ALDS GAME 5: KEY MOMENT
Baseball pundits have made a cottage industry out of criticizing the New York Yankees for the advanced age of their team as if the second a player turns 30 he starts hitting like Jose Molina or pitching like Kevin Millwood.
But one of the reasons they have a number of players who 30 years old or older is the same reason why CC Sabathia beat the Baltimore Orioles on Friday to advance the Yankees to the American League Championship Series.
In Sabathia’s first five postseason starts up to when he was age 28, he was 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA. In the past four postseasons with the Yankees up to age 32, Sabathia is 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA.
Entering the eighth inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles, Sabathia had given up just one hit and one walk while he had a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead.
But things began to look as if they were unraveling when Matt Wieters led off the inning with a solid single to left and Sabathia walked rookie Manny Machado on just five pitches.
From this point on in the inning, the game was at a tipping point because if any of the Orioles hit a home run at this juncture then the game would be tied. If Sabathia might have been a younger and less experienced pitcher in postseason play he might have cracked.
After a strikeout of Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford followed with a single to left to score Wieters.
Now if any Orioles hitter were to hit a home run, the Orioles would take the lead. You could bet there were a few Tums moments in the Yankee dugout for manager Joe Girardi. He wanted his ace pitcher to get out of this but he also realized that the team’s success was more important.
Crazy plays happen in baseball all the time. They pop up at strange moments like this and they did when Robert Andino bounced a ball to the right of Sabathia.
Sabathia sprang off the mound to field it but he realized that he could not throw the ball to third because Eric Chavez was not on the base. Andino has some speed so first would have been out.
So Sabathia threw the ball to second but Ford slid into the bag before the ball arrived.
A lesser experienced postseason pitcher might have completely unraveled at this point. The bases were full and there was only one out.
On top of that, the Orioles best hitter in the series, Nate McLouth, was up with nowhere to put him.
“It’s what I’m here for,” Sabathia said, “It’s what I play the game for. I guess I should feel a little pressure or something like that, but I don’t.”
Girardi had right-hander David Robertson throwing in the bullpen but he stuck with his experienced ace left-hander against McLouth even though McLouth had narrowly missed hitting a home run in the sixth inning.
A crowd of 47.081 huddled in the October chill crossing their fingers and praying Sabathia could hold onto this most precious of leads. The Yankees’ hopes for a 28th world championship were riding on it.
Sabathia had learned by the time he came to the Yankees there was a big difference between throwing and pitching. Early in his career, Sabathia could throw hard and so that is all he did. Now Sabathia throws less hard but he is even better because he mixes in his curve, his slider and change-up more.
That is what Sabathia did with McLouth.
His first pitch was a called strike, a slider at 83 miles per hour. McLouth then weakly fouled off a 95-mph fastball. After Sabathia tried a 82-mph slider in the dirt for a ball, he came back with a higher 82-mph slider with which McLouth was unable to make contact.
Sabathia then had face J.J. Hardy, a power-laden shortstop who bats right-handed.
The big left-hander started Hardy off with a change-up off the outside corner for a ball. He then muscled up on a 94-mph fastball that challenged Hardy but Hardy took it for a strike.
Sabathia then put Hardy into a huge hole by getting him to offer and miss at another change-up.
Then catcher Russell Martin and Sabathia agreed to try Sabathia’s trademark slider that runs down the middle of the plate like a fastball but takes an abrupt turn right and dives to the inside corner on a right-handed hitter.
Hardy did make contact, but all he could do was roll it weakly back to Sabathia. The veteran lefty moved about three steps toward first and flipped the ball gently to Mark Teixeira to get out of a harrowing bases-loaded jam with the game on the line.
“He was just dominant — he shows why he’s making all that money,” Martin said. “He’s the man. He’s the horse of this team. It’s fun to be back there and try to direct him. He’s been awesome.”
Girardi’s faith in his ace proved to be well-founded. Sabathia was able to pitch his way out of trouble instead of throwing as hard as he could like he did when he could hit 98-mph on the radar gun.
Sabathia would go on to retire the Orioles in the ninth for his first postseason career complete game and the Yankees rode his back into the American League Championship Series.
Along with Sabathia, the Yankees have Andy Pettitte as a starter at age 40 and Hiroki Kuroda at age 37. But do not mistake the advanced age of their pitchers to be synonymous with old, washed up has-beens.
