Who says there is no crying in baseball?
It would have been impossible for Mariano Rivera no matter how cool he is not to have shed tears when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to the mound in the ninth inning to make a pitching change removing the game’s greatest closer that Yankees managers rarely had to do over the past two decades.
Mo simply lost it as he hugged his two longtime teammates while a capacity Yankee Stadium crowd of 48,675 lit up the night with camera flashes and filled the air with thunderous cheers.
The choice of Jeter and Pettitte to do the manager’s bidding was a stroke of genius by Joe Girardi, who had trouble composing himself after the game in describing his emotions.
“I have been around Mariano since 1996 through a lot of good times,” Girardi said as he rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “As a player, he made my job fun. As a manager, he made my job easier. More importantly, he has made all our lives better the way he goes about his business with humility.”
I was watching Girardi closely when he came out of the dugout before the start of the ninth inning to talk to plate umpire Laz Diaz while Mark Reynolds came into the game to play third base and Eduardo Nunez moved over to shortstop after Brendan Ryan had been pinch-hit out of the game the prior half inning. Third base umpire Mike Winters, the crew chief, joined in the discussion, which struck me as odd considering the ordinariness of the player move.
Perhaps, I thought, Girardi was inserting Rivera into the batting order to get him a plate appearance in his Stadium farewell. Then I looked at the lineup and saw designated hitter Alfonso Soriano was the fourth batter due up in the bottom of the ninth, so there could be no guarantee that Mo would get the opportunity to swing a bat.
Girardi explained later that he asked Diaz if a player could be designated to make a pitching change. Then Joe realized that Jeter is on the 60-day disabled list, so just to play it safe he asked if two players could do it. Winters looked at Diaz, then back at Girardi and said, “Oh, go ahead.”
With that remark, another great moment in Yankees history was able to occur.
Rivera was so moved by the entire situation that even before Jeter and Pettitte came calling he had to duck into the trainer’s room between innings to get a grip on his emotions.
“I was bombarded with feelings I could not describe,” Rivera said. “Everything was hitting me in flashbacks as I tried to compose myself.”
The arrival of his teammates after Rivera got the first two outs in the ninth was not a surprise to him. It was not a save situation as the Yankees were trailing the Rays by 4-0, which would be the eventual final score. Besides, before Rivera took the mound Jeter said to him, “We’re coming out to get you.”
The trio on the mound in that poignant moment had all come up through the Yankees’ system together and reached the big club in 1995. Pettitte and Rivera found niches on the staff that year while Jeter, who came up for a brief period, made his impact the next season as the American League Rookie of the Year. Players in both dugouts stood and applauded along with the fans. If the Yankees had the lead and Mariano was trying for a save it would have been more fitting a finish for him in front of the home crowd but surely not a better scene could have been viewed considering the circumstances.
Just the night before, the Yankees had been eliminated from postseason play for only the second time in Rivera’s 19 seasons with the club. The game after elimination is usually a drab affair, but Mo for one last time gave his fans a special treat.
I hate to be the spoilsport on this topic, but what the heck, somebody has to. The idea that Mariano Rivera should play center field at least for one inning in one of the Yankees’ final games of this season is absurd.
Even Mariano in his afternoon meeting with with longtime Yankees employees said he did not think he should do it. I mean, when Derek Jeter plays his final game whenever that may be, does anyone expect him to pitch an inning?
We are all aware of Mo’s athletic versatility and that it had been a dream of his to play center field in a big-league game at some point. But that was some time ago. He is 43 years old. True, Mariano shags in the outfield every day during batting practice, but a former major-league center fielder told me recently that shagging in BP does not translate automatically to playing the position in a big-league game.
For fans intrigued by such a possibility, ask yourself if you want the great Rivera to embarrass himself for a sideshow moment in what has been a magnificent and classy career. There was no chance this would happen Thursday night at the sold-out season finale at Yankee Stadium, not with the wild-card situation in the American League still in doubt and the Rays the opponents. Mo was likely to get into the game but in his more familiar role on the mound outs of the bullpen.
