Tagged: Freddy Garcia

‘Pronk’ Bonks O’s In Ninth, Wells Wins It In 10th

GAME 44

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 4 (10 Innings)

Some teams are built with a lot of money. Some teams are built with a collection of players with special skills. But successful teams are built with lots of players who have heart.

The 2013 New York Yankees are a team with an awful lot of heart and that was on display Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Down 4-3 with one out in the ninth inning and Orioles closer Jim Johnson on mound, Travis Hafner blasted an opposite-field home run into the bleachers in left-center to tie it and Vernon Wells laced a game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning as New York came from behind to down Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 24,133.

Hafner and Wells embody the heart of what has been called “The Replacements” and they provided the Yankees with the clutch hitting just when they needed it.

The Orioles took a 3-2 lead away from left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh inning when Nick Markakis slapped an RBI double to left-center to score Alexi Casilla and J.J. Hardy followed one out later with an RBI double down the right-field line.

The Orioles made their 2012 wild-card run largely on the strength of their incredible 24-6 record in one-run games. But 2013 is looking like a much different season for them.

Johnson, who had entered the game having blown his last two save opportunities, fell behind Hafner 3-1 when the 35-year-old designated hitter sent a belt-high outside fastball into the 80-degree evening air and by the time it landed Johnson was hanging his head in disbelief.

David Robertson (3-0) came in to pitch a scoreless ninth inning that sent the game into extra innings, where the Orioles posted an incredible 16-2 record in 2012.

What a difference a year makes!

Ichiro Suzuki opened the top of the 10th with a line-drive double into the right-field corner off right-hander Pedro Strop (0-2)

Wells, who entered the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning then picked on a 1-2 hanging slider from Strop and slashed it to the base of the wall in left and the ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double that scored Suzuki.

After Austin Romine bunted Wells to third, Brett Gardner was retired on hard grounder and Strop walked Robinson Cano intentionally.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter replaced Strop with left-hander Brian Matusz to face Hafner. But Hafner spoiled the strategy by slashing a 0-1 slider into right for a single to score Wells with an insurance run.

Mariano Rivera, who entered the evening a perfect 16-for-16 in saves this season, pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, punctuating his 17th save by striking out Chris Dickerson swinging to push the Orioles’ current losing streak to six games.

Believe me when I say that this one really hurt the Orioles.

Sabathia, who was 19-4 with a 2.90 ERA in his career against the Orioles including two victories in the 2012 playoffs, was unable to keep any of leads the Yankees kept providing him with throughout the evening.

Cano opened the scoring with a solo home run  –  his American League-leading 13th of the season  –  off former Yankee right-hander Freddy Garcia with one out in the first frame. David Adams followed with a one-out homer of his own, his first in the major leagues, in the second inning.

But Chris Davis reclaimed a share of the A.L. lead in homers with his 13th home run off Sabathia with one out in the bottom of the second.

Two innings later, Markakis tied it up at 2-2 with a one-out RBI single to score Steve Pearce, who led off the inning with a double.

But Lyle Overbay promptly untied it for the Yankees in the seventh with a leadoff home run in the bleacher sin right center off left-hander Troy Patton.

Sabathia then ran out of gas in the seventh and surrendered the lead to the Orioles.

Sabathia gave up four runs on 11 hits and he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Garcia, meanwhile, yielded two runs on three hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings for the O’s.

The Yankees extended their winning streak to three games and, combined with the loss by the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox, they extended their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games. The Orioles fell to 23-21 and they are now a whopping five games behind the Yankees in third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner’s dramatic home run and RBI single in the 10th must have Yankee fans saying “Raul who?” because Hafner is making them forget how important Raul Ibanez was to the Yankees during the stretch drive and in the playoffs last season. Hafner is hitting .267 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs.
  • Wells, another reclamation project courtesy of general manager Brian Cashman, knew his playing time would be reduced when Curtis Granderson returned but he is proving to be very valuable off the bench. With his game-winning double in the 10th, Wells is hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs, which is third on the club behind Cano and fellow “Replacement” Overbay.
  • Adams’ rookie legend may be growing by leaps and bounds in just five major-league games. Adams was 2-for-4 including his homer. Adams also made some sterling plays in the field, which is surprising because he is not considered to be a good fielder. Adams is 6-for-18 (.333) with a home run and two RBIs and is looking like he might be staying long after Kevin Youkilis comes off the 15-day disabled list.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia was just not very sharp at all in this game. In his past two starts, Sabathia has given up 21 hits and two walks in 12 1/3 innings for Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) of 1.82. The Orioles used an opposite-field approach against the left-hander and they burned him repeatedly with it. Sabathia is also paying for a dip in velocity in his fastball.
  • Granderson is struggling at the plate and it may be a byproduct of rushing through his rehab in just five games. Granderson was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is 4-for-19 (.211) without a home run and an RBI in five starts.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira reported on Monday that he took his first at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, and he was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk. It was the first at-bats for Teixeira since he tore the sheath in his right wrist in March. Teixiera is hoping to play in his first game of the season by June 1 but that timetable may be a bit too optimistic.  . . .  Both Youkilis (back) and Alex Rodriguez (hip) took ground balls and batting practice at the team’s spring complex on Monday as both rehab their injuries. Manager Joe Girardi said that Youkilis likely will not be activated before the Yankees return home in a week. Though Rodriguez was able to take ground balls at third base on Monday, his timetable has not changed. He is expected back some time after the All-Star break.  . . .  The Yankees entered the day with a all-time major-league best 18-0 record in one-run games this season and they were within two outs of losing their first one-run game. But Hafner’s homer and Wells’ RBI double allowed them to extend the mark to 19 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-3, 5.88 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes will have to better on Tuesday because he is coming off what he called his worst major-league start on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners. Hughes lasted only two-thirds of an inning and gave up seven runs on six hits and two walks. He is 6-5 with 5.47 ERA lifetime against the Orioles.

