- Gardner LF
- Judge RF
- Stanton DH
- Gregorius SS
- Sanchez C
- Hicks CF
- Austin 1B
- Andújar 3B
- Torreyes 2B
Starting – Severino
(Maybe Judge and Didi can switch places for a while, that seemed to work a whole lot last year, ijs…)
Starting – Severino
(Maybe Judge and Didi can switch places for a while, that seemed to work a whole lot last year, ijs…)
It’s been said that time begins on Opening Day, but it’s more accurate to say that Opening Day marks the passing of time. Today begins the forty-ninth baseball season since I was born, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older it’s that the calendar pages flip much faster than they used to. Everything speeds up. The children who used to fit nicely in your arms are readying for college, the grey in your hair has won the battle against the color of your youth, and when an old friend starts a story with “Remember that time…” he could be talking about something that happened three decades ago.
And so it is with baseball. When I was a boy my entire life centered around the game, whether I was playing in the street, watching my heroes on television, poring over box scores in the back of the sports section, or reading about ghosts named Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron, and Clemente.
The winter was dark, even after we moved to California, because the game was gone. There was no stretch of time longer than November through March, a five-month void that loomed before me each year like a trans-Atlantic crossing. I knew we’d eventually get there, but I could never see the shore.
But somewhere along the line those months started clicking by without notice, probably because my relationship with the game changed. Baseball still has my heart, but there’s competition now. Adults have jobs and mortgages and families. Other interests. While I could still tell you Ron Guidry’s 1978 ERA off the top of my head, I don’t remember how many home runs Aaron Judge hit last season. I can list the World Series winners for most of the twentieth century, but I have no idea who won five years ago.
But baseball doesn’t. Two years ago my son and I took a train to San Diego to watch the Yankees play the Padres, and we were rewarded with a win and an autographed ball from Reggie Jackson. Last season we drove down the road to Anaheim to watch the Aaron Judge Show, and naturally he roped a home run into the centerfield seats. My son will never be the baseball fan that I was and still am, but I know he’ll remember these moments after I’m gone, and maybe one day he’ll bring his child to a ballpark and tell those stories.
My son and I won’t be able to watch the Yankees together this afternoon – he’ll be at his school and I’ll be at mine – but we’ll text about it. He’ll ask me who won, and he’ll ask who hit home runs. As the season unfolds he’ll notice the new faces who show up, and he’ll ask me about Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. We’ll pick a game to see them when they come to town, and he’ll wonder about which t-shirt to wear, Tanaka or Judge. We’ll sit in the stands sharing kettle corn, and I’ll tell him stories about players long dead and games long forgotten. Mainly, though, we’ll be together.
This is baseball.
Well now, as the present team continues to whittle down its roster and take form, we look at what the team was doing over twenty years ago as it was about to embark on a journey that would take them to, in baseball terms anyway, the Promised Land. The off season was fraught with changes; some in response to the disappointment of losing the first -ever Wild Card series with a team that was anticipated to carry the day into the World Series, and some because Mt. Vesuvius was back in charge and about to kick some major ash;m that is if he wasn’t headed off at the pass to some degree. While Showalter was likely made the scapegoat for the Yanks not going deep into the playoffs (never mind that Seattle had a helluva team with three of their own legends-in-the-making in their midst among others), Stick deflected some of the wrath from his young core by jumping out of the front office hot seat to become VP of Scouting, installing a new man to put the finishing touches on what was already a very solid contender; that man was former Houston outfielder and GM Bob Watson, who happened to have a few interesting notes of baseball trivia on his resume: the first player to hit for the cycle in both the AL and NL (in the same season, no less), being awarded for scoring the 1,000,000th run in MLB history (four seconds before Dave Concepcion, though it was later discovered that neither was close to being the one who accomplished that feat and that no one would ever know who did it), having made a cameo appearance along with several Houston teammates in a Bad News Bears movie (yeah, but not the good one) and becoming the first African American general manager in MLB history. Now he was about to be the first one for the Yankees. It was a little bit of a homecoming for Watson as well; he played for the Yanks from 1980-82, 1981 being his only and the team’s last World Series they appeared in for going on fifteen years (in which he batted .319 with two HRs and 7 RBI). Watson was a tough character, a solid player during his day and the fortitude it seemed to withstand the maelstrom that was Steinbrenner. That said, few were prepared for the next big news item…
Joseph Paul Torre; built in Brooklyn some fifty-five years beforehand and looking every bit as Brooklyn as one could imagine back in the day, having played 18 years of baseball (nine of them worthy of being voted as an All-Star and one as the MVP, with a Gold Glove and batting title mixed in for good measure) and collecting well over 2,300 hits, 1,185 runs batted in, 252 HRs and hitting .297 lifetime, was undoubtedly in a rut. His managerial career started in 1977 as a player-manager for the Mets, a title that he shortly gave up by retiring as a player after 18 days to focus on managing. Despite his earnestness, the Mets of that era were no better off than the crew of the Hesperus as his hollowed-out roster from year -to-year won no more than 67 games a season, including the strike-shortened 1981 season, after which he was fired. However, his next gig brought him to Atlanta, where he had an immediate impact replacing Bobby Cox and guided the Braves to a National League West title, their first since the season of the Amazin’ Mets (whom Torre had just left). For his efforts, Torre won his first Manager of the Year award; first person to win that and an MVP in major league baseball. Subsequent seasons were a little less successful, culminating in an 80-82 season in 1984, after which Atlanta also let him go.
Torre moved into the TV broadcast booth from there, working for another five seasons providing color commentary for the California Angels and for NBC’s Game of the Week. When the St. Louis Cardinals fired popular manager Whitey Herzog, they called Torre to replace him, and he guided the franchise to winning records in each of the first three seasons he managed them. However, the Cards could never break into the playoffs, and after a teardown season in 1995 in which Anhauser-Busch prepared to sell the team, Torre was unceremoniously dumped. All-in-all, Joe Torre was a familiar face, but a manager whose won/loss record was the definition of mediocrity; up to this point, his managerial record was 894-1,003 (.471), and though there was an MVP as a player and a Manager of the Year award way back in his early days of Atlanta, there was little reason for anyone to believe that he could be a candidate for the suddenly open position of Manager of the New York Yankees; much less for a historically demanding and difficult owner given to moments of unstable and unpredictable polarity.
However, Stick must have seen something in Torre the same way he saw something in Bernie, in Paul O’Neill, in Pettitte, Posada, Jeter and Mo that he wanted to keep them around, so he recommended him to George. Molloy was also impressed with Torre, and he supported hiring Torre. The whole front office (save one: Asst. GM Brian Cashman), even George’s personal flack Arthur Richman were on Torre’s side. Perhapshis calm demeanor in the see-saw racket of wining and losing impressed them more than anything else; to his credit, he made good use of what talent he managed to have on his roster to better ends than pundits predicted. Torre’s Braves and Cardinals were not too different than what the Yankees had built themselves to be at this point, and his calmness represented an about-face to Showalter’s intensity in some minds. All George knew at this point was that he wanted him. Watson was telling the press that he was still interviewing candidates when the hire was announced; a ruse? Or was it a commandment handed down from above that got slowed down at the station before reaching the general manager’s ears? For his part, Watson said nothing more and praised Torre as the only guy interviewed, and the only one they considered afterward.
Not that this pleased anyone beyond the vaunted gates of Yankee Stadium (outside of Mets fans, perhaps)… as it turned out, the enormous blowback from the media and fans had George running scared, now trying to find a way to bring Showalter back. After all, Buck was younger, a proven winner and had a more impressive winning percentage than Torre, plus he knew the system and the players in it. So what that George kicked him to the curb in a devious and cowardly manner, he was New York’s Golden Boy of the Moment. Why didn’t he deserve a chance to take the team he actually helped build to a championship? Clueless Joe was an interloper, a usurper; some middle-aged Brooklyn bum who had proven over and over again that while he came across as a mensch and a nice guy, his skill as a leader of a baseball team was meh, whatevah… in all this, Steinbrenner was singled out as the Yankees’ biggest and greatest liability to contention and glory; his obsessive meddling, well-worn pragmatism and oblique judgement led him to make yet another serious bungle at the worst time, but this time New Yorkers weren’t taking his s***. And so it went, as the Yanks prepared to venture into territory they hadn’t seen in about eighteen years, with “Clueless Joe” at the helm.
And… you know what happened after that >;)
1996 New York Yankees Roster
Jalal Leach was drafted in 1990 in the sixth round; he progressed at a moderate pace through the system, reaching Columbus in 1994, where he hight too lightly for an outfielder to be called up. Being taken by the Expos in the minor league draft, although bad timing professionally, did help him directly to improve his batting as he bat well over .300 and gained a little pop for the next five minor league seasons between Montreal, Seattle and San Francisco. It was with the Giants that he finally got his cup of coffee; collecting a hit and two walks (all against Octavio Dotel, which at the time wasn’t saying much) in three games and ten at bats while playing the corner outfield positions. He never did get any MLB time after that, and continued for a few more years in Mexico before retiring and coming back to the Yanks as a scout, where he stayed until 2015 when he returned to the Giants in the same capacity.
Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock became serviceable players for Seattle, while obviously Tino and Nelson became pillars of the lineup and bullpen respectively. Jim Mecir is the only one here who didn’t really pan out long term for the Yanks; the next season he was traded as a player to be named later in a previous transaction with Boston that saw Mike Stanley return to the Yanks. He was later drafted by the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays and played for three seasons before signing with Oakland for four seasons, then finishing out his career with the then-Florida Marlins. However, if you look him up, or if you like to read novels or non-fiction books about sports (baseball in particular), you’ll find some interesting facts about Mecir, which puts his career in a somewhat remarkable context.
Mariano Duncan was a known name in the 90s; he started his career as an undrafted free agent infielder with the Dodgers in 1982, spending three years in the minors before getting called up; he finished third in ROY voting. However, though he had speed and stole quite a few bases for the Dodgers, he was a light hitter, which caused him to spend the entire ’88 season in the minors while the Dodgers won the World Series, He came back the next season and did a little better, but not enough to avoid being traded (with future Yank for a Minute Tim Leary) to Cincinnati, where he finally came into his own and became a successful cog in the team’s 1990 World Series Championship campaign. He moved onto Philly two seasons later and became an All-Star at 2B, but in August 1995 when Philly tried to sneak him through waivers, he was snatched up by the Reds and finished out the season there. Perhaps this experience motivated him when he came to the Yanks in 1996, because the relatively light hitter, emergency-subbing for both Pat Kelly and Tony Fernandez who were both injured, turned in a 340/.352/.500 slash line as a super-utility and handpicked mentor. “We play today, We win today, Das’ it!” was his and one of his young charge’s spontaneous motto, and quickly became the team mantra. Older Mo’s success stopped short at the World Series that year though; he hit 1-19 in the final series, but the Yanks won despite his shortcoming at the plate. Duncan was traded for a minor leaguer the next season after falling back to norm and closed out his MLB career at season’s end. After playing one season in Japan, he become a coach; most notably on Torre’s squads with the Dodgers, and currently is the hitting coach for a low-minors team in the Chicago Cubs system. Considering that he played big brother to Jeter, Posada and The Other Mo and taught them to be prime professionals, it’s a wonder the Yanks don’t have him in their system (a little shade for Cashman if you don’t mind)…
Blaise Kozeniewski never got a sniff at the big leagues; perhaps his big game college stuff didn’t translate consistently as a pro, perhaps because he was one of several potential replacement players during the 1994 strike. His one notable point of history with the Yankees was being the PTBNL in a trade for future HOFer and second fastest man currently in baseball Tim Raines. His stats show that he didn’t even play ball beyond the 1995 season, so that turned out to be a heavily one-sided trade.
By 1994, Dwight Gooden was at the end of his rope. When he was suspended a second time for testing positive for drugs, his wife found him the next day in the bedroom with a loaded gun to his head. His legacy was in tatters; thoughts of the young “Doctor K” from his glory days with the Mets were long gone, along with any significant signs dedicated to him around the city. But fate smiled on him in the person of Ray Negron; a Yankee associate with an interesting backstory of his own. Negron, who had helped Strawberry get a shot with the Yankees that season, convinced Steinbrenner to give Gooden a chance as well; he even drew up the contract terms for him, though he was not an approved agent (which drew the attention of Player’s Association counsel Gene Ozra). The story almost retreated to sadness again as Gooden did not perform well in Spring or for his first couple of starts, but instead of being released he agreed to go to the minors to work out his mechanics. When he came back in May, he brought some of his old Doctor K style with him: he no-hit the Mariners, winning 2-0 and helping exact a measure of revenge for the Wild Card series loss last season.
Tim McIntosh and Rafael Quirico: McIntosh was a journeyman backup catcher/OF drafted by Milwaukee in 1985 and made his debut in the majors in 1990. He bounced from the Brewers to the Expos, usually as a depth player for their minor league system, then played in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1995 before signing on with the Yanks to again add depth at Columbus. After three at-bats in September, he was released at the onset of the post-season, effectively ending his major league career and finishing pro ball in 1999 with independent Sacramento. Quirico, another unfortunate soul who missed the Yankee Dynasty by thatmuch, though when looking over his stats, he might have been better off not having made the cut under any circumstances with the Yanks. Drafted as a 19 year-old in 1989, he made steady progress up the ranks until he hit Columbus, where batters hit him… often. by 1996, he had stalled out in both Columbus and back down to AA Norwich, from where he was released. The Phillies picked him up and assigned him to A+ Clearwater to reboot him, and he made it to Scranton Wilkes-Barre (where the Yanks’ AAA team currently resides), then finally getting a start in the first game of a mid-season double-header in June 1996… where he promptly bombed, lasting only an inning and two-thirds, giving up seven runs on four hits, walking five and getting one strikeout. The team thanked him for his services, sent him back to the minors and promptly forgot about him.
Nick Johnson was supposed to be the heir apparent to Don Mattingly when he was drafted; he was known to have an excellent bat and good instincts around first. Admittedly, when he did manage to make it to the big club, there were flashes. But the flashes often came between injuries that waylaid him much of his time with the Yanks, and apparently sapped much of his promise as a top prospect. despite his shortcomings, the Yanks made an awful trade involving him, Randy Choate and Juan Rivera (no relation) for Montreal Expos pitcher Javier Vasquez a season before the Expos relocated and renamed themselves the Washington Nationals. After some productive years in DC, he returned to the Yanks for the 2010 season, where he resumed his inability to stay healthy enough to play a significant amount of games.
Scott Seabol; career mostly spent in the minors with the Yanks and other teams, he became a utility player with St. Louis and saw limited action in 2006, then played overseas for a few years before calling it a career.
There were quite a few significant pieces added to this puzzle, obviously: the return of Darryl, who was lighting up St. Paul with monster home runs when he re-signed with the Yanks on the dramatic Fourth of July, and proceeded to hit dramatic home runs. There was also a maturity that he had seemingly lacked in his days with the Mets and Dodgers; though personal problems still floated on the periphery (including a short bout with prostate cancer), his presence among the rookies and younger players in the clubhouse was rather stately and demure; he seemed to embrace his new role and the Yankee Way as it is often put, and he put all of it to good use. Cecil Fielder though was almost a bad fit for this team, as his presence was mainly as a home run threat, which he suddenly found rather hard to fulfill as he did not have the steady at-bats that he was used to with Detroit (where he routinely hit home runs in his sleep). However, the home runs he did hit in 1996 for the Yankees turned out to be timely and he managed to help put the team over the top during the World Series. His run of dominance officially ended with the Yanks though, and he signed with Anaheim after the 97 season. Hmm, who do you think was better in his prime, Cecil or his son Prince?