Granted, the three-game series at Houston that concludes the Yanks’ season has no significance. It would seem the ideal place for the gimmick of Rivera getting his inning in the outfield without compromising the integrity of the game, although an Astros club that has already lost 108 games may not like having their noses rubbed in it by a grandstand maneuver. One look at the incline in center field at Minute Maid Park should present all the reservations Rivera would need.
Is this the way we want to remember Mo? As a 43-year-old pitcher trying to track down liners running uphill in an unfamiliar yard? God forbid he should get hurt the way he did shagging in Kansas City last year.
I for one want to see him pitch in all three games at Houston, to show the fans there what a true, surefire future Hall of Famer is all about. It is also my hope that Mo put away his pipedream and continue to excel at the position he helped define. If he wants to play center field, plenty of amateur baseball leagues throughout the tri-state area would give Rivera that chance once his retirement as a major leaguer is complete.
Go back to early April in Cleveland and who would have thought the season would end the way it has for the two clubs on the field in two games at Progressive Field? The Yankees outscored the Indians, 25-7, in those games. Cleveland fans treated former Tribesman Travis Hafner to a standing ovation for his past service as the Yankees newest designated hitter was well on his way to a very productive first month of the season. Many folks in the media were wondering if Terry Francona did a smart thing in going back to the dugout with that franchise.
It just shows how much things can change in six months. The Yankees were eliminated from the race for a postseason berth Wednesday night while the Indians were still in line for a shot at their first postseason appearance in six years. Cleveland still has to fight off the challenges of Texas and Kansas City but no longer has the Yankees to worry about.
The Yanks’ tragic number for elimination was down to one entering play Wednesday night. One more loss or one more Indians victory would knock the Yankees out of the playoff picture. As it turned out, both results happened. The Indians beat the White Sox, 7-2, to eliminate the Yankees, who lost a few minutes later to the Rays, 8-3.
In head-to-head competition, the Yankees were clearly superior to Cleveland this year. They won six of the seven games between them and outscored the Tribe, 49-19. The Yankees batted .295 with 13 home runs and 46 RBI against the Indians and averaged seven runs per game. Yankees pitchers combined for a 2.71 ERA in limiting the Indians to a .205 batting average and 2.71 runs per game.
But over the course of the entire season against all levels of competition, the Yankees finished behind the Indians. For all their success against Cleveland, the Yankees were done in by failing to beat inferior teams when it counted. Losing two of three at San Diego followed by getting swept by the White Sox at Chicago last month was a bad sign. Losing all four games this year to the Mets certainly hurt. And earlier this month after giving fans encouragement by winning three of four games at Baltimore, the Yankees were swept by the American League East winning Red Sox at Boston and then, even worse, dropped two of three to the last-place Blue Jays at Toronto.
Matters did not improve when the Yankees came home. They held the Giants to three runs total in three games but did not sweep the series, which was a must. Tampa Bay beat the Yanks each of the past two nights. Do not expect a spring-training lineup from the Yankees in the final home game of the season Thursday night.
“We have a responsibility to baseball,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
What he meant is that the Rays have not yet clinched a postseason berth, so for the sake of the Rangers and the Indians Girardi will field a representative lineup. Whether it will include Alex Rodriguez or not remains to be seen. He was lifted for a pinch hitter, Ichiro Suzuki, in the eighth inning and complained of sore legs.
Phil Hughes (4-14) lasted four batters into the third inning and was hung with another loss, his 10th in 11 decisions at Yankee Stadium this year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hughes’ 1-10 mark in 16 home starts made him only the second pitcher in major league history to win fewer than two home games in a season in which he made at least 15 starts at his home yard. The other was the Blue Jays’ Phil Huffman, who was 1-9 in 16 starts at Exhibition Stadium in 1979.
Evan Longoria whacked two home runs and David DeJesus one in a 15-hit Tampa Bay attack that supported last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price (9-8). Say this for Yankees fans. They were on their feet and applauding during an eighth-inning rally despite their team trailing by five runs.