The reason why the Yankees win in the playoffs is because their pitchers and their players like Raul Ibanez at age 40 do not panic. They simply play the game and let it come to them instead of trying too hard.
Sabathia proved that in the eighth inning when he bent but did not break. He was tested but he remained calm. That is what experience gives you that raw talent could never surpass.
“He is our ace,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. He has been there and done that.”
To ride a horse is to ride the sky.
– Author Unknown
GAME 5 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 1
The New York Yankees entered the postseason with one unquestioned ace. The Baltimore Orioles entered the postseason saying that their best pitcher was the pitcher scheduled to pitch that day. Unfortunately for the Orioles, not having that one horse you can ride throughout the postseason proved to be the difference in this series.
CC Sabathia pitched his first career postseason complete game and he struck out a personal postseason best nine batters on Friday to lead New York to an ALDS-clinching victory in Game 5 over upstart Baltimore in front of a raucous paid crowd of 47,081 at Yankee Stadium.
With the victory, the American League East-champion Yankees will advance to the American League Championship Series and host the American League Central-champion Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Sabathia (2-0) gave up one run on four hits and two walks and threw 78 of his 121 pitches for strikes to run his ALDS record with the Yankees to 5-0 and he remains undefeated in his last eight postseason starts. In addition, he ran his career record against the Orioles, including his two postseason victories in the series, to 18-4.
The game unfolded as yet another pitchers’ duel between Sabathia and Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel (0-1), who also squared off in Game 1 of the series.
Both pitchers retired the first nine batters they faced until Nate McLouth slapped an opposite-field single to left off Sabathia to open the fourth inning.
Hammel, however, extended his perfect streak through four innings until Mark Teixeira opened the fifth with a single over the Orioles’ overshift into right-field. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to make the Orioles pay for not bothering to hold Teixeira on first base, as they have done through the entire series.
Teixeira stole second after swiping only two bases in the regular season and not stealing any in his career in postseason play. Teixeira then scored the first run of the game on a single up the middle by Game 3 hero Raul Ibanez.
Yankee fans got a bit of a pre-Halloween scare with two out in the sixth when McLouth hit a ball down the right-field line that was ruled a foul ball. The Orioles protested the call but the umpires upheld the original call of foul after a brief video review indicated the ball clearly traveled in front of the foul pole as it landed in the second deck. Sabathia then struck out McLouth to end the inning.
Hammel ran into more problems in the sixth when he issued a one-out walk to Derek Jeter and Jeter scored a line-drive double off the 385-foot marker in right-center by Ichiro Suzuki.
Two batters later, Hammel was removed from the game by Orioles manager Buck Showalter after yielding two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six batters in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees padded their lead in the seventh inning when Curtis Granderson, who entered Game 5 of the series 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts, blasted a solo home run down the line in right into the second deck off Orioles left-hander Troy Patton.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Sabathia began the eighth inning having pitched a dominant one-hitter and he issued a lone walk to Matt Wieters in the fifth inning.
But Yankee fans had to bite their nails when Sabathia gave up a leadoff single to Wieters and a walk to Manny Machado. After Sabathia fanned Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford slapped a single into left to score Wieters and break up Sabathia’s shutout.
Sabathia then induced Robert Andino to hit a weak comebacker to Sabathia’s right of the mound. However, Sabathia threw to second too late to get a sliding Ford in what was scored a single.
With the crowd nervous for the first time all afternoon, Sabathia wriggled out of the inning by striking out McLouth and getting J.J. Hardy on a slow hopper to Jeter at short.
With his ace having thrown 29 pitches in the eighth and 111 pitches overall, Girardi – who bravely elected to bench Alex Rodriguez for this game in favor of Eric Chavez – opted to have Sabathia finish out the contest.
Girardi was determined to ride his big horse to the end.
It took Sabathia only 11 pitches to get Adam Jones on a routine fly to center, Chris Davis on a swinging strikeout and Wieters on a comebacker to himself. Sabathia trotted three strides towards first base and easily flipped the ball to Teixeira to put the final nail in the coffin to the Orioles’ improbable playoff run.
Over the course of the season, the Yankees defeated the Orioles in 12 of 23 games and outscored them by four runs. In this series, they were 3-2 and outscored the Birds 16-10.
By virtue of having the best record in the American League, the Yankees will have home-field advantage in the best-of-seven ALCS. It will be the team’s 15th appearance in the championship series and their first since the 2010 season.