Baltimore is countering with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (2-2, 4.58 ERA). Gonzalez is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after he sustained a troublesome blister on his right thumb. He is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

Rain Washes Away Yankees-Blue Jays Series Finale

GAME 44

BLUE JAYS AT YANKEES (Postponed – Rain)

The finale of the three-game weekend series between Toronto and New York at Yankees Stadium was washed away by a deluge of morning rain on Sunday.

The Yankees had won the first two games of the series and they were poised for a sweep of the last-place Blue Jays.

Manager Joe Girardi announced that Sunday’s scheduled starter, left-hander CC Sabathia, will open the Yankees’ three-game road series in Baltimore on Monday against the Orioles. Right-hander Phil Hughes will pitch the second game on Tuesday and right-hander Hiroki Kuroda will pitch in the finale on Wednesday.

Vidal Nuno, who had been scheduled to replace Andy Pettitte in the rotation with a start on Tuesday, will pitch out of the bullpen for the next few days and instead will make a start on Saturday in St. Petersburg, FL, against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays are scheduled to return to Yankee Stadium to play the Yankees in the three-gamer series that begins on Aug. 20 and both teams do have an open date on Aug. 19. However, no official makeup date has been announced.

The Yankees remain 27-16 and in first place in the American League East. However, the Boston Red Sox were able to climb within a half-game of the Yankees in second place.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira has been able to participate in tee-and-toss batting practice but he not been given clearance to begin taking live batting practice or playing in simulated games. Teixeira, who has been on the 60-day disabled list with a partially torn sheath in his right wrist, is eligible to reinstated to the active roster on June 1. But that date is looking a bit murky right now.

ON DECK

The Yankees will make their first visit this season to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Monday for a three-game series with the Orioles.

Sabathia (4-3, 3.19 ERA) will get the start coming off a no-decision against the Seattle Mariners last Tuesday in which he gave up three-runs (two earned) in 6 1/3 innings. Of all the teams in the American League, Sabathia has had more success against the O’s. He is 17-4 with a 3.03 ERA lifetime against them and that does not include two victories in the 2012 American League Division Series.

Sabathia will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Freddy Garcia (0-2, 5.51 ERA). Garcia surrendered four runs on seven hits and two walks in just 2 2/3 innings Wednesday in a loss to the San Diego Padres. Garcia is 5-4 with a 4.09 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. ET and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees To Showcase Four Huge Spring Battles

The pitchers and catchers of the New York Yankees have reported to spring training camp in Tampa, FL, and the position players will soon be joining them. The Yankees’ first scheduled exhibition game is a week away. There are very few jobs on the line this spring as it is with most seasons with the Yankees. But there are four battles worth watching this spring and the result may determine how successful the team will be in 2013. Let’s look at them.

4) STARTING CATCHER: FRANCISCO CERVELLI vs. CHRIS STEWART

With the departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent, the Yankees will be looking at replacing him from within their own ranks. The Yankees elected not to sign such free agents as A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Oilvo. The problem is that Martin not only provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense behind the plate, he also provided power despite the fact his batting average was stuck below .200 for most of the 2012 season. The two main candidates to replace Martin are Cervelli, 26, who had been the team’s primary backup catcher in 2010 and 2011 but was optioned to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on the final day of spring training last season due to the acquisition of Stewart, 30, from the San Francisco Giants. Cervelli arrives as the team’s best hitting option because he owns a career .271 batting average. But he lacks power and, although he calls a good game behind the plate, his throwing can be very erratic. He has a career success rate of throwing out 19.8 percent of base-runners. In contrast, throwing out base-runners is Stewart’s forte. He has nailed 33.7 percent of potential base-stealers and Stewart’s other defensive skills are pretty much on par with Martin’s. The big negative with Stewart is that he is a career .217 hitter and he has no power. In addition to this battle, there are a pair of catchers looking to make an impression in rookie Austin Romine, 24, and non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson, 29. Romine is coming off a season in which he was plagued by a lower-back strain that limited him to just 33 games in the minors last season. Wilson, a former backup catcher with the Los Angels Angels, was released by the Toronto Blue Jays after spending the entire 2012 season at Triple A. Romine’s strong suit is defense and manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, both former catchers, believe Romine is ready to catch at the major-league level now. The issue with Romine is that he has to prove he is healthy and he has to improve as a hitter. Wilson is almost a carbon copy of Stewart. He has nailed 27.1 percent of potential base-stealers but his career major-league batting average is .208.

PREDICTION: Cervelli should win the job, barring injury, which is a legitimate concern. Cervelli has suffered three separate concussions, a broken wrist and a broken bone in his foot over the past five seasons. So his durability is an issue. Stewart, on the basis of his solid season as backup in 2012, seems to be almost assured of retaining his job. But Romine is worth watching this spring. If he is healthy and he shows signs his hitting is improving he might get a promotion to the majors this season. But realistically the Yankees would prefer that he get in a full season at Scranton and he could be promoted in September with a hope he can compete for a starting role in 2014. Wilson will be insurance in case there is an injury to Cervelli or Stewart and he likely will share the catching chores with Romine at Scranton.

