October 2012

The Magic of Raul

October 13, 2012 – I never thought I’d be writing about the magic of Raul Ibanez, but in one of the most incredible turn of events in baseball history, the 40-year-old part-time DH has now tied two postseason games with bottom of the ninth home runs in the span of four days. Of course, Ibanez not only tied ALDS Game 3 with a home run, but he went on to hit a game-winning long-ball in his next at bat.

It’s difficult to choose which of the game-tying home run was more exciting, but because I’m in the moment, I’m going to label tonight’s ninth inning heroics against Detroit closer Jose Valverde as the most thrilling moment of the season.

The Yankees hadn’t scored a run through eight innings, and they were losing 4-0. A large number of fans had left the game after the seventh inning, and even more ran for the exits at the end of the eighth. The once vibrant postseason atmosphere was subdued, and it seemed as if the game was just being played out.

Then came the bottom of the ninth.

For the fourth time in this postseason, Ichiro came up with a huge hit. This time, with Russell Martin on first base, Ichiro smashed a two-run home run into the right-field seats to bring the Yankees within two.

That’s when the Stadium came back to life, as fans began to believe the Yankees had a shot.

With two outs, Mark Teixeira worked the count full and watched as Valverde missed the plate for ball four.

That brought the hero of the ALDS to the plate, and again Ibanez came through. This time, he hit a high drive to right field, and it took what seemed like an hour for the ball to get out of the ballpark. As the Tigers right fielder moved toward the outfield wall, the crowd held its collective breathe. A few seconds later, the Stadium erupted in a wild celebration as the ball landed a few rows beyond the part of the padded wall that features the scoreboard.

Regardless of the outcome of this game, the Yankees got to the Tigers fragile-minded closer. Assuming that Valverde will again be called upon in this series, the damage that the Yankees caused tonight will have a lasting impact in the ALCS.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Vintage Pettitte… Again

October 13, 2012 — For the second time this postseason, Andy Pettitte has pitched as good as, well … Andy Pettitte.

The lefty was brilliant tonight, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. He left the game with the Yankees losing 2-0, and despite two great performances, he will go home tonight without win on his 2012 postseason record.

If the Yankees come back to win ALCS Game 1 tonight, Pettitte will be the biggest reason for that triumph. While the Yankees hitters continue to grind through at-bats, Pettitte did what he always does — he kept his team in the game.

What is most impressive to me tonight is that Pettitte gave the Yankees the same type of October effort he has put out for more than 16 years.

For a generation of fans — like myself — Pettitte’s October magic has spanned huge portions of our lives. When Pettitte blanked the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series, I was a senior in high school, and at 33 years old, it’s nice to look back on how great Pettitte was as a young athlete, when he was in his mid-30s and now.

Pettitte turned 40 years old earlier this summer, and other than the three seasons he spent with the Houston Astros, I can’t remember a postseason in which he wasn’t keeping the Yankees in a huge game or propelling them to a win in October.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Yanks Look Relaxed in Game 1 of ALCS

October 13, 2012 — As I wrote on this blog in before, every clubhouse celebration is different. Each champagne bath has it’s own unique qualities.

When the Yankees splashed each other with the bubbly last night, I was taken aback by how relaxed the team was. Not that any one player gave me the sense that they were about to take the Tigers lightly, but there was certainly a feeling of relief in the room.

The Yankees had just won a series that went down to the wire. Two of the five games were won in extra innings, one was one in the ninth and last night’s game came down to CC Sabathia getting out of a one-out, bases loaded jam in the eighth.

Besides the in-game stress from each of the five contests against an Orioles team was as tough as any in baseball, the Yankees endured enough rain delays and train delays to stick in their memory for a while.

Anyway, the celebration was subdued, since the ALCS was set to begin 24 hours later, but in speaking to a few Yankees hitters, they seemed confident that their offense would score enough runs to succeed against the Tigers.

In my opinion, Mark Teixeira said it best when addressing all the attention that the Yankees lack of offensive fire-power got in the ALDS.

“It seems like in every playoff series, a few hitters are hitting every time up, a few guys are really struggling and a few guys are hitting at an average pace,” Teixeira said. “That’s what happened against Baltimore. There will be guys who struggle in the ALCS, but overall, our lineup is too good not to break through.”

After two innings of baseball in the ALCS, the Yankees lineup hasn’t broken through yet, but they still look significantly more relaxed and more efficient then they did during all but a few innings of the Baltimore series.

The Yankees have three hits and three walks thus far, and the bases have been loaded in each of the first two frames. Both innings ended on hard ground balls — one off the bat of Alex Rodriguez that narrowly missed going through the infield and the other off the bat of Robinson Cano that he came within a hair of beating out. For the record, he was called out on a controversial call at first base.

Another encouraging note is that Tigers’ starting pitcher Doug Fister threw 50 pitches over those two innings, and the Tigers bullpen pales in comparison to that of the Baltimore Orioles.

