only a matter of hours, the entire team would be back and buzzing; right in the same spot I was in, as the Yanks come home to host Boston tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday to close out the year.

Before we left, I sat down and slid my rear end across the entire bench, then declared,

“Derek Jeter always sits on this bench. And now I did, too.”

The two security guards laughed hysterically at my shenanigan.

We were then taken into the clubhouse, but with one small caveat: no pictures allowed. The organization feels the clubhouse is the Yankee players’ personal space, and snapping photos inside that personal space isn’t right.

I have to agree – if I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t want people coming in and taking pictures of my locker and my personal belongings which it holds.

Some things I did take notice of, albeit I don’t have pictures – and some clubhouse facts from Tim:

  • Boone Logan has a Yankee lawn gnome in his locker.
  • Jayson Nix had a bottle of what looked like prescription pills in his locker. And an iPhone charger.  
  • For most of the season, Derek Jeter has two lockers: one for his baseball equipment and one for fan mail and gifts from his sponsors. In fact, Tim said, “If they could fit a Ford truck into this clubhouse, they would, and it would be right in that locker with the rest of Jeter’s stuff.”
  • With all the September call-ups, Francisco Cervelli is using Jeter’s second locker, for now.
  • David Aardsma, who was just activated, didn’t have a name/number plate above his locker. That was to be expected, however. He hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium yet.
  • Ichiro’s locker is the same locker Hideki Matsui used.
  • The visiting clubhouse is “big and nice, but not as big and nice as the Yankees’ clubhouse.”
  • When leaving the new Stadium, the players don’t have to leave from the outside of the building – unlike the old Stadium.

The elevator from the clubhouse took us right up into the Great Hall where the tour started, and Tim gave everyone a little souvenir: a Yankee Stadium tour keychain. My friends and I then took a walk over to the Hard Rock Café for some lunch, which surprisingly was very affordable and not overly pricey. (My friend Alicia over at Ballparks on a Budget would appreciate it!)

We watched the Yanks take the win over the Jays as we ate, and before we left, we basically got a little bonus. It turns out part of the frieze from the old Stadium is now sitting outside Heritage Field. We went over and took some photos with it, and I placed my hand on it; kind of touched it with my heart, in a way.

As much as I like the new Stadium, I truly enjoyed the original House that Ruth built. And it felt only right to pay homage to a relic.

Overall, it was one of the best and most fun days of my life.

Was I the happiest kid in New York today?

Yes. But then again, I was probably the happiest kid alive.

Makin’ Moves

Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.

Ichiro Joins the Yankees

Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.  

Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.

The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.

The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.

To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.

Right on, Dave.

In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.

This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.

Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.

After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.

The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.

Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks

On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.

Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.

Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.

Thank God we live in the year 2012.

Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.

Obviously that’s not the case this year.

Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it.  As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.

There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.

A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.

“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”

Rivalry Renewed

The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.

The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners.  Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA). 

Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.

MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:

Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?

Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.

So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.

Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.

Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.

Some Encouragement from Sandberg

As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.

The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for.  I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).

Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.

After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.     

“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.

“Yes,” I answered.

Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”

I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”

Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”

The Examiner,” I replied.

“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.

 “That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”

I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”

Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.

I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.

Hopefully to a League title.

A Minor Assignment

Yesterday afternoon was almost awesome for the Yankees, in their series finale vs. the Los Angeles Angels. But what’s that old saying? “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

With the tying run on second base, the potential winning run on first base, and two outs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez had a chance to channel his inner 2007 and walk off the Yankee Stadium field a hero. Instead he came up short, popping the ball up behind first base; the cowhide falling into waiting glove of Albert Pujols for a 10-8 loss.

Nonetheless, the Yankees still own the best record in baseball at 54-34, and remain in first place in the AL East, a cool eight games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles.

While the Yankees were taking two games out of three from the Angels this weekend, I had the opportunity to cover the same minor league team I interned for in 2010, the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are connected to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since the high school sports scene is obviously voided for summer vacation, my editor thought it might be fun for me to cover some Renegades games, just to give me some work and a chance to cover some professional baseball.

Saturday evening I made my way to up Dutchess Stadium, much like I did every game day two years ago, to cover the Renegades’ game vs. the Mahoning Valley Scrappers – a minor league team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.