3) RESERVE INFIELDER: JAYSON NIX vs. EDUARDO NUNEZ

Although this is, in a sense, a rematch from last spring, it also is not. Confused? Well, Nunez was actually competing for the backup infield spot with Ramiro Pena and Nix, who was signed as a minor-league free agent, was just invited to spring training. Nunez, 25, easily won the role by hitting .372 while Pena hit .240. Nix, 30, was a longshot to make the team and did not. However, he did open some eyes by hitting .323 and flashing some solid defense at second base, third base and shortstop. Nix also proved valuable in that he could play the corner outfield spots. So he was optioned to Scranton and he hit .233 there before he was summoned on May 3. Nunez was hitting a sizzling .294 but his penchant to commit careless fielding errors doomed him. He was optioned to Scranton on May 11 and Nix became the team’s backup infielder. Nunez’s season pretty much fell apart after that. He suffered an injury to his right hand that sidelined him for most of the minor-league season. He was recalled to the Yankees when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 but the Yankees top brass insisted that Nunez was being groomed as primarily a shortstop and that he would not used as a utility infielder anymore. Nix,meanwhile, flourished in his role, hitting .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 174 at-bats in 77 games. Though Nunez is clearly a better athlete, a better hitter and a better base-stealer, Nix was so much steadier in the field that the Yankees were pleased with his work. Nunez committed seven errors in 38 games with the Yankees while Nix was charged with only three. A quick look at the Yankees’ depth chart on yankees.com shows something interesting this spring. Nunez is listed as the primary backup at second, third, shortstop and leftfield. Huh? I guess the Yankees changed their minds about Nunez not being a utility player and he will battle Nix for the role. If anyone believes Nunez is going to shed his nickname of “Eduardo Scissorhands” this spring than I have some prime swampland to sell you. But the Yankees may need his hitting and his base-stealing ability more than they need his fielding this season. The Yankees lost a lot of power from the 2012 club and they may need to score more runs by moving runners around the bases and stealing more bases. That would favor Nunez, who actually embarrassingly was third on the team last season with 11 stolen bases despite playing in only 38 games. Nix is still in the picture because of his fielding and steady play. It is going to be a very close call either way it goes.

PREDICTION: Nunez not only has hitting and base-stealing advantages this spring. He also may benefit from the slow recovery of Derek Jeter from surgery on his fractured left ankle and the presence of camp invitee Dan Johnson. If Jeter can’t start the season at shortstop, Nunez will man the position in his place. The reason Johnson is important is that he is a left-handed power hitter who can play both first and third base. If Johnson can make the team and show he field third base adequately enough, Nunez would only need to back up at shortstop and second base. That would lessen the chances Nix would have to making the 25-man roster. Johnson would, in effect, replace Eric Chavez, who opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. That would allow Nunez to remain as a backup middle infielder and potentially a right-handed platoon designated hitter. If I was a betting man, I would wager that this is the scenario that likely will play out. Nix could accept a demotion to Scranton as insurance. It also is possible that Nunez could be packaged in a trade before the season starts. But that won’t happen until Jeter shows he will be ready to play by Opening Day.

2) BACKUP OUTFIELDER: MATT DIAZ vs. JUAN RIVERA

One of the reasons Nunez is listed as a backup in leftfield is because both Diaz and Rivera are non-roster invitees to spring training. But, rest assured, one of them make the team as a right-handed hitting backup outfielder. Diaz, 34, was released by the Atlanta Braves after suffering through a season cut short in August by season-ending surgery on his right thumb. Diaz hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. He is a career .291 hitter and he has been an exceptional hitter against left-handed pitching. Rivera, 34, originally came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system and played with the Yankees in parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being traded to the then Montreal Expos before the 2004 season. Rivera was reserve outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He is a career .274 hitter and h also has been a much better hitter against left-handers. When the Yankees chose to allow Andruw Jones sign with a team in Japan, the Yankees opened up a spot on the roster for a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who could also serve as a right-handed platoon designated hitter. Neither player is considered as accomplished fielders though Diaz has a bit more range. As hitters, Diaz is a better hitter for average though Rivera boasts considerably more power. Because the Yankees starting outfield is an all left-handed-hitting group consisting of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki it is important that the Yankees have a right-handed-hitting option on the bench. So these two players will be fighting it out.

PREDICTION: Because of Rivera’s former ties to the club and the fact he hits with more power, he has a big edge over Diaz. Neither Gardner or Suzuki have much power so it will be important to have a hitter on the bench who can provide it from the right side. Should Girardi also need a right-handed DH, Rivera fits the Jones mold better than Diaz does. Diaz also has slipped significantly since the 2009 season when he hit .313 and he also is coming off surgery. Rivera, on the other hand, also has slipped from his 2009 season when he hit .287 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs with the Los Angeles Angels. But last season was the first season in which he has failed to connect for double-digit home runs since the 2007 season in which he played in only 14 games. Rivera will likely win the job easily barring injury or something else unforeseen.

1) NO. 5 STARTING PITCHER: IVAN NOVA vs. DAVID PHELPS

Those other position battles are the undercard but this one is the Main Event. It is also odd that there is even a competition involving Nova considering how good he was in his rookie season in 2011. But Nova, 26, struggled from the minute spring exhibitions started in 2012 and it got so bad that he was taken out of the rotation in favor of Phelps by Girardi in September. Nova’s record in 2011 was 16-4 and he was 12-8 last season. However, his ERA jumped from 3.70 to 5.02 and, though he recorded a 1.26 ERA in June last season, his ERA in the other months was: 5.18 in April, 5.87 in May, 5.97 in July, 7.03 in August and 6.23 in September. Ouch! So that is the reason Phelps is challenging him for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Phelps, 25, arrived in camp last spring voted as the organization’s best minor-league pitcher in 2011. Though scouts have always doubted him, Phelps rose through the minors and carries a record of 40-15 with a 2.51 ERA in 90 starts. In spring training, Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven appearances and was named the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. He also earned a spot in the bullpen. Phelps then turned in some sparkling performances as a long reliever and spot starter with the Yankees. He ended the season 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). This competition is hard to handicap because Nova – truth be told – has the nastiest stuff of any of the Yankees’ starters. Last season he just could not harness it and he got hit hard when he fell behind and had to throw fastballs. Phelps is pit-bull on the mound who has supreme confidence in himself and his stuff.

PREDICTION: I really have no idea on how this will turn out but I still believe that Nova has a bit of an edge on the basis of his rookie season. But Phelps has been doubted at every step of the way since he starred at Notre Dame. You can never measure desire and he has it. I can tell you the loser of this battle will not necessarily be heading to the bullpen. For one thing, Nova has little or no bullpen experience. Another reason is that the Yankees probably will want to make sure that the starter they do not select for the rotation remains “stretched out” as a starter at the minor-league level so they can step in case of an injury. I can also say it is refreshing to see that with homegrown starters like Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes already in the rotation and two homegrown starters like Nova and Phelps battling for the last rotation spot, that the Yankees’ minor-league system is beginning to churn out talent at a time when the payroll needs to be reduced.  It sure beats shelling out money to guys like Sergio Mitre and Freddy Garcia. That is progress.