–Alfred Santasiere III

The Stuff That Legends Are Made Of

October 13, 2012 — CC Sabathia carried the Yankees onto the ALCS.

After allowing two runs in 8 2/3 innings of work in the Yankees Game 1 win, Sabathia took the ball with everything on the line in last night’s Game 5.

In the biggest game of the year, Sabathia was at his very best. The big lefty cruised through the first seven innings, giving up one hit and one walk, while not allowing a single base runner to advance past first.

In the eighth, with the Yankees holding a 3-0 lead, Sabathia got into trouble, and then fought his way out of it. In essence, Sabathia battled for the Yankees season, which hung in the balance.

With the bases loaded and one out, Sabathia struck out Orioles leadoff hitter Nate McLouth and then got J.J. Hardy to hit a slow ground ball to Derek Jeter, who charged it and fired a strike to Mark Texeira while the crowd held its collective breath.

As Sabathia was literally battling for the Yankees season, I was mindful that even in such an important spot, neither Yankees manager Joe Girardi nor pitching coach Larry Rothschild came to the mound. Those non-moves underscored the confidence the Yankees coaching staff has in Sabathia. He was entrusted with the season, and even when things got heavy, he was left to finish the job.

Sabathia’s performance last night are the stuff that legends are made of. Sabathia’s two victories in the five-game ALDS triumph were reminiscent of his 2009 postseason, when he went 3-0 en route to the World Series.

Hopefully, when Sabathia’s 2012 postseason is all said and done, we’ll be using it as the standard by which all pitchers are judged for coming up big in October.

So far, he’s one-third of the way there.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Quiet Contributions

October 12, 2012 — With all the ups and downs of this ALDS, Ichiro has been forgotten.

Ichiro hasn’t struggled to the extent of some Yankees hitters, but he hasn’t collected any game-winning home runs like Raul Ibanez has and he hasn’t matched the heroics of every Yankees starter in this series.

But Ichiro has quietly made some significant contributions in the ALDS. in game 1, he collected an RBI double in the top of the first that gave the Yankees an early 1-0 lead and set the tone for the night. Later in that game, Ichiro delivered an RBI single that gave the Yankees a two-run lead in the ninth inning and kept a six-run rally alive.

In Game 2, Ichiro scored a first-inning run on what was one of the great plays of the season. Ichiro, who was on first base when Robinson Cano hit a double to the right field, should have been tagged out at home. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had the ball while Ichiro was several steps from the dish, but the Yankees left fielder ran around the first tag and dove toward the plate, avoiding a second would-be tag.

In the sixth inning of Game 5, Ichiro smashed a double to deep center field that scored Derek Jeter, giving the Yankees a 2-0 late game lead.

He many not have a large number of hits in his first postseason series since 2001, but he’s had some big ones.

–Alfred Santasiere III

It All Comes Down to This…

October 12, 2012 – The Yankees entered last night’s game with a chance to close out the ALDS against Baltimore, and after a 13-inning affair, the Orioles were still alive.

While the Yankees and its fan base would certainly have preferred to be resting today and getting ready for the next opponent, Game 5 brings with it some rare opportunities.

Anytime a player leads their team to victory in a winner moves on, loser goes home game, it’s special. It’s dramatic, and it leaves an indelible mark on baseball.

For fans of each team, Game 5 (or Game 7 in ALCS and World Series play) provides a rush that no other games can bring. The Yankees have played 166 games this season, and when you count spring training, they’ve been on a baseball diamond nearly every day for nine months. And it all comes down to tonight’s game.

So far, the Yankees offense has struggled to get on base, but as expected CC Sabathia has carried the Yankees. Through five innings of work, Sabathia has only allowed two base-runners and no Oriole has advanced past first base. The big lefty has thrown 50 pitches, and 35 of them have been strikes.

The Yankees and Orioles’ fate will be decided in the next four innings of baseball, and if you consider all that’s happened in 2012 to this point, you can’t help but get a three-hour long adrenaline rush on days like this.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Yankees and Orioles to Battle in Game 5

October 11, 2012 — Regardless of how the ALDS ends up, I will remember one aspect of it… the length of each game.

The first game of the series didn’t begin until a 2 hour, 26 minute rain delay came to a close, and the second game didn’t get under way until a 40 minute rain delay ended.

Then the series moved to Yankee Stadium after an all-night trip back to New York that began on a train and ended on buses.

Game 3 took 11 innings to complete, and tonight’s Game 4 went 13 frames.

For two teams that entered the postseason with a 9-9 split in the season series, the long battles are of no surprise. All four games have been well played, and for the most part, each contest has come down to one hit. The Yankees and the Orioles have given fans great theater and wild suspense.

As I look forward to tomorrow’s Game 5, I’m sure it will be just as close of a game as Game 1, Game 3 and Game 4.

