October 2012

Raul Makes History!

October 10, 2012 — Wow, I never saw that one coming!

Raul Ibanez tied the game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth, and he won it in the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 12th.

If any player hit a game-tying and game winning home run in a postseason game, it would go down as one of the great single-game feats in baseball history. But for a guy, who didn’t even start the game, who’s 40 years old, who batted .240 and who struggled down the stretch to bring his team back from the jaws of defeat and to then win the game — is amazing.

Raul Ibanez has carved his name into the lore of the New York Yankees. He will always be remembered by Yankees fans for tonights moments. He’s the only Yankees player to collect a game-tying and game-winning  hit in a postseason game, and one of only two players to do it period.

As I wrote in my previous blog entry, he’s a character guy, and he got it done tonight.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Character Guys

October 10, 2012 — After Brian Cashman passed on a group of high-profile pitchers last winter, he was questioned by the media and everyone else who has a voice these days.

When Cashman signed Hiroki Kuroda, no-one cared. When he signed Raul Ibanez, everyone reminded him that the DH was 40 years old.

But to the credit of Cashman and his staff, they signed two guys who have played in the postseason before and whose characters could never be questioned or criticized.

Tonight, as we enter the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS, the Yankees are in the game because of Kuroda and Ibanez. Kuroda carried the Yankees for more than eight innings, giving up only two runs, and Ibanez came up with one of the biggest hits of the season (or in the last few seasons for that matter) when he hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth off Jim Johnson, who led all of baseball saves.

And, kudos to Joe Girardi for making the tough decision of pinch hitting Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez, who didn’t stack up well against Johnson. It couldn’t have been easy to sit one of the greatest players in baseball history late in postseason game. That might be the best strategic move in Girardi’s managerial career — and I’m an A-Rod supporter through and through.

–Alfred Santasiere III

 

Great Start for Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3 of ALDS

October 9, 2012 – Even though Andy Pettitte and the Yankees lost Game 2 of the ALDS, I lauded the pitcher’s effort.  He only gave up three earned runs in seven plus innings, despite seeing the leadoff guy reach base on errors in two consecutive innings.

As I watched Hiroki Kuroda tonight, I couldn’t help but to think about how similar of an effort he gave the Yankees in comparison to what Pettitte did earlier this week.

The circumstances were different. Pettitte took on the Orioles on the road, while Kuroda made the start at home. Kuroda was hurt by the long ball, and Pettitte got into one two many jams.

But in both cases, the pitchers went deep into the game and kept the Yankees within one run of the Orioles throughout.

Kuroda gave up two earned runs on solo home runs over 8 1/3 innings. In other words, he made two mistakes the whole night. Certainly, it wasn’t a perfect outing, but for most of the night, the Orioles were off the base-paths, and more importantly, the Yankees batters were never out of striking distance.

Kuroda only gave up five hits, and turned the game over to the bullpen with one out and no-one on base in the ninth. He got the leadoff out in all but one inning, and he allowed one walk.  That type of efficiency and command allowed Kuroda to go after every batter, most of whom who he retired.

For the Yankees pitchers, it was a third great start in three nights.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Forever Young

October 9, 2012 – Derek Jeter’s third inning RBI triple to centerfield in ALDS Game 3 not only tied the game for the Yankees, but it also ignited the sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd.

Jeter sailed a Miguel Gonzalez offering to straight-away center field, and he hit the ball far too hard for Orioles center fielder Adam Jones to catch up to it. From my vantage point in the press box (located two levels up and behind home plate), the line drive looked as if it was going to land on the other side of the fence, which is probably why lead runner Russell Martin ran so hard from first to home.

Jeter continues to be ageless. He sprinted around the bases with nearly the same speed as he had 10 years ago, or even 15 years ago for that matter.