 

Yankees To Feature Pat Hand Of Starters In 2013

This is the first of a three-part series on how the New York Yankees’ 2013 roster is shaping up this winter. There will be some changes and we will look at the starting pitching, the bullpen and the starting lineup to see what those changes might involve. This is:

PART1: STARTING PITCHING

Meat cleaver or scalpel?

That is the choice every Major League Baseball general manager ponders over the winter with respect to how to deal with their 2013 rosters.

Teams like the Miami Marlins may believe the meat cleaver approach is the way to go while teams like the Los Angeles Angels are looking to add a piece here and cut out a small piece there with a gentle scalpel.

The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman pretty much have the choice made for them by payroll commitments that restrain what they can or can’t do. Long-term contracts handed out to C.C. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter plus potential free agency down the road for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano kind of limits what Cashman can do to repair what needs fixing.

Of course, the criticism of some Yankee fans that the team needs to “get younger” is being counterbalanced by those long-term deals and the signing of veterans like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.

Some factors have already played out. Catcher Russell Martin has signed a more lucrative multiyear deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and it is a certainty that right-fielder Nick Swisher will not return.

We also know that Rodriguez, once again, will be unavailable to play a full season for the Yankees. Hip surgery scheduled for January will shelve the 37-year-old veteran until June at the earliest. That will mean Rodriguez has failed to play a full season with the team since 2007.

So what will Cashman do to address the needs of the team? Let’s look at the roster and see what the Yankees have and what they may need.

STARTING PITCHING

There is a huge debate about the Yankee starting pitchers. Though the Yankees won the American League East with Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, there are those who believe it is not strong enough to carry the team to the team’s 28th championship.

Obviously, Cashman disagrees because he re-signed Pettitte and Kuroda. One reason he may have felt it necessary to sign a 37-year-old right-hander and 40-year-old left-hander was because Kuroda and Pettitte pitched well in 2012. Kuroda posted a career-best 16 victories with a 3.32 ERA. Pettitte was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts in a season abbreviated by a broken ankle.

Cashman sees Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte as the core of the starting staff.

Hughes regained the form that saw him go 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010. He was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA. Though he has won 34 games in his first two seasons as a starter and he is only 26 years old, Yankee fans want him to be more consistent. Unfortunately, Hughes is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher lacking a quality third pitch. So without a quality third pitch, Hughes will pretty much stay on the tract he currently is on.

Nova, however, has possibly the best stuff of the staff. When his fastball, curve and slider are right he can be downright nasty. But after an impressive 2011 rookie season that saw him go 16-4 with a 3.40 ERA, Nova took a step backwards in 2012.

Nova was 12-9 with a 5.02 ERA and he gave up a whopping 28 home runs and hitters hit a ridiculously high .288 against him. But the Yankees are not ready to give up on Nova at age 25. Nova still has the capability of being the same guy who was the team’s No. 2 starter in his rookie season. Why demote a guy who is 28-13 in his first major-league 55 starts?

The Yankees also have a insurance policy behind their top five with rookie right-hander David Phelps.

Phelps earned his way on to the team as a long reliever after being named the team’s top pitcher in the minor leagues in 2011 and the best rookie pitcher on the team last spring. He then drew raves for his work out of the bullpen and as spot starter, finishing the season with a 4-4 record and 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). At age 26, Phelps has a future as a starter.

Cashman may add a starter or two to the mix this winter but it is likely they will be along the lines of the Freddy Garcia scrap-heap variety. Yankee fans are dreaming if they are thinking Cashman is going to obtain Justin Verlander or David Price in a trade.

Of course, the prospects for this staff would have been better if Cashman’s major deal of 2012 did not blow up in his face.

The Yankees traded a power-hitting catcher compared as a hitter to Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez in 22-year-old Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda after he posted a 9-10 record with a 3.34 ERA in 2011. Because Montero was such a heralded young prospect, much was expected of Pineda when he arrived at spring training last February.

However, it was pretty apparent that he came to camp severely overweight and the velocity he showed on his fastball in 2011 was missing. After six starts this spring and he was raked like last winter’s leaves to the tune of a 5.68 ERA it became that there was something wrong.

As it turns out, Pineda was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he missed all of 2012. Pineda is progressing in his rehab and he hopes to be able to pitch this spring. However, the Yankees are not really counting on Pineda to be able to claim a starting spot this spring. He probably will continue to rehab at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, until he is ready to pitch in a lengthy rehab assignment in the minors.

Pineda could be a big boost to the staff at midseason or he could end up working out in a full season in the minors in order to compete for a starting role in 2014.

The Yankees boasted in 2012 the team’s best minor-league pitching depth they have had in many years. Phelps was among five pitchers the Yankees believed were just on the cusp of possible stardom at the Triple-A level.

Though Phelps succeeded, D.J. Mitchell was traded late in 2012 to the Mariners as the Yankees did with Hector Noesi as part of the Pineda deal. Adam Warren struggled in his only major-league start though he remains a potential starter for the team at age 25.

But the team’s two top pitching prospects had disastrous campaigns in 2012.

Manny Banuelos, 21, made only six starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being shut down with a left elbow injury. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John surgery and he will miss all of the 2013 season.

Meanwhile, Delin Betances, a 24-year-old right-hander, pitched so poorly at Scranton (3-5, 6.39 ERA) he had to be demoted to Double-A Trenton and he was not much better there (3-4, 6.51 ERA). Betances has been unable to harness his control in the minors and he needs to show some significant improvement in 2013 to maintain his prospect status.

The Yankees do have a number of pitchers that could have a long-range impact on the team.

Brett Marshall, 22, was 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA at Trenton in 2012. Though the right-hander has not been labeled as a top prospect, he is similar to Phelps in that he has succeeded at each level he has pitched. He was the Yankees’ best minor league pitcher in 2012.