I was sorry to see Wickman and Gerald Williams go; they were serviceable players, and particularly with Gerald rather likable. What they got in return basically turned out to be the dominant LOOGY of his time, and not a bad guy to have on your side in a fight. Bones, a pesky sort of pitcher, didn’t really add much value and Listach was… well, he was there. David Weathers was also there, and though his stats don’t tell you, he did manage to get a lot of critical outs; yet the beginning of 97 put him squarely in Steinbrenner’s crosshairs and he was ordered off the team, which they accomplished mid-season. It sort-of worked out that he got small revenge for the move as Cleveland ousted the Yanks in the ALCS and he had a small hand in that. Overall, he pitched 19 seasons in the majors.
But my favorite underrated move in this season was getting Luis Sojo off the scrap heap from Seattle. Sojo did not look like a ballplayer, much less an infielder. But somehow he managed to get critical hits when least expected, and he made critical defensive plays that shocked you even more. Still, there was one play where he got tripped up over his own feet and fell flat on the ground; fortunately it was not a critical error, and everyone from the players on both sides to the fans laughed their behinds off. His gaff was immortalized by a poster in the Sunday pullout section of the Daily News during their postseason run that year; a cartoon of Sojo with a goofy smile and his shoelaces tied together about to throw to first. He played the majority of his career with the Yanks as the fan and coach favored utility player of their Dynasty years. Sojo’s value cannot be understated, as the Yanks searched far and wide for a similarly favored replacement after retirement, with mixed results.
So that is 1996, I’m sure there’s more to be said, but I’ve already said too much >;)
Yanks signed Neil Walker on Monday afternoon; late of the Pirates, Mets and most recently Milwaukee, on a 1-year/$4 mil deal to ostensibly be the start at second on Opening Day, but more likely to act as the veteran bridge for both Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. While Walker is essentially a downgrade offensively from Starlin Castro, his defense is considered a valuable upgrade; the hope being that he can stabilize both the right side of the infield and the bottom of the lineup while the Andujar and Torres are being groomed for third and second, respectively (and it doesn’t hurt for the organization that it adds another year of control for both of them). Everyone and their moms knew that Cashman was not going to go straight in with the rookies to start the season, so he played the market and got a solid player for a bargain.
That sort of selectivity didn’t come from just anywhere; Cashman had started his Yankee career as an intern in the 80s and received an education on how Steinbrenner and the Yanks did business; having a front row to the highs and lows of the organization from the field to the front office. Steinbrenner introduced a young Cashman to his lieutenants by saying, “pay attention; he’s going to be your boss someday.”
In 1995, The Strike continued on into the beginning of April. The players, who didn’t trust the team owners for a minute after they’d forced Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign in 1992 and never bothered to officially replace him, were purportedly striking to prevent the institution of a salary cap planned by the owners, who complained that revenues were down all over and threatened to bankrupt small market teams that didn’t have the capacity of big market teams to be profitable on their own. Revenue sharing was part of their plan, but holding costs down by instituting a cap was preferred. Naturally, this didn’t go over well, and the players’ union sued after walking out. The owners decided to use “replacement” players; mainly baseball players from the minors or independent leagues who would likely not have made it to the bigs at any rate. Striking players discouraged so-called replacement players from considering crossing their picket for the most part, but there were eventually enough players to field teams for each organization to kick-start the new season (though there was not much excitement and a lot of resentment from both players and fans for such a move). Fortunately for baseball (in the long run), an injunction was issued against the owners (by Bronx-bred Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Sonia Sotomayor; aka future Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), forcing them to meet the players and work out a deal while still abiding by the previous expired CBA. By April 2, the strike was over and baseball plotted for a shortened season.
In 1995, The Boss was Steinbrenner once again; having been reinstated in 1993, but remaining low-key as his son-in-law Joe Molloy kept things in order and supported Michael and Showalter as they rebuilt the team from the ground up. Molloy invested in scouting and development; something that had been taken seriously for granted during Steinbrenner’s blustery and blundering run through the 80s. Molloy remained a general partner after George’s return. Within a few years, however, he would leave the organization and the Steinbrenner family mainly due to George’s “managing style”.
In 1995, Buck Showalter would lead the Yankees into the postseason as the first wildcard team in the AL for the new playoff format, but would lose in heartbreaking fashion to a stacked Seattle Mariners team which boasted future Hall of Famers, team favorites as well as former and future Yankees. Steinbrenner, once again being Steinbrenner, wanted among other things a blood sacrifice for this “failure” in Rick Down, Buck’s hitting coach, during negotiations for an extension. Buck, figuring this was part of the negotiations, replied no, I can’t accept a contract under those circumstances, and waited for a reply. The reply came from his wife, who informed him that reporters were calling to get his response after being let go. Buck and George had been butting heads for some time, with George again doing what he normally did in taking potshots at players or making veiled threats against the coaching staff. Buck, by most accounts not an easy man to get along with himself, pushed back against the onslaught, the tension permeating the Stadium and the clubhouse. Whether or not you can blame Buck for not keeping his players loose or George for disrupting the peace that had settled in his absence, Steinbrenner took advantage of the rejection to cut ties with Showalter altogether. The burn would last seemingly forever.
In 1995, on August 13 at 2am, the legendary and uncompromisingly American Mickey Mantle left our world. Flags were hung in half mast and bittersweet tears were shed across the Yankee universe as people of all thoughts who knew what a baseball was for reflected on all of what made him The Mick.
Donnie Baseball finally made it to the postseason, which had sadly eluded him throughout his career. He acquitted himself well; going 10 for 24 with a .417/.440./708 slash line; four doubles, six ribbies and a homer in Game 2. All the more heartbreaking, Mattingly played like a man rediscovering his lost childhood and trying to reach heaven; the fans willing him along every step of the way. The stadium conducted the electricity of excitement and relief, as well as the cold gusts of desperation. Mattingly wanted it. The fans wanted. The team wanted it. The whole city wanted it. But the Mariners, led by a strong mix of youth and veteran grit that included Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez and phenom shortstop Alex Rodriguez, outlasted the dream.
Stick, for reasons I don’t really know of at the moment, yet at an oddly appropriate moment, resigned as general manager at the end of the season and took on the mantle of Vice President of Scouting with the team. Despite the playoff loss, the Yankees were set up for a marathon run. Along with Molloy, he made two crucial recommendations for the next hires…
1995 New York Yankees Roster
June 1, 1995: Donzell McDonald was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1995 amateur draft. Player signed July 22, 1995.
June 1, 1995: Future NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 26th round (730th pick) of the 1995 amateur draft. Culpepper was drafted out of Vanguard High School.
Dante Culpepper… the Yanks sure love their foosball QBs (they just had one in for a week or two of Spring Training, didn’t they?). Danny Tartabull, who had become a frequent target of Steinbrenner, was traded for the indomitable Ruben Sierra, who somehow managed to miss a championship with the Yanks in two tours with the team. Polonia was traded away for a minor leaguer who never made it to the bigs. David Cone finally did make it to the Yanks though, after several years of trying to get him. Kevin Maas made a cameo appearance on a minor league contract, but did not play for the big club, soon moving onto Milwaukee’s minors and then Japan. How many knew or remember that Strawberry actually had two separate stints with the Yanks? Though not separated by much, Darryl first signed with the Yanks mid-season in 1995 after having been suspended for drug use (cocaine, an old-fashioned drug suspension by today’s standards). However, he started out in 1996 with the indie St. Paul Saints, mainly to clean himself up and get into real baseball shape. The Yanks resigned him on July 4, 1996 and the rest is written about in many biographies of him, other players and of the Yankee Dynasty.
Octavio Antonio Fernández Castro; better known as Tony Fernandez. A stalwart of the Toronto Blue Jays from the early 80s-on (though he only played and won with the Jays in the second of their back-to-back championships due to having been traded to San Diego a few seasons earlier, then traded from the Mets back to Toronto in mid-season), he was considered one of the premier shortstops in baseball for a combination of clutch hitting and sparkling defense earlier in his career, but then his prolific production stalled by the early 90s and he never managed to reach the pinnacle of personal stardom; he was one of three young shortstops in 1983 predicted to be a sure-shot Hall of Famer; the other two being Alan Trammel and Cal Ripkin, Jr., whom all played together in the All Star Game in 1987. However, in these parts Tony is known best for getting injured in May of 1995, which opened the door for another shortstop who ended up sticking around for a good while. Oh, he did have some heroic moments, like in 1997 when he hit a home run off of Orioles reliever Armando Benitez to clinch the pennant for Cleveland, and he did contribute a lot to Toronto winning their second championship in a row, and he even helped them win their first division title way back when. But because his career stats didn’t add up to dominant player status, the damned voters dropped him off the ballot after his first try in 2007.
John Wetteland, old reliable, was traded to the Yanks from Montreal for a player with a last name that you probably have to pause before saying and an interesting career of his own. Wetteland had originally been drafted by the Mets in 1984, but he turned them down and was drafted by the Dodgers a year later. In December 1987, he was a Rule 5 selection by the Detroit Tigers, but was later returned. In 1991, he was involved in the trade that brought Reds All-Star Eric Davis to L.A. to be united with his homeboy Strawberry. He was subsequently flipped with someone else to the Expos for Dave Martinez, Willie Greene and somebody else, where he finally established himself as a star reliever. Stick closed in on that promise and swung an easy deal, one that greatly benefitted them in the long run. However, Wetteland’s stay with the Yankees was relatively short compared to other places; his longest tenure being with the Texas Rangers, with whom he signed as a free agent for the first time in his career; a move that shocked and likely annoyed him at the time, but worked out again for the Yankees in the long run.
For some reason, I remember Scott Bankhead’s name, though not him as a player so much. He was a first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 1984 and quickly debuted for them in 1986, but ended up being part of a trade that brought Danny Tartabull to the Royals from Seattle. The bulk of his career was with the Mariners from then until 1991, when injuries diminished his pitching ability and he was eventually released. He reinvented himself as a reliever and played for Boston until his contract was bought by the Yanks in 1994, but the strike prevented him from playing. When he did, it was basically a one-and-done deal; barely used and barely missed. Rick Honeycutt I remember from the Oakland A’s of the late 80’s with their dominant pitching, from starters to relievers. Honeycutt probably represents the last of the Mohicans in that respect; the remaining player from that particular championship team either poached or signed on the cheap in their late career stage by the Yanks, this time for a postseason push in late September. He didn’t help much, and ended up with the Cardinals the following season, finishing out his long career with them a year later.
And then there’s “Black Jack” McDowell. Sigh. He was actually pretty good for the Yanks in his lone season, but the infamous “Jack Ass” incident when he walked off the mound after being bombed out by his former team to a cascade of boos and subsequently giving the fans a defiant finger not only torpedoed whatever good will might have existed for him to that point, but effectively put a hex on his career from then on. It was McDowell who gave up the wild card series-winning hit to Mariners hero Edgar Martinez in Game 5 that year, and it was he who Steinbrenner derided the most at every opportunity he got. Luckily for him, he was a free agent at the end of the season and he signed with Cleveland, who was another team on the come-up, but he had lost his mojo by that point and retired four years later after being released by Anaheim. At least he had his music to fall back on, though it’s been said that it was a night of drinking with his musician buddies that led to the Jack Ass incident.
Lastly, before I forget, the + after Ruben Rivera; cousin of the legend with the same name. This Rivera was the almost exact opposite of his cousin; highly anticipated to be a prolific outfielder with all kinds of tools, he made little impression on the Yankees in his first two seasons beyond being highly promising, but highly immature and was traded in 1997 season to San Diego, where he played the bulk of his major league career. But even as a starter, he was a poor hitter and was subsequently released by the Padres. After two seasons of failing as a role player for Cincinnati and Texas, he was once again signed by the Yanks, largely on the strength of his cousin.
So what does he do? Steal Jeter’s glove and bat and sell them for $2,500. What is worse, honestly: that he stole his teammate’s work tools, or that he sold them so cheaply? His teammates voted him off the team, and the front office followed suit and released him. He made one last ditch effort to salvage his MLB career with San Francisco, but it just didn’t work. After a couple years in team minors, he ended up making his way to Mexico, where he was ironically able to put together a highly respectable career, and at age 44 (though it was erroneously announced that he’d retired as a player in 2015), he is still playing pro ball. All of which is to say: nepotism guarantees nothing more than an opportunity most people have to fight hard to get, if they get it at all. But in baseball, there always seems to be some form of redemption.
Well, I did kind of expect this to move along at a faster pace, but then I had to go and do something over the weekend; the lead-up to and the aftermath of which have definitely been one of the most interesting parts of my life to say the least, but then here we are well into March and spring training talking about 1994 >;)
I suppose that is appropriate enough; after all, 1994 is when things got really interesting for the Yanks. The clubhouse demons were being scrubbed away little-by-little, replaced with a mix of developing young stars and aged grit. Stick was fitting pieces of the puzzle to a potential 100-plus game winning team that was practically steamrolling the competition. Jimmy Key, the certified ace of the staff, was on pace to win 24 games. Paul O’Neill was also realizing the potential that Stick saw in him, batting a league-leading .359. They had the best record in the AL, and second best in all baseball. Fans, casual and razed alike, were prepping to see New York favorite Donnie Baseball in his very first post-season series of his storied career.
Baseball came to a complete standstill with the players’ strike. Gone were the post-season aspirations for Mattingly and the Yanks. Gone was the trust and interest in baseball in general; the local teams having scuffled in the early 90s. Gone was a chance to join their brethren NY pros in basketball and hockey to host championship series in the same year, with the Rangers finally getting the Stanley Cup after years of struggles and almost-there’s, while the Knicks were a couple of missed foul calls and a Starks-raving mad hoist-a-thon from winning a long-awaited championship of the own. To the fans, particularly in NY, the players betrayed their trust and their dreams, leaving them with a series of “what-ifs”. Baseball; emotionally at least, was over…
1994 New York Yankees Roster
Ah, there are quite a few names that stand out; Xavier Hernandez, who posted great numbers with Houston in the previous three seasons, but was demoted to middle reliever during his lone season with the Yanks; Terry Mulholland, who was the definition of a journeyman pitcher during his 11-team odyssey through the major leagues (and connoisseur of the pick-off move); Bobby Ojeda, one of the many anti-heroes of the 1986 Champion Mets, who the year before survived a tragic boating accident that claimed the lives of two of his teammates on the Cleveland Indians; Jeff Reardon, who had claimed the title of All-Time saves leader against the Yanks in 1992, up-and-coming rookie 3B Russ Davis; Kevin Elster (another survivor of the 86 Mets team, who was recently out of baseball after a second shoulder surgery and contemplating retirement); Daryl Boston, the former White Sox and Mets (post-championship) outfielder who seemed to always bedevil the Yanks in particular throughout the 80s, and the return of Luis Polonia from NY baseball pariah status, likely due to his solid ability to get on base. Future MLB manager Bob Melvin also made a cameo appearance on the roster. Of all of those players, Davis, Elster and Polonia would make it to 1995, though none of them would reach the end of that season. Polonia, in fact, is the only new player on the 1994 team who would actually experience a championship with the Yanks after a late-season trade in 2000.
Might I bring your attention to the rookie shortstop, Robert Eenhoorn. Who? Really dyed-in-blue-and-pinstripes Yankee fans would know Mr. Eenhoorn; the Dutch-born infielder was a phenom playing in the highest league of professional baseball in the Netherlands at age 16. Six years later, the Yanks drafted him out of Davidson College in North Carolina and began in 1990 by tearing up the NY-Penn League on his way to being named the top prospect in the league. His next few seasons however, were up-and-down; batting well over .300 across two Class-A teams, but struggling in AA, after which he lost his blue-chipper status. However, he would advance to Triple-A for 1994 and was a late-season call-up that year before the strike ended the season prematurely. The next season; his last with the Yankees, Eenhoorn would become the answer to the trivia question favorite, “who was the last starter at shortstop before Derek Jeter?”
