Tagged: Reggie Jackson

Yankees Rally Past Twins On A-Rod’s 3 Home Runs

GAME 96

YANKEES 8, TWINS 5

There are certain baseball sluggers than fans flock to see do magical things at the plate whether they loved them or hated them. Players like Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and, yes, even Alex Rodriguez. The 40-year-old designated hitter had one of those historic nights you would have wanted to see at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday.

With the Yankees trailing 5-0, Rodriguez proceeded to hit three long blasts  –  his final home run tying the game in the top of the ninth  –  and John Ryan Murphy later added a tie-breaking three-run shot in the same inning off All-Star closer Glen Perkins as New York pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat on a stunned Minnesota team.

Rodriguez’s three home runs in a game marked the fifth time in his career he has done it and  –  two days shy of his 40th birthday  –  he also became the fifth oldest player in Major-League history to hit three home runs in a game behind Stan Musial (41, 229 days), Jason Giambi (40, 131 days), Jackson (40, 125 days) and Ruth (40, 108 days).

His first home run was a solo shot into the left-field bleachers off left-hander Tommy Milone with two out in the fourth inning. That was the only hit the Yankees could muster off Milone in the first six innings.

After losing to the Twins 10-1 on Friday, the Yankees were looking at a possible potential sweep of the series by the Twins on Sunday after managing just two runs in the first 15 innings of the series.

But the Yankees turned the game (and possibly the series) around after the Twins had loaded the bases with out the benefit of a hit of a hit off left-hander CC Sabathia after two were out in the sixth inning. Sabathia walked Kurt Suzuki, hit Danny Santana with a pitch and then walked Brian Dozier.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Sabathia with right-hander Adam Warren, who managed to work into a 3-2 count on Aaron Hicks. His 3-2 pitch was called a strike by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson.

Twins rookie manager Paul Molitor argued the call so vehemently that Nelson ejected him from the game.

The Yankees then opened the seventh with a leadoff single by Chris Young and Rodriguez followed by depositing Milone’s 1-1 pitch into the center-field bleachers for a two-run homer.

Mark Teixeira then doubled and left-hander Brian Duensing was summoned to replace Milone. Carlos Beltran launched a deep line drive to center that advanced Teixeira to third and Chase Headley scored Teixeira on a sacrifice fly.

Trailing 5-4 in the ninth, Rodriguez launched Perkins’ first offering into the center-field bleachers for his third home run of the night and 23rd of the season to tie the game.

Perkins (0-2) closed out the American League’s 6-3 victory in the 2015 All-Star Game and had blown only one save this season prior to Saturday. He carried a 1.37 ERA and a American-League-leading 29 saves into the contest.

With one out and Carlos Beltran at first after an out call at first base by umpire Tom Woodring was overturned to negate a double play, Headley laced a single to center to advance Beltran to third. Murphy, who entered the game with one career homer and none in 81 at-bats this season, sent a long drive into the center-field bleachers for a three-run home run to complete the improbable eight-run comeback.

Warren (6-5) pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory. Left-hander Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to notch his 23rd save in 23 chances this season.

The Twins took an early 2-0 lead on Sabathia and the Yankees when the light-hitting Hicks followed a leadoff single by Dozier with only his fourth home run of the season.