Lefty Nik Turley, 23, is a tall strike-throwing machine who was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA at Class-A Tampa. Righty Jose A. Ramirez, 22, was 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA at Tampa. Jose Campos, 20, was acquired along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he could be a real gem.

Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA in five starts for Class-A Charleston before the right-hander had to be shut down with a minor elbow injury. Campos led the Northwest League in ERA and strikeouts in 2011 and he may end up being more valuable in the long term that Pineda. The Yankees will be watching his progress closely in 2013.

Cashman and the Yankees seem to have a matrimonial allegiance to their pitching staff these days. They pledged their devotion to each other to remain in sickness and in health for as both retain their jobs. But in baseball, there are short honeymoons. The problem will manifest itself if the staff does not do its part.

The Yankees’ pledge to reduce payroll makes it hard for this team to spend a large amount of money on a Plan B. So the Yankees have to really hope that what they have on hand is enough.

NEXT: THE BULLPEN

 

CC, Yankees Ride 5-Run Ninth To Soar Past Birds

 

Well now C., C.C. Rider, well now see 
See what you have done 
Well now C., C.C. Rider, well now see 
See what you have done 

 

                 – Lyrics to “C.C. Rider” by Chuck Willis and Ma Rainey

 

GAME 1 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES

YANKEES 7, ORIOLES 2

Before this series began, the Orioles were counting on the fact that CC Sabathia came into Sunday’s game with an 0-2 record and a 6.38 ERA in the regular season against the Orioles after posting a spectacular 16-3 mark against them in his career.

They also believed their vaunted bullpen, led by closer Jim Johnson and his 51 saves, would hold the Yankees down long enough for the Orioles to sneak off with another one of their patented one-run victories at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Neither of those two things happened, however.

Sabathia pitched a brilliant 8 2/3 innings and the Yankees pounded Johnson in the ninth inning for five runs on five hits, including a tie-breaking leadoff home run from Russell Martin, as New York clipped the wings of Baltimore to take a pivotal 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

The game was tied 2-2 when Orioles manager Buck Showalter elected to bring Johnson into the game to attempt to hold the Yankees scoreless in the top of ninth. However, Johnson elevated a sinker on a 2-0 pitch to Martin and the veteran catcher blasted a long line drive into left-field that landed six rows up into the bleachers.

You could hear a collective gasp in the crowd because the deluxe sinker-baller Johnson had only given up only three home runs all season and none after June 5.

Raul Ibanez followed with a sharp ground single into right and Derek Jeter then executed a perfect hit-and-run single into the hole between first and second to advance Ibanez to third. Eduardo Nunez was inserted into the game to run for Ibanez.

Ichiro Suzuki then delivered a swinging-bunt single that scored Nunez and one out later Robinson Cano, who came into the game hitting .615 in his last nine games but was 0-for-4 on the night, slapped an opposite-field double to score Jeter and Suzuki. Cano advanced to third on a throwing error by J.J. Hardy.

Johnson (0-1) left in favor of right-hander Tommy Hunter and Nick Swisher was able to loft a fly ball into center to score Cano with fifth and final run charged to Johnson.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (1-0) pitched skillfully and came within one strike of pitching a complete game against a team that was playing in its first postseason since 1997 in front of a raucous towel-waving paid crowd of 47,841.

The Yankees actually broke open the scoring in the game before some of those fans had enough time to dry off their seats after a two hour and 21 minute rain delay had pushed back the first pitch to 8:42 p.m. EDT.

Jeter, who led the major leagues in hits this season with 216, stroked a hard-hit single up the middle off Orioles starter Jason Hammel. Suzuki, playing in his first postseason game since his rookie season of 2001 with the Seattle Mariners, then laced a double to the wall in left-center that scored Jeter standing up.

That run stood until the third inning when Chris Davis lined a single to center off Sabathia and Lew Ford followed with a single in the hole between shortstop and third into left-field. Robert Andino laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance them a base and Sabathia perhaps made his only real mistake of the whole evening.

Sabathia hung a first-pitch slider and Nate Mclouth slapped it into right-center to score Davis and Ford to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

The Yankees tied it up in the fourth by taking advantage of some wildness on the part of Hammel, who had not started a game since Sept. 11 because of a recurrence of a right knee injury that landed him on the disabled list early in the season.

Alex Rodriguez drew a walk to lead off the frame and one out later Swisher was walked on a 3-2 pitch. Mark Teixeira followed with a towering shot that hit the top of the scoreboard in right-field to score Rodriguez, however, Teixeira was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a bullet throw from Davis.

The game remained tied until the ninth but Sabathia earned the victory by turning away several serious Oriole scoring threats.

The Orioles mounted a rally in the fifth when Davis led off with a broken-bat single to right and one out later Andino rolled a ball just past a diving Jeter into left. However, Sabathia fanned McLouth looking and he retired Hardy on inning-ending groundout.

The Orioles put two men on base with two out in the sixth on a Mark Reynolds single and an error by Jeter on a short-hop grounder off the bat of Manny Machado. But Sabathia got Davis to fly out to center to end the threat.

In the eighth, Hardy led off with an opposite-field double to right. But Sabathia struck out Adam Jones swinging, got Matt Wieters out on a foul pop to Teixeira and Reynolds rolled out to Jeter to strand Hardy and set the stage for the Yankees five-run explosion in the ninth.

Sabathia surrendered two runs on eight hits and one walk while he fanned seven batters in a gutty 120-pitch outing. He left with two out in the ninth after Ford hit a two-out double on a 1-2 pitch.

David Robertson came on and struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Flaherty swinging to end the contest in front a quiet and dispirited Camden Yards crowd.

The Yankees had some chances to score more runs earlier in the game off Hammel. But base-running blunders and the fact the team was 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position until the ninth saved the Orioles.

After Suzuki doubled in Jeter in the first he was thrown by Wieters trying to steal third. Teixeira getting thrown out trying to stretch his RBI single in the  fourth also short-circuited a potential big-inning.

