Though the Yankees won nothing during the 2013 season, the top five highlights include achievements by players who’ve done plenty of winning during their amazing Yankee careers:
Number 1 – The incredible “Comeback of the Year” performance by the incomparable Mariano Rivera and his emotional farewell appearance in Yankee Stadium. The Sandman returned from a torn ACL suffered in May of 2012 to save 44 games for New York in 2013 and bring his final career regular-season record saves total to an amazing 652. Ironically, Mo’s final appearance of his career was in a non-save situation, which took place against the Rays on September 26th during the Yankees final home game of the 2013 season. With New York trailing by four runs in the eighth inning, Joe Girardi brought in the greatest Closer ever, in the eighth inning and then sent fellow Core Four members Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte out to the mound an inning later, to remove Mo from his last-ever game. It was a poignant moment, as Rivera sobbed uncontrollably in Pettitte’s arms.
Number 2 – The final start of Andy Pettitte’s 18-year career. It took place in Houston on September 28th and the veteran southpaw gave up just one run and five hits in a complete game victory over the Astros. it was Pettitte’s 256th career victory and his 219th Yankee win which puts him in third place on the franchise’s all-time wins list behind Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing.
Number 3 – Robbie Cano’s last year in pinstripes. As soon as the reports that the new agents of baseball’s very best second baseman were asking the Yankees for $300 million to re-sign their client, I realized Cano’s chances of remaining in New York for the remainder of his career were diminishing with each passing game. In a year when good hitting was mostly absent from the Yankee lineup, Cano belted 27 home runs, drove in107 and averaged .314. I doubt the Yankees will ever have another second baseman with as good an all-around game as Cano’s and I will miss seeing him play for my favorite team.
Number 4 – Jeter’s “welcome back” home run. On July 28th, I’m sure I was holding my breath as Derek Jeter made his way to the Yankee Stadium batters box to face Tampa Bay southpaw, Matt Moore. The Yankee Captain’s season debut had taken place seventeen days earlier and then abruptly ended right after that game against the Royals, when a sore calf landed him back on the DL. At the time of his second return, his team was struggling to remain competitive in the AL East race and desperately needed Jeter in the lineup to do so. When he hammered Moore’s first pitch into right-center field stands, for just that brief moment, Yankee Universe’s postseason hopes went sky-high.
Number 5 – Alfonso Soriano’s return to the Yankees. In 58 games, he smashed 17 home runs and drove in 50. The guy the Yanks traded to get A-Rod a decade earlier was now back in the Bronx doing for the Yankees what the Yankees were paying A-Rod to do. It was a magnificent stretch for Soriano and I hope it continues into 2014.
The best closer ever. Those really are the only four words you need to describe “Mo’s” career with the Yankees. In my fifty-plus years of being an avid Major League baseball fan, I’ve seen nobody end games as successfully as this guy did for the past nineteen seasons. And the amazing thing is that he did it with one pitch, a cut fastball. Yankee fans watched Rivera’s cutter break a remarkable number of big league bats over the years. The pitch had such late and significant movement that it was almost impossible for even the most skilled big league hitters to get the meaty part of their bat on the ball. I heard Jim Kaat try to explain it years ago during one Yankee broadcast by telling viewers that Mariano had very long fingers, which helped him get more spin on the cutter than most other pitchers who threw it. Add in his flawless mechanics which enabled him to precisely replicate his elegant delivery pitch after pitch and you have the formula for closing perfection that danced to the tune of “Enter Sandman.”
When I think of Mariano I will remember his postseason brilliance which included 42 saves, an 8-1 record and an ERA of 0.70. I will remember him setting the MLB career saves record during the 2011 season. I will remember how he returned from an ACL tear at the age of 43 and went on to save 44 games during the final year of his Hall of Fame career. But most of all, I will remember how secure every Yankee lead seemed to be at the end of the eighth inning for almost two straight decades and how comforting it was as a Yankee fan to see that bullpen door swing open and see number 42 trot in to that elevated circular spot in the middle of the infield from where he performed his magic.
Thank you Mariano Rivera. Yankee fans will never ever forget just how magnificent you were.
Since no current or former Yankees are born on today’s date, I thought it would be an appropriate time to review the Pinstripe Birthday Blog’s five favorite moments of the Yankees 2011 season.
Number 1 – Derek Jeter getting his 3000th hit – Those who’ve read this blog over the three-plus years it has been live know my feelings for the Yankee Captain. I’ve watched Yankee baseball closely for over fifty years and can honestly say that no other player has given me more great memories as a Yankee fan than Mr. Jeter has. He’s a class act. So when the Yankee front office started blabbing to the media about their closed-door negotiations to re-sign the shortstop over the past winter and then when that same New York press started piling on Jeter for his slow start this past season at the plate, I was pretty upset. On July 9, during an afternoon game against Tampa at Yankee Stadium, Jeter once again proved why he is one of the most admired and loved Yankees in franchise history. When that game started, he had needed two hits to reach the 3,000 mark and he went out and got five. And after weeks of listening to and reading idiots write about how Jeter was now just a Punch & Judy singles hitter, Derek’s hallmark hit was a deep home run, pulled to left field. A great moment for a great Yankee. (The answer to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Trivia Question is – Jeter had 162 hits during the 2011 regular season.)
Number 2 – Mariano Rivera getting his 602nd save – Yankee fans have been especially blessed over the past decade and a half because in addition to Jeter, we’ve watched the very best closer in the history of baseball get the last crucial outs in hundreds of Yankee games. On September 19th of this past season, Mo was called in to pitch the ninth inning of an afternoon game against the Twins at the Stadium. He was given a two-run lead and proceeded to pitch a perfect final inning with the record-setting third out coming on a called third strike on Twin first baseman Chris Parmelee. The save was the 602nd of Rivera’s unbelievable career, sending him past Trevor Hoffman to the top spot on the All-Time career Saves list.
Number 3 – Jorge Posada playing in his last Yankee game – This one was bittersweet because you know it breaks Posada’s heart to realize he will almost certainly never take another at-bat in Yankee pinstripes. I was afraid his farewell tour was headed for a disastrous ending when he refused to play in the Boston game after Girardi demoted him in the lineup. But cooler heads prevailed and Jorge sucked it up and reminded everyone why he has become one of the most beloved Yankees of his era. If his solid hitting performance during the Yankees 2011 ALDS versus Texas turns out to have been his Yankee swan song, all I can say is; Hip Hip Jorge! You have been a great Yankee!
Number 4 – The emergence of Ivan Nova – I have to admit that as the 2011 spring training season opened, I did not think this kid was quite ready for prime time but he certainly proved me wrong. He was pretty much phenomenal the whole year and really showed the mettle of a professional when after he was unfairly demoted early in the season, he just kept pitching.
Number 5 (tie) – The emergence of David Robertson – After being spoiled for a decade and a half watching the most dominating closer in baseball do his stuff game after game, I found myself wondering if it was actually possible that his successor was already wearing Yankee pinstripes. That’s how good David Robertson looked on the mound in 2011.
Number 5 (tie) – Curtis Granderson’s outstanding season – I have watched and followed Yankee baseball pretty closely for a very long time and I do not remember a player who conquered a weakness in his game as dominantly as Granderson has overcome his inability to hit left-handers. In my opinion, he was the Yankee MVP of 2011 as he helped fill the power deficit caused by A-Rod’s frequent absences from the lineup, especially against southpaw pitching.