- Though the Yankees blew a chance to begin the ALCS with Sabathia on the mound when they lost Thursday, the ace left-hander bailed them out with a truly dominant outing. In his two games in the series, Sabathia was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA. He gave up just three runs on 12 hits and two walks and struck out 16 in 17 2/3 innings. In what definitely was a pitchers’ series, Sabathia was clearly the Most Valuable Player.
- Ibanez came through with another crucial hit in the series to drive in the game’s first run. Though he only received nine at-bats in the series, Ibanez had four hits, including a game-tying and game-winning homer, and three RBIs. In benching, Rodriguez, who was 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts, Ibanez was placed in the No. 5 spot in the order and he came through again.
- Granderson probably deserved to be benched as much as A-Rod, but he was 2-for-3 with a home run in the game. After a regular season in which Granderson led the team in home runs and RBIs, he was conspicuous in his struggles through the first four games of the series. Now he has something positive going for him leading up the ALCS.
I could mention the awful hitting of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Rodriguez and Granderson. But you can say the same about Jones, Wieters, Reynolds and Hardy of the Orioles. This was a pitchers’ series and both teams staffs held the other team down for long stretches. The difference was the Orioles did not have anyone who could match the brilliance of Sabathia.
It is not often that a three-time A.L. MVP and the highest-priced player on the payroll is benched for the deciding game of a postseason series, but Girardi informed Rodriguez via text message at about 1 p.m. EDT that he would not be starting Game 5. A-Rod replied, “I will be ready of you need me.” Rodriguez had been pinch-hit for in Game 3 and Game 4 of the series. He did not play in Game 5. Chavez played third batted and batted ninth. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. . . . Reliever Joba Chamberlain was unavailable for Friday’s game due to a swollen and bruised right elbow he sustained when he was struck by a piece of a shattered bat in the 12th inning of Thursday’s game. His status for the ALCS is unclear and he is listed as day-to-day.
After the Yankees were bounced out the 2011 ALDS in five games by the Tigers last season, the Yankees will be looking a measure of revenge in 2012. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series will be Saturday.
The Yankees will start left-hander Andy Pettitte (0-1, 3.86), who gave up three runs in seven innings of a tough-luck 3-2 loss to the Orioles in Game 2 on Monday. In 23 career starts against the Tigers, Pettitte is 10-9 with a 3.66 ERA. But he is 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his seven starts at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Doug Fister (0-0, 2.57 ERA). Fister gave up two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven innings in Game 2 in a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Fister is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA lifetime against the Yankees. Although Fister won the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees last season, he was 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA against them in the series.
Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
– Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.
Hear people talk about going to heaven
Grab a little bit of heaven right here on Earth
Troubled times lead to healing times
I was sad now I’m feeling fine
It’s the taking and the giving that makes this life worth living,
Makes this life worth living
– Lyrics to “State of Mind” by Raul Midon
GAME 3 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2 (12 INNINGS)
There have some memorable home runs in Yankees’ history: Bucky Dent in 1978, Reggie Jackson in 1979 and Aaron Boone in 2003. How about adding a pair of them from Raul Ibanez in 2012?
Yankee manager Joe Girardi – summoning up all the courage of his convictions – sent Ibanez to pinch-hit for a player who is fifth on the all-time home run list in Alex Rodriguez with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and Ibanez delivered a huge game-tying line-drive home run to right on the first pitch from Orioles closer Jim Johnson.
Three innings later, Ibanez led off the bottom of 12th inning with a high-arcing, no-doubt-about-it blast on the first pitch from left-hander Brian Matusz into the second deck in right-field of Yankee Stadium as New York became the first team this season to defeat Baltimore in walk-off fashion.
The come-from-behind victory on Wednesday also turned the momentum of the series clearly to the team in pinstripes as the Yankees have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series and the next two games will be in their backyard. They will have a chance to punch their own ticket to the American League Championship Series with a victory on Thursday.
The Yankees have also proven to be a bit of a thorn in the side of the Orioles in extra innings this season. After the Orioles lost their first two extra-inning games of the regular season to the Yankees, they ran off a streak of 16 straight to finish 2012. But they have now lost a third game in extra frames to the Yankees and this one really stung because the O’s were two outs from victory in the ninth.
As with all of the three games of series, the Yankees and Orioles got locked into another pitchers’ duel between 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and 28-year-old rookie right-hander Miguel Gonzalez.