Hammel gave up two runs on four hits and four walks while he struck out five in 5 2/3 innings.

Reliever Troy Patton escaped a two-on, two out jam in the sixth on a running catch of a ball off the bat of Curtis Granderson in foul territory in deep right by Davis.

The Yankees mounted a threat against Patton in the seventh when Martin and Ibanez drew back-to-back walks to start the inning.

After reliever Darren O’Day gave up a sacrifice bunt to Jeter that advanced Martin and Ibanez, Suzuki hit a hot smash to Andino and he threw Martin out at the plate. Rodriguez ended the threat by striking out swinging.

The ninth, however, would prove to be a much different story against Johnson.

The Yankees hold a vital 1-0 lead, having taken a game on the road in the best-of-five series. Since divisional play began, teams with a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five sets have won 48 of the previous 68 series.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia shook off the long rain delay and retired the first six batters he faced. He threw 80 of his 120 pitches for strikes (67 percent).  Sabathia also redeemed himself after pitching so poorly this season against the Orioles in his three starts and the 6.23 ERA he recorded in the best-of-five ALDS loss in 2011 to the Detroit Tigers.
  • Martin has been delivering clutch home runs lately and this one was probably even more important than his three-run home run in the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 28 that broke open a game the Yankees eventually won 11-4 to keep their lead in the American League East. Though Martin hit .211 this season, a hot final month allowed him to post a career high 21 home runs.
  • Though Suzuki’s base-running foray in the first hurt, he delivered for the Yankees in the game by going 2-for-5 with a double, a run scored and two RBIs. He also combined with Jeter to reach base six times in 10 plate appearances.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Rodriguez is virtually useless to the Yankees. He did draw a walk and score the tying run in the fourth. However, in his other four trips to the plate he struck out three times and rolled out weakly to short. After another disappointing season, Rodriguez is continuing his inept hitting in the playoffs.
  • Granderson was not much better. He was 0-for-3 with an intentional walk. He hit into a fielder’s choice, fouled out to right and struck out. That is odd for Granderson because he entered play with a career average of .313 in division series play. In the seventh inning reliever Brian Matusz deliberately walked Teixeira on four pitches to face Granderson with two out and he struck him out on three pitches.
  • The runners-in-scoring-position curse that has followed the Yankees much of the season almost sunk them against the Orioles. The Orioles were 3-for-8 but those five times they did not deliver against Sabathia cost them the game. The Yankees were very lucky to have won.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees posted a 25-man roster for the series that included some surprises. The Yankees found out middle infielder Jayson Nix was healthy enough to put on the roster. His left hip flexor injury he sustained in game on Sept. 27 was supposed to have sidelined him for 10 to 14 days but he was cleared to play on Saturday. In addition, Andruw Jones was left off the roster in favor of outfielder Brett Gardner and Nunez. Jones struggled badly in the second half and ended up hitting just .197. The Yankees also elected to go with a 11-man pitching staff that did not include 12-game winner Ivan Nova, veteran Freddy Garcia or reliever Cody Eppley. Late-season acquisition Derek Lowe was placed on the roster along with rookie right-hander David Phelps.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to deal a severe blow to the Orioles if they can win a second game at Camden Yards on Monday.

The Yankees have decided to go with 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 ERA), who happens to be the all-time leader in postseason victories and boasts a 19-10 record with a 3.83 ERA in 42 starts. Pettitte was 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his three starts after being activated from the disabled list with a broken bone in his left ankle. He is 27-6 with a 3.52 ERA lifetime against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with a rookie right-hander from Taiwan in Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA). Chen wore down in September as evidenced by his 0-4 record and 5.05 ERA in his final six starts of the season. Chen started against the Yankees four times and was 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA.

Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.

 

Martin Catches Fire At Right Time To Save Season

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (21 HRs, 53 RBIs, .211 BA)

If you were judging Russell Martin’s first half you would say that it was a foregone conclusion he would not be back with the Yankees after this season.

At the midway point, Martin had eight home runs, 21 RBIs and he was hitting an anemic .184. Though the Yankees love his defense behind the plate they also realize having a catcher that unproductive hurts the offense. Opposing pitchers were using Martin to escape from innings with men on base.

But what a difference a second half makes.

Martin,29, found his lost stroke as the season progressed and he hit 13 home runs, drove in 32 runs and batted .242 in the second half. In his first season with the Yankees he hit 18 home runs, drove in 65 runs and batted .237. So it is safe to say that Martin may have saved his job with his good work in the second half.

Martin was particularly good when it counted most – in September. From Sept. 1 on Martin batted .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. It was, by far, his best month of the season.

September is usually the time where catchers wear down from all those games behind the plate and all the nicks and bruises they incur during the season. But for some reason Martin just got better as the season progressed. He saved his best for last.

Compared to his 2011 season, Martin was quite durable. He started 116 games behind the plate and caught in 128 games overall.

His defense, as advertised, was very good.

He nailed 24 percent of the runners attempting to steal on him. That was down from his career average of 30 percent but it was still very respectable. He committed only six errors though he did have a a high total of nine passed balls.

His overall fielding percentage of .994 was the same as the Rays’ Jose Molina, who is considered the best defensive catcher in the league.

But a lot of Martin’s game behind the plate goes unquantified.

His agility and cat-quick reflexes prevent a lot of wild pitches by the way he blocks pitches in the dirt. Though the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett, they still had a lot of pitchers who test a catcher with nasty breaking pitches such as Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan.

Catching such a diverse staff is no day at the beach but Martin handles it exceptionally well.

He also is able to communicate with his pitchers and he calls a great game. He commands the respect of the pitching staff and he is smart enough to help pitchers get out of jams.

He certainly helped Kuroda’s transition to the American League since he caught Kuroda when he played for the Dodgers. At the same time he helped in the development of rookie right-hander David Phelps.

Martin’s contract with the Yankees expires after the season ends. Martin had sought to sign an extension before the season began but it never happened. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll it unclear whether Martin will be offered a new contract or will be allowed to become a free agent.

