Last day of the year, might as well look back.
There are plenty of ways to do year in review stuff, and I’ll probably approach it a few different ways today. For starters, let’s focus on one standout moment from each month. I tried to go with things that jumped to my mind rather than dig too deep and pinpoint the most important or most significant moments from each month. These are nothing more or less than the month-by-month events that stood out to me.
Early in the evening, I’d just sat down to dinner when the news began to break. The Yankees made two moves on the night of January 13, and if you were looking for immediate impact, it was the signing of Hiroki Kuroda that mattered most. If you were looking for a splash that we’ll talk about for years to come, it was the trade of Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda that made waves. There were other names involved, but Montero was the star prospect and Pineda was a few months from season-ending surgery. I was stunned then. I’m stunned today.
Spring training was about to start, and everyone knew the Yankees wanted to trade A.J. Burnett. The deal came through right before camp opened. The Yankees had to pay a significant part of Burnett’s salary, they got two incredibly minor prospects in return, and everyone was finally able to move on after Burnett’s two brutal years in the Yankees rotation (he’d been pretty valuable his first year with the team). The Yankees had other rotation options already under contract. Burnett got to Pittsburgh and pitched to 16 wins and a 3.51 ERA.
When I saw Jack Curry’s tweet, I thought it was either a joke or absolute proof that someone had hacked his account. Andy Pettitte was coming back? Just a few weeks after he’d been a special instructor? No chance. No way. But, of course, Jack was right, and within a few days Pettitte was back in camp as a starting pitcher. At the time, the Yankees seemed to have more starters than they needed (they still didn’t know about the Pineda injury) and absolutely no one seemed to know for certain whether Pettitte could still pitch effectively in the big leagues. Within a few months, Pettitte was reviving the Yankees rotation and proving himself all over again.
The season’s first trip to Boston, second game at Fenway, and the Yankees were losing 9-0 after five innings. Freddy Garcia and David Phelps had been knocked around, and Felix Doubront was working on a shutout. Then Mark Teixeira homered in the sixth inning. Then Nick Swisher hit a grand slam and Teixeira went deep again in the seventh. The Red Sox lead was down to 9-8 heading into the eighth, and the Yankees scored another seven runs to create one of the most memorable wins of the year. It actually gave the Yankees sole possession of first place for the first time. And it was a sign of things to come for the Red Sox.
Mo goes down
Honestly, I was in the bathroom. What better time to go than during batting practice in Kansas City? Even if I were in my seat, I’m not sure I would have been focused on Jayson Nix taking his hacks. I must have walked back into the press box seconds after it happened, because everyone was confused. Someone was hurt. The Yankees were rushing to check on him. Oh my gosh, it was Mariano Rivera. He couldn’t walk on his own. Television actually had a replay. Looked like his knee went out. … That night, the silence in the clubhouse spoke volumes.
Ten in a row
On June 7, the Yankees lost to the Rays and fell into third place, only a half game out of first. On June 18, they won their 10th straight to increase their division lead to two-and-a-half games. During the streak, the Yankees never allowed more than four runs, and Robinson Cano hit .371 with four homers. All 10 wins came against National League teams, and Bryce Harper struck out five times in one of those games. The Yankees were playing well, and they carried that momentum through the All-Star break and into the season’s second half.
The West Coast trip
Even after the All-Star break, the Yankees five of their first six. Their lead was up to 10 games when they went on the road to play the lowly Athletics and Mariners for what should have been a forgettable trip out West. Instead, it might have been the most memorable trip of the year. Oakland swept four straight – all one-run games to completely turn the A’s season around — before the Yankees went to Seattle, traded for Ichiro Suzuki and lost Alex Rodriguez to a broken hand.
Nothing really jumpted out to me about August, which means I probably overlooked something extremely obvious. But, when in doubt, go with Joba Chamberlain, who’s always good for a conversation starter. There was the Tommy John surgery in 2011. Then the trampoline injury in spring training. Finally Chamberlain made his season debut on the first day of August, having joined the team quite suddenly after the Chad Qualls trade opened a roster spot. Chamberlain got off to a slow start, but he seemed to find his footing as the year went on and there are still hopes that he can be a late-inning force next season.
The division race
This is why baseball added a second wild card; to make the divisions mean something again. Not wanting to fall into a one-game play-in scenario, the Yankees, Orioles and Rays fell into a wild race for the American League East. When the Rays fell out of the mix, it was down to the high-powered Yankees and surprising Orioles in a race that had those teams tied nine days in the month of September. Down the stretch, they were never separated by more than a game and a half until the final game of the year, when the Yankees won the division by two games. Robinson Cano hit .615/.628/1.026 in the final nine games.
Jeter goes down
What mattered most in the month of October is that the Yankees offense disappeared. They could barely score in the division series, and they couldn’t score in the ALCS. And that’s why the season ended when it did. But the October memory that lingers is of Derek Jeter face down on the infield dirt, having played on a bad ankle long enough that it finally broke. A brutal end to his own terrific season. He’d been their spark, their consistency, all year. Without him, the Yankees were finished.
Martin to Pittsburgh
Re-signing Hiroki Kuroda might be the Yankees most important move of the winter, and deals with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera helped solidify the pitching staff, but the move that spoke volumes about the Yankees offseason approach was Russell Martin’s decision to sign with Pittsburgh. Two years, $17 million wasn’t an overwhelming amount, but the Yankees have focused on one-year deals and vowed a willingness to save money by staying in-house behind the plate.
Two things rolled into one transaction. First the Yankees announced that Alex Rodriguez needs hip surgery and will miss the beginning of next season. Then they found his replacement in a long-time Boston nemesis. It’s an odd pairing for any number of reasons, but the Yankees are banking on Kevin Youkilis to have something left in the tank, and Youkilis is counting on the Yankees to give him regular at-bats until he proves he can still hit. It’s the most memorable move the Yankees have made this winter. And it’s for Kevin freakin’ Youkilis.
Associated Press photos