But more notably than that, he always comes through when the Yankees need him to. How many times has Derek Jeter got a big hit in a big game within an inning of when his team fell behind?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, but I’m confident it’s happened more with Jeter than any other player the game has seen in a very long time.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Trouble on the Rails

October 9, 2012 — It’s a good thing tonight’s ALDS Game 3 wasn’t scheduled for last night.

If there had been a game in New York last night, it would have been played between two very tired teams.

The Yankees and the Orioles both planned to travel back to New York on chartered trains, and they both planned to arrive in New York City at about 3 in the morning.

Those plans changed when the Yankees’ train encountered electrical difficulties and came to a gradual halt about a half hour outside of Baltimore.

Coincidentally, the train coasted to a stop in Aberdeen, which is the home of the Orioles short-season Single-A club and is located a stone’s throw from Cal Ripken Jr.’s hometown.

I was already asleep when the train stopped, but I realized what was happening when Andy Pettitte walked into the car I was in and make the following announcement.

“Wake up, ya’ll… this train is done.”

A few players asked what Pettitte what he was talking about, and the pitcher divulged the information he had received.

We waited on the train for nearly an hour, while Yankees officials got the buses that we had been using in Baltimore to pick us up and take us to New York.

That hour was not filled with frustration, but instead the players were amused by the situation.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild jokingly asked CC Sabathia if he wanted to take the time to throw a bullpen session, while another Yankees official simply said, “There’s one thing about the New York Yankees … We travel first class!”

A few minutes before the buses arrived, I feel as if I witnessed a scene out of a movie. The entire team exited the train to wait for the buses in the station’s deserted parking lot, and as soon as we stepped onto the pavement, it began to rain.

When I looked to my right, I saw Derek Jeter putting his hands out to gauge how hard the rain was coming down. To my left, Alex Rodriguez stood laughing at what was happening. It seemed as if wherever I looked, there was a legendary Yankee standing in the parking lot, located in a residential neighborhood, taking it all in while waiting for a bus that still wasn’t in site.

“This is like being back in the minors,” Nick Swisher yelled out. “It’s pretty cool.”

Instead of getting into New York’s Pennsylvania Station in the middle of the night, we arrived there (on two buses) at 7 in the morning.

As for the Orioles, they were stuck on the tracks behind our train, and they too had to switch to buses. However, in their case, it took longer for the buses to arrive (since they had to come from further away) and they pulled in to New York City at about 9 am.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Vintage Pettitte

October 8, 2012 — Andy Pettitte didn’t get the win in Game 2 of the ALDS, but he certainly gave a memorable effort.

The 40-year-old battled a tough Orioles lineup on a cold night (52 degrees at game time) in a difficult environment for seven plus innings.

Pettitte yielded three runs and put his team in a position to win the game. If Pettitte continues to pitch the he did last night and if CC Sabathia continues to throw the ball as well as he did in Game 1, the Yankees will have as good of a chance to go deep in the playoffs as any team in baseball.

What impressed me most about Pettitte, is what I have always been in awe of — his level of calm in the most intense situations. For anyone who has watched Pettitte win big game after big game through the years, you know that what you witnessed in Game 2 was Vintage Pettitte. He has the same look on his face as he did all those years ago in the 1996 World Series and again in the 2009 World Series. He peered over his mitt and stared down batters, and then he found the way to get hitters out time and time again.

In last night’s game, the Orioles leadoff hitters reached base on errors in the fourth and fifth innings. Pettitte came back in each of those frames to get out of trouble and to not allow a single run to score. Pettitte gave up back to back hits to start the sixth inning, including a leadoff double. Again, he made good pitches when he need to the most, and only one run scored.

After the Yankees Game 2 lose, the ALDS comes back to Yankee Stadium for the duration, and if you’re a Yankees fan, you have to be happy that they’re coming home for three consecutive games and that they already won one game on the road.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Wild Start to Game 2 of ALDS

October 8, 2012 – I’m not sure what I should be more impressed with from the first inning of Game 2 of the ALDS  — Robinson Cano’s all-word hitting or Ichiro Suzuki’s determination and over the top cagey play.