But with CC Sabathia taking the mound for the Yankees in the deciding game at Yankee Stadium, I certainly like the Yankees chances. I am especially encouraged because of how dominant Sabathia was in Game 1, and I think he’ll be just as sharp tomorrow.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Wonder-Phil

October 11, 2012 — When Phil Hughes exited the game with two outs in the 7th inning, the Yankee Stadium ribbon board read “Wonder-Phil.”

That moniker was appropriate tonight, as Hughes put together one of the two best starts of his career (he blanked the Minnesota Twins over seven innings in the 2010 ALDS). Sure, Hughes has gone deeper into some regular season games or given less hits and runs. But just like CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda did earlier in the ALDS, Hughes has kept the Yankees in tonight’s game for more than six innings.

On the night, Hughes went 6 2/3 innings, giving up only one run while striking out eight batters. Hughes got into trouble in the third inning, when the first two batters reached and in the fourth inning, when a two-out double by Ryan Flaherty moved Matt Wieters to third base. In both frames, Hughes battled back and didn’t allow a run to cross the plate.

The Orioles lone run came on a leadoff home run in the 5th inning by Nate McLouth, but for Hughes, who has had mixed results in three postseason starts, this represented the opportunity to prove he can be major contributor to the Yankees rotation this postseason and in the future. He’s done that.

–Alfred Santasiere III

For A-Rod, the Time is Now

October 11, 2012 – When Joe Girardi pitch hit for Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth inning of last night’s ALDS Game 3, the third baseman handled the humbling move to the bench with class.

In my opinion, A-Rod was genuine in his respect for Girardi’s gutsy decision to take out a guy who will probably end up with more than 700 home runs for Raul Ibanez, a part-time player who is 40 years old.

Rodriguez discussed how much the team means to him, and seemed unfazed by the unprecedented move by the Yankees skipper.

Of course, Girardi’s move paid off in a major way as Ibanez tied the game in the 9th and won it in the 12th with two of the most dramatic home runs in decades.

But not it’s time to turn the page to tonight’s Game 4 of the ALDS. A-Rod has a walk and a single in his first two at-bats, and in my opinion, he looks more confident at the plate than he has at any other point in the ALDS.

Rodriguez will have a few more at-bats tonight, and I believe he will due some serious damage at the plate. I’m not sure if he’ll hit a long-ball or collect a few doubles, but I’m confident that he will hit the ball hard and find his way back to the base paths.

I’m making this prediction because the biggest issue Rodriguez has faced over the last few days is the snowball effect of his struggles. But he’s already back on track, and I think he will keep the momentum of the first two at-bats going.

Also, A-Rod has a ton of pride and determination. He knows the time to turn it up is now, and he will.

–Alfred Santasiere III

The Legend of Mariano Rivera Continues to Grow

October 10, 2012 — Even though he hasn’t been on the field this postseason — except for a ceremonial first pitch before last night’s game — Mariano Rivera’s legend continues to grow.

In addition to collecting more regular saves (608) than anyone in history, while compiling a 2.21 ERA, Rivera has been at his very best in the most pressure-packed games against the best competition.

In other words, Rivera has dominated opponents in the postseason like no other. In 141 October innings, Rivera owns a mind-boggling 0.70 ERA. He has a record 42 saves, and he has closed out more World Series games than anyone in history.

Closing games in the postseason is infinitely more difficult than getting the last three outs in regular season games. And, for anyone who questions that or thinks that the challenge of getting batters out under the glare of October is in the same stratosphere as getting it done in the regular season, take a gander at the ALDS between the Yankees and the Orioles.

It’s safe to say that Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who led all of baseball with 51 regular season saves this season, is one of the best closers in the game. He only yielded three home runs during the entire regular season, and made things look pretty easy in the mid-summer months, racking up save after save without blowing any games for months at a time.

Then came October. The Yankees entered tonight’s contest with a two games to one lead over the Orioles. In Game 1 of the series, Johnson gave up a go-ahead home run to Russell Martin in the top of the ninth inning, and in last night’s Game 3, Johnson gave up a game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez. As we all know, the Yankees won both of those games.

Last season, the Yankees stole an ALDS game from the Detroit Tigers, by tagging Jose Valverde in the ninth inning. Valverde came into that series with 49 saves, and was as automatic as any closer in the game during the 2011 regular season.

A few year before that, the Yankees came back on All-Star closers, Joe Nathan of the Minnesota Twins, Brian Fuentes of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Brad Lidge of Philadelphia Phillies en rout to the 2009 World Series championship.

Rivera’s body of work becomes more impressive as one closer after another foils under the pressure of the postseason. Johnson’s inability to match his regular season performance in October is more proof that Rivera is in a class of his own.

I think it’s safe to say that a guy who has closed out 42 postseason games and done so with a 0.70 ERA for the New York Yankees is a once in a lifetime treasure.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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