It was a different feeling on the way to the ballpark, however, knowing I’d be sitting up in the press box rather than setting up for the game and handling all the oftentimes unpleasant tasks interns have to do. Like this…

When I walked into the Stadium, it felt surreal. Not having been there in two years and having so many memories – and all those memories coming back to me in that moment – was a little overwhelming. All of the players (including Robinson Cano’s cousin Burt Reynolds) and interns who were there in 2010 have moved on; it was so strange looking around and not seeing all the familiar faces.

Wearing my press pass, I made my way up to the breezeway, past the luxury boxes and into the press box, where a number of MiLB personnel and beat writers were.

A group of them were conversing about the recent draft, and speculating about which players were going to make an impact in the future. They also shared with each other some stories about traveling, going from city to city following their respective teams. It was a little intimidating for me, knowing these reporters are the real deal; not that I’m not the real deal, but they are writers that get to experience professional baseball on a daily basis.

I guess it was only natural to feel intimidated; me being just a fresh, relatively new high school sports reporter who was given an assignment – they being writers with years of experience in the business. I’ll admit I was nervous – nervous, but not scared. Believe it or not, a Tweet from one of my former co-workers at the Renegades put my mind at ease.

Thanks, Dan.

The other writers eventually left though, and took seats down the left field line in a designated area for press members. I elected to remain in the press box with another reporter, the official scorer, and the girl who runs the Renegades’ Twitter page. The group of us shared a lot of laughs and banter throughout the game.

Before the game started, I kind of soaked it in; took in the view.

The Renegades led off the bottom of the first with a home run from their center fielder Joey Rickard. They then took a 2-0 lead after two innings when their left fielder, DeShun Dixon, led off the bottom of the second with a home run.

Dixon would knock in a run on an RBI single in the third after an RBI single off the bat of Renegades’ shortstop Ryan Dunn (Yes, Ryan Dunn. I’m aware he shares the same name as Bam Margera’s late friend).

Leading 4-0 heading into the fourth, the Scrappers put up two runs on back-to-back RBI doubles off reliever Brandon Henderson. Renegades’ starter, 19-year-old Taylor Guerrieri – who was Tampa Bay’s top pick out of Columbia, S.C. a year ago – left the game after three innings, using up a lot of his pitches.  

Following the back-to-back RBI doubles, the ‘Gades bent but didn’t break. They held the score until the seventh when second baseman Tommy Coyle blasted a two-run homer, the Renegades’ third round-tripper of the night.

Trailing 6-2, the Scrappers threatened in the ninth. Mahoning Valley loaded the bases with nobody out, but again, the Renegades refused to fold. Reliever Ryan Garton induced a 6-4-3 double play, which allowed a run to come home, before notching the last out.

Final score: Renegades 6, Scrappers 3

It marked the Renegades’ eighth win at home this year, and they are only a game out of first place in their division behind the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ farm team.

I left the press box and went to the clubhouse where I caught up with Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ manager, ex-Devil Ray, and nephew of famed Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. I had to ask him what makes his team so good when they’re playing at home.

“We get the last at-bats, we make it exciting, and we get the chance to put on a show for the home crowd,” he said.

“The crowd comes out and supports us every night, with 4,000-plus, and it’s fun to play in front of a big crowd. They get behind us and it’s good energy.”

I then questioned him about the home runs, seeing as how a power surge led to the win. He admitted the long ball raised his eyebrows.

 “We haven’t hit many homers this year, so it was a little bit of a surprise,” he said.

“It was also good to see because guys aren’t trying to hit home runs and they’re hitting home runs. Any time Joey Rickard can lead off the game with a homer and give us that boost, that’s nice, and then DeShun Dixon hits a two-run homer with a flick of the bat. Then obviously Tommy Coyle’s late home run gave us some breathing room.”

With the top pick on the mound, and a decent job from the relief corps, I inquired about how well the Renegades’ pitching has been anchoring the team.

“The pitching is keeping our season going in the right direction,” Sandberg said.

“We can lean on the pitchers right now because they’re throwing strikes and competing extremely well. The team is playing relaxed but we’re going out there competing every night and that’s what a manager wants.”

Overall I was extremely satisfied with how it went. My editor thought I did a great job with the story, and I hope this is just serving as a warm-up; the start of what I pray is a long career covering pro baseball.

Perhaps I’ll be one of those beat writers in the press box, talking about the new draft picks and sharing stories about life on the road, covering pro baseball teams.

Maybe someday. Until then, I have this story: getting the chance to cover a pro baseball game for the first time.

Bottom line: I loved it.

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