I have to say, that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. After having no celebration when the Yankees clinched a playoff spot earlier today, there was sheer pandemonium in the clubhouse after the Yankees’ second 4-2 win of the day over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees clinched their 12th AL East title in 16 years, and they completely let loose after the win.
“It’s been a tough ride, but it’s the day-by-day that keeps me going,” said Jorge Posada, tonight’s hero. “Days like today keep me going. I’m having a bunch of fun still, and hopefully we can continue this ride.”
The moment was even more special for all of the players in the locker room because it was Posada — whose trials and tribulations have been well-documented this year — who came up with the clutch game-winning hit. In a move that had many people scratching their heads, manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit Posada for rookie sensation Jesus Montero in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded.
“I just felt that it was the right time to go to Jorge,” Girardi said. “I like him in the situation, I liked the matchup, and as much as we’re trying to win the game, I thought that Jorge is used to DHing and used to having time in between at-bats, and those other guys don’t pinch hit much.”
Even with big name hitters such as Alex Rodriguez available on the bench, Girardi said his gut told him that this was the right situation for Posada. As bad as Posada has looked at times this season, he seems to still have that flair for the dramatic.
“You couldn’t have written it any better,” Curtis Granderson said. “You had Jeter with the 3,000, you had Mariano with the 602, and Jorge Posada was the final piece.”
After deciding to intentionally walk Robinson Cano when the count went to 3-2, Rays manager Joe Maddon brought in the right-handed Brandon Gomes to face Montero.
“Joe told me before the inning started,” Posada said. “He told me, ‘If they bring in a righty for Montero, you’re going to hit.’ ”
Posada stepped up and laced a two-run single to right-center field to break a 2-2 tie, and Rafael Soriano came on to close out the game in the ninth. Another storybook ending for the Bombers.
“I’m sure it meant a lot to him,” Girardi said of Posada’s hit. “This is a guy who’s been a great Yankee, had a wonderful career, and a lot of big hits in his time. Just to get another one to clinch the division has to mean a lot to him. We’ve gone through some difficult struggles at times, but I believe in Jorge.”
• Lost in all of the Posada madness was the combined pitching performance out of CC Sabathia, David Roberston and Soriano. CC gave the Yankees 7 1/3 strong innings, allowing two runs while striking out six. He gave up the game-tying homer to Sean Rodriguez in the seventh, but Girardi still brought him out for the eighth. CC loaded the bases in the eighth with one out, prompting Girardi to bring in Robertson. He ended up throwing a whopping 127 pitches. “I felt good, but I know Joe told me that our ultimate goal is to try and win a championship,” Sabathia said. “He went to Robertson, and if there’s a guy who you want to have the ball with the bases loaded, it’s him. He’s been unbelievable.”
• Houdini, as many of his teammates refer to him, aka Robertson got the job done again — as he has so many times this season. One pitch, double play, inning over. “I’m out there and I’m really stressed out trying to figure out a way to get out of it, and tonight was the quickest one that I’ve had in along time,” Robertson said. “I just do everything that I can to try and help this team win ball games. It doesn’t matter how. When Joe puts me in, I’m just trying to get outs.”
• Here’s some highlights from the bottom of the eighth, leading up to Posada’s big hit. Girardi really pressed all of the right buttons in this inning. Nick Swisher pinch-hit for Brett Gardner, and doubled to left-center. After Granderson flew out to right for the second out, Maddon brought in RHP Juan Cruz to flip Mark Teixeira around to the left side, where he has struggled immensely this season. Tex drew a walk, leading to another pitching change. Maddon brought in lefty Cesar Ramos to face Cano, before eventually deciding to walk him. One more pitching change, and then Posada took care of the rest.
• Girardi talked about the perception that the Yankees were the underdogs in the division this year to the Red Sox, and why that made this division title so much sweeter. “It’s not often that we’re considered the underdogs, but I understood with the moves that they had made,” he said. “Our season didn’t start off real good with the way that we played against them, and it seemed to turn a little bit when we went there on our last road trip. This group has a lot of pride, and this group has been through a lot.”
• On a team filled with older players who many felt were getting into the over-the-hill range, it really is incredible to think about how some players who no one expected anything out of have stepped up big. “Some of the veterans that we brought in to step into the rotation and help us out — whether it was Freddy or Bartolo — I think people had kind of written those guys off, and forgot that these guys have been successful and know how to pitch,” Girardi said. “They’re a big reason why we’re here.”
• I know that Girardi has taken a lot of heat for over-managing at times, and it’s difficult to find reasons to give him credit with such a star-studded roster, but this has probably been his best regular season managing job. He got the best out of both old and young players, and navigated through many untimely injuries. “I think Joe does an incredible job, and I don’t think he gets enough credit,” A-Rod said. “For me, he’s obviously the Manager of the Year. I was telling the guys earlier, we lost our seventh inning guy, our eighth inning guy, we lost our third baseman, our shortstop, we lost Phil Hughes, and overall he’s been the one constant.”
• I would be remiss to forget about the Orioles’ 6-4 comeback win over the Red Sox which made clinching the division possible for the Yankees tonight. After going down 4-1, Baltimore rallied behind two home runs from Mark Reynolds. Vladimir Guerrero broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run single in the eighth. Yankee fans can address their thank you notes to Buck Showalter. The Red Sox currently have a 2.5-game lead over the Rays for the wild card. They’ve lost seven of their last ten.
• A funny side-story on a personal note: I’m completely drenched in champagne. All of the reporters rushed into the clubhouse after the game, and it was a mad house. After taking some video of the players celebrating, I began to make my way to the press conference room to talk to Girardi. As I’m heading for the door, Cano comes up to me and yells, “Where are you going?”, promptly spraying champagne all over me. It was both exciting and somewhat awkward to try and ask Girardi questions while bubbly dripped down from my face. It’s been a long day, but it was a fun way to end it.
Associated Press photos