Hicks created more trouble in the third with a leadoff bloop single to center. One out later, rookie slugger Miguel Sano rolled a ball against the shift to the right side for an infield single. Torii Hunter then cranked an opposite-field homer to right to give the Twins their seemingly insurmountable 5-0 margin.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season mark to 54-42 and they are 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Twins dropped to 52-45.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • These are the games that stoke legends and Rodriguez’s magical night drew the Yankees back from the depths of despair. His numbers defy explanation after missing most of the past two seasons. He is batting .277 with 23 homers and 58 RBIs. If anyone saw this coming you are a better man than me. He and Mark Teixeira have combined to hit 47 homers and drive in 123 runs with 66 games left in the season.
  • The Yankees were more than content to go to the bottom of the ninth with a tie score but Murphy’s home run provided a three-run margin. Give Murphy, 24, credit for putting up a tough battle with a good closer. Backup catchers are paid to play good defense and give the starter a rest. If they provide anything offensively it is a bonus and Murphy is now hitting .271 with a homer and eight RBIs in his 23 starts.
  • Sabathia may have yielded five runs on six hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. But give him credit for this: From the moment Hunter cranked his 16th homer of the season, Sabathia, Warren and Miller held the Twins to just one hit (a two-out single by Suzuki in the eighth) the rest of the game. If the pitching did not keep the Twins off the board the Yankees likely would not have won.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees pretty much were sleepwalking through this series until the seventh inning on Saturday. They had just one hit in the first six innings and ended the night with 10. In fact, they outhit the Twins 10 to 7. Phil Hughes shut them out for seven innings on Friday and Milone held them to one run in six until he finally unraveled in the seventh. That is embarrassing.
  • Michael Pineda and Sabathia combined to yield 10 runs on 14 hits and three walks in 10 2/3 innings the past two nights. That is an 8.44 ERA. Starting pitching had been a strong suit of the Yankees 9-2 run up until Friday. The starters have to keep the Yankees in the game in order for them to unleash their strong bullpen.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi told reporters on Saturday that the Yankees will not pitch Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in order to give the 26-year-old right-hander an extra day of rest. The Yankees likely will start either Warren or left-hander Chris Capuano and give each pitcher about 50 pitches. Girardi said top pitching prospect Luis Severino and right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who are both pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are not viable options. The right-handed Severino pitched on Friday and Mitchell pitched on Saturday. Tanaka will start against the Rangers on Wednesday because the team is managing his innings in the wake of his partially torn elbow ligament that sidelined him for two months last season.  . . .  The Yankees signed right-hander Nick Goody to a Major-League contract and called him up from Scranton to add a fresh arm to the bullpen. In order to get Goody on the 25-man roster right-hander Branden Pinder was sent back to Scranton and to get him on the 40-man roster the team designated for assignment infielder Gregorio Petit. Goody, 24, has a 1.35 ERA in five appearances at Scranton after being promoted from Double-A Trenton. Pinder, 26, had a 2.92 ERA in 11 appearances with the Yankees this season. Petit, 30, hit .167 with no homers and five RBIs in 42 at-bats with the Yankees.

ON DECK

The Yankees will now look to build upon their miracle comeback victory to win the three-game series with the Twins on Sunday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.43 ERA) will start the finale. Eovaldi, 25, gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a game the Yankees eventually won against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He has never faced the Twins.

Eovaldi will be opposed by right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-7, 3.19 ERA). Gibson, 27, was shelled for six runs on 10 hits and one walk with six strikeouts in five-plus innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.

Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

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Yankees Break Tie In Eighth To Overtake Nationals

GAME 7

YANKEES 3, NATIONALS 2

Kyle Roller, Aaron Judge and Cole Figueroa stroked consecutive two-out singles in the eighth inning with Figueroa scoring Roller with the tie-breaking run as New York defeated Washington on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to earn the victory. Mitch Lively (0-1) took the loss. Jared Burton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up a save.

With the victory the Yankees are now 4-2 in Grapefruit League play.

FIELD FOCUS

If you walk up to Yankee special instructor Reggie Jackson and ask him who he believes is the team’s best young hitting prospect he does not hesitate to tell you that it is infielder Jose Pirela.

Pirela, 25, put those hitting talents on display on Sunday

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound native Venezuela opened the third inning with a double in the right-field corner and he scored on Brett Gardner’s two-out infield single to tie the game a 1-1.

He came up again in the fourth with two out and Brian McCann on third and Chris Young on first and chopped a infield single to give the Yankees a temporary 2-1 lead.

In his first week of spring games, Pirela is batting .455 (5-for-11) including a double, a triple and three RBIs. If you think that possibly could be just an aberration think about this: Pirela batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs in 130 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

He earned a September call-up to the Yankees last season and all he did was bat .333 in 24 at-bats and three RBIs.

Pirela is not rated among the Yankees’ top prospects and yet there is a scenario where he might leave spring training as part of the 25-man roster.

With backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan shelved so far this spring with a mid-back strain he suffered working out with weights, Pirela would stand to make the team as its middle infield reserve.

The knock on Pirela has always been his defense. Scouts do not see him as a potential starter because of that reason. That reputation largely was sewn because Pirela committed 37 errors in 111 games at shortstop in 2011 wit Double-A Trenton.

But Pirela has cut down on his errors in the past three seasons. He was charged with 11 in 2012, 16 in 2013 and 11 last season though he played first base, second base, shortstop and 45 games in the outfield.

The Yankees see Pirela as a “super sub” player along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr. But the Yankees mostly need him as infielder for now. His bat, though, will always be his main calling card.