For what it’s worth, however, he was a good player in his heyday, and he went on to manage and serve as technical advisor (general manager) with several Dutch national teams, including the one that won the 2011 World Baseball Cup, earning him knighthood. So, he’s more than just a footnote in Yankee lore >;)
Good-bye, Stankie, goodbye Domingo Jean. Goodbye Spike Owen, hello… Sam Horn??? Yeah, that happened. Kevin Maas was released by the Yanks during the offseason, but he would return on a minors contract in 1995 before signing with Minnesota for a little while , then Korea and then across three different organizations in their minors before calling it a career. Reardon and Ojeda were signed as free agents, but were released in early May. Assenmacher gave way to Brian Boehringer from the White Sox. And Greg A. Harris, the switch-pitcher of the Yanks before there was a Pat Vindette, only stuck around for less than two weeks before he was summarily dismissed. Thus was the increasingly micromanaging angst of Buck Showalter, who managed to bring the team to the brink of glory that had been missing since 1981, only for the rug to be pulled out from under him, the Yankees, all of baseball and most importantly, the fans. With all the controversies, ineptitude and general infighting in the sport, it seemed at that point we’d all had enough…
…although if there was one good thing to say about it, it’s that Michael Jordan was forced to realize he was not a top-notch baseball player, so he went back to what he knew… three-peats!
“…while Hall reveled in the status that being a Yankee conferred, he was hardly deferential toward the organization’s tradition. During Old Timer’s Day in 1992, he walked out onto the field and asked Showalter, by then the Yankee manager, “Who are these old fucking guys?”
“That’s when I knew he had to go,” said Showalter.” – Greg Hanlon; SB Nation
Out with the old and in with the new. Buck Showalter, going into his second season with the Yanks as the manager, presumably had collected enough intel on the clubhouse to know what changes needed to be made, and together with Stick began to reshape the clubhouse. Beyond Mel Hall, it’s anyone’s guess who the guys were that they thought needed to be shipped out due to their behavior, but the dark cloud choking the clubhouse was beginning to dissipate, and the Yankees embarked on a long and unbroken string of winning seasons that endures to this day. Culture was the word of the season, and Stick addressed this even further by importing players who in their eyes had a good combination of winning and character. The end result would be an 88-74 record, which put them in second place in the AL East; not quite as remarkable a turnaround as it was for the worst-to-first Atlanta Braves of 1990-91, but for Yankee fans, a great portend of things to come…
Okay, so the obviously strong additions were Paul O’Neill, Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott and Wade Boggs. I remember not being too particularly thrilled at the time with the Roberto Kelly-for-Paul O’Neill trade as Kelly was a recognized homegrown product, but O’Neill came three seasons removed from a World Series championship with the Cincinnati Reds, while Key was a two-time champion starting pitcher late of the Toronto Blue Jays. The acquisition of Abbott was in the works for over a season, so that was pleasant, though not surprising (losing J.T. Snow was sort-of a blow, but his eventual replacement more than made up for it.). Getting Boggs was quite shocking though; it hardly ever happens that a renowned star from your arch-enemy willingly comes over to your side; well, ever since the No-No-Nanette thing.
However, do you remember Spike Owen (also a renowned cog of the enemy wheel) did the same thing less than two weeks earlier? And whatever happened to Rich Batchelor (you know, the minor leaguer traded for some guy named Lee Smith, who happened to be one of the most dominating relievers in all baseball)? Now Lee Smith is one of the poster children for this series; after spending the bulk of his career with the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals (with an extended stopover in Boston in between), he was almost literally a Yankee for a minute: traded on August 31st of the 1993 season, he pitched a total of 8 innings in the last month as the closer, earning three saves while giving up 3 hits, 5 walks and striking out 11. He didn’t even have time to quantify an ERA+… (he didn’t allow a run anyway, so…). But for reasons unknown, Smith filed for free agency at the end of the season and the Yanks didn’t retain him; which was a shame because he was actually great the following season with the Orioles (P.S.: Eras committee, put this man in the Hall of Fame; screw the writers).
Spike Owen, on the other hand, is not going to get any looks from that committee anytime soon, we can imagine. It’s funny, when I think of him, it’s as a shortstop for the Red Sox, but he actually spent more time with both Seattle (who drafted him in the first round as the #6 overall pick in 1982) and with Montreal (where he started at shortstop also for four seasons before signing with the Yanks). While he was here for a season; ostensibly to help push the Yanks into the playoff picture (and at the expense of fan favorite Stanky), he pretty much did little to nothing offensively to justify that theory, and coupled with some suspect defense, it was pretty much a waste of one year of everyone’s life.
Frank Tanana was here, too. For a minute. So was Paul Assenmacher, whose main trivia is that he was involved in a three-way trade with Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, who a couple of years later embarked on an extended career as a prolific home run hitter in the Nippon Baseball League (where he also faced a young Yu Darvish in the 2009 Pacific League Climax Series). Meanwhile, Assenmacher was to become the second of two pitchers in major League history to give up home runs to both Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. Time flies, doesn’t it?
You could say that 1991 was when the franchise hit rock-bottom by losing 91 games and coming in fifth in the AL East (at the time, there were only two divisions in each league; no Central and no wild card) and 20 games behind the talent-laden Toronto Blue Jays; led by former player and Blue Jays hitting coach-turned-third year manager Cito Gaston, who initially declined taking over after manager Jimy Williams because he liked what he was already doing (the players rallied to change his mind, and good for them). Black History Moment: 17 years after Hall of Famer Frank Robinson became the first African American manager in Major League Baseball, Clarence Edwin “Cito” Gaston became the first African American MLB manager to win a World Series, then went ahead and did it again next season. He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and inducted into both the Ontario and San Antonio Sports Halls of Fame, not to mention was awarded the Negro League Hall of Fame Legacy Award (aka Jackie Robinson Award). Way to go, Cito!
Meanwhile back in 1991, when the Yanks survived a lot of underground chaos within the clubhouse and the organization to make it to 1992… when they finished in fourth place (tied with Cleveland) and improved by five games, but somehow still 20 games behind the eventual champion Toronto Blue Jays. Stump Merrill would be moved out of the managerial hot seat to make way for one of his lieutenants, third base coach William Nathanial “Buck” Showalter III. Before he was Buck, he was “Nat” Showalter, an All American at Mississippi State and a fifth round draft pick by the Yanks in 1977. He would spend seven years in their farm system, wracking up fairly solid numbers by future coach standards, finally making the jump in 1985; collecting honors and working his way up the ladder. in 1992, Buck Showalter arrived, and the transformation of the Yanks kicked into a new gear.
Gene Michael; operating as the chief architect of the new brain-trust that included Buck, a gallery of respected scouts and talent evaluators and a newly-appointed owner/managing partner Joe Malloy; George’s son-in-law via his daughter Jessica, set to making deals as soon as the 1991 season ended. When the season began, he had a new ace in the rotation, a new starting right fielder, third baseman and shortstop, not to mention a couple of new draftees who would also become mainstays in future rosters. Yet even with all of that, there were some even larger moves that were attempted, but for various reasons did not work out. And man if they had, they very likely would have entirely changed the history of Yankee franchise as we know it…
So as usual I had some trouble with categories with some players:
Sterling Hitchcock was heralded coming up and was part of the staff for his first four seasons, but his better seasons were spent as a starter with San Diego. He came back via trade in 2001, but was largely ineffectual and used in long relief and spot-start duty until he was traded in mid-2003. So yeah, he was a heralded rookie who had better years elsewhere; didn’t really pan out with the Yanks and was not even a big part of their 2001 WS team.
Russ Springer was kind of the same; he started off with the Yanks, but had better success elsewhere, as well as longevity. It’s hard to consider him a heralded rookie, though I kind of remember him being touted to some degree. Like Hitchcock, he was never an All Star, but he was a useful arm on other teams’ staffs.
Bob Wickman also was a rookie, though he started out inn the Chicago White Sox farm system, coming over with Melido Perez and Domingo Jean in a trade for 2B Steve Sax. While getting Melido at the time seemed like a boon for a rebuilding team, the real prize in the brain trust’s mind was Wickman:
“We considered Wickman one of their top arms and I think they did, too,” said Brian Sabean, the Yankees’ vice president of player development.
Indeed, Wickman showed promise two seasons later, but not enough to prevent him from being traded in the midst of the team’s successful run at a World Series two seasons further. He reached his potential as a reliever with Milwaukee in closing and high leverage situations, then spent the predominant part of his career in Cleveland in the same role, earning quite a bit of respect in a fairly long career before finishing out in Atlanta and Arizona respectively in 2007.
Melido was solid for the Yankees, but he couldn’t move the needle for his older brother, who had spent a significant amount of time on the injured list after arm surgery in 1990 before being suspended during spring training for the entire 1992 season for a failed drug test, which all but ended his career. Melido for his part enjoyed a career year in 1992, with the second highest total in strikeouts in the AL (behind Randy Johnson), but his career also ended abruptly in 1995, with a tear in the elbow of his pitching arm. He attempted a comeback in 1997 with Cleveland, but didn’t make the cut from spring training. Today, Melido is mayor of the town of San Gregorio de Nigua… the same town where his erstwhile older brother Pascual was found murdered after a home invasion in 2012.
Curt Young spent the majority of his career with Oakland, he was on the pitching staff for the teams that won back-to-back in 1989-90. When he came to the Yanks, it was at the tail end of a relatively successful career working in the shadows of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Storm Davis, Scott Sanderson, Mike Moore, Rick Honeycutt and of course Dennis Eckersley.
Jack Thomas “J.T.” Snow was of course heralded as Mattingly’s eventual successor; he had a pedigree in sports as the scion of former Pro Bowl wide receiver Jack Snow of the L.A. Rams, who developed J.T. as a first baseman from a young age, and played with a number of sports luminaries as a three-sport star in high school and college and was drafted by the Yanks in the fifth round in 1989. He made his debut at the tail end of the season with the Yanks, but in the off-season he was traded along with Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen to the California Angels for one Jim Abbott. Welcoming the trade as a respite from “playing in oblivion behind Mattingly”, he won two Gold Gloves with the Angels before moving on to San Francisco and becoming an All-Star fixture along with former Met Jeff Kent and former Pirate Barry Bonds (who, surprise, was almost was a Yankee himself in 1992).
Lastly, there’s Gerald Williams. selected in the fourteenth round in 1987, Gerald had a down and up minor league career, alternately struggling and showing big promise. He debuted in September 1992, spent the bulk of 93 in the minors again and returned to stay in 94. By 1996 he was getting the bulk of the starts in left field, but in late August he and Wickman were dealt to Milwaukee. Both received World Series rings at the end of the 96 season as they had played the significant part of the year with the Yanks. Gerald would go on to be a regular bench guy with Atlanta and Tampa Bay (then known as the Devil Rays) before returning for a second stint with the Yanks for their 2001-03 seasons; the last year of which he was traded to the Florida Marlins, only this time he won a ring after the trade with his new team. He finished as a Met in 2004-05, and has recently been a regular at Old Timer’s Day with the Yankees. Although he wasn’t any type of star like his other namesake Bernie (no relation), perhaps his greatest contribution as a Yankee was being best friends with a young Derek Jeter, who credited him as being like a big brother “always looking out for me.” Jeter returned the favor when he invited him as a VIP guest to his retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium (which I was lucky enough to be in attendance for) and personally thanked him during his speech.
The first act of the offseason was one of the most significant, if rather underrated. Ramiro Mendoza became the prototype for middle reliever/spot starter/do-all throughout the Yankees championship run in the 90s (and for another team in particular which shall remain unmentioned). However, it may be surprising to realize that Mendoza was not part of the post-season roster on several occasions, largely due to his unsteadiness during certain seasons, but when he did pitch in post-season play, he was usually a highly-effective mid-game stopper. Signed two years after fellow countryman and best friend Mo, Mendoza became the Yoeman of the pitching staff (similar to yoeman bench player Clay Bellinger) and was very much liked by his teammates. Mike Axsia of River Avenue Blues has a more in-depth analysis of his career and impact on the Yankees.
I only note the acquisition of Charlie Hayes to explain that this was the first of two relatively short stints with the Yanks, though Hayes made an indelible mark on Yankee history in his second coming. Here in 1992, he hit .257 and struck out a career-high 100 times. After the season, the new expansion team Colorado Rockies drafted Hayes, but the Yankees fought his selection on the grounds that the expansion Florida Marlins were not fairly compensating the Yankees for taking away their minor-league territory in Ft. Lauderdale, were the Yanks had a long-situated minor league team and played many of their spring training home games. However, Commissioner Fay Vincent (perhaps still cranky over Steinbrenner’s banishment or his subsequently imminent return) ruled against them, and Hayes became an inaugural member of the Rockies. The loss was not unnoticed by Yanks brass and fans alike, though his records tell us he was actually much better with the Rockies than anywhere else. His post-season play in his second stint was unremarkable except for his steady defense at third, and the image of him catching Mark Lemke’s foul pop-up off of third in Game 6 of the 96 series is perhaps his identifying career image and moment. It was mostly downhill after that; he was traded during the following season and bounced around between the Ginats, Mets, Brewers and Astros, retiring in 2001. However, he has not fallen into obscurity as one would think; he operates a baseball academy in Texas and is a base coach for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. He also has two sons who played professionally; son Tyree was a pitcher from 2006-12, while son Ke’Bryan was the 32nd overall pick by the Pirates in 2015; the team Charlie played for before rejoining the Yanks in 1996. And just like his old man, he’s a third baseman. A helluva third baseman, in fact…
With Steinbrenner, the Yanks had a penchant for pilfering players from World Series-winning teams; the theory of course being that such players would contribute to winning ways on the Yankees. That tradition continued unabated in fact, though under Michael it was probably for a different reason. Mike Gallego, late of the Oakland A’s and a contributor to their on-field success was obviously such a signing; although the starting second baseman with Oakland, Gallego played mostly at shortstop for the Yanks, while also playing second and third throughout his tenure. Trivia: Gallego is the last Yankee player to wear No. 2, right before it was to become synonymous with RE2PECT. Gallego was known more for his glove and being able to move the runner over than as a hitter; in fact his best year as a hitter was with the Yanks in the following season when he inexplicably hit double digits in home runs, but after 93 he returned to normal and returned to Oakland for one more season in 95 before finishing out his career with two seasons in St. Louis with his old boss, Tony LaRussa. Today, he’s the director of player development for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Sean Hilligas, on the other hand, did not have an extended stay with the Yanks and was gone by the end of August. He was drafted by the Dodgers and made his debut in 1984, having a very decent rookie year in the rotation, but by 1988 he had pretty much fallen off the radar in L.A. and was traded to the White Sox during the Dodgers’ stretch run to the championship. The Yanks picked him up in 1992 as rotation depth, but he continued to disappoint, leading to his inevitable release. He continued bouncing around for another year before finally retiring, never to return to baseball again (but occasionally talking about it).