Both were brilliant. Both would have been worthy victors. But both left the game empty-handed.
Kuroda was tagged for a pair of home runs from two Orioles’ rookies, Ryan Flaherty hit one with one out in the third and Manny Machado posted his leading off the fifth.
Other than those two mistakes, Kuroda proved to be worth every bit of the $10-million, one-year contract to which he was signed this winter. Kuroda only gave up the two runs on five hits, one walk and two hit batters while he fanned three in 8 1/3 innings.
However, the Yankees had another difficult time trying figure out Gonzalez. In his two regular season starts against the Yankees, Gonzalez was 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in the Bronx.
In this contest, the Yankees only got to Gonzalez in the third inning when Russell Martin lined a one-out double off the wall in the left-field corner and Derek Jeter lined a high fastball into center-field that Adam Jones misjudged into a triple.
Gonzalez, along with Darren O’Day pitching a 1-2-3 frame in the eighth, shut down the Yankees cold until the ninth. Gonzalez surrendered just the one run on five hits and no walks while he fanned eight Yankees in seven innings.
The ninth began with Johnson, who gave up a game-winning home run to Martin and five runs (four earned) in Baltimore’s 7-2 loss in Game 1, retired Suzuki on a routine fly ball to left.
Girardi then stunned the paid crowd of 50,497 by sitting Rodriguez, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, and sending up instead 40-year-old outfielder/designated hitter Ibanez to face the right-handed Johnson.
Girardi figured that the lefty-hitting Ibanez had a better chance of pulling Johnson’s “bowling-ball” sinker out to right-field than Rodriguez had hitting the same pitch to the deeper dimensions in left – especially with a swirling wind blowing out stronger to right.
On Johnson’s first delivery, Ibanez managed to put the barrel of the bat on the low fastball and lift it up on a line about five rows back into the bleachers in right as the fans in the stadium and the Yankees in the dugout went into delirium for getting to the closer, who led the American League with 51 saves this season, in two games this series.
Johnson had only given up three home runs during the regular season. He now has given up two critical longballs (to Martin and Ibanez) within four days to the playoff-tested Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ bullpen was doing a number on the powerful Orioles’ lineup.
Lefty Boone Logan came in to relieve Kuroda with one out in the ninth and struck out the lefty-swinging Jim Thome, who along with A-Rod are the only two active players who have 600 or more home runs.
Yankees closer Rafael Soriano came on to strike out the righty-swinging Mark Reynolds and he also contributed a scoreless 10th inning.
Right-hander David Robertson (1-0) pitched two scoreless frames in the 11th and 12th to set the stage for Ibanez’s heroics in 12th.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter elected to use Matusz (0-1) in the 12th after he pitched a perfect 11th. Matusz was thought to be among the Orioles’ best young starters when the season began but he was banished to the bullpen, where he became e a specialist against left-handed hitters like Ibanez.
But Ibanez stepped to the plate looking for a fastball up in the zone so he could drive it out and Matusz obliged him. The sound of the bat striking the ball was all you needed to hear because it struck flush on the sweet spot and the ball rose majestically into the thin 62-degree, low-humidity air.
Wind or no wind, it was obvious to the Yankees and to Matusz where it was going. The only doubt was how far back into the second deck it would land.
Ibanez tossed his helmet as jogged around third and headed toward home plate. His thrilled teammates were there to pound him about as hard he hit the baseball. Matusz turned away the second the ball was struck and trudged slowly to the dugout – his head down and with the look of a defeated punch-drunk fighter wearily stumbling to his corner after yet another crushing knockout.
For the veteran-laden Yankees, who have participated in 17 of the past 18 postseasons, it was just another day at the office. But destiny laid her precious hands on their backs and provided them with a gentle nudge to yet another classic postseason victory.
For the young and cobbled-together Orioles, who have not been in a postseason since 1997, it was a cold slap in the face with some serious reality. Another defeat will mean this magical trip to the big dance will end up with them as wallflowers again.
If you want to beat the Yankees you had better beat them when you have a chance. The Orioles have had chances in all three games to do just that. But they failed twice.
That is twice too many.
