The first five innings of Game One and the first three innings of Game Two provided too many flashbacks to the putrid way the Yankees played over the final two months of the season. They looked listless, uninterested, and generally helpless against the opponent’s starting pitcher. Thankfully, the Yankees made the most of the later innings in both games, giving us ten good frames that accounted for two wins in two nights at Target Field. With two memorable playoff games in the books, it’s time for some random postseason thoughts…
It took a little over two months, but Lance Berkman finally made a major impact as a Yankee. I was exceedingly impressed by his gargantuan home run in Game Two, which easily cascaded over the left-center field wall at cavernous Target Field. Frankly, I haven’t seen that kind of opposite field power from a left-handed Yankee batter since the halcyon days of Reggie Jackson in 1981. As if that left-field blast wasn’t sufficient, Berkman then burned Denard Span with a deep drive to center field, resulting in a run-scoring double that broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning. Berkman’s bat effectively carried the Yankee offense, which managed to score five runs against a hittable Carl Pavano and a parade of Twins relievers.
In some ways, Berkman is a lame duck DH for the Yankees. As a free agent, there is almost no chance that he will return to New York in 2011. The Yankees would like to make room for the younger and less expensive Jesus Montero, who can split DH and catching duties with Jorge Posada. Furthermore, ever since Berkman joined the Yankees, rumors have swirled that he would like to go back to the Astros. Houston’s impressive finish to the regular season has likely only reinforced Berkman’s thinking. If the Astros can find someone to take on Carlos Lee’s contract, they can create an opening at first base for Berkman to make his return.
Whether or not he is merely making a cameo in New York, I hope Berkman has a big postseason. If he helps the Yankees return to the World Series, the trade that sent Mark Melancon to Houston will be more than justified. Berkman has been a tremendously productive power hitter for most of his career, perhaps not a Hall of Famer but the kind of player who ranks only a rung below Cooperstown. He has slugged over .600 two times, drawn more than 100 walks three times, and driven in more than 120 runs four times. Yet, he hasn’t received full credit, mostly because he has been stuck on a number of also-ran Astros teams, with the exception of Houston’s 2002 and 2005 clubs. If it takes a little postseason glory with the Yankees for a standout hitter like “Big Puma” to receive his due, then so be it…
I’m just going to come out and say it: I love the way that Curtis Granderson plays! Even before his late-season tinkering sessions with Kevin Long, Granderson has always impressed me. He runs hard from the moment he hits the ball, a trait that helped him reach third base with that game-changing triple in Game One. He is a smart base runner, in an era when base running has become a lost art, even amongst star players. He also plays a fundamentally sound center field, whether it’s squaring up on catches so as to put himself into good throwing position, or showing a willingness and ability to hit the cutoff man.
Off the field, Granderson is one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken of all the Yankees. He is unfailingly polite, even when faced with difficult questions during his early season struggles. If there was one player on the Yankees who could serve as a model of proper behavior, Granderson might just be the best choice.