Game 40: SEA vs. NYY — The “King” returns with new loyalties

Ibanez 2013
Raul Ibanez grand slam
Once a Yankee…
Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

You know if you look at the names on the box score tonight without relating them to a particular team, and if you’re still remembering some good time from last year’s season, you might just think the Yankees did rather well tonight. But it’s not 2012 anymore, and the “King of New York” is now the “Sultan of Seattle”, and there was absolutely nothing that could save the game from disaster for the Yankees, least of all the pitching.

I’m going to start with the good news and most of it is from Seattle. Raul Ibanez is living proof that age is really just a number. He is responsible for 6 of the 12 runs the Mariners scored tonight, 2 of them were off his home runs, and 1 of those homers was a 1st inning grand slam. That’s right, a 1st inning grand slam. When he hit that to make it 6-0 in the 1st inning (with only 1 out, I should add), most Yankee fans shook their heads and wondered what the front office was doing to let Ibanez go during the off-season. I should note that Ibanez chose to go back to Seattle, where he spent most of his career (1996-2000, 2004-2008, 2013 — this is his 11th season with Seattle) and where his family lives; it’s home, so it’s really understandable from a personal viewpoint but hard to take as a fan of an opposing and former team.

Also, Seattle raked another homer (a 3-run in the 6th inning) off the Yankees pitching staff, and really kept the defense on their toes. After the 1st inning decimation, the only runs scored by either team were home runs. The Yankees managed to eke out their own offense to not go silently into the night — Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart each found left field a great exit for their solo home runs in the 1st and 5th innings, respectively. This means the Yankees lost with a 10-run deficit rather than a shutout, which is always worse, for a final score of 12-2 Mariners.

I cannot comment on the pitching because I have made a commitment to keep my blog positive. And as the old saying says, if you can’t say something nice… don’t talk about it in your blog. (I may be paraphrasing.) Well, when you start a game with a 2-pitcher 7-0 1st inning, it’s not going to be a pretty baseball game, and it’s not going to be a good day to be the pitcher.

Girardi played a bit later in the game with some of the roster and fielding positions to give some of the guys a rest and challenge others. I think it was to give the overtaxed bullpen a rest, but it was rather odd to see Chris Stewart for example playing 1st base and Vernon Wells made a new home tonight at 2nd. David Adams, the newest guy on the team, was picked up today in exchange for Chris Nelson being designated for assignment (soon to be released). It’s a shame Adams played his first game to a really bad loss, but if we can get it over with now, he has nowhere to go but up with the team. (Again, that staying positive thing.)

Let’s be honest, for those of us who’ve been Yankees fans for a long time, any time we see a former Yankee do something awesome, there’s always a bit of us that cheers, even quietly. It just stings when that awesome is used against us. And so while tonight belongs to Ibanez, and subsequently the Mariners, it was nice to see him find that swing and do something pretty cool again in Yankee Stadium. It’s just a bummer he wasn’t wearing pinstripes. Best of luck, Raul. But can you use it on other teams instead?

Go Yankees (even former ones)!

Spring Game 13: NYY vs. STL — You never know what the future holds…

A 2-run homer and walk-off RBI single grabbed today’s win for the Cardinals in South Florida today. The Yankees grabbed an early lead, backed by Ivan Nova’s excellent outing as starting pitcher, including 27 strikes of 45 pitches thrown today. Francisco Cervelli was also given a chance to do some decent offense, taking a break from behind the plate to focus on the DH role today, and impacting the scoreboard with a hit, a run scored, and a walk. Addison Maruszak played the whole game at short stop and his offensive drive came with a double in the 9th inning and scoring a run off next batter Ramon Flores’ single and ran a good defensive game, including a double play in the 7th.

In injury-related news: Mark Teixeira is looking at 8-10 weeks of recovery time for his arm/wrist strain, so he is choosing to spend his spring back in the New York area, closer to his family and closer to the doctors and rehab facilities. Today, Derek Jeter saw the surgeon in Charlotte who performed his October surgery to repair his broken ankle and is currently scheduled to be back at camp on Friday; this sounds like good progress toward that March 10th (or thereabouts) spring starting date to me. Curtis Granderson is recovering and using his time wisely, visiting Tampa area schools and charities and preparing to host a fundraising event for his Grand Kids Foundation next week. Mariano Rivera is set for a press conference Saturday morning; this leads most people to assume that he will announce his retirement at the end of the 2013 season, something we have expected all Spring. If so, it looks like another #42 will be up at Monument Park this time next year.

