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Twelve days that mattered in 2009

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This isn’t intended to be some sort of ranking of the Yankees’ most important dates of the past year. Instead, it is simply a look back at some of the days that mattered. One day from each month. Not necessarily the most important days, but certainly days that stood out or made a difference.

Monday, 1-26-09
Andy Pettitte returns on a one-year deal
“There was basically a point where we got to where we were at the end of the line,” Pettitte said that day. “I needed to make a decision.” He never talked to another team and his decision was ultimately to come back to New York to chase another championship. Eleven months later, it’s hard to imagine where the Yankees would have been without him.

Tuesday, 2-17-09
The Alex Rodriguez press conference
Here’s a line from Rodriguez’s opening statement [2] that day: “In the days ahead, I know that a lot of people are going to debate my past with various opinions. People are going to talk about my future as though it’s already been determined, however, I realize that these opinions are out of my control. What is within my control is going out and doing the job that I am blessed to do. Spring training represents a new start for me and a chance to win a championship, two opportunities I’m very excited about.”

Sunday, 3-29-09
Brett Gardner named opening day center fielder

It’s interesting, given the current Yankees roster, to remember that the Yankees opened this championship season with Gardner as the No. 9 hitter in their starting lineup. If the current roster were to stay as it is, Gardner would likely open in the same spot in the order, but playing left field instead of center, which actually suggests a defensive upgrade for the Yankees.

Wednesday, 4-22-09
Melky Cabrera homers in season’s first walk-off win

The first win at the new Yankee Stadium came five days before this one, but in a season of whipped cream pies, what could be more momentous than Cabrera’s walk-off blast in the 14th inning? And it went to right field, which is a whole other story from this season. Six Yankees relievers combined for 7.1 scoreless innings, including Jose Veras, who pitched the last 3.1. Cabrera’s game-winner came off Oakland reliever Dan Giese, who had been claimed off waivers from the Yankees just a few weeks earlier. It was the first of 15 walk-off wins.

Wednesday, 5-13-09
Winning streak puts Yankees above .500 for good

Four days after Alex Rodriguez rejoined the lineup, the Yankees entered May 13 two games below .500, but they beat the Blue Jays that night and kicked off a nine-game winning streak. It was their longest streak of the season, and it bumped the Yankees from 6.5 games out of first place, to a game and a half back. With no Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui or Jorge Posada in the lineup that night, the Yankees got hits from Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli, and got a home run and a triple from Brett Gardner. The win went to — who else? — Andy Pettitte.

Monday, 6-1-09
Yankees set consecutive errorless games record
In a win against Cleveland, the Yankees scored five runs on six hits while committing no errors. It was the Yankees 18th consecutive game without an error, which set a new major league record. During the streak, the Yankees handled 660 chances without a mistake. Another note from June 1: It was Joba Chamberlain’s return to bug-infested Cleveland, and he went eight innings, allowing two runs on four hits.

Friday, 7-3-09
Phil Hughes sets up for Mariano Rivera

A starter through the first two months of the season, and a middle/long reliever through the month of June, Hughes moved into his setup role on the third day of July. Phil Coke got the lefty Adam Lind for the first out of the eighth inning, then Hughes got the last two outs before Rivera closed the door. In that moment, the back of the bullpen was solidified. The Yankees finally had their bridge to Mo.

Friday, 8-7-09
Yankees trade for Chad Gaudin

Chien-Ming Wang was out of the picture. Joba Chamberlain was about to be reduced to three-inning starts. Sergio Mitre was talking a tightrope. Josh Towers was on his way up from Triple-A. The Yankees badly needed a pitcher who could give multiple innings out of the bullpen or spot start when necessary, and Gaudin played the role perfectly. He started six times, and the Yankees won all six.

Friday, 9-11-09
Derek Jeter becomes Yankees career hits leader

This was the official statement from George Steinbrenner: “For those who say today’s game can’t produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter. Game in and game out, he just produces. As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees’ all-time hit leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today.”

Thursday, 10-29-09
A.J. Burnett delivers in Game 2 of the World Series

Given a chance to clinch the title four days later, Burnett took a beating in Game 5 and was vilified, but let us not forget his performance in Game 2. This was the turning point of the World Series. Pedro Martinez pitched very well that day, and a loss would have meant going into Philadelphia, down two games to none, forced to sweep in Citizens Bank Park. It never came to that because Burnett gave the Yankees seven superb innings, striking out nine, walking two and allowing four hits. In the grand scheme of things, this was a bigger game than Game 5, and Burnett was outstanding.

Wednesday, 11-4-09
No. 27

If I put some real effort into it, I might have come up with a date more obvious that this one. Instead, I picked a night you might remember. Six RBI from the World Series MVP. Five outs from the game’s greatest closer. A fourth playoff win from the game’s winningest postseason pitcher. Three hits from the Captain. Two runs scored by the rejuvenated A-Rod. One World Series championship.

Tuesday, 12-8-09
Yankees agree to trade for Curtis Granderson

The Andy Pettitte signing a day later was big, but it was the Granderson trade that set the tone for the Yankees’ offseason. Had they not traded for a power-hitting outfielder, would the Yankees have been more likely to keep either Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui? Maybe. Instead, they have a new center fielder, entering his prime, trying to defend a championship. I’m sure expectations won’t be high. He’s only playing Joe DiMaggio’s position.