- Give Girardi credit for doing something most managers would never do in benching Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth. But give Ibanez even more credit for coming through with another pair of clutch hits for the Yankees. On Sept. 22, Ibanez entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the fifth and stroked a solo homer to tie it at 5-5. He later tied the game again with a two-run home run in the bottom of the 13th as the Yankees rallied from a 9-5 deficit in the top of the 13th. The Yankees won the game in the bottom of the 14th, 10-9. On Oct. 2, Ibanez pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth with one on and no outs and he hit a two-run shot that tied the game against the Boston Red Sox at 3-3. Ibanez later won the game, 4-3, in the bottom of the 12th with a two-out, opposite-field single to right. Ibanez had a lot to do with the Yankees winning the division and he now is poised to become the big hero of the ALDS. He becomes the first player in postseason history to hit two home runs in a game in which he did not start.
- Kuroda, minus the two solo homers, was absolutely amazing in his 8 1/3 innings of work. Those who thought the Yankees’ starting pitching would be their undoing in the series were dead wrong. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Kuroda have combined to give up only seven runs on 20 hits and three walks and struck out 15 batters over 24 innings. That is an ERA of 2.62 and a WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) of 0.96.
- Jeter entered Game 3 hitting .444 (4-for-9) and added to that by going 2-for-4 with a clutch RBI triple to raise his average to ,462 in the series. On a team where a lot of productive hitters are coming up small in the series, Jeter is not resting on his 216-hit regular season.
- If there was not a left-handed pitcher scheduled for Game 4 for the Orioles, it might have possible that Rodriguez might have been benched altogether. I am not so sure he should not be benched anyway after his 1-for-12 (.083) start. Rodriguez has not really shined in the postseason over the past three years and he looks clueless at the plate in this series.
- Curtis Granderson pulled another one of his disappearing acts in this game. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Granderson is 1-for-11 (.091) with six strikeouts in the series. On two occasions on Thursday, Granderson struck out on just three pitches. He and Rodriguez seem to be having a contest going on who can stink it up the most in the series.
- In a game in which the Yankees needed him to hit well, Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 and he saw only 11 pitches. Cano is again being too aggressive at the plate and he is basically getting himself out by hitting pitches that are not in his wheelhouse. Cano is 2-for-12 (.167) for the series but he does have three RBIs.
Jeter fouled a pitch from Gonzalez off his left foot in the third inning two pitches before he legged out his RBI triple. However, Jeter hobbled throughout the rest of the game in noticeable discomfort and was removed in favor of Jayson Nix in the bottom of the ninth inning. It is not clear if the injury will force Jeter to miss Game 4. . . . Injured closer Mariano Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 3. Rivera was not introduced but drew a loud standing ovation as the strains of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared from the public address system. Rivera was shelved after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on May 3 in Kansas City. Rivera, 42, has said he will return to pitch for the Yankees next season.
The Yankees can advance to the ALCS with a victory over the Orioles on Thursday.
The Yankees will send 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA) to the mound. Hughes struggled in September, giving up at least four runs in four of his six starts. However, he is the team leader in victories this season. In his four starts against the O’s he was 2-2 with a 4.76 ERA.
The Orioles will hand over their dying hopes to journeyman 31-year-old lefty Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA). Saunders started September off 2-0, but he wound up failing to win in three of his last four starts. He did defeat the Yankees at Camden Yards in his only start against them on Sept. 8.
Game-time will be 7:30 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.
ALDS GAME 1: KEY MOMENT
Orioles closer Jim Johnson entered the American League Division Series against the Yankees with a pretty imposing collection of stats from the 2012 regular season.
In the 54 games he had been called upon to save this season he had a major-league best 51 saves. He also was 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he only coughed up three home runs in 68 2/3 innings.
It was against this backdrop that manager Buck Showalter summoned Johnson into a 2-2 contest in the top of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the best-of-five series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Showalter was doing what most managers do when the home team is in a tie game in the ninth: Call in your closer to pitch a scoreless inning to give them a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.
The right-handed Johnson was the perfect choice to pitch the ninth because two of three scheduled batters bat right-handed and Johnson also is known around baseball circles for his devastating two-seam fastball. On a cool, brisk evening like Sunday in Baltimore, hitting Johnson’s sinker is like trying to hit a bowling ball.
Hitters generally hit lots of weak ground balls against Johnson because it is so hard to get any lift on the pitch when it is located down in the strike zone.
The first scheduled hitter for the Yankees was Russell Martin, who was 0-for-2 with a walk in the game. Martin suffered through his worst season at the plate in 2012.
After spending most of the season hitting well below .200, or the so-called “Mendoza line,” Martin caught fire and hit .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBis after Sept. 1 to raise his season average to .211, 49 points below his career average.