Oh yeah, speaking of RE2PECT…
I also want to get back to what i said earlier about 1992 being just as much about what the Yankees didn’t do (besides play at least .500 ball; the last season that this ever occurred by the way). As we know, Stick was trying hard to turn things around in Steinbrenner’s absence, and he wasn’t afraid to go after a big name if he really felt it would move the timeline faster without disrupting the architecture. This lead him to go after the biggest free agent in the winter of 1991: Barry Bonds. Barry was one of two godheads in Pittsburgh; the other being his assumed soul brother Bobby Bonilla, who left a season earlier to attach to the Mets (who to this day are still paying his salary, no joke). There was mutual interest between the two; Barry was far and wide the best hitter on the market, while Bonds (whose father Bobby played for the Yanks in the early-to-mid 70s) was unafraid of the bright lights and big city mentality of New York. However, Bonds and his agent stood pat on a long-term, high salary contract that was apparently a year too long for Stick’s comfort. “We have to draw the line somewhere,” Michael said. “I have no regrets saying we did not offer him a sixth year. We offered him a fantastic contract for five years. We really went out of our way to make a nice offer.” Apparently, 6yrs/$43 million was a vast and uncrossable difference from 5yrs/$36 million for a 28 year old MVP (Hmmmmm…), while on the flip side Barry didn’t think $36 mil was an appropriately high enough offer for a player of his caliber (he may have been right at the time, even though both were ghastly sums of money). After Stick abruptly ended negotiations with Bonds and his agent, he turned his attention to the rotation, seeking an audience with free agent Cubs ace Greg Maddux, who took time to think and pass around the Yanks’ offer before settling on Atlanta, where he continued his career as a pitcher extraordinaire unabated. Michael also considered trading for aces like Greg Swindell or David Cone before finally trading off a significant piece in starting second baseman Steve Sax for Melido Perez and company.
Question: how different would the Yankees look in the enduing years if they had both Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux in the fold? They already had one future legend playing backup in the clubhouse, with four more on the way. Would Bernie have been purged to accommodate Bonds’ salary and ego at any point? More than likely, one of Jesse Barfield or Mel Hall and one or two others would have been moved off the roster in subsequent trades in order to keep Roberto Kelly and Bernie (though with Bernie, there were questions about his fortitude early on, but that’s an entirely different story). Would Michael have been willing or able to make a trade for Paul O’Neill (probably not), Jim Abbott (maybe, but not very likely), David Cone (again), Tino Martinez (perhaps?) and so-on? It’s safe to say they wouldn’t have signed Danny Tartabull; with right field shut down for 5–6 years, that wasn’t going to happen even on a DH level. As things turned out, Michael didn’t regret not signing Bonds, but he did lament not getting Maddux for a time, especially when he, Smoltz and Glavine not only brought the Braves from worst to first, but also to their first championship in the city of Atlanta a few years later. But as things turned out in the long run, I kinda think Stick knew he did a good job after all.
The year 1991 brought reality to the Yankees; the turnaround from George’s style of management to something more akin to the rest of baseball was not going to be a quick fix. Michael was not going to land the biggest fish in the ocean because George said so, and at this point it wasn’t looking like anyone of true All Star caliber was interested in joining them. Aside from soon-to-be All-Star ace Scott Sanderson and hard-luck starter Tim Leary (who was involved in a dicey trade with the Reds for future good hitter Hal Morris) and perhaps Roberto Kelly, Kevin Maas, Matt Nokes and some kid named Bernie Williams, there wasn’t much to speak of about the 1991 Yanks (well, besides Mel Hall terrorizing Bernie in the locker room among many other things). Stump Merrill was in his first full season as Yankee manager, having taken over from Bucky Dent, who was shockingly fired while in Boston for a series with the Red Sox in 1990 by Steinbrenner, a month or so before he himself was “fired” by baseball. Stump continued the status quo with the major league team, losing far more games than winning through little fault of his own.
Hey, remember Pat Kelly? He was kinda touted as the second basemen of the future while with the Yanks, and he stuck around long enough to win a ring with the 1996 team, although he only played 13 games the whole season. But how many remember that in 1991, Kelly was a third baseman? He came up as a replacement for the recently-departed Mike Blowers, who was traded to Seattle for a bag of balls. Blowers for his part would become a regular with Seattle, so he would qualify as a player who was (much) better somewhere else, like Jay Buhner before him. Kelly switched to second in 1992 and remained there for the entire tenure of his career with the Yanks and beyond.
Scott Kamieniecki is definitely a name that stands out; he was one of their best pitchers during the dark ages if you will, but I somehow misremember him as being in the rotation in the 80s. I guess when you have Chuck Cary, Richard Dotson, Ron Guidry and Dave LaPoint on your staff at any given moment, you’re going to misremember quite a few things (and try to forget others, like giving away Doug Drabek, grrr…) Kamieniecki was not the best pitcher on staff, but the fans knew him well enough over the next few seasons and I suppose you could consider him one of the Hard Luck Boys of the early 90s. Hard luck followed him into the championship days as well, when for whatever reason, the Yanks decided not to give him a ring for being with the team in ’96, though he spent much of the year on the DL. He later blasted the Yanks for “strong-arming him to the DL with a fake injury” and for “putting on a show” by having him sized for a ring that he never received after the team was criticized for leaving him and a few other players out of the ceremony. He was definitely not a fan of Joe Torre, whose glare at certain players was an automatic ticket to the Doghouse, if not the kiss-off to their Yankee tenure. I’m guessing though Scott and the Yanks have pretty much made up at this point…
Steve Howe was interesting. He had been out of baseball for four years before the Yanks signed him, and he was very effective most of the time. However, he was a drug addict throughout most of his career well before coming to the Yanks, so much so that he had already been suspended several times. It was his effectiveness as a reliever that kept him in baseball, and though he was banned for life the next season, he was reinstated upon appeal and went on to have one of the best seasons in his career. There was a lot of debate about him while he continued to play, get banned and then be reinstated; was the league enabling his habits because he was a good pitcher? Howe wasn’t the only player who had a drug problem, but he was probably the only one who kept coming back after falling down the well many times. As things go, Howe’s Yankee (and MLB) career was ended with him being released in June 1996, making him indeed a member of the Hard Luck Boys. Sadly, his ignominious death ten years later in an accident that eerily resembled Billy Martin’s death has rendered him a cautionary tale of the glamour of the baseball life. Say his name and/or look him up on Wikipedia and you just can’t help but shake your head and wonder, “why?”
Scott Sanderson, on the other hand, was a legit anchor and ace of the staff, as it were. His two seasons with the Yanks were good enough to hope that any of your five (six?) starters for 2018 could at least match. In a fairly solid career with the Expos, Cubs and a good season with Oakland prior, 1991 would in fact be his first and only selection to the AL All Star team. He became a partner at Moye Sports Associates in 1996, who currently represent Austin Romine and Jaime Garcia. However, his moralizing during and after his career could be considered problematic to some (particularly in New York)…
Here are the moves the team made prior to and during the season:
With the release of Wayne Tolleson, the Yanks could now tell who was who between him and Alvaro Espinoza. Tim Leary was drafted by the Mets in 1978 and spent his first four seasons in the majors there before he managed to win a ring with the 1988 Dodgers. Rick Cerone had the last of three stints with the Yankees, previously having been a starter from 1980-84 and a backup in 1987. Mark Leiter, like his brother Al, was sent away and became a better pitcher with his next teams, but unlike Al, he never returned to the Yanks. Torey Luvullo? Pat Sheridan? Scott Lusader…? Balboni would try one more season in 1993 with Texas before saying bye-bye to major league baseball for good.
And Brien Taylor… *sigh*
I decided to begin with the year 1990 for one reason: I believe this was the year that the perennially contending Yankees as we know them actually began, with the ouster of Steinbrenner and the functional head of the organization now being Gene Michael (Steinbrenner’s last official act as managing partner of the Yankees was to fire the current GM Harding Peterson in favor of Michael), the Yanks began the process of reinventing themselves into an organization that valued growing and developing players first, rather than simply being the highest bidder for the biggest star in the free agent market, or trading away developing prospects for tried-and-true veterans whom somehow either flopped or otherwise failed to live up to expectations. Michael’s method valued potential over past results, and that method yielded some genuine value in both prospects and veterans (signed or traded for) who became franchise mainstays.
But within this process, there had to be players who either didn’t fit into the plan long term for one reason or another; perhaps they didn’t make the cut and were either relegated to the minors or released or traded, perhaps they were at the tail end of their careers and were basically picking up another check before they bid the major leagues adieu. Or, in some cases, they started out with the Yanks but didn’t make it with them, so they went somewhere else and became All Stars, or at the very least fan faves with another team. Many will be surprised at who donned the famous pinstripes at one point or another in their careers. Many know of the players who got a second wind with the Yankees after their stars had dimmed elsewhere; Strawberry, Gooden, Cone, Boggs, Fielder, Justice and the like. But as we start with 1990 and make our way to last season, you’ll find names that would have never occurred to you unless someone (here!) brought them to your attention. You can tell me if it’s fair or not to include them as “honorable mentions” or “who dat’s”, but that’s what I hope will keep the discussion lively. Feel free to contribute any stories about mentioned players that you might find interesting.
I’m going to build a key here and hope that it sticks:
- Opening Day Starters: underline
- Also Played: #
- Regulars On Roster: blank
- Renowned From Other Teams: bold
- Unheralded Rookie/Prospect: *
- Unheralded Vet: italics
So, here we go:
Of that list, I had a little trouble categorizing Bob Geren, Claudell Washington, Rich Monteleone, Oscar Azócar and Mike Blowers because they were known/heralded, but not great players. The last two in particular were part of a pre-Michaels youth movement that also had rookies Steve Adkins, Mark Leiter, Jim Leyritz, Kevin Maas and Alan Mills making their major league debuts in 1990. Of this group, Leyritz would remain as a fixture, Maas would become a fan favorite for a time (but never a productive cog in the the team’s ambitions as Leyritz would be), Mills would star in Baltimore (but was often foiled by his former team), and Leiter went onto greater things with Detroit among other teams. Hensley Meulens was very much heralded and made his debut in 1985, but by 1990 was pretty much a permanent shuttle inhabitant between Columbus and the Bronx. But he did become a fixture and hero of The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, and he almost became the Yankees’ new manager recently, so there’s that.
Deion Sanders obviously has to be the name that jumps out the most, but he was well known for being a two-sport star; at the time playing for the Atlanta Falcons. If he had not struggled in his first two seasons with the Yanks and had Bo Jackson not suffered the injury that effectively ended his sports career, not to mention his “Prime Time” persona that rubbed quite a few baseball people the wrong way, Deion might have had a longer career with the Yanks. However, Stick released him after an unproductive second season and contentious contract extension talks, saying that football was stunting his growth as a baseball player. Perhaps this stung Deion in some way, or maybe the ease of being in the same city for both professions helped; when he signed with the Atlanta Braves, he suddenly became Bo Jackson Lite and was an immediate contributor to the teams that won two NL pennants in 1991-92. Consider it one of Michael’s few missteps.
This was also Dave Winfield’s last season with the Yanks, before he was traded in mid-May for pitcher Mike Witt. We all know the story with Winfield, which led to George’s ouster, but Witt was formerly a solid, if not ace-quality pitcher with the California Angels until he suddenly lost his mojo, and after the trade it never came back, with Witt mercifully disappearing from baseball after little more than two seasons and a plethora of injuries.
June 4, 1990: 1990 Major League Baseball Draft
Whoa, what a fun draft that was. There are quite a few others to talk about here, so look them up and ask away or talk about any that stand out beyond who or what I highlighted. Do you think the indications are fair? You tell me.
Hat-tip to our own Mr. OK Jazz Tokyo for the idea!
I intend for this to be a mini-series throughout this year’s Spring Training, wherein we shine a desk lamp light on those former or future All-Stars (or solid players in any regard) who played for more or less one season with the Yankees during and after their 90’s Dynasty years.
Not that this is an anomaly for the Yankees exclusive to this era (anyone who rooted for the Yanks since Steinbrenner bought the team would know this became part of their DNA through the 80s), but I wanted to focus on this particular era, given that the strongest season from that era and in team history is now 20 years in the past…(!) The folks over at River Avenue Blues presented their annual (and highly recommended Retro Week before the beginning of Spring Training; this year highlighting interesting moments and insights of the super-duper 1998 season. While discussing this series, Jazz suggested writing about some of the well-known players who we (sometimes intentionally) forget were on the Yankee roster for a brief moment. Since it’s too early to forget Matt Holliday or Chris Carter (among others last season), we’ll leave them off this list. We’ll see…
For now, we’ll exclude players who were signed for specific roles, but then ended up becoming fixtures in the clubhouse (i.e. David Justice, Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo, et al) or prospects who played for the big club and stuck around longer than one season (Shane Spenser, Juan Rivera, Ricky Ledee, et al), and for the sake of this series and out of respect to the great writers at River Avenue Blues who indirectly inspired this series, we’ll not rehash Mike Lowell’s cup of coffee as a Yankee heir apparent; whose opportunity was usurped by a spectacular Brosius regular and World Series MVP season on the cusp of what turned out to be a fairly solid All Star career.
For now though, if you have any suggestions of who to highlight from say 1994 (the natural beginning of 90s dynasty-era dominance) to the present, feel free to comment below. I don’t have strict rules for the moment, but I am compiling a list and researching as much info as I can about each player; their bios, their accomplishments, what they’re up to now, as much as a guy who is a baseball fan and blog writer with no press credentials can muster and present in an interesting fashion. It would be easy to just wiki these guys yourself, but who else wants to bother to make the list and do that? >;)
Sooo… how ’bout that weather?
Indeed, it’s been an effort this winter to stay warm and in a cheery mood, not that Cashman and the Yanks haven’t tried to help. After all, snatching up a reigning MVP entering his prime from one league and pairing him with a homegrown runner-up MVP who also happens to be the unequivocal Rookie of the Year and still a couple years away from his prime (hopefully) has to qualify as a heat-seeking missile maneuver to say the least. Re-signing C.C. seems like posturing after the Mother Of All Dunks (hey, they ain’t called the Bronx Bombers for nothing…). Yet even with that, the ripples of time have dissipated far and long enough enough for us to see that this off-season has been in relative stasis; the iguanas falling out of the trees are frozen in expectation of better conditions to act within their nature.
So what are we waiting for?
I guess we’re still waiting on that market, huh? Yunnow, the one that seems to be getting busy later and later in the off-season these past few years? I dunno, with what amounts to a soft-cap looming over the proceedings and a new generation of smart shoppers analyzing everything with modified Hubble telescopes and probability vector algorithms, the Hot Stove has been as interesting as watching flies fiduciary-fiduciary-fiduciary… you get the picture.
To be honest, I’m quite pleased with the relative “restraint” the Yanks have shown in this and the last few seasons; Ellsbury notwithstanding. They’ve figured out how to add and subtract big contracts and farm pieces without putting too much pressure on their bottom line, but obviously the major factor in this formula working is the fact that their prospects are mostly living up to their rankings when they hit the big stage, which creates more capital to pull off a big trade such as Ultron for Rikki Tikki Tavi and two diamond pinkie rings. And so far, what they haven’t done has given them credibility going forward; not trading for Gerritt Cole, who not long ago gave us all the impression that he never wanted to be a Yankee to begin with to me makes up for the pre-dynasty years wasted on Jack McDowell. Now if they can only avoid making a long-term regret with Yu Darvish… I like Darvish and our old Toaster fam Mike Plugh was not wrong about him, but I also like that he purportedly skipped a ridiculously Ellsburyish offer with a 48-hr deadline, which probably means if he does sign with the Yanks, it’ll be for significantly less ducats. As is, the Yanks can live somewhere around $25-30 million under the luxury tax line without him.
So as presently constructed, what do you think we can expect from this influx of power and youth? Is it safe to consider the roster a go heading into February, or are we waiting for the fire to heat up now that certain teams are starting to make a few moves? Is Gleyber a lock at second or does Cashman want to let him warm up in SWB coming off an injury and all… is Miguel Andujar the answer at third or is Todd Fraizer going to slide in under the budget line somehow? Does Jacoby break with the team going north and turn in a Headleyesque barnburner of an April-May that gets him some admirers from far-flung contenders? Will Hicks continue to build on what the Twins didn’t have the patience for? Can Gardy… wait, do we still have to do the stupid “name-y” thing now that Joe’s gone? And who’s going to be our Achilles’ Heel bench guy who had one good season and is signed to keep the lineup human THIS year?