After collecting 19 hits in his last 39 regular season at-bats, Cano delivered a two-run double in the top of the ninth in Game 1. That hit drove in two runs and gave the Yankees a 6-2 lead. For all intent and purpose, it put the game on ice.

Well, Cano picked up right where he left off tonight, smashing another double off the right-field wall, and bringing Ichiro to the plate for a wild play.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters caught the relay throw while Ichiro was still several feet from home plate. From my vantage point in the press box behind home plate, it appeared as Ichiro was going to be out by a mile because the catcher had the ball in his possession and was literally waiting for Ichiro so that he could tag him.

But Ichiro swung his body to the right and avoided the Wieters would-be tag. Amazingly, Ichiro made the catcher miss, and the outfielder quickly dove toward the plate and avoided a second certain tag in the process.

The play underscored how valuable Ichiro is the Yankees. In what could be a close game — and of course an important game — Ichiro produced a run that few, if any, players in the game would have been able to make happen.

–Alfred Santasiere III

CC Gives Yankees Gigantic Performance in Game 1 of ALDS

October 8, 2012 – Russell Martin’s home run in the top of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ALDS was the moment that everyone will remember.

Martin’s blast off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who compiled an AL leading 51 saves in the regular season while not allowing a single home run, broke a 2-2 tie and put the Yankees in position to win the game.

But it was CC Sabathia, who put together a performance that was one for the ages. For at least one night, Sabathia was everything he was during the Yankees 2009 postseason run, when he went 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in the ALDS before going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in the ALCS and then battled the Philadelphia Phillies in two World Series game while compiling a 3.29 ERA. In other words, he carried the Yankees in a big game last night.

Sabathia endured a 2-hour, 26 minute-rain delay, then took on a hungry team in a most hostile atmosphere that is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He gave up two earned runs over 8 2/3 rainy innings, and while throwing 120 pitches, he never tired.

Other than in the third inning, when he gave up two runs, Sabathia got out of every jam he got into. In my opinion, Sabathia was at his very best in the eight inning. Even though he had already thrown more than 100 pitches, he battled back from a leadoff double to keep the Orioles off the scoreboard. Sabathia’s giant effort in the eighth kept the game tied.

Later this evening, the Yankees will send Andy Pettitte to the hill for Game 2. With a major league record 19 postseason wins in 42 starts, Pettitte has seen it all and done it all in October, and I really like the Yankees chances to take a commanding two game lead in this series.

–Alfred Santasiere III

 

Man on a Mission

October 7, 2012 – As I wrote in the my last blog entry, Ichiro Suzuki, who has been one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen, has not played in a postseason game since his rookie season with the Seattle Mariners.

Ichiro, who has led the American League in hits seven times in his 12-year big league last played in a meaningful October game in 2001. He recently described this season as one in which will think about in his final hours on earth, which more than anything else led me to write that Ichiro is playing with a burning desire to win this series and ultimately to win the World Series.

Ichiro wasted no time in making that statement. With the Baltimore crowd, whose 15-year postseason drought ended at the beginning of the game, at its loudest noise decibel, Ichiro drove a 2-2 pitch to the left-field gap for an RBI double. The first-inning hit drove Derek Jeter to the plate, and gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

Not a bad start to what Ichiro hopes to be a memorable month.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Yankees and Orioles Set to Begin ALDS

October 7, 2012 – The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are set to kick off the 2012 ALDS at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as soon as the Baltimore rain gives way to dryer skies in the Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t played in a postseason game in 15 years, and I’m confident that a few extra hours won’t take away from the intensity of the hometown crowd tonight.

Before I began my tenure with the Yankees, I worked for the Baltimore Orioles. As a member of the Orioles media relations department in 2001, I was at Camden Yards for Cal Ripken Jr.’s farewell tour and for his final game, which took place 11 years ago yesterday.