Johnson threw his first pitch, a two-seamer, that ended up low.
It must have taken Martin all the strength in the world to lay off Johnson’s second pitch, another two-seamer that was close to the knees but home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called it a ball.
Catcher Matt Wieters questioned the call without turning around as Johnson emitted a blank stare. Johnson wanted the pitch because he did not want to have to give in by throwing a fastball a bit higher in the strike zone on an 0-2 count.
Johnson also throws a nifty change-up and a curveball, however, Wieters called for a third sinker and Johnson nodded his OK. With many in the paid crowd of 47,841 in the ballpark cheering wildly for a team that had not played in a postseason game since 1997, Johnson went into his windup and threw the ball as Wieters set up his glove low and outside.
However, Johnson’s sinker not only did not sink, it also rode high and right to the middle of the plate. Martin saw the 93-mph fastball was up and swung his bat. Though Martin has been a poor hitter most of the season, there is one pitch he handles exceptionally well: The fastball.
He swung, the ball hit squarely on the sweet spot of the bat and it rocketed into the air on a line into left-field. Oriole left-fielder Nate McLouth, hearing the sound of the bat immediately, started moving back to the wall close to the left-field line. But the trajectory was high enough and the ball was hit hard enough that it carried well above his head and six rows deep in the bleachers.
Martin knew he had hit the ball it well.
“It’s a big lift. It kind of sparked us, it seemed like. A pitcher of that caliber, you’re not expecting to hit home runs against him. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and luckily he left a pitch over the middle of the plate for me.”
Johnson knew immediately he made a big mistake. He hung his head as he rubbed up a new baseball. The Yankees now led 3-2 and Johnson’s task was to keep the score where it was to give his team a chance to either tie or win it in the bottom of the frame.
But Johnson’s evening fell apart after the Martin blast.
He would throw 14 more pitches in the inning and record only one out.
Raul Ibanez singled. Derek Jeter followed with a hit-and-run single to advance Ibanez to third. With Eduardo Nunez running for Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a swinging bunt down the first-base line that he beat out for a single.
After Johnson struck out Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano sliced a four-seam fastball to the opposite field in the corner in left to score two more runs.
Showalter bounced quickly out to the mound to remove his closer and Johnson left with Cano on third on a throwing error by shortstop J.J. Hardy trying to throw out Suzuki at the plate.
Reliever Tommy Hunter came on and Nick Swisher lifted 3-1 fastball to deep center to score Cano. The Yankees had turned a 2-2 nail-biter into a 7-2 laugher in the blink of an eye.
Johnson gave up five runs on five hits in just one-third of an inning.
On July 16, Johnson was similarly tagged for five runs on four hits and a hit batter by the Twins in a game in Minneapolis. However, the Twins already led the game 14-5 at the time.
On July 27, the Oakland Athletics rallied from a 9-8 deficit against Johnson to score six runs on five hits and a walk in one-third of an inning at Camden Yards to defeat the O’s 14-9. That was Johnson’s only loss of the season.
If you take away those two appearances, Johnson’s season ERA would been 1.02 instead of 2.49.
So the fact that the Yankees even got to Johnson for a run is remarkable. The fact that they scored five runs against him was just unreal.
Yankee first baseman and Maryland native Mark Teixeira summed it up the best:
“Johnson has been so great all year; eventually you’ve got to get to him, right? And tonight was that night.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (24 HRs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA)
CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (43 HRs, 106 RBIs, .232 BA)
LEFT-FIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (9 HRs, 55 RBIs, .283 BA, 77 Runs, 29 SB)
Sometimes the outfield you leave spring training with is not the one you end up with. That us true for the Yankees this season.
Left-fielder Brett Gardner,29, played in only nine games before a diving catch in left resulted in a right elbow injury that eventually required surgery and wiped out pretty much his entire season. With his loss the Yankees also lost his 40-plus stolen bases and his Gold Glove-quality defense.
So the Yankees improvised and used 40-year-old Raul Ibanez and 35-year-old Andruw Jones to fill the hole Gardner left. Since Ibanez and Jones were expected to be the team’s platoon designated hitters, it allowed manager Joe Girardi to use veterans like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on more occasions at DH.
It worked pretty well.