Oh yeah, and is Aaron Freakin’ Boone gonna do it or what? Will our new Ulysses prove Cashman to be the brilliant Texas Hold-Em Pragmatic Genius that we hope he is at this point, or will Cashman be forced to do a Dan Jennings The Elder and take over halfway through May? What’s it gonna be, Bob Brenly or Bucky Dent?
Pitchers and catchers report in mid February, the rest of the players follow a week later, and it begins. The first games are in early March, and we begin to see evidence of baseball in highlights shot from odd angles and showing the previous year’s heroes hitting home runs against pitchers we’ll never hear from again. April blooms soon enough, bringing with it a bouquet of baseball. The grass is green, the rookies are raw, and hope is everywhere. A team that had lost a hundred games the year before could make the playoffs; another that lost a hundred games three seasons in a row only a few years earlier could make the World Series. A young rookie might defy the experts and hit fifty home runs; a pitcher unlikely to make the rotation could end up in the Cy Young conversation. A team the experts pick to finish at the bottom of the division could surprise everyone and make a run deep into October.
More than any other sport, baseball is about hope. On Saturday night, hope ran out for the New York Yankees.
They entered the night the same as they had the night before, needing just one win to advance to the World Series and a matchup with the franchise’s most common autumn dance partner, the Los Angeles Dodgers. They exited the way all but one team will, short of the ultimate goal.
There were signs as early as the first inning that this would be a challenging night. Charlie Morton was on the mound for the Astros, and he was ready from the first pitch of the game. He struck out Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius on three pitches each and had little trouble dispatching Aaron Judge in between, spending just ten pitches in the frame. The Yankee dynasty of the late 90s pioneered the idea of working pitch counts to drive starting pitchers from the game, but these Yankees were much more aggressive, especially during this series. Six Yankee at bats on Saturday night lasted only one pitch.
Opposing Morton was none other than the Yankee Savior. CC Sabathia had compiled a 10-0 mark in 2017 with an ERA under two in starts following Yankee losses, so it appeared that the right man was on the hill for New York. He started the game even more efficiently than Morton, yielding a leadoff single to George Springer, but needing just three pitches to retire the next three hitters on three ground balls.
But Sabathia’s control wasn’t as sharp as necessary, and after that first easy inning, the rest of his night would be incredibly stressful. He put up zeros in the second and third innings, but those frames weren’t easy. He threw twenty pitches (ten balls and ten strikes) while allowing a hit and a walk in the second (and he was saved when Judge made a brilliant play to steal a home run from Yuli Gurriel), and then eighteen more pitches with another hit and a walk in the third. Each inning’s last out came with a clear sense that CC and the Yankees had dodged a bullet.
The team once called the Colt .45s took dead aim in the fourth, and this time Sabathia wasn’t able to escape. Designated hitter Evan Gattis started out the inning by battling through six pitches, fouling off the last three shots at his weakness, fastballs at the top of the zone. He laid off a slider down low, but then CC allowed a 2-2 slider to float up into the zone a bit, and Gattis crushed it over the high wall in left center for the first run of the game.
Even at the time, that home run felt huge. Morton was busy doing his best Justin Verlander impression, mowing down Yankee hitters as if they were dandelions in his front lawn, while Sabathia had been spinning plates on poles all night. The first dish had fallen, and it seemed like only a matter of time until the rest came crashing down around him.
It wouldn’t take long. He walked Brian McCann, and two batters later he gave up a loud single to Marwin González to put runners on first and third with one out, and that would be it. In any other game, probably even in any other playoff game, Sabathia would never have been lifted after giving up a single run in three and third innings, but not even CC was surprised when Joe Girardi hopped out of the dugout to get him.
When Sabathia handed the ball to Girardi, it was one of the most pivotal moments of the game, but there was something more. Sabathia had arrived in New York the year after Girardi had taken the helm, and during that time Girardi sent him to the mound 255 times in the regular season and 17 more in the playoffs, far more than any other pitcher. With both men unsigned beyond this year, this could’ve been their final meeting on the mound.
But the game and season was in the balance, so Girardi had no choice but to go to the bullpen. The formula I had had in my head prior to the game had been four innings from Sabathia followed by five from Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman, so perhaps, I told myself, CC’s early exit wasn’t as worrisome as it seemed. Kahnle entered the game, only two outs ahead of my schedule, and used just one pitch to get those two outs on a ground ball double play from George Springer.
The game almost changed in the top of the fifth. Morton had been cruising, needing just 36 pitches to cover the first four innings, but Greg Bird greeted him by rocking the first pitch of the inning to right for a leadoff double. Morton rebounded by striking out Starlin Castro, but then Aaron Hicks walked on four pitches, the fourth ball being a wild pitch that allowed Bird to move to third, and the Yankees were putting together their first rally of the night.
With runners on first and third and a chance to at least tie the game, Todd Frazier dribbled a soft ground ball towards third. Bird and third baseman Alex Bregman were both in motion immediately, Bird breaking for home and Bregman charging hard for the ball. Knowing he had no chance to turn the double play, Bregman instead scooped the ball up and fired home, hoping to cut down the run.
No one can be faulted here. Down by a run in the seventh game of the series and facing a dominant pitcher, the Yankees had to put on the contact play, even with the slowest runner in the lineup on third. Even as Bird was lumbering down the line, it was clear that Bregman would have to field the ball flawlessly and make a perfect throw to get the out. He did both. His throw hit McCann’s glove two inches above the ground and two inches in front of the plate, arriving a breath before Bird’s outstretched leg. If everything hadn’t worked perfectly for the Astros, the game would’ve been tied and the Yankees would’ve had two runners on with only one out. Instead it was two outs, and when Chase Headley followed with a ground ball to second, the Yankees’ best chance was wasted.
But it was still only a one-run game, and New York pressed forward, leaning on a bullpen that had been the strength of its team. Kahnle, in particular, had been a revelation. He hadn’t been the “player to be named later” in the Chicago deal, he had been the “player you haven’t heard of,” but he quickly became one of Girardi’s favorite weapons out of the bullpen. He struck out 36 batters in just 26.2 innings after coming over in the trade, and he had been even better in the postseason, yielding just two hits and no runs over his first ten innings.
After the two outs on the double play that had ended the fourth and a fly out from Bregman to start the fifth, Kahnle’s scoreless string stretched to eleven innings, but that would be it. On a 1-1 pitch to José Altuve, Kahnle left a changeup in the heart of the zone, and Altuve slapped it just over the wall in right field to double the Houston lead. Before the crowd had even settled down, Carlos Correa took the first pitch he saw and lined it into center for a single. Gurriel followed that with a hit-and-run single that skipped right through the spot Castro had vacated at second base, and now things were serious.
The game was only just past its halfway point, but with a two-run lead and runners on first and third and only one out, the Astros had a chance to deliver a death blow. Kahnle responded by striking out Gattis, leaving things to McCann. After mixing his fastball and change throughout the inning, Kahnle decided to throw only changeups to McCann. The first four brought the count to 2-2, and I moved forward to the edge of the couch, knowing the next pitch would likely decide the game. The previous four pitches had all been either just in or just out of the strike zone, but the fifth changeup was just below the belt and in the middle of the plate. A batting practice fastball. McCann ripped it into the left field corner for a double, scoring both runners. Adam Warren came on to get the final out of the inning, but the damage was done.
Over the course of three half innings, from the bottom of the fourth to the bottom of the fifth, the game was decided. The Gattis home run in the fourth, the missed opportunity for the Yankees in top of the fifth, and this three-run rally for the Astros. (Side note: Brian McCann had a great night and a nice series, and there are already ham-handed headlines out there saying “McCann Returns to Haunt Yankees,” as if there had been a decision to make last winter. Be sure to check Gary Sanchez’s stat line before jumping to any foolish conclusions.)
Unlike any other sport, baseball changes when its postseason arrives, and those changes become even greater in an elimination game like this. (Can you imagine Bill Belichick saying the night before a Super Bowl, “It’s all hands on deck tomorrow; all three quarterbacks are available”?) The Yankees (and many teams before them) often chose to reach earlier into the strength of their bullpen during these playoffs, but on this night Houston manager A.J. Hinch did the opposite, choosing to avoid his struggling relievers altogether.
Morton had emptied his tank as planned, and now Hinch turned to Game 4 starter Lance McCullers, Jr., clearly operating with the same instructions given to Morton — go as hard as you can, as long as you can. In fact, if he had run into trouble or if Hinch had needed a closer, I’m sure we would’ve seen Dallas Keuchel, not Ken Giles.
As it turned out, none of that was necessary. McCullers was as good as Morton had been, giving up just a single to Gardner in the sixth and a walk to Frazier in the eighth. He closed out the Yankees uneventfully with two strikeouts and a pop up to center in the ninth, and the season was done.
It’s never easy when a season ends, especially when it ends in the playoffs. Last year’s campaign was a long march through mediocrity, but at least everyone saw the end coming and knew when it would arrive. It’s different in the postseason. The change is immediate and dramatic. One moment the team is battling side by side and fighting to survive, and the next they’re shrinking into the clubhouse, stealing glances at another team’s celebration while wondering about their own team’s future.
And so it was with the Yankees. When asked to look back at the moment he took the ball from Sabathia, Girardi fought back tears as he explained how much CC had meant to him and the entire team. Aaron Judge thanked the veterans for teaching him so much, typically avoided any discussion of his own success, but acknowledged that he couldn’t express the disappointment he felt in the moment.
It will be difficult for the organization to get past this disappointment. Even though no one had expected the team to get to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, most will remember the failure to get to the World Series, not the heroic effort to win the wild card game over Minnesota or the historic comeback to beat Cleveland in the divisional series.
This is the nature of sports; we remember our defeats. The trick, of course, is to turn those negative memories into something positive. Paul O’Neill spoke about the devastation he and his teammates felt after losing to Cleveland in the 1997 divisional series and admitted that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the World Series that year. But then he dropped this: “When we lost in 1997, it was such a disappointment that I don’t think we win in ’98, ’99, and 2000 without that disappointment.”
So this is the challenge for these young Yankees. Not to win the next three World Series, but to use this defeat to get better.
And what about us? What about those of us who followed this team with religious devotion over the past six months, who recorded games to watch after work in July, who made pilgrimages to the Bronx and other ballparks around the country to see this team in person, who clicked over to Alex’s site to commune with the like-minded, who juggled schedules in October to accommodate inconvenient start times, who carefully selected just the right jersey to wear on Saturday? (For me it was a pinstriped #2; in key moments I noticed my left hand rubbing the DJ3K patch on the right sleeve for luck.) What are we to do?
For the devoted, a loss like this is like a death, and those who know us understand. My family was genuinely sorry for me, and it took about five seconds after the final out for friends near and far to begin texting me. “Sorry bro” from one a few blocks away, “Condolences” from another in Japan. Simple messages to acknowledge the important role this team has played in my life for the past four decades.
But as the sun rises the day after this disappointment, all I can feel is hope and joy. Not since the days of Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have I loved a team the way I loved the 2017 New York Yankees. There were times when they were hard to love, like when the losses were mounting in August, but even when things looked bleak, there was reason for hope.
This team gave us 52 home runs from Aaron Judge, 104 MPH fastballs from Aroldis Chapman, slow curveballs from CC Sabathia, and a big thumbs down from Todd Frazier. When I think back on this year I’ll remember the on-field exploits, but I’ll also remember the mock interviews in the dugout after big home runs. I’ll remember Didi’s emoji tweets. I’ll remember Torreyes climbing on Didi’s shoulders to reach Judge for a high five.
This was a team that I could cheer for and laugh with, a group that seemed to have more fun than any Yankee team in years. And the best part? They’re only going to get better. Youngsters Judge, Sánchez, and Bird will likely sit in the heart of the lineup for years to come, and more great young hitters like Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar are on the way, as well as top prospect Gleyber Torres. No major pieces of this current team are likely to move on, unless the Yankees decide to part ways with Todd Frazier (possible) or CC Sabathia (highly unlikely), or if Masahiro Tanaka opts out of the final three years of his contract and walks away from $70 million (coin flip).
Beyond that, there’s the tantalizing prospect of Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, a potential superstar who would still be affordable enough to fit with New York’s new sensible spending plans.
So the future is definitely bright, brighter than it’s been in years. Nothing is promised, of course, and the more talented teams in New York’s future aren’t guaranteed any World Series berths, but they will certainly be fun to watch. I’ll be watching. There is so much hope.
If you didn’t watch Game 6 in Houston between the Astros and the Yankees and only saw the 7-1 final score — or even if you only saw the highlights — what I’m about to say will make no sense. This was a six-run Houston win that easily could’ve gone either way were it not for a moment here or there. The narrative that will run in most of the newspapers across the land will be about Justin Verlander’s continued dominance, José Altuve’s continued success, and the reemergence of the Houston offense. There’s truth in all of that, but like most stories, especially the ones told in October, it’s important to take a deeper look.
After the Yankee hitters were able to take care of Dallas Keuchel in their second look at him in Game 5, there was hope that we might see more of the same with Verlander on the mound in Game 6. Looking for a different result, the Yankees came out with a different game plan. Instead of making Verlander work and looking to exploit any lingering effects of his 124-pitch effort last Saturday, the New York hitters were aggressive all night long, jumping on pitches early in the count to avoid falling behind and giving a great pitcher a greater advantage.
Brett Gardner singled on the third pitch of the game, but a double play from Aaron Judge and a popup from Didi Gregorius consumed just eight pitches and the Yankees were done. From there Verlander would throw thirteen pitches in the second, eleven in the third, twelve in the fourth, and fourteen in the fifth. No Yankee hitter would see more than five pitches during those first five innings, one would see just two, and two others (Gardner and Castro) would go down on a single pitch.
Opposing Verlander was Luís Severino. There can be no doubt that Severino has the potential to be the Yankee ace for years to come, but this postseason has been something of an education for him. After that disastrous start in the Wild Card game against Minnesota that almost ended this playoff run before it began, Sevy rebounded with seven strong innings against Cleveland in Game 4 of the divisional series, but was pulled after four innings in the second game of this series when an injury scare forced him from the game.
How would he respond on this stage, paired against one of the best pitchers in the game in a hostile environment, with an opportunity to pitch his team into the World Series? Early on, he was more than good. In fact, he was better than Verlander. He walked Yuli Gurriel with one out in the second, but didn’t yield his first hit until Carlos Correa singled with two outs in the fourth.
In fifth, however, things began to unravel. Alex Bregman worked a leadoff walk, laying off pitches that teased the edges of the strike zone. After Marwin González hit a soft grounder to Starlin Castro to advance Bregman to second, designated hitter Evan Gattis brought his bat up to the plate even though he wouldn’t end up needing it. Perhaps reading from the wrong scouting report, Severino pitched Gattis as carefully as if he were Altuve or Correa, and the result was a four-pitch walk, bringing our old friend Brian McCann into the batter’s box.
One look makes it clear that McCann left his razor in New York when he was traded away following last season’s emergence of Gary Sánchez. He is completely unrecognizable. As he dug in against Severino with one out and runners on first and second, his Keuchelish beard dipped into the strike zone as he prepared for what would probably be the biggest at bat of his Houston career.
The walk to Gattis notwithstanding, Severino was still in control, and if his first two pitches to McCann — a 98-MPH fastball on the outside corner followed by a 90-MPH slider in essentially the same spot — demonstrated this, his next three were even better. With McCann frustrated with home plate umpire Jim Reynolds’s strike zone (more on this later), Severino shrewdly tried to stretch that strike zone a bit more, looking to entice either a swing from McCann or a strike call from Reynolds with a slider and a fastball just a few inches farther outside. Neither hitter nor umpire bit, so Severino came back into the zone with his 2-2 pitch. It was a good pitch, 98 and heading right for his catcher’s glove on the outside corner, but McKeuchel reached across the plate and slashed a hard liner that rocketed past Aaron Judge before leaping into the right field stands for a ground rule double and a 1-0 Houston lead.