Thursday night will mark the final Stadium appearance by Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Mo will almost certainly get in the game regardless of the score. He is hoping for one more save situation. So are all of us.
Fans holding tickets for Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Night Sept. 24 may redeem their tickets for complimentary tickets to any regular season game at Yankee Stadium during the 2014 season, excluding Opening Day and Old-Timers’ Day, subject to availability.
Season ticket holders, group leaders and individual-game suite licensees who no longer possess their physical tickets from Tuesday night’s game should contact their Yankees ticket representative for assistance. Fans who purchased their tickets for Tuesday night’s game through the Yankees ticket office or yankees.com and who no longer possess their physical tickets should e-mail email@example.com.
Please note that the Yankees can only accept tickets with valid bar codes for the Sept. 24, 2013 game.
Fans may redeem their tickets at Yankee Stadium advance ticket windows beginning when 2014 individual-game tickets go on sale to the general public through May 31, 2014. Fans will be able to redeem their Sept. 24, 2013, tickets for select Field Level, Main Level, Terrace Level and Grandstand Level seats.
“The strength of this organization comes from the lifelong relationships we have developed with our fans,” Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said. “Although a perfect storm of circumstances beyond our control led to the delay in the distribution of last night’s promotional item, the fact remains that our fans were inconvenienced. It matters little why – only that they were. We take last night’s event seriously, and to apologize to our fans and express our loyalty to them we are inviting all ticket holders from last night’s game back to Yankee Stadium for a complimentary game during the 2014 regular season.”
For complete information about the Yankees’ redemption policy with respect to the Sept. 24 game, please visit http://www.yankees.com.
Fans who did not redeem their bobblehead vouchers before leaving the Stadium Tuesday night may redeem them at either of the Yankees’ two remaining home games Wednesday and Thursday nights provided they have valid tickets for these games. Voucher redemption will take place inside Gate 2 through the end of each game.
Fans who are not attending either of the Yankees’ two remaining home games should mail their vouchers and their mailing address to: Fan Services, Yankee Stadium, One E. 161st Street, Bronx, NY 10451. Yankees Fan Services will mail them one bobblehead per original voucher received. Lost or misplaced vouchers as well as copies of original vouchers will not be honored.
CC Sabathia’s hamstring injury that has terminated the season prevented another matchup against the Rays’ David Price. The two former Cy Young Award winners have been paired against each other on a regular basis.
Sabathia’s last start was Friday night at Yankee Stadium against the Giants in which he pitched seven innings plus one batter and got the victory thanks to Alex Rodriguez’s record 24th career grand slam that unlocked a 1-1 score in the bottom of the seventh. CC somehow pitched into the eighth inning despite straining his left hammy in the second inning.
Had he not been hurt and stayed on turn in the rotation, Sabathia would have been scheduled to start for the Yankees Wednesday night against Tampa Bay and his fellow lefthander. Perhaps CC would just as soon avoid Price, whose most recent victory was Aug. 24 against Sabathia and the Yankees at Tropicana Field.
It was the ninth time Price and Sabathia squared off against each other. The Rays have won eight of those games with Price putting up a 6-1 record and 2.68 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. Nine of his 20 career starts against the Yankees have come against Sabathia.
As if the Yankees didn’t have enough trouble Tuesday night, a former teammate added to their misery. Jason Giambi put the finishing touch on a wild, 5-4 Indians victory over the White Sox in Cleveland while the Yankees were going down quietly, 7-0, to the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees’ situation is now critical. They trail the Indians for the second wild-card playoff berth by five games with five to play. Do the math and it comes out to the Yankees’ tragic number being down to one. One more Yankees loss or Indians victory will keep the Bombers home during the postseason for only the second time in the past 19 seasons.
Tampa Bay kept a sturdy hold on the first wild-card spot with the victory despite a shaky start by Matt Moore (16-4). The lefthander struggled with command (six walks, three wild pitches, one of which put a strikeout victim on base) but gave up only three hits in five innings. The Yankees were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base against Moore and were 0-for-10 with 11 stranded runners for the game.