That being said, people are already talking about the 2014 Yankees when so many will be up for free agency and contract options/extensions that year — including Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, and Phil Hughes. Honestly, this seems more than a little presumptuous as we’re not even out of Spring Training and have yet to play a single regular game. And with Cashman already talking with Cano’s agent about contract extensions and the increase of both injuries and the ever-talked-about age factor, I just think critics (and fans in some ways) are already setting themselves up for something that just may never happen.

Something I’ve learned in all these years, as a baseball fan and a Yankees fan, is that you never know what the future holds (as I hear Back to the Future lines in my head). And that’s what adds excitement to this game that’s so based on strategy and planning and talent. There are too many factors you cannot control, including individual streaks and slumps and flukes and surprises. Who really expected Raul Ibanez, a forty year old “has-been” (as he was dubbed in Spring of last year), to be the champion of the Yankees’ postseason last year? No one, and that’s why I can’t discount this year, and I certainly won’t start fretting about 2014. In fact, I’m excited at the thought of the surprises yet to come from people you don’t expect both on and off the field.

Go Yankees!

2012 Postseason Recap, part 3

Yesterday, we remembered the ALDS, in which Raul Ibanez was minted “The King of New York”. Triumphant and on a roll, the Yankees were looking to keep the momentum up going into the ALCS.

The American League Championship Series pitted the fledgling rivals Detroit Tigers (led by ace Justin Verlander, 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and power-hitter Prince Fielder) against the New York Yankees. It’s still hard for me to remember that first game without reliving the roller coaster of emotions from the game.

Going into the bottom of the 9th inning, the Tigers were up 4-0 as Ichiro Suzuki steps up to the plate and slams a 2-run home run into the right field fans. Yankees fans suddenly have hope with 2 outs and Teixeira on 1st with a walk, the “King” steps up and does it again to tie the game and take it into extra innings. Ladies and gentlemen, lightning struck three times in the Bronx this October.

In the 12th, a Tiger double scores a run, putting the Tigers on top 5-4. The next batter steps up to the plate and finds his pitch on the 6th pitch, a 91 mph four-seam fastball, looks to find a gap between Robinson Cano at 2nd base and Derek Jeter at Shortstop. But the ever-agile (though still quite wounded from the September bone bruise incident) Derek Jeter goes diving for it, tumbling to the ground, screaming in pain and tossing it to a waiting Cano, who instead calls over Joe Girardi and head trainer Steve Donahue.

Jeter ankle
Joe Girardi (L) and Steve Donahue
carrying injured Jeter (2) off the field

The world fell silent for those minutes, as the unflappable Derek Jeter wasn’t getting up. He fouls a 90+ mph ball off his foot and walks it off like a little fly bit him. This was different, this was threatening, this wasn’t good.

Half carried off by Girardi and Donahue, Jeter was rushed into the training room to be x-rayed by the team doctor. This wasn’t something he could play through. He was done for the season. The good news? It wasn’t over for his career.

Yes, the Yankees lost 6-4 in the opener, but like much of the rest of the world, no one (but the Tigers) seemed to care about finishing the game when the fate of their Captain, their friend was still unknown. That loss is going to be the footnote in most stories from that day and for the rest of this season. This was the first time since October 1995 that the Yankees played the postseason without their Captain.

Some people have said this gives a taste of what the Yankees will be like when he one day retires from the game, but I’d have to disagree. When he retires, the team will have a whole Spring Training and regular season to become accustomed to the plays, daily life, clubhouse dynamics, and personality of the team without him before they reach October.

Knowing the end of the story now and seeing the success of Jeter’s progress during these last few months leading into Spring Training, it almost seems like we can relive those moments of shock with some relief. Our heroes, our Yankees may not be invincible, but they sure do like to overcome all odds with flare and triumph. If this is any indication of how they’re going to perform in 2013, we could see something amazing this year.

Go Yankees!

2012 Postseason Recap, part 2

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone who celebrates it! And a Happy Thursday to everyone else!

Yesterday, I began the recap of last year’s postseason escapades. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of the “sweep” in longer series due to the occurrence of a longer break between the series, and actually, last year’s postseason proved that teams that swept usually got swept on their next series (like Detroit from the ALCS to the World Series), while teams that had to play most of their games in one series were able to continue their momentum to win (like San Francisco from the NLCS to the World Series).