With runners now on second and third and only one out (and Verlander pitching well), it was important to turn back this Houston uprising without any further damage. Severino walked George Springer on four pitches, kind of intentionally unintentional, to face Josh Reddick, who hasn’t had a hit in almost two weeks. It was a good choice, as Reddick popped up harmlessly to Aaron Hicks in short center, but all that meant was that Altuve was coming to the plate with the bases loaded.
Altuve had disappeared with the rest of the Houston offense during the three games in New York, going hitless in those three losses, but the tiniest Astro is still a serious threat. Severino was in an interesting spot. The ultra-aggressive Altuve feasts on first-pitch fastballs, so the Yankee pitchers have made it clear that he’ll never see another one from them. The problem with this, of course, is that now Altuve knows that every at bat will start with a breaking ball. In this moment he was clearly sitting on a slider, and Severino threw him a bad one. The pitch floated up into the zone a bit, and Altuve pounced on it, rifling a line drive through the left side of the infield and scoring two more Houston runs to build the lead to 3-0.
Severino’s night was done, but Verlander’s was just about to get interesting. The red hot Chase Headley started the sixth inning with a single, and after Gardner and Judge each made out, Gregorius shot a line drive base hit into right field to bring Sánchez to the plate as the tying run. Verlander went to his fastball, but his three attempts to lure Sánchez out of the strike zone all failed, and suddenly the Kraken was in the driver’s seat. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to jump back into the game with one swing, manager Joe Girardi gave Sánchez the green light. Perhaps sensing that Girardi was sensing this, Verlander went to his slider, and this time Sánchez bit. Kind of. Fooled by the pitch, Sánchez tried to check his swing but ended up making minimal contact, dribbling the ball out to Correa at short for the final out of the inning.
The Yankees’ best chance would come in the following frame. Greg Bird worked a six-pitch walk to lead off the inning, and two pitches later Verlander nicked Castro’s sweatband to put runners on first and second with Hicks coming up. It will be noted that Hicks put on a professional at bat, pushing Verlander for ten pitches before striking out, but one thing that won’t make it into any box score was a pitch that could’ve changed the entire game. Verlander’s first three pitches were balls, and after taking the next pitch down the middle for strike one, Hicks got ready for a 3-1 pitch and waited for the chance to get his team back in the game. Verlander’s pitch tailed out of the strike zone — clearly out of the strike zone — and Hicks began to toss his bat away in anticipation of a walk that would’ve loaded the bases with none out.
But Jim Reynolds called the pitch a ball. In fairness, Reynolds’s strike zone was a moving target all night long for both teams, but this particular call victimized Hicks and stifled a rally. Had Hicks been awarded first base, Houston manager A.J. Hinch would’ve faced a difficult decision: stay with Verlander or take his chances with his shaky bullpen. But he didn’t have to think about that. Five pitches later, Hicks struck out.
Todd Frazier wilted beneath the spin of a curveball on the first pitch of the next at bat, putting him down 0-1, but then Frazier found a fastball to his liking and pounded it deep to center field. I was up off the couch almost immediately, yelling at the ball to get out, but Springer was tracking it, heading confidently back to the wall. He got to the warning track and leapt up against the ten-foot barrier, robbing not a homer but an extra base hit from Frazier and preserving Verlander’s shutout.
Twice it looked like the game was going to change, but twice it remained the same. The next hitter was Headley, who grounded out to end the inning.
The Astros happily accepted those seven scoreless inning from Verlander and turned to their bullpen in the eighth. Brad Peacock came in, and Aaron Judge reminded everyone that Altuve wasn’t the only MVP candidate on the field when he launched a monstrous home run to left, cutting the Houston lead to two runs at 3-1. Peacock was momentarily shaken by the blow and initially struggled to regain the strike zone against Gregorius, but then Didi popped up and Sánchez watched a fastball down the middle for strike three, and the inning was over.
David Robertson came on for the bottom of the eighth to keep things close, but instead he blew everything up, and it only took twelve pitches. Five of those were to Altuve. With the count 2-2, Robertson made a nice pitch, a slider that started at the knees before dipping below the strike zone, but Altuve reached for it anyway and flicked a fly ball that barely carried over the high wall in left for a home run. I see you Aaron Judge, and I raise you. The lead was back to three.
Shockingly, the Astros would add two more runs in what seemed like thirty seconds. Correa jumped on the next pitch and laced a double down the line in left, then Gurriel singled him to third three pitches later. Three pitches after that Bregman pounded a long double to center to score Correa and Gurriel. 6-1. With one eye already on Game 7, Girardi pulled Robertson and waved the white flag, bringing in Delin Betances to finish the inning. Delin eventually allowed a seventh run, and that was that.
While it might sting a bit to know that the Yankees missed a chance to clinch the series on Friday night and avoid the cauldron of Game 7, I can’t imagine there’s a player on the roster, a suit in the front office, or a fan wearing pinstripes who sees anything but opportunity waiting on Saturday night.
When Joe Girardi first saw the replay of the ball hitting Lonnie Chisenhall’s hand after the loss in Game 2 put the Yankees in an 0-2 hole in Cleveland, do you think he would’ve turned down Game 7 in the LCS? When CC Sabathia walked away from the team in the closing weeks of 2015 to pursue treatment for alcoholism, do you think he would’ve shied away from an October start two years later? Or what about when he tweaked his knee in August and feared he might never pitch again? Don’t you think he would’ve given anything to get the ball in Game 7? When Greg Bird was lying in a hospital bed in the winter of 2015, rehabbing throughout 2016, then missing more than 100 games in 2017, don’t you think he’d have given years of his life to play in this deciding game?
During this past off-season, faced with the prospect of rebuilding a team whose stated goal is to compete for a championship every season, do you think general manager Brian Cashman could ever have imagined a one-game shot for the World Series?
And what about you? When the Yankees were wandering aimlessly in the desert, losing fifteen games in August, did you even believe they’d make the playoffs? Did you ever imagine that Judge and Sanchez and Bird and Severino would draw legitimate comparisons — this year — to Jeter and Posada and Pettitte and Rivera? Could you have possibly dreamed of a run like this, a unlikely trip through October that has finally arrived at the most magical of destinations? If you did, your dream has come true.
Don’t worry. Believe.
All the Yankees need in this postseason, it seems, is a return home to Yankee Stadium, their Fortress of Solitude. After suffering through two nail-biting losses in Houston, the Yankees came back to New York and delivered the most relaxing playoff win in recent memory, a casual 8-1 win over the Astros to hold serve in an ALCS that has yet to see a home team lose.
Getting the start for the Yankees was CC Sabathia. As I watched the early innings of the game I was thinking that if I were an Astros fan, I wouldn’t believe in Sabathia. I would have dismissed his stellar record in starts following Yankee losses this season as nothing but a fluke, no more proof of his effectiveness than presents on Christmas morning are proof of Santa Claus.
But facts are facts, and while Sabathia might look more like Santa Claus than the Yankees’ ace at this point in his career, he took the mound on Monday night and did what aces do. On a night when his team needed him the most, Sabathia gave them exactly what any ace would. He cruised through the first two innings, keeping the Houston bats quiet — even José Altuve’s — to give his team a chance to jump out in front early.
The first Yankee rally began in the bottom of the second inning. With two men already out, Starlin Castro took a big swing and hit a dribbler to the left side of the infield for a base hit. Next up was Aaron Hicks, who blooped a ball into center to bring up Todd Frazier with two on and two out. For his 1-1 pitch, Houston starter Charlie Morton threw what he’d probably say was the perfect pitch for the situation, a 95-MPH fastball at the knees and on the outside corner. That’s normally a pitch that a dead pull hitter like Frazier would either swing through or foul off, but instead Frazier reached out over the plate and punched the ball one-handed towards right field. The nature of his swing seemed to indicate a lazy fly out, but the ball left his bat in a hurry and kept carrying and carrying until it fell into the first couple of rows in the right field bleachers for a three-run home run.
It was the Yankees’ first lead of the series, and with Sabathia looking good and the bullpen incredibly fresh, Yankee fans from New York to California were surely feeling confident. Almost immediately, though, Sabathia worked himself into some trouble in the top of the third. After getting the first two outs rather quickly, he walked George Springer and gave up a single to Alex Bregman, putting runners on first and third with Altuve headed to the plate. At this point there’s really no reason to pitch to Altuve, even with Carlos Correa looming behind him, and Sabathia was more than a little careful. Even though Bregman was on first, there was still a base open, as David Cone is always reminding us, so Sabathia gave Altuve nothing to hit while issuing a five-pitch walk.
If there was a moment when the game might’ve turned, this was clearly it. Even just a base hit from Correa, who had produced three of the Astros’ four runs in Houston, would’ve tightened the game into a tense affair, and a home run would’ve sucked the life out of the Stadium. But Sabathia stood strong, surprising Correa with a cutter over the heart of the plate for strike one, then riding another in on his hands to get a pop-up to end the threat. It would be the last tense moment of the game.
Cameron Maybin was in left field for Houston, and in the bottom of the fourth he had a good look at a play that would eventually lead to the demise of his Astros. With the outfield swung all the around to the right, Greg Bird sliced a fly ball down the left field line. The ball was in the air for an awful long time, and I’m sure everyone watching, whether in gray or in pinstripes, assumed Maybin would make the play. But he inexplicably pulled up at the last minute, let the ball bounce at his feet, and then watched helplessly as it spun into the stands for a lead-off ground rule double.
The two-out rally continued when Frazier drew a walk, and then the Yankees cashed in Maybin’s misplay when Chase Headley’s grounder up the middle glanced off Altuve’s glove for an RBI single to put the Yankees up 4-0. Mr. Morton had pitched well, much better than his eventual stat line would indicate, but now things were unraveling. To makes matter worse, and to end his night, Morton plunked Brett Gardner to load the bases for Aaron Judge.
All I wanted in the world at that moment was a grand slam for Judge, something to quiet the critics, reward his patience, and send the Stadium into euphoria, but it wasn’t to be. Reliever Will Harris threw a 58-foot curve ball that bounced over his catcher’s head, allowing one runner to score and the others to advance, denying the grand slam but adding to the Yankee lead.
Somewhere David Cone was looking at that empty base at first, but Harris wasn’t. He threw a 2-1 fastball that Judge barely missed, then came back with another that he didn’t. Judge sent a rocket to left that never seemed to get more than fifty feet off the ground as it screamed towards its destination in the first row of the bleachers. Judge allowed himself a smile of relief as he rounded first, and the Stadium celebrated the 8-0 lead.
After Judge had fouled off that first fastball, it seemed like catcher Evan Gattis had recognized the folly of trying to sneak another one past him, and looked to be calling for a curveball. Harris shook him off twice, though, until he got what he wanted and delivered that fateful fastball. The whole thing felt like a scene out of Bull Durham. (It should also be noted that Judge made two fantastic plays in the field, one jumping high against the wall in right, the other diving to catch a line drive in front of him. The whole package was on display.)
Nothing much happened after that. The game wasn’t half over, but the eight runs felt like more than enough. After two weeks of tense playoff baseball, it was nice to have the game on in the background during dinner with the family. Heck, it was nice to be able to breathe.
Sabathia continued dealing, although he had to work around two hits in the fifth, and a hit and an error in the sixth. He’d throw 99 pitches over six innings, allowing just three hits, four walks, and not a single run. He improved to 10-0 this season following Yankee losses, the first American League pitcher to do that since another great Yankee, Whitey Ford, in 1961.
If there was anything to be concerned about, it was Delin Betances. With the game already in his pocket, Joe Girardi wisely took the opportunity to pitch Betances in the ninth, clearly hoping to give his big reliever some confidence should he be needed in a tight spot later on. Unfortunately for Betances, he walked the first batter on four pitches that weren’t close to the plate, then walked the next, forcing Girardi to get him. I feel bad for Delin. We know him as an unhittable all-star, but he’s fallen into a terrible funk at the worst possible time. My guess is that barring an extra-inning marathon, we won’t seem him pitch again until April. It’s a shame.
But the good news is that the Yankees are back in business. A win today evens the series, and then all things are possible.
In a game between the two most prolific offenses in the American League, with an MVP candidate in each dugout, the outcome wasn’t decided by tape measure blasts but in moments more easily measured in inches. The stories in the morning papers will all focus on Dallas Keuchel and José Altuve, and rightly so, but the Astros and the Yankees must know that Friday night’s 2-1 win for Houston could easily have gone the other way, were it not for a few inches.
Probably the least surprising development of the night was that Houston’s Dallas Keuchel was dominant from the first inning on. Keuchel, of course, is a rarity in today’s game. While most pitchers force constant recalibration of radar guns and repadding of catchers’ mitts, Keuchel is an artist who dabbles occasionally at the corners of the plate, but only enough to entice hitters to stray outside the zone into regions where they are hopelessly overmatched. The most telling statistic presented all night was the fact that no pitcher in baseball threw more pitches outside the strike zone (57.1%) than Keuchel.
And so it was in the first inning. Aaron Judge earned a one-out walk on five pitches, but Brett Gardner and Gary Sánchez struck out on either side of him, and Didi Gregorius grounded out harmlessly to end the inning. Keuchel’s first eight pitches of the game were 90-MPH fastballs dancing around the edges of the strike zone, and it wasn’t until the third hitter of the game that he brought out his slider, burying two of them at Sánchez’s shoe tops to produce flailing strikes, the last one strike three. Keuchel was ready, and the Houston crowd was roaring.
Minute Maid Park got even louder when George Springer led off the bottom of the inning with a five-pitch walk, but Yankee starter Masahiro Tanaka immediately settled down, needing just six pitches to retire Josh Reddick, José Altuve, and Carlos Correa. Even in these early moments, it was clear that this game was not going to be a slugfest.
Keuchel and Tanaka continued hypnotizing hitters through the first three innings, but things changed a bit in the fourth. Starlin Castro singled with two outs, bringing Aaron Hicks to the plate. On a 1-1 pitch Keuchel made one of his few mistakes of the night, leaving a 91-MPH fastball out over the middle of the plate. Hicks jumped on it and sent a long fly ball to straight away center field, loud enough that it felt like it could carry beyond the wall and give the Yankees a 2-0 lead, but instead it settled gently into Springer’s glove as the centerfielder stood with his back only inches from the wall. Inches.
Tanaka, meanwhile, still hadn’t allowed a base hit as he strode to the mound for the bottom of the fourth. MVP candidate Altuve found a 2-1 pitch in the hitting zone and slashed a grounder through Tanaka’s legs and just inches below his glove. Castro raced over behind the bag at second to make the play, but his throw to first was late by just the blink of an eye. Again, an inch here or an inch there would’ve turned this play in the other direction.
This brought on Correa, the best young shortstop in the game. Even though Tanaka threw over to first several times, keenly aware of the threat dancing off first base, Altuve took off for second on a 1-1 pitch. He got a tremendous jump, but Sánchez, for all his well-documented defensive deficiencies, still has a spectacular arm. The play shouldn’t have been close, but Sánchez and Castro made it so. Sánchez rifled the ball to second on one hop, Castro picked it cleanly and applied the tag, but Altuve was clearly safe. By inches.
Predictably, the next pitch to was up and on the inner half of the plate, and Correa ripped a line drive to left field to score Altuve with the first run of the game. After the game Correa showed the brashness of youth when he claimed that he had known what was coming. He said that his video work had revealed that Tanaka goes to off-speed pitches with runners in scoring position, so he had been ready for it. (This is a nice theory, but only four of Tanaka’s seventeen pitches in the inning were fastballs. The fastball is kind of his off-speed pitch.)