Runs have been hard to come by for the Yankees lately. They have scored one in their past 20 innings on Mark Reynolds’ third-inning home run Sunday against the Giants. The Yanks were shut out for the 11th time this season, the most in one year since they were blanked 15 times in 1990. This was the third time the Yankees were held scoreless this year by Tampa Bay.
As has been in the case in his recent starts, Hiroki Kuroda took a while to get into a rhythm on the mound. The Rays had a 3-0 lead four batters into the game. Kuroda gave up a leadoff home run to Matt Joyce, a single to Wil Myers, a double to David De Jesus (who took third on the throw home) and a sacrifice fly to Evan Longoria. The way the Yankees’ offense has sputtered lately, that was probably the game right there.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi had lefthander Boone Logan up in the bullpen in the sixth inning but curiously did not bring him into the game to face left-handed batting James Loney with the bases loaded and one out. Loney lined a double to right-center for two runs that pretty much sealed the deal for the Rays.
Meanwhile, the Indians had one of those inspiring victories that can propel a club into postseason play. Cleveland closer Chris Perez blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth by giving up two solo home runs. The Tribe had the last laugh, however, when Giambi went yard as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with two out and a runner on second base.
It was tough going all around for the crowd of 43,407 at the Stadium. The truck carrying Mariano Rivera bobblehead dolls for Tuesday night’s giveaway was late, which created long lines for ticketholders to collect their gift.
The Yankees’ slim hopes of making the playoffs have been dealt a further blow with the loss of CC Sabathia for the remainder of the season. He sustained a Grade 2 left hamstring strain, which requires a recovery time of eight weeks, during Friday night’s 5-1 victory over the Giants. The amazing part is that Sabathia felt the strain as early as the second inning and still he pitched into the eighth and after the game told manager Joe Girardi he expected to make his next start. That was the adrenalin talking, of course. Once the strain was discovered, Sabathia was shut down for the rest of the way.
“It’s frustrating,” Sabathia said. “It came at a time when I felt I was going in the right direction.”
The 2013 season was something of a roller coaster for Sabathia, who finished with a 14-13 record and a 4.78 ERA, the highest of his career. The lefthander did not mince words when summing up his season.
“I had a bad year,” he said.
Well, that’s a bit harsh. What Sabathia had was an inconsistent season, one in which he could not take success from start to start as he had in the past during a career that included his winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2006 with the Indians and in five years with the Yankees that included an World Series championship in 2009.
“I didn’t grind it out the way I have in the past,” he said. “I gave up too many leads. Our guys would come back against a good pitcher, and I’d give back the lead the next inning. If I could have given Hiro [Hiroki Kuroda] more help, we’d be in a better position than we are now.”
In that last sentence, Sabathia acknowledged that he lost the staff ace designation to Kuroda at some point during the season, a position he hopes to regain in 2014.
“I had different issues; it wasn’t just one thing,” he said. “Earlier in the year, it was arm angle, not getting my elbow up. Another part of it was being stubborn, not wanting to change. I was never one to look at videos. I had to change my approach and started doing that to study hitters’ tendencies. I fell into a pattern where I was pitching people the same way. My preparation for the game needs to be better. I felt like I let my teammates down this year. I intend to work hard over the winter and next spring to go back to being the pitcher I was when I signed here.”
There was not too much scoreboard watching for the Yankees Saturday. The only game other than theirs against the Giants in the afternoon that involved the clubs ahead of them in the wild-card hunt was the Orioles at St. Pete where the Rays won, 5-1. The Indians, Rangers and Royals were all scheduled at night.
So the best scoreboard watching for the Yankees was their own as inning by inning Ivan Nova kept tossing zeroes at the distant cousins from San Francisco. The righthander, who has been the Yankees’ best starting pitcher in the second half, finished up with a six-hit shutout, his second complete-game blanking of the season. This one, a 6-0 final, was clutch because of the timing when the Yankees simply have to win every game they play.
“If we play like we did today, there is no reason why we can’t win all seven games we have left,” Alfonso Soriano said.