If it were based on his first half, he would be gone. But his second half and performance in the playoffs could save him.

It helps that a some of the Yankees’ catching prospects were hampered by injury or are a few years away.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C-

SECOND HALF GRADE: B

OVERALL GRADE: C+

BACKUP – CHRIS STEWART (1 HR, 13 RBIs, .241 BA)

Chris Stewart came to the Yankees in a trade with the San Francisco Giants made on the last day of spring training. Because Stewart was out of options, Francisco Cervelli lost his job as Martin’s backup and was shipped off to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

So Stewart was replacing a very popular player in Cervelli. But he handled it well and won over some Yankee fans with his exceptional work behind the plate.

Backup catchers are not paid to hit. They are paid to call a good game, play defense, deter the running game and block pitches in the dirt. Stewart did all of those things well.

Stewart, 30, also became the “personal” catcher for CC Sabathia throughout most of the season and he seemed to have built a great rapport with the ace left-hander.

Stewart started 46 games and caught in 54 games overall.

The only red flag in his defense was that he committed a career-high eight passed balls in 395 innings, But that may have been a fluke because Stewart nailed 23 percent of the base-runners who tried to steal and committed four errors for a .990 fielding percentage.

Stewart drew praise for his defensive work even from opposing teams’ TV announcers. That means his good work was being noticed.

Martin started of the season hitting better than Martin. He was hitting .270 with nine RBIs at the season’s midpoint. Some fans even suggested Stewart replace Martin.

But Stewart ended up with one home run, 13 RBIs and he hit .241 on the season.

He hit just .220 in the second half, which is more in line with his career average of .217. So Stewart won’t be replacing Martin. But he complimented him well in 2012.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND HALF GRADE: C

OVERALL GRADE: C

The Yankees catching depth was reduced a bit this past winter when they traded 21-year-old prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda. The Yankees were not convinced Montero would develop the defensive skills to be able to play the position regularly.

So they sent his potent power bat to Seattle and he hit 19 home runs and drove in 74 runs and batted .267 in his first season in the majors. But he only started 55 games behind the plate. So maybe the Yankees were correct about his defense.

But the Yankees will miss his power and production.

Cervelli, 26, spent the entire season at Scranton despite the fact he was the team’s backup catcher in 2010 and 2011.

Cervelli hit .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games with Scranton. He was recalled to the majors when the roster expanded but he did not get much of a chance to play.

Though Cervelli is a bit better with the bat than Stewart, the Yankees have not been a big fan of Cervelli’s throwing behind the plate. He only nailed three of 27 base-runners (11 percent) in 2011 and he committed a lot throwing errors.

At Scranton this season, Cervelli committed only five errors but he was charged with 15 passed balls. Though other parts of Cervelli’s defensive game are good, manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena (both former major-league catchers) believe Stewart was superior defensively.

Cervelli likely will look to improve his skills to stick next season or he could be shipped to another team. But as long as Stewart is around, Cervelli’s path back to the major leagues is blocked.

The Yankees had hoped their young catching prospect Austin Romine would make an impact in spring training. However, Romine was an early casualty when he succumbed to back spasms and he did not catch a single inning this past spring.

In fact, the Yankees cautiously held him out of game action for most of the season to allow his back issues to subside.

He caught only 17 games at Scranton and 31 games overall.

Romine, 23, hit .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Though Romine will never hit like Montero, the Yankees believe he is capable to being an excellent defensive catcher in the major leagues right now. Next spring, he will push Stewart (if he is re-signed) and Cervelli for the backup catching job.

But with the Yankees always erring on the side of caution, Romine could end up at Scranton and the Yankees would monitor his back as the season progresses.

The Yankees are very lucky to have two very good young catching prospects in J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez.

Muphy, 21, hit .231 with four home runs and 16 RBIs at Double-A Trenton this season after advancing from Class-A Tampa, where he played in 67 games and hit .257. Murphy can also play third base and he has above-average defensive skills behind the plate.

Sanchez is currently the team’s No. 1 rated young prospect and with good reason. Sanchez, 19, hit a combined .344 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 116 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa this season, Unlike Montero, Sanchez does have some defensive ability behind the plate. He has a plus arm but his other defensive skills took a step backward this season.

But with his booming bat and his overall potential, Sanchez appears like he could eventually surpass Montero when he reaches the majors. His future is ultra-bright.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

With Martin unsigned, this position will be in state of flux unless the Yankees decide to offer Martin a contract to remain with the team.

Considering the fact that Stewart is only considered a backup and Cervelli is looked upon the same way, Martin’s chances of returning are pretty good. Good free agent catchers are scarce and throw in the fact that Romine has had recurring back issues and you have a very compelling case for the Yankees to keep Martin.

But Romine, Murphy and Sanchez do point to a bright future ahead for the position. It is still a strength of the team to have this much depth at the position despite the trade of Montero.

 

Robby’s 6 RBIs Rip Red Sox As Yankees Rule East

GAME 162

YANKEES 14, RED SOX 2

Most baseball experts pegged the Yankees to win the American League East and to have the best record in the American League in 2012. However, those same experts were not counting on them needing 162 games to accomplish it.

But in a season in which the team lost baseball’s best closer ever, a 24-year-old hard-throwing starting pitcher, their best base-runner and defensive outfielder and their All-Star third and first basemen for long stretches of games while they blew a 10-game lead they owned on July 18. But they held on to win their division and maintain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Robinson Cano was 4-for-4 with two mammoth home runs and six RBIs and Curtis Granderson added a pair of home runs and four RBIs as the New York erupted with some heavy lumber to throughly thrash a hapless, listless and joyless Boston team on Wednesday in front of a jubilant paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,393.

Combined with the Oakland Athletics’ 12-5 victory over the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays’ 4-1 defeat of the Baltimore Orioles earlier, the Yankees’ victory gave them the dual prize of champions of their division and the best record in the league. It was the Yankees’ third division title in the past four seasons and they made the playoffs for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons.