Raul Ibanez
Raul Ibanez, “King of New York”
3 home runs during the ALDS

After clinching their 18th AL East division title, the Yankees went 3-for-5 in the division serious over the Orioles, who had been threatening to unseat their #1 position since nearly the All-Star Break. (Though I am proud to say the Bombers never gave up their top spot!)

  • In Game 1, Russell Martin started a run-rally in the 9th inning which ended with a 7-2 Yankees win.
  • Game 2 went to the Orioles 3-2, in a bit of back-and-forth game.
  • Back in the Bronx for Game 3, going into the bottom of the 9th inning and down 2-1, Raul Ibanez, pinch-hitting for struggling Alex Rodriguez, smacked a gorgeous right field homer to send the game into extra innings and then proceeded to walk-off another one in the bottom of the 12th inning. (And the “King of New York” was born!)
  • Game 4 had them tied 1-1 until an Oriole double at the top of the 13th inning brought a Baltimore victory.
  • Going into Game 5 with a tied series, Yankees triumphantly hold their early lead, with a little help from the “King”. The Yankees were headed into the Championship series on a high, but with some minor exceptions, their usual stars weren’t performing up to par.

At this point, I should also point out the 2012 season wasn’t looking good for the Yankees at all in the Post-Season, mainly due to the ridiculous amount of injuries the team had endured. Retired Andy Pettitte returned to the mound in May and by June was out due to a broken ankle only to be back strong in September and the Post-Season. Mark Teixeira spent a good portion of August and September out with a strained calf muscle. The ever-reliable Derek Jeter had his share of scrapes and close calls; after getting a wild pitch that broke his helmet in Cleveland in August and several fouled-off balls on his left foot, he remained slightly wounded with a severe bone bruise for most of September and October, ever determined to still play every game Girardi would let him. Alex Rodriguez seemed to have some recurring hip pain, which contributed to his limited range of motion and poor performance in the Fall. And while every team that season seemed plagued with numerous injuries, it seemed the Yankees were always putting someone on the Disabled List at least once a week during the regular season. It became a game of “Who’s Next?”.

I guess today’s post is reminding me of all the negative press the Yankees get at the beginning of every year, including this year. Every year, the sports analyst discount them, and every year, they just prove them wrong. It’s too bad it usually takes 7 months for the desk-bound guys to act surprised at the fact that we Yankee fans already know — they’re the Yankees, so they’ll be amazing no matter who’s injured or traded or struggling. It’s always a team, no matter who’s on the roster that day.

Go Yankees!

Go Team!

1927 Yankees
The 1927 World Championship Team

I was thinking this morning about teams. Baseball is always such a good analogy for life. Like I’ve said before, stars are made in the batter’s box, but teams are made in the field.

It reminds me of a question in one of those “Would You Rather…?” games: “Would you rather be the best player on a losing team or the worst player on the winning team?” I think most people answered that they’d rather be a star, but my answer was the winning team. Of course, I went on to explain my reasoning — if you’re only hitting .100 in the World Series, but your team wins, you still get a ring and you’re still the champions, even if you personally are horrible.

In fact, when the stars of a team flounder, it forces the other players to rise to the challenge and play for the team, rather than themselves. We got a taste of that in the Post-Season with Raul Ibanez.

So if baseball is an analogy for our lives and today’s topic is teams, who is playing on your personal team? Life is played out in various seasons, some winning streaks and some lonely days. But most of life is the in between, the mediocre attempts and the mediocre failures. This is our average. So when we are hitting average for whatever season we’re in, who around us is on our team?

In the short span of a year, friends and even family will come and go as far as influence and intimacy (call them your expendables, the ones who often get traded mid-season). The ones truly in it for the long haul (call them your contract players) will stick it out, rain or shine, win or loss; they’re there for you, with you, no matter what. And then there’s the ones who surprise you (your Ichiros, as it were), who come into your life as an expendable and end up staying for the long run.

As we Yankee fans prepare for a new season, 88 men are preparing for their new season in life, more than half will never see Major League play this year. But for this Spring, they’re a Yankee, they’re a team, and they’re our team. And as they say, “once a Yankee, always a Yankee.”

Go Yankees!