The Orioles posted a paltry 67-95 record during the season I worked for the team. Every game after Ripken announced that the 2001 season would be his last was historic and memorable. But other than that, there wasn’t much to cheer about in Baltimore back then, and until former Yankees skipper Buck Showalter took the reigns in 2011, there still wasn’t much excitement.

That has all changed. The Orioles are back in the postseason, and they are relevant again. Since arriving in Baltimore with the Yankees yesterday, it was clear to me that Baltimore’s fan base, which is one of the most passionate in baseball, is re-energized.

Earlier today, I took a stroll through the ballpark, and I weaved my way through a crowd of people on Eutaw Street, which runs between the famous brick warehouse (that is the backdrop to the field) and the ballpark. Fans generally take their time on Eutaw Street before games, purchasing merchandise and sliced pork sandwiches from [former Orioles’ star] Boog Powell’s barbeque stand.

I’ve never witnessed a crowd on the Eutaw Street as big as the one that was there tonight. It was packed. There were more people in the ballpark hours before this game than at any time during Ripken’s final stretch.

So, while the rain has not made for a fun beginning to the ALDS, I expect this to be one of the more intense playoff series of the postseason. I think it’s great that the Yankees are taking on a division rival for the first time in a postseason series since 2004 (when they lost to the Boston Red Sox in ’04). Even though the Orioles and Yankees don’t have the type of heated rivalry that the Yankees and Red Sox have, they still play each other more frequently than they take on clubs in the other two American League divisions.

Additionally, Baltimore and the Yankees are well matched, and that was evidenced by their record against each other this season — 9-9 with a cumulative score of 92-90 in favor of the Orioles.

That brings me to my to my prediction for the 2012 ALDS. Well, as a member of the Yankees front office, I’m not going to predict who will win the series, but I believe that CC Sabathia will shut down the birds in front of a hostile crowd on this cold night in Baltimore. Sabathia has been on his game for three straight starts, and he is as good as anyone in baseball on the road in October. Anything can happen tonight, but I would be surprised if he falters.

Speaking of clutch starts in October, that may be the defining aspect of Andy Pettitte’s career. The Yankees legend, who has amassed 245 regular season wins along with 19 in the postseason, will take the ball against a young Orioles lineup tomorrow. I believe Pettitte’s experience and calm under pressure will give him the upper hand in Game 2.

As for the Yankees batters, I find it hard to believe that they will struggle the way they did in the 2011 ALDS against Detroit, and here’s why.

Derek Jeter led all of baseball with 216 hits, and he is the most seasoned player in major league baseball today.

Ichiro has gone through a renaissance (batting .350) since joining the Yankees, and with only one postseason berth in 11 major league seasons (prior to his one), he is as motivated as anyone in the game to finally play in the World Series.

Robinson Cano collected 24 hits in his last 39 at-bats of the regular season, and if he remains nearly that hot, he alone will produce runs every night.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira have not been productive in previous postseasons with the Yankees, but based on their overall bodies of work and the law of averages, that is bound to change. It might as well be now — at least for one of them.

When Alex Rodriguez batted .365 with five home runs (three of which tied games in the seventh inning or later) and 18 RBI in the 2009 postseason, he proved he could take on the pressure of October baseball and succeed. He didn’t duplicate that performance in October of 2010 or 2011, but that’s understandable since he carried the Yankees to a title in 2009 like few players ever have.

A-Rod missed a considerable amount of games this season because of a broken bone in his left hand (hit by pitch earlier in the season), and he is as fresh as he’s been heading into any postseason of his life. That bodes well for the powerful righthanded hitter, and I believe he will collect a few more big postseason hits in this series — especially considering that the left field foul pole in Camden Yards is a mere 333 feet from home plate.

Stay tuned to see if the rain stops and if my predictions prove to be accurate. Finally, please continue to read this blog during the postseason, as I will provide commentary on every game.

-Alfred Santasiere III

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