Marwin González pushed a soft grounder to Castro to move Correa into scoring position with outs, and then Yuli Gurriel produced Houston’s third hit of the inning, a ground ball to center field that scored Correa easily from second to give the Astros a 2-0 lead. It had been a shaky inning for Tanaka, but aside from Correa’s line drive, nothing had been hit hard. Well placed grounders and shrewd base running had accounted for the two runs.
The Yankees attempted to answer quickly in the top of the fifth. Greg Bird laced a line drive past Gurriel at first base to lead off the inning, and when Altuve misplayed Matt Holliday’s ground ball into an error, the Yanks had runners on first and second with no one out. But Todd Frazier went down on a soft liner to center, then Gardner struck out on a quintessential Keuchel at bat. After getting a strike call on a borderline fastball at the knees, Keuchel put that brush away and took out his slider for the rest of the at bat. He painted the outside corner perfectly to put Gardner in an 0-2 hole, and then he went to work stretching the eyes of both the batter and the umpire. All artwork is open to interpretation, and Keuchel’s canvas is the strike zone. Beneath his dabbling brush that zone stretches and bends until neither hitter nor umpire can remember the parameters they’ve always known, and Gardner fell victim. Keuchel put three pitches in a row in essentially the same place, an inch or two off the corner of the plate. Gardner watched the first two to even the count at 2-2, but he couldn’t resist the third. It was in an unhittable location, so Gardner went down on strikes.
And so it came down to Aaron Judge. One thing I found interesting watching the telecast was that play-by-play man Joe Buck, while acknowledging Judge’s 1 for 20 performance in the divisional series, refused to give any significance to it. He still spoke of Judge in reverential tones, marveling at his regular season numbers, the threat he posed while standing in the on deck circle, and his menacing presence in the batter’s box. It made sense, I think. I doubt that Keuchel and the Astros were any less concerned about him because of failures in his past five games.
Keuchel fed Judge five straight sliders, but he made a mistake on the sixth one. On a 3-2 count he let a slider drift up in the zone, and Judge hammered it into left field. With the runners going on the pitch, it seemed certain to be an RBI single that would cut the lead in half and bring Sánchez to the plate with an opportunity to tie the game against a tiring pitcher. But Greg Bird was the runner at second. Bird was probably the slowest runner in the Yankee lineup on Friday night, and he compounded this weakness in two ways. First, he didn’t get an aggressive jump off second base. Second — and this is the bigger problem, I think — with two outs and a full count, he should’ve known that he’d be heading home on any base hit. His lead from second should’ve been not just longer, but deeper, more towards shortstop, less towards third base. He wasn’t prepared to round third base, so when Judge rifled that ball directly at González in left field and Bird saw Joe Espada waving him around third, he had to alter his stride a bit and take an awkward route around the bag before digging for home. The short wall in left field, meanwhile, allowed González to play much more shallow than a left fielder normally would against a slugger like Judge, so he was able to take the ball cleanly running full speed in a direct line towards the plate before unleashing his throw. Bird and the ball arrived at essentially the same time, but catcher Brian McCann was able to lay the tag on the runner. Bird was out by inches. Probably less than inches. (The Yankees would challenge the play, but Bird was clearly out. Afterwards Girardi would admit as much. “He looked out,” he said with a humorous shrug, “but I’m never not doing that again,” a clear self-deprecating reference to the Chisenhall play from the last series.)
So if Bird had gotten only a few more inches on his lead or run a touch more efficiently around the bag, or if Judge’s ball had been hit just a few inches to the left or the right, or if González’s throw hadn’t been absolutely perfect — Bird might’ve been safe, and the rest of the game might have played out differently. But none of that happened, and the inning was over.
Tanaka recovered nicely from Houston’s two-run fourth and coasted through the next two innings, though he had to survive a scare when Springer hit a ball to the wall in center for the final out of the fifth. He gave up those two runs, but he was brilliant aside from that.
Keuchel, of course, was equally brilliant, and it wasn’t until he left after seven innings that the Yankees were able to threaten again, even if only mildly. Gardner worked a one-out walk in the eighth, which forced Houston manager A.J. Hinch to bring in his closer, Ken Giles. Judge grounded out to third for the second out, Sánchez drew a walk to make things a bit interesting, but Didi struck out to end the threat.
With two outs in the ninth inning and the Yankees staring at a shutout, Greg Bird found a fastball in the middle of the plate and crushed it. Like many of Bird’s home runs, distance was never a question, but it was headed straight down the line, either inches fair or inches foul. Bird split the difference between those two options, bouncing the ball off the foul pole for a homer that split the Houston lead in half. That home run quickened the pulse a bit, but then pinch hitter Jacoby Ellsbury struck out, and the game was over.
Is there anything to worry about here? Not really. After trailing 0-2 in a five-game series, being down 0-1 in a seven-gamer is nothing. And while nothing Dallas Keuchel did in Game 1 surprised me in the slightest, Justin Verlander is a different pitcher who will likely have different results. He simply doesn’t scare me anymore. (Of course, I haven’t held a bat in my hand in about thirty years.) Also, if the game is close in the late innings, Giles, who threw 37 pitches for his five-out save, might not be available. The Yankee bullpen, meanwhile, will be quite operational if any threat arrives.
Ace Luís Severino will pitch well, Judge will go deep, the bullpen will get nine outs, and the Yankees will go back to the Bronx with a 1-1 split. Book it!
What if you had missed the first half of Wednesday’s Game 5 between Cleveland and New York and somehow heard that one team’s starter was absolutely dealing, starting the game with three perfect innings and striking out nine over the first four a third, and that his shortstop was providing all the offense necessary with home runs in his first two at bats.
Be honest now. Wouldn’t your shoulders have sagged? Wouldn’t your heart have sunk? Wouldn’t you have assumed Cleveland was the team, Corey Kluber was the pitcher, and Francisco Lindor was the shortstop?
But everything was upside down on Wednesday night as the Yankees clinched their first trip to the American League Championship Series in five years in the most unlikely fashion. Their 5-2 win would’ve been thrilling had it been a Monday night game in August against the White Sox, but coming as it did in the deciding game of a five-game series the Yankees had once trailed two games to none against arguably the best team in baseball, this game will resonate for a while.
The narrative most expected included a dominant start from Kluber, the odds on favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award. After a disastrous start in Game 2 in which he yielded seven hits, two homers, and six runs in just 2.2 innings, surely he would bounce back and regress to the mean. In the larger sample size of the regular season, Kluber had posted ridiculous numbers — 265 strikeouts in 203.2 innings, an ERA of 2.25 and a microscopic WHIP of 0.87. Surely we would see that Corey Kluber in Game 5, right?
It didn’t take long for the Yankees to test him. After Brett Gardner was retired attempting a drag bunt on the first pitch of the game and Aaron Judge struck out (more on that later), Didi Gregorius strode to the plate with two outs. After getting head 1-2 with pitches painting the outside edge of the strike zone, Kluber allowed a fastball to float closer to the center of the plate, and Didi pounced. He dropped his head before dropping his bat, and he broke into his home run trot before the ball had reached its apex.
It was just a solo homer, and it was just 1-0, and it was just the first inning, but it could’ve been the biggest swing of the game for the Yankees. It planted seeds of doubt in a Cleveland crowd that had arrived with plans of celebration, it energized a Yankee bench that had arrived with luggage packed for Houston, and it gave all involved the first hint that maybe Kluber wasn’t returning to form.
After Gary Sánchez struck out to end the inning, CC Sabathia walked out of the Yankee dugout and returned to a mound that he knew well. It’s been an interesting season for CC, and I’ll admit that even as closely as I’ve followed this team in 2017, Sabathia has somehow confounded me. There seems to be no comparison between Sabathia, an aging veteran held together with braces and bandages, and Kluber, a dominant young ace in the prime of his career. On the surface, this game, the same as Game 2, seemed to be a mismatch in Cleveland’s favor but for one surprising statistic. Cleveland had won 20 games started by Kluber in the regular season; the Yankees had won 19 of Sabathia’s games — and they should have won Game 2.
And so the Big Man took the mound with the weight of Yankee Universe on his shoulders, and all he did was retire the first nine Cleveland hitters in order, striking out six of them. It was an absolute clinic, and a tribute to the complete transformation Sabathia has embraced. Cleveland fans likely thought back to the days when he was wearing their jersey and mowing down hitters with blazing fastballs, but on this night those first six strikeouts came on four sliders (80-81 MPH) and two cutters (90-91), a pitch that the younger Sabathia never threw.
The Yankee hitters, meanwhile, were still working. Gardner led off the top of the third with a single to right, and two batters later Didi came to the plate with one out and one on. He fouled off the first pitch, then sent the second pitch on a long arc into the Cleveland night, another ball that was gone the moment it left the bat. Really, what can be said about Sir Didi at this point? I don’t think he’ll ever get beyond the fact that he was The One Who Replaced Derek Jeter, but the truth of the matter is that he’s become a great player in his own right. His career won’t end in the Hall of Fame, but if there hadn’t been a Derek Jeter, I think he’d be in the conversation of the best Yankee shortstops of all time. (You probably just spit out your coffee, but think about it for a while. You’ll see that I’m right.)
Kluber would survive the third, but when he walked Jacoby Ellsbury with two outs in the fourth, Cleveland manager Tito Francona pulled him from the game. The best pitcher in baseball hadn’t been good enough when his team needed him the most, but baseball is like that sometimes.
Meanwhile Sabathia, only the third-best pitcher on a team whose starters were thought to be its glaring weakness, was still going strong. He finally allowed his first baserunner of the game when Francisco Lindor singled to start the fourth, but he recovered quickly, striking out Jason Kipnis on three sliders (79, 78, and 80 MPH), using one pitch to get José Ramírez on a grounder, and then striking Edwin Encarnación to end the frame. (Side note: One of the best things about this series is that we never had to watch Encarnación walk his parrot.)
The game changed a bit in the bottom of the fifth. After Sabathia struck out Carlos Santana for his ninth (ninth!) strikeout of the game, Cleveland put together a rally that would eventually push Sabathia from the game. Four consecutive singles, an assortment of ground balls and soft line drives from Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Roberto Pérez, and Giovanny Urshela brought Cleveland to within a run at 3-2 and forced Joe Girardi to pull his starter. Having pitched just four and a third innings, Sabathia wouldn’t qualify for the win, but it had still been one of the best starts of his season in the season’s biggest game.
David Robertson came in to face Cleveland’s best hitter, Franciso Lindor, with runners on first and second and only one out, and surely every Yankee fan watching was flashing back painfully to Lindor’s grand slam in Game 2. Suddenly the game — and the season — was in the balance. But it was Robertson’s time. It’s been great having the Alabama Hammer back in the bullpen, and he needed just two pitches to put an end to the Cleveland threat. He got Lindor to hit a hard grounder up the middle to short, and Didi turned a nifty double play to end the inning and preserve the lead.
Robertson needed just seven pitches to get through the sixth inning, which allowed him to come back out for the seventh, eliminating any need to see less dependable relievers like Chad Green or Delin Betances. He struck out Santana and Jackson, seemed to want no part of Bruce, whose game-tying homer in Game 2 had come at Robertson’s expense, but then got Pérez on a comebacker. Mission accomplished.
With six outs to go, Girardi sent Aroldis Chapman out to get them. The eighth inning went smoothly enough, with the usual assortment of 100 MPH fastballs (four of them) and strikeouts (two), but the lead was still slim, and the ninth inning loomed.
But the game slipped away from Cleveland in the ninth, and much of it was their own doing. Aaron Hicks blooped what should’ve been a harmless single to left with one out, but Austin Jackson had been playing rather deep and had to rush in to hold the speedy Hicks at first. Jackson misplayed the ball, allowing Hicks to coast into second, carrying an all-important insurance run in his back pocket.
Chase Headley popped up for the second out, but then Todd Frazier fouled off six pitches on his way to a nine-pitch walk from Cody Allen, bringing Brett Gardner to the plate. One of the few holdovers from the Yankees’ last championship and a player who always seems to be at the center of trade rumors, Gardner has quietly become the heart of the team. If there were ever any doubts about that, they were erased with this at bat. After falling behind 1-2 to Allen, Gardner started battling. And battling. And battling. He worked the count full after six pitches, and then he just decided not to give in. Allen kept throwing strikes, but none were to Gardner’s liking, so he just slapped them into the stands to keep the at bat going. After five straight foul balls, Gardner dug in for the twelfth pitch of the at bat. Perhaps feeling the toll of the twenty pitches he had thrown to Frazier and Gardner, Allen finally made a mistake, leaving a fastball up and on the inner half of the plate. Gardy lashed it into right field for a clean, line drive single to plate Hicks and make the score 4-2, Yankees. Bruce fielded the ball in right field, but his throw was too casual and ended up short-hopping Lindor, who wasn’t able to corral it. The ball didn’t bounce far away, but Frazier alertly took advantage and sprinted towards the plate, sliding home just beneath the tag from Pérez.
With the score now 5-2 and Chapman heading back out for the ninth inning, thoughts naturally turned towards the ALCS, but three outs remained.
To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like. I had forgotten the tension connected those final three outs. I watched the ninth inning on my feet, standing in front of the television, sometimes pacing, sometimes crouching, sometimes hopping with nervousness. When I look back now, it was all relatively uneventful, especially given the three-run lead, but at the time? Not so much.
Chapman had been sitting on the bench for almost thirty minutes, so he naturally came out and walked the first batter of the inning, just to make things more interesting. Encarnación and his parrot were due next, but Chapman dispatched him without much drama. He threw five fastballs, but Encarnación swung only once. The last pitch was 101 MPH down the middle; Encarnación watched it go by, then returned to the bench to make plans for the off-season.
Santana was due next, and I had a momentary heart attack when he rapped a ball out towards second and Starlin Castro got caught between hops. He thought for a moment about charging, then realized he had to retreat, and there was a second when it looked like the ball might skip past him, when it looked like Cleveland would have runners at first and third with one out… But Castro stabbed the ball out of the air and flipped the ball to Didi for the force out.
One out away.
With Austin Jackson coming up to the plate, I pleaded to Chapman through the television: “Just! Throw! Fastballs!” He obliged. The first was a ball, but the next two were strikes, bringing us finally to the game’s final pitch. Chapman pumped a 101-MPH heater across the top of the zone and Jackson watched it pass for strike three, probably because he knew he had no hope of hitting it. Chapman struck his pose and screamed into the night, and the Yankees were headed to Houston and the American League Championship Series.
After the game the analysis centered on Kluber’s failure and CC’s success, on Didi’s big game and Judge’s abysmal series (save those two big moments), but this series was really about Joe Girardi. I will freely admit to being completely furious with him following the gaffe in Game 2, but what angered me the most on Friday night was that he made excuses after the game. He blamed the system, he complained about not having enough information.
None of that was valid, of course, and it fueled anger throughout the Yankee Universe as fans gathered pitchforks and made plans to storm the castle.
But on Saturday we saw the truth. Girardi admitted his mistake during his off-day press conference, but there was even more following the Game 3 win on Sunday night. He accepted responsibility for the earlier loss and fought back tears as he admitted to the pain he felt following Game 2. He knew he had let down millions of people, and I knew he wasn’t just talking to the reporters gathered in the room, he was talking to me.
So as I celebrated in my living room on Wednesday night, I wasn’t just rejoicing in a victory over the best team in baseball, and I wasn’t just dreaming of the World Series. I was celebrating for Joe.