“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela told reporters. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees trotted out their late-inning relievers in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. Both looked relatively sharp. Miller, a 29-year-old left-hander, was making his second appearance of the spring and he threw a perfect inning with one strikeout. Betances, 26, made his spring debut and gave up a leadoff double to Clint Robinson but retired the next three hitters, the last two by strikeout. Manager Joe Girardi said no decision has been made on who the team’s closer will be or if the team will employ Miller and Betances as co-closers.
  • Although he was charged with an unearned run in the seventh inning on a RBI groundout by Derrick Robinson, right-hander Luis Severino showed off his 97-mile-per-hour fastball to fan three of the seven batters he faced. Severino, 21, is ranked as the team’s top prospect. Despite being a power pitcher who has fanned 225 batters in 221 2/3 innings, Severino also has only walked 54 batters over that time, which just a bit over two every nine innings. There is a chance Severino could make his major-league debut at some point this season.
  • Adam Warren, 27, made his second start of the spring and he looked pretty good despite surrendering a leadoff homer to Michael Taylor on his first offering of the game. Warren yielded just the one run on four hits and no walks with one strikeout in three innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is early but starting center-fielder and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury is just 1-for-12 (.083) after going 0-for-3 on Sunday  –  all three were weak groundouts, including one in the third inning with Pirela on third and one out. Gardner followed with his RBI single to get Ellsbury off the hook. It would be nice to see Ellsbury get untracked before spring training ends.
  • Carlos Beltran is 0-for-5 in his first two games of spring. Beltran, 37, is recovering from right elbow surgery last September and it is obvious his timing is off in the early going. The Yankees are counting on the perennial All-Star outfielder to produce big numbers batting third for the team this season.

BOMBER BANTER

It’s official: Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start in a spring exhibition game on Thursday night as the Yankees play host to the Atlanta Braves. Girardi made the announcement on Sunday. Tanaka, 26, has been monitored closely this spring after he suffered a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last July. Though Tanaka opted to rehab the elbow rather than undergo Tommy John surgery he has reported no issues with his elbow this spring.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session on Sunday and it appears he is just a week away from his first Grapefruit League start. Sabathia had surgery on his right knee last season and the Yankees are being cautious with the 34-year-old left-hander. Sabathia told reporters there is no doubt he will be ready for the start of the season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his first start of the spring for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, was 5-5 with a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts in a season cut short by a pulled muscle in Pineda’s right shoulder.

The Yankees are also scheduled to play their starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns, who was 9-9 with a 5.08 ERA at Triple-A Durham last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a taped basis by the MLB Network at midnight.

 

Phils Spoil A-Rod’s Return In Yanks’ Home Opener

GAME 2

PHILLIES 3, YANKEES 1

Odubel Herrera went 3-for-4, stole three bases and scored two runs to spark Philadelphia to a victory over New York and spoil their 2015 Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday.

Non-roster right-hander Kevin Slowey (1-0) started for the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory. Justin De Fratus weathered a late Yankee rally that fell short to earn a save. Newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1), making his first start for the Yankees, was tagged with the loss.

FIELD FOCUS

The buzz around Alex Rodriguez started early with ESPN actually cutting away from their regular programming to show the former three-time American League Most Valuable Player taking batting practice even though they were not televising the game.

Rodriguez, 39, also drew a rousing chorus of cheers and a small smattering of boos during pregame introductions and before his three at-bats. He did end up providing the fans with a bit of a show in going 1-for-2 with a walk in his three plate appearances.

After a 17-month absence due to a 162-game suspension from Major League Baseball for being involved in a performance enhancing drugs scandal, Rodriguez was just grateful just to be back on the field.

“This is as much fun as I’ve had in a long time in spring training,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I’m just feeling really good that I get to play the game that I love.”

A-Rod batted second and was the team’s designated hitter.

In his first plate appearance against Slowey. Rodriguez took two rusty looking swings before shooting a soft line drive into left for a single. In the third inning against right-hander Paul Clemens he ended the inning by hitting into a force play.

He completed his day in the sixth with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and two on and nobody out against right-hander Ethan Martin. Most of the announced crowd of 9,673 urged Rodriguez on as he worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Kyle Higashioka was sent out to pinch-run and Rodriguez’s first day back was done.

Rookie catching prospect Gary Sanchez followed with a sacrifice fly that scored the Yankees’ only run of the game.