The Yankees will open their postseason quest for their 28th world championship on Sunday when they play on the road against the winner of the Baltimore-Texas inaugural one-game Wild-Card playoff game, which will be played on Friday in Arlington, TX.

After Freddy Garcia struck out the side in the ninth inning, the stadium broke into delirious cheers as the team and coaches celebrated on the field and put on their charcoal-gray American League East champion shirts and caps.

Though the journey was a long one and it was fraught with many ups and downs, the Yankees came into the game confident they held their fate in their own hands. They only needed to win this one game.

The Red Sox put up a run in the first inning off Hiroki Kuroda on a Jacoby Ellsbury single and he scored – after advancing to third on two groundouts – on Cody Ross’ sacrifice fly.

The rest of the night belonged to Cano, Granderson and some booming hits all over the turf off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and a tattered Red Sox bullpen.

After a 1-2-3 first inning, the real Matsuzaka (1-7) appeared in the second when Cano ignited the fireworks with a single to center and Nick Swisher drew a walk. One out later, Granderson launched his 42nd home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would not dare give up the rest of the evening.

An inning later, Alex Rodriguez rolled a one-out single into left and Cano crushed a Matsuzaka change-up into the second deck in right-field for his 32nd home run of the season. After a Swisher single, Bobby Valentine – rumored to be managing what will be his last game with the Red Sox – removed Matsuzaka after he gave up five runs on six hits and a walk in just 2 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Matsuzaka’s fellow countryman Kuroda (16-11) settled in nicely after the first frame to pitch a solid seven innings in which he gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out four batters. Kuroda’s 16 victories are a career high since he came to the United States in 2008 and he also evened his career record to 57-57.

The Yankees were determined, however, to keep the pressure on the Red Sox and they did in the fifth when Rodriguez slapped a one-out double in the corner in left and Cano hit the first offering he saw off reliever Clayton Mortensen even deeper that his first homer into the second deck down the right-field line.

Though Cano entered the game with an eight-game hitting streak in which he had multiple hits in each game and he was hitting an unbelievable .571 over that stretch, he was not through punishing Boston’s beleaguered pitching staff.

With reliever Pedro Beato on the mound in the sixth, the Yankees rallied again when Russell Martin reached base when he was struck in the left elbow on a 3-2 pitch. Derek Jeter singled and, after Suzuki forced Jeter on a groundout and stole second, Rodriguez drew a walk to load the bases.

Valentine removed Beato in favor of Scott Atchison and Cano said hello to him with a single into right to score Martin and Suzuki. The Yankees were up 9-1 and Cano had six RBIs.

After the Red Sox scratched out a two-out run in the seventh on a Pedro Ciriaco double and a Jose Iglesias RBI single, the Yankees put the game away by sending 10-men to the plate and scoring five runs on the Red Sox in the bottom of the frame.

Granderson keyed that inning with his 43rd home run of the season, a solo-run shot over the Yankee bullpen wall in right-center to start the uprising. The home run was also a historic one for the team. Granderson’s blast was the 245th home run for the team this season, which broke the previous record of 244 by the 2009 Yankees, who won their 27th world championship that season.

By that time, the Orioles had already lost to to the Rays and the Yankees already knew they reached their goal. That just left playing out the string of the next few innings against a dispirited Red Sox team, which were outscored 28-7 over the three-game series sweep.

The loss of Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda for the season and the injuries that shelved starting left-fielder Brett Gardner for most of the season and took Rodriguez and Teixiera out the lineup for key parts of the campaign are but a distant memory now.

The next step will be to rest the wounds of the season and await manager Joe Girardi’s difficult choices for a 25-man playoff roster.

But the champagne still flowed freely in the clubhouse, the smiles were genuine and there is, no doubt, a lot of relief that their epic struggle to get to this point was finally over. As Jeter said it after the game, “Now the real season begins.”

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Is it possible for the Yankees to send Cano to play some games somewhere so his red-hot bat does cool off before Sunday? In his final nine games, Cano was 24-for-39 (.615) with seven doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs. Cano finished the season hitting .313 with a career-high 33 home runs and 94 RBIs. In his last at-bat, Valentine brought in left-hander Craig Breslow to face him with one out and two on. Breslow walked him on four pitches to load the bases. Smart move!
  • Granderson’s two home runs and four RBIs give him a team-leading 43 home runs and 106 RBIs on the season despite the fact he struck out a career-high 193 times and hit just .232 this season. It goes without saying the Yankees’ lineup is a deep one but Granderson was hitting seventh on Wednesday despite the fact his 43 homers tied him with Josh Hamilton of the Rangers for second in the majors to Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who hit 44.
  • Kuroda put in a good performance in advance of his next start behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs. Kuroda had struggled somewhat in September (3-1 but with a 5.22 ERA). His outing was very sharp and he pitched very well once the Yankees had staked him to a big lead. Kuroda was, by far, the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher this season. The Yankees need him to pitch well in the playoffs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

A typical New Yorker might have found some faults here or there in this game. Yankee fans are a hard bunch to please. But I am not going to go there. They needed to win this game and they did it. Why be negative?

BOMBER BANTER

After some questioning from the media about his lineup on Tuesday, Girardi moved Suzuki back to the second spot, shifted Cano up to fourth and batted Teixiera sixth. Good thing, too, because Teixiera still does not have his timing at the plate down and he was 0-3 with a walk and a run-scoring fly ball. Cano, meanwhile, cleaned up in the cleanup spot.  . . .  It will be interesting to see how Girardi selects his bench and bullpen for the playoffs. Backup catcher Chris Stewart, outfielder Raul Ibanez, corner infielder Eric Chavez and middle infielder Eduardo Nunez are assured of spots but Andruw Jones may lose his spot in favor of Gardner. There also is a good possibility that Derek Lowe will make the roster and Garcia won’t because Lowe has proven to be valuable as a reliever.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open their playoff series in either Baltimore or Texas on Sunday. Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees.

The best-of-five American League Division Series will be telecast nationally by TBS.