Though the Yankees lacked speed on the bases and lost some defense in left, Ibanez and Jones combined to hit 18 home runs and drive in 51 runs in the team’s first 81 games. But because of their advanced age and because the Yankees kept hoping Gardner would return, the Ibanez-Jones platoon in left was expected to be only temporary.
When Gardner was unable to return after a second rehab stint, the Yankees decided they had to make a move and they obtained All-Star and multiple Gold Glove-winning outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners in a trade completed on July 23.
Suzuki, 38, immediately brought all the elements to the Yankees that Gardner was expected to provide. Suzuki agreed to come to the Yankees to play left-field, hit eighth in the lineup and to sit against some left-handed pitching.
Suzuki had been a shell of his former self in Seattle. He hit a career low .272 in 2011 and he was hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with the Mariners when he was obtained. General manager Brian Cashman hoped a change in scenery and an opportunity to play for a contender would re-energize Suzuki.
It did, too.
Suzuki immediately meshed in the clubhouse and, as he got more comfortable in pinstripes, his bat heated up and he took off.
Suzuki hit .297 in August and an amazing .385 in September. He also was so instrumental in the Yankees’ late-season push to the American League East title that Girardi moved him to the No. 2 spot in the order and kept him in the lineup against left-handers.
With Derek Jeter batting leadoff, the Yankees have the two best singles hitters of their generation in one lineup. Between the two of them, they have 5,910 major-league hits and a career batting average of .317.
They may have seen their better days on the bases but both are capable to stealing a bag when it is necessary.
Since becoming a Yankee, Suzuki has hit five home runs, drove in 27 runs and batted .317 with 14 stolen bases. With a chance to win his first championship since coming from Japan in 2001, Suzuki is playing as if he wants it real bad.
This deal by Cashman was a real gem and it could pay off big this postseason.
Meanwhile, in right, just call Nick Swisher “Mr. Consistency.”
In his four seasons with the Yankees, Swisher, 31, has hit between 23 and 29 homers and driven in between 82 and 93 runs each season. In the first half of this season, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 46 runs. In the final 81 games, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 47 runs.
How about that for numbers you can count upon?
That has been a Swisher hallmark throughout his career and the Yankees needed him to deliver this season in the absence of Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for big stretches of the second half. Swisher even hit .273, which is his second highest average in the majors since he hit .288 for the Yankees in 2010.
Swisher also was forced to move from right-field to play first base when Teixeira was injured and he played above-average defense there.
This was an important time for Swisher because he is in the final year of his contract and he can become a free agent at the end of the season.
With the Yankees committed to reducing payroll by the start of the 2014 season and with Robinson Cano looking for lucrative multi-year deal to stay in pinstripes, there is a good possibility Swisher may be playing his last season for the Yankees.
That would be a shame because Swisher’s ability to provide power, production, work pitch counts, play solid defense and his enthusiasm for the game are valuable assets to the team. He would be very hard to replace.
The same goes for Curtis Granderson in center-field.
Granderson followed up a career year in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and a league-leading 136 runs scored with another powerful season in 2012. He hit 43 home runs, drove in 106 runs and scored 102 runs.
Of course, with Granderson you have to take the bad with the good. Granderson hit a respectable .262 in 2011, which is exactly what his career average is. But this season, Granderson hit a career-low .232 and he struck out a career-high 195 times.
Pitchers gave him a steady diet of breaking balls in the dirt and fastballs away and Granderson seemed reluctant to go to the opposite field, particularly with the short porch in right-field of Yankee Stadium a tempting target.
So when Granderson slumps, he can go into long periods where he can’t buy a hit. After a first half in which hit 23 home runs, drove in 48 runs and hit .241, his average dropped nine points while he hit 20 home runs and drove in a much better 58 runs.
Again, with Granderson you take the bad with the good and give Granderson credit because he did lead the team in home runs and RBIs. His contract expires after the 2013 season so the Yankees have to do some head-scratching to figure out how to please Cano, Swisher and Granderson without breaking the bank.
Though the plan when Suzuki was acquired to play Ibanez and Jones less in the outfield, injuries forced Girardi to use both a lot more in the second half than he would have liked.
When Swisher moved to first base to replace Teixeira, Ibanez and Jones were platooned in left-field while Suzuki played right.
Ibanez finished with some pretty good numbers.
He hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and hit .240. He fell off a bit from his first-half numbers (11 homers, 35 RBIs and .237) but that was mostly because he played a bit less and also because he went into a terrible slump at the end of August that extended until he finally caught fire again in the final 11 games he played.