Rodriguez told reporters after the game that he did hear the boos but was pleased by the cheers. “Once you hit rock bottom, anytime you hear a few cheers these days, it’s a pleasant surprise,” he said.

Girardi said he tentatively plans to start Rodriguez at DH again on Friday at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But there also is a chance he could play the field. Either way, Rodriguez is just glad to put the suspension behind him and just play baseball again.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though he was the losing pitcher, Eovaldi did look good in his debut. He gave up a run on two hits with no walks and one strikeout in 31 pitches over two frames. The 25-year-old former Miami Marlins right-hander did strike out Maikel Franco to start the second inning with a split-finger fastball, a pitch the Yankees would like Eovaldi to feature more this season.
  • Left-hander Andrew Miller also made his Yankee debut by pitching in the third inning. Though he gave up a single and two stolen bases to Herrera in the inning, Miller was able to strike out Freddy Galvis and Domonic Brown before retiring Ryan Howard on a groundout to keep Herrera at third base. Miller, 29, was signed as a free agent this winter and he is expected to compete with right-hander Dellin Betances for the closer role.
  • Since he was drafted in the first round in 2009, Cito Culver has always shown an ability to field but his bat has held him back. Culver, 22, made a spectacular play going deep into outfield grass in left and throwing in time to get Darin Ruf by a step.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees did not get a very good day out of Stephen Drew, who is penciled in as the team’s starting second baseman  –  though he has played only 34 games there. All of those came with the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. Drew was retired on two weak infield grounders and on defense he committed a fielding error on the first play of the game. Later, he threw a routine chance into the dirt and only a agile scoop from first baseman Mark Teixeira saved him from another error.
  • The Yankees seemed to sleepwalk offensively throughout the afternoon. They managed only five hits and drew two walks off some pretty ordinary Phillies pitchers. The Yankees recorded a total of five 1-2-3 innings.
  • The Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth and, after Sanchez’s sac fly scored the first Yankee run, catcher/first baseman Francisco Arcia grounded into a double play to shut down the best chance the Yankees had to score multiple runs all day.

BOMBER BANTER

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw a 30-pitch bullpen session in Tampa on Wednesday and told reporters that he is nearly ready to pitch in a Grapefruit League game. Tanaka, 26, is trying to recover from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Manager Joe Girardi said Tanaka will throw again in a simulated game and could make his first start in a game late next week.  . . .  For the first time in 20 seasons, Derek Jeter was not playing shortstop for the Yankees. Didi Gregarious, 24, made his debut with the Yankees and went 0-for-1 with a walk. Gregorious was obtained from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that included the Detroit Tigers. “It was an amazing feeling, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius told reporters. “It was amazing for me just wearing the pinstripes, to go out there with all my teammates.”  . . .  Before the game, the George M. Steinbrenner High School band performed. The Yankees then introduced former Yankee greats who are assisting the team as special instructors such as Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Hideki Matsui.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Bradenton, FL, on Thursday to face the Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Right-hander Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, was 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 18 games with the Yankees after being picked up as a free agent from the Toronto Blue Jays. Outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are scheduled to make the trip.

The Pirates will counter with veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will not be telecast. However, it is available live from station KDKA in Pittsburgh through MLB Radio.

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.

The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.

The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.

George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.

The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.

During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.

Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.

Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.

Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).

How did this happen?

Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.

The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.

It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.

Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.

There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.

After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.

From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.

That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.

The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.

If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.

But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.

It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.

Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.

He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.

When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.

He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.

So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.

Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.

The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for  a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.

Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.

So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)

There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.

It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.

The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.

It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.

But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.

The offense? Don’t ask.

Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.

They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.

His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.

The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.

The bench has some veterans, of course.

Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.

If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.

But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.

But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.

Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.

In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.

I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!

 

Yankees’ Frugal Ways Can Be Traced To 2007 DUI

On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?

Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.

Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.

However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.

Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.

Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.

The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.

In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.

Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.

Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.

Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.

But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.

Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.

When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.

In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.

Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.

So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.

Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.

That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.

That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.

The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.

The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?

Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.

First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.

The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.

In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.

The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.

These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.

The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.

That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.

Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?

Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.

Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.

However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.

In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.

The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.

But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?

The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.

The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.

Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?

Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.

If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.

The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.

The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.

Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.

If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.

The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.

The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.

Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.

 

Joe’s Move To Sub Ibanez For A-Rod Was Genius

 

“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.

 

Orioles Fall To Ibanez’s Pair Of ‘Buckshot’ Blasts

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • 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.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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.