I don’t remember the last time I watched a Yankee game as tense as the one in the Bronx on Sunday night, largely because it’s been so long since the Yankees have had a legitimate shot at a World Series. I think that’s why Friday’s debacle reverberated through the fanbase the way it did. There was a sense that an opportunity was lost, that a shot at a championship had been squandered. When Joe Girard’s failure to challenge the hit by pitch and the base awarded to Lonnie Chisenhall in Game 2, millions of Yankee fans felt betrayed. Their anger was felt throughout cyberspace on Friday night and Saturday morning, and it was felt again as boos rained down on Girardi as he was introduced before Sunday’s Game 3. If the Yankees had lost and been swept by Cleveland, I’m not sure the manager would’ve been able to survive the storm.
And so it was Masahiro Tanaka who saved him. Tanaka has been with the Yankees for four years now, and he’s never pitched a bigger game than he did on Sunday. Thankfully for Girardi and the Yankees, he’s probably never pitched better.
He immediately announced that he was on, striking out Yankee killer Francisco Lindor, using a single pitch to retire Jason Kipnis on a pop up, then fanning José Ramírez for a clean opening frame that set the tone for the rest of the night. His command was exact, his splitter was brilliant, and when he needed it, his tenacity would be formidable.
Equally formidable was Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco. With a rotation like this, it’s no wonder that Cleveland compiled the best recored in the American League. Carrasco was 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA in September, he tied for the league lead with 18 wins, and he was just about as good as Tanaka on this night. He also struck out two in the first inning, then two more in the second, and when he yielded a leadoff walk to Jacoby Ellsbury in the third, he erased him with a quick double play off the bat of Aaron Hicks.
Tanaka and Carrasco were linked in an October pitching duel. The stakes may have been higher for the Yankees, but there was still a clear sense building that neither pitcher was going to fall victim to an extended rally, and the pressure mounted on both sides. The more zeros the two hung on the scoreboard, the more likely it seemed that the game — and possibly the series — would be decided by one swing of the bat.
Cleveland had the first opportunity with one out in the top of the fourth. Kipnis took a pitch out over the middle of the plate and hooked it to right field. There was no fear that it would find the seats, but it was certainly a dangerous ball that looked like a base hit off the bat. Aaron Judge raced to his left hoping to make a play, but as he leapt and extended his glove, he miscalculated slightly, and the ball actually glanced off the heel of his mitt and back behind him. By the time Judge was able to slam on the brakes, retrieve the ball, and fire it back into the infield, Kipnis was sliding into third with a quirky triple.
With the Yankees yet to garner their first hit off Carrasco, this felt like a moment that could possibly end their season. Girardi had no choice but to bring his infield in, increasing the odds for the already dangerous José Ramírez, but it turned out that the infielders weren’t even necessary. Tanaka fed Ramírez a steady diet of splitters in the dirt and struck him out to keep Kipnis at third. All this did, though, was bring up Jay Bruce, the same Jay Bruce who single-handedly crushed the Yankees in Game 1 with three RBIs, the same Jay Bruce who ripped their hearts out with a game-tying homer in Game 2. A base hit in this spot would be even worse. Tanaka started him out with a low slider for ball one, then went to his splitter. The pitch started at the bottom of the strike zone before tumbling into the dirt, but Bruce couldn’t resist and waved at it helplessly. The next pitch was possibly a bit lower, and it produced the same result, bringing the count to 1-2. With the Stadium crowd roaring, Tanaka cast out his line once more, and once more Bruce bit, swinging and missing for strike three. The crowd erupted in celebration, and Tanaka spun around on the mound, screaming and pumping his fist in defiance. The game was his, and everyone knew it.
Tanaka was tested again in the sixth inning. Roberto Pérez opened the frame by looping a soft single to left, and after Giovanny Urshela lined out to right, Francisco Lindor walked up to the plate. After watching a splitter for ball one and then swinging over a slider, Lindor found the one mistake Tanaka made all night, a splitter that stayed up a bit. He put a good swing on it, and although the ball was only in the air for a couple seconds, it was still enough time to think back to Friday night and the towering grand slam he had hit to change the course of Game 2; it was still enough time to wonder if Lindor had done it again; it was still enough time to worry that the Yankees’ season might be over.
But then there was Aaron Judge. He got back to the wall quickly and had time to take a measure of the fly ball. As fans in the bleachers behind him rose to their feet in anticipation, Judge gathered his six-foot-seven-inch frame, leapt into the night, and came down with the ball. Most of the fans in the Stadium had probably walked through the turnstiles hoping Judge might do something to save the season, but it’s doubtful any of them were thinking about his glove. Even before he fired the ball back towards the infield, Judge showed us something. He smiled from ear to ear, just as countless kids will do at recess on Monday while re-enacting this game-saving play. It was a reminder of why there are so many Judge jerseys in the stands these days. There’s a lot more to this kid than the 52 home runs.
In the bottom half of the sixth, Carrasco began to show some cracks in his armor. Aaron Hicks reached on a dribbler to third, just the second New York hit of the night, but Carrasco quickly doused that flicker of hope by inducing a double play off the bat of Brett Gardner. But then Judge drew a walk, Gary Sánchez sent an absolute missile through the middle of the infield for the second hit of the inning, and Didi Gregorius worked a walk to load the bases and usher Carrasco from the game. Once again the Stadium crowd came to life, but once again the Yankees were turned away when reliever Andrew Miller retired Starlin Castro with a harmless popup to shortstop.
Tanaka worked a clean top of the seventh, and then I was reminded of the 2001 playoffs, the year that the Yankees began playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch to honor the victims and first responders of 9/11. There were so many seventh-inning rallies during those playoffs that we began to hear off-the-record reports of opposing managers and players being critical of the extended seventh-inning stretch, as if two minutes of Kate Smith was icing their pitchers.
Whatever the reason, I was hoping for more seventh-inning magic as first baseman Greg Bird walked up to the plate to lead off the bottom of the seventh against Miller. Bird’s story has been well-documented, from his surprising success in 2015, the shoulder injury which cost him all of 2016, and the ankle and foot injuries which robbed him of most of 2017. Much was expected of Bird following his arrival two years ago, but he had largely been forgotten as other young Yankees blossomed, first Sánchez last season and Judge this season. Bird’s fall was so precipitous, in fact, that many wondered whether or not he’d ever return to the lineup. Be grateful that he has.
Bird took one slider for a ball, then fouled off another to even the count before Miller decided to try a fastball. Even though it came in at 96 MPH, it came in belt high and on the inner half of the plate, right in Bird’s wheelhouse. Bird turned on it, and everyone involved immediately knew it was gone. Bird spun around on his follow through and actually took two steps backward and almost into the opposite batter’s box as he watched his majestic blast soar into the second deck. He dropped his head, dropped his bat, screamed in celebration, and let the cheers wash over him as he circled the bases after the most important Yankee home run of 2017.
With six outs remaining, Girardi turned to his bullpen. David Robertson got the first out of the eighth inning, but after walking Michael Brantley, he gave way to Aroldis Chapman, who’d need five outs to extend the series. Chapman didn’t mess around. He threw four fastballs (100, 100, 103, 103) to strike out pinch hitter Yan Gomes, then three fastballs and a slider (102, 101, 88, 102) to fan Urshela.
Chapman was a bit shaky when he came back out for the ninth, but he was still throwing heat. He had to throw 26 pitches while working around two singles, but 23 of those pitches were fastballs ranging from 100 MPH to 104. Carlos Santana lofted the last one of those to left center field, and when it settled into Aaron Hicks’s glove, the game was over and the Yankees were still alive.
Everything is amplified and magnified in October, and so it was on Tuesday night as the Yankees dropped the first game of the five-game American League Division Championship series in Cleveland. This is the same Cleveland team who rattled off a 22-game winning streak in August and September, the same team that many analysts tap as the most complete team in baseball, so it shouldn’t be a terrible surprise that the Yankees dropped a game to them. No one, after all, expected a Yankee sweep.
Nothing went right for the Yankees on this particular October night. Cleveland manager Terry Francona surprised everyone by tabbing Trevor Bauer to start Game 1 instead of Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber (can’t wait to see him in Game 2), but Bauer quickly justified Tito’s faith by retiring the first five Yankee hitters he faced. After an odd four-pitch walk to Greg Bird in the second, Bauer rebounded to strike out Todd Frazier to finish the inning. The pitch to Frazier appeared to be outside, just the first of many questionable calls that would benefit Bauer over the course of his outing.
Based on what we saw during the regular season, Joe Girardi’s choice for his Game 1 starter was also a surprise. Instead of pitching Masahiro Tanaka, who had had five days rest since his scintillating performance in his final start on September 29th (Tanaka will start Game 3 on eight days rest), Girardi decided on Sonny Gray. We’re supposed to be excited about Gray, a talented young pitcher with a manageable contract, but he’s been more grey than sunny during his time in the Bronx, losing seven games since he arrived and pitching to a mediocre 4.58 ERA in September.
Gray’s troubles on this night began in the bottom of the second. Jay Bruce led off the inning by pounding a ball off the wall in left field for a double, Carlos Santana singled to center, and then Gray made things worse by plunking Lonnie Chisenhall with a fastball to load the bases with nobody out. With the Yankee bullpen still recovering from its work on Tuesday night, this was the last thing Girardi needed to see. But Gray dug in and made a big pitch — and got a big assist from shortstop Didi Gregorius — inducing Roberto Pérez to ground into a nifty 6-4-3 double play. Bruce scored from third on the play, but no one in pinstripes was complaining. When Gray got Giovanny Urshela to fly out to end the inning, there was a sense that disaster had been avoided. Gray had weathered the storm.
The third inning was quiet for Gray, but he wandered into trouble again in the fourth. As most rallies do, this one started with a leadoff walk to Edwin Encarnación. Two pitches later it was Jay Bruce again, this time lifting a lazy fly ball to right field that floated over Aaron Judge and over the outfield wall for a lazy home run. Instead of digging in again, Gray began digging his own grave. He walked two of the next three hitters (his last three hitters), and then Adam Warren came in and made things worse by allowing a single to Urshela.
Once again, the bases were loaded; once again, the game seemed to be hanging in the balance. Once again, the Yankees wriggled free as Warren retired Jason Kipnis on a fly ball to right field. Cleveland held a 3-0 lead, but with the Yankee bats as cold as they were, those three runs felt like touchdowns.
Bauer was coasting. He had given up that walk to Bird in the second, and Judge had reached in the fourth after striking out on a wild pitch, but that would be it as Bauer compiled five hitless innings to start his night. His curveball was devastating, and during the postgame show YES Network commentator Jack Curry revealed that his average break of 9.6 inches was the biggest in baseball, greater even than Clayton Kershaw’s. Working off of that curve, Bauer confounded Yankee hitters with a mid-90s fastball up in their eyes and a backup slider that started in at the hands of the left-handed batters before breaking back over the inside corner.
As good as Bauer was — he’d finish with eight strikeouts and just two hits over six and two-thirds of an inning — he had help from the umpires. Third base umpire Brian O’Nora seemed to be flipping a coin when handling check swing appeals, but worse than that was home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s strike zone which seemed to breathe in and out all night as if it were alive. Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Judge all struck out on pitches that were outside the strike zone presented by TBS, but neither of the network’s broadcasters made mention of this. (It’s no surprise that John Smoltz remained quiet, considering how much he and his Hall of Fame teammates benefited from the stretching of the zone during their careers.)
When Cleveland scratched out another run in the fifth on the strength of a single from José Ramírez, two wild pitches from Warren, and a sacrifice fly from Bruce, the 4-0 lead felt insurmountable. The Yankees made one last push in the eighth when Headley and Brett Gardner worked walks against Andrew Miller to bring up Judge with two outs and a chance to put some runs on the board, but the MVP candidate struck out for his fourth time of the night to end the inning and effectively end the game. Cleveland 4, New York 0.
It was a frustrating three and a half hours, but it wasn’t all bad. The announcers breathlessly reported all night that the Yankees had only two base hits, and they seemed almost disappointed when Starlin Castro punched a ball to right in the ninth for the team’s third hit, but Cleveland had only five hits themselves, none after the fifth inning. Jaime García pitched well enough in relief that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a start instead of Gray should that spot in the rotation roll around again, and Dellin Betances appeared to put his September struggles behind him as he struck out the side in the eighth inning on just eleven pitches.
So there’s hope, my friends. Cleveland is a good team deserving of all the accolades that have come its way, but I still believe in these Yankees. This is the most interesting Yankee team in half a decade, and I’m sure they’ve got some fight left in them. I’m already looking forward to Game 2. Oh, and there’s one more thing — at least there weren’t any midges.
Whenever I think of Homer Bailey, I’m reminded of how treacherous it is to anoint a pitching prospect as a future star. Sure, things worked out with Clayton Kershaw, but we don’t have to look beyond our own backyard to remember the trials and tribulations of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. According to Baseball Prospectus, the top five pitching prospects in 2008 were Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, and Homer Bailey. That group has produced a first-ballot Hall of Famer, an occasional All-Star, a middle of the rotation innings-eater, a flash in the pan, and Bailey.
Homer’s had a nice career, if you allow that any eleven-year stint in the major leagues is a nice career, but he appears to be nearing the end of the road. He’s only made six starts this year, but they’ve been forgettable. In 27.1 innings he’s allowed 26 runs (I’ll spare him the embarrassment of calculating that ERA) along with 43 hits and 13 walks. He did manage two wins in his first two starts of July, allowing a total of two runs over 12.1 innings, but his last two starts have been abject disasters — 14 runs in 4.2 innings. (That sound you hear in the background is Gary Sánchez starting up the Score Truck.)
It seems perfect that the Yankees have their own phenom on the mound today. Luís Severino has been exactly what you’d expect from a young pitcher with a huge future. He hasn’t been Dwight Gooden, but no one has, really. There have been bumps in the road, but in general he seems to be getting better over the course of the season. At his worst he tends to lose focus and make mistakes; at his best he is virtually unhittable, carrying his 100-MPH velocity deep into his starts. His spot in the rotation is the one that I look forward to the most. Each dominant outing pushes my memories of the misguided handling of Hughes and Chamberlain deeper into my subconscious. Severino will be a star.
All of this, of course, points to a huge win and a series sweep for the Yankees, so relax and enjoy!
As Alex would say, Let’s Go Yank-ees!
C. Frazier, RF
Triple Play Frazier, 3B
Severino (6-4, 120.2 IP, 136 K, 30 BB, 104 H, 3.21 ERA, 1.11 WHIP)
When I think of the Cincinnati Reds, I will always and forever think back to the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. I’m not old enough to remember watching those teams, but after a fortuitous trip to Yankee Stadium when I was seven years old transformed me into a Yankee fan for life, I vividly remember flipping through a pack of baseball cards and painfully reading about the Yankees’ sweep the previous year at the hands of the Reds in the 1976 World Series. Sure, that was decades ago, and the Reds have since given us players like Paul O’Neill and Aroldis Chapman, but the little boy in me still holds that grudge.
Tonight the Reds come in to town for a brief two-game series. It would behoove the Yankees to win both games, because these Reds aren’t big, and they aren’t a machine. Only three teams in baseball have worse records than Cincinnati, and if it weren’t for Scooter Gennett’s four-homer game from a few weeks ago or the trade rumors surrounding shortstop Zack Cozart, they’d be completely irrelevant.
Our young Jordan Montgomery takes the mound against the equally young Luís Castillo. The Yankees have historically struggled against rookie pitchers (Castillo will be making just his seventh career start), but hopefully that won’t be case tonight. Perhaps the Score Truck will even make an appearance. As Alex would say, “Let’s Go Yank-ees!”
C. Frazier, LF
T. Frazier, 3B
Montgomery (6-5, 101.1 IP, 93 K, 32 BB, 4.09 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .247/.305/.413)