Jones, on the other hand, was a much different story in the second half.
After hitting seven home runs, driving in 16 runs and hitting .230 in the first half, Jones went AWOL pretty much for the entire second half.
He hit another seven home runs, drove in 18 runs but his average dipped an alarming 33 points and he finished at .197. Late in the season Girardi opted to use Eduardo Nunez at DH rather than start Jones against a left-hander.
As a result, Jones was given the word that he will not be on the postseason roster and his days in pinstripes are likely over.
GARDNER – I
GRANDERSON – A-
SWISHER – B-
IBANEZ – B
JONES – C
GRANDERSON – B+
SWISHER – B+
SUZUKI – B+
IBANEZ – C
JONES – D
GRANDERSON – B+
SWISHER – B+
SUZUKI – B+
IBANEZ – C+
JONES – D+
The Yankees also played Nunez, Jayson Nix, Dewayne Wise, Chris Dickerson and Melky Mesa in the outfield this season.
Nix and Nunez are primarily infielders, but Nix has played some outfield in the past and acquits himself well in left. The Nunez experiment in the outfield was declared over after some awful misplays early in the season proved he was not suited to play the outfield.
Wise, 34,was released at midseason when Suzuki arrived and he was later picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He got more playing time there and ended up hitting .259 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Yankees and Chisox combined.
Dickerson, 30, has spent the past two seasons with the Yankees, mostly at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dickerson was recalled on Sept. 1 and hit .286 with two home runs and five RBis in 14 at-bats.
Mesa, 25, was also recalled on Sept. 1 when the rosters expanded and hit .500 in two at-bats in three games.
Dickerson hit .316 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs and he stole 17 bases in 69 games. Mesa hit .230 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs in just 33 games after being promoted from Double-A Trenton.
Colin Curtis, 27, struggled in his comeback season at Scranton after suffering a separated shoulder in spring training in 2011. He hit only .220 with one home run and 23 RBIs in 71 games.
Cole Garner, 27, hit .258 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 64 games.
Neither Curtis or Garner figure much in the Yankees’ future plans.
However, the Yankees do have a boatload of good young outfield prospects below Triple A.
Mason Wiiliams, 21, is a five-tool center-fielder who hit a combined .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 91 games with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa of the Florida State League. Williams is the Yankees No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. A torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season in August but the Yankees are high on his future.
Tyler Austin, 21, followed up a season in which he hit .345 in 2011 by hitting a combined .322 in 110 games as he advanced from Class-A Charleston to Double-A Trenton. He also hit a combined 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs this season. Austin was used at first and third base in previous seasons but played exclusively in right-field this season. Austin is ranked third right behind Williams.
Former 2009 No. 1 pick Slade Heathcott, 22, caught fire this season at High-A Tampa and hit .302 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 60 games. Heathcott is a lefty hitter who slashes at the plate and has very good speed. Heathcott is ranked fifth as a prospect for the Yankees.
In spring training this past March, Zoilo Almonte, 23, caught Girardi’s eye with his bat. Almonte hit .277 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 106 games at Trenton. Originally thought of as a potential fourth outfielder in the majors, if Almonte’s power continues to improve he could change that opinion. Almonte is ranked seventh.
When you think Ramon Flores, 20, think of a very raw Ichiro Suzuki. Flores hit a robust .302 with six homers, 39 RBis and 24 stolen bases in 131 games with High-A Tampa. Flores is the 10th-rated Yankee prospect but he is rising like a bullet.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+
With a postseason outfield of Granderson, Suzuki and Swisher you have an excellent mix of power (76 homers), production (254 RBIs), some speed (41 stolen bases) and some range and ability on defense, particularly with Suzuki in left.
You add outfield backups in Ibanez, Gardner and Nix and you have a pretty solid veteran bench, too.
Swisher and Granderson provide premium power and Suzuki is a perfect table setter with Jeter in the first two spots of the batting order.
Give Cashman credit for striking the perfect deal to replace Gardner in left with Suzuki and the Yankees enter the postseason with the most productive outfield of all the teams who made it to the playoffs. Offensively and defensively it is hard to match this trio.
It has been a strength of the Yankees for most of the season, particularly since Suzuki was added to the mix on July 24 to replace the defensively inferior tandem of Ibanez and Jones.
This may be an older group but in the playoffs experience counts for a lot.