Soriano ranks right up there with Nova as the most important Yankees post the All-Star Game. Sori smacked out another home run Saturday. That gives him 17 in 52 games with the Yankees, the same total he had in 93 games with the Cubs. He also raised his RBI total to 101 in becoming only the fifth player in history to drive in 50 or more runs each for two different clubs in the same season. The others were Matt Holliday with the Athletics and Cardinals in 2009, Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox and Dodgers in 2008, Carlos Beltran with the Royals and Astros in 2004 and David Justice with the Indians and Yankees in 2000.
Similar to what Justice did for the Yanks 13 years ago; Soriano has re-ignited the team’s offense with 50 RBI in 52 games and 36 RBI in 26 games at Yankee Stadium.
“He has been special since he got here,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it is because he is excited to be here. He had fond memories of being here before and enjoyed it so much.”
Soriano’s 34th home run of the season overall was icing on the cake Saturday. The way Nova was pitching the three runs he got in the fourth were plenty sufficient. They came essentially from the bottom third of the order against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong on singles by Mark Reynolds and Brendan Ryan and a walk to Chris Stewart that loaded the bases. A sacrifice fly by Ichiro Suzuki, an infield out by Alex Rodriguez and a two-out single by Robinson Cano scored all the runners. Eduardo Nunez contributed a two-run homer in the fourth, two innings before Soriano connected.
In the meantime, Nova (9-5) held the Giants to six hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in an efficient, 108-pitch effort. Nova had been the American League Pitcher of the Month for August but was 0-1 with a 7.07 ERA in his first three starts in September before Saturday’s gem. He had better command of his breaking ball and a good sinker that resulted in 14 groundouts. Splendid defense up the middle by Ryan at shortstop made this the kind of day to get ground balls.
So the Yankees pulled even with Baltimore again in the wild-card standings and would pay close attention to the night games to see where they stand heading into Sunday, which will be a special day for Mariano Rivera and they hope for the rest of the team as well.
The Yankees keep coming off the mat. After a 4-6 trip that included two losses in three games to the last-place Blue Jays, the Yankees opened the final homestand of the season in a big way with a 5-1 victory over the Giants, who are trying to stay out of last place the year after winning the World Series.
The matchup of a pair of former Cy Young Award winners, CC Sabathia and Tim Lincecum, had the potential to be a riveting a game, which it was for six innings. The Yankees broke it open in the bottom of the seventh on a record-breaking grand slam by Alex Rodriguez. Lincecum was out of the game by then, but he had put the three runners A-Rod drove home on base. Hitting Brendan Ryan with a pitch was a huge blunder by Lincecum. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s failure to complete a double play on a grounder to third by J.R. Murphy kept the inning alive, and Lincecum dug himself in deeper by walking Ichiro Suzuki.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced Lincecum at that point by George Kontos, who may be a familiar name to Yankees fans. The righthander was the Yankees’ fifth-round draft choice out of Northwestern University in 2006 and pitched in seven games for them in 2011. He went to the Giants in April 2012 in the trade for catcher Chris Stewart.
Rodriguez, who had one hit in his previous 25 at-bats, was certainly overdue. He batted. 182 on the trip but did have two home runs. A-Rod drove a 2-1 fastball to right field that made a 1-1 game 5-1 Yankees lead that held up in the steady hands of David Robertson in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation in the ninth.
The 654th career home run for Rodriguez was his 24th with the bases loaded. That broke the tie he had for most grand slams with Lou Gehrig. This was one of those records I thought when I was a kid would never be broken.
Of course, I thought the same thing about Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 games, Babe Ruth’s home run records for one season (60) and career (714), Ty Cobb’s stolen-base marks for one season (96) and career (897), Cobb’s career standard for hits (4,189) and George Sisler’s mark for hits in a season (257).
They are all gone.
This was a record set not in some obscure game in the middle of the season but during a game in the last week for a team that is trying to win a playoff spot under increasingly difficult odds.
Sabathia bounced back after two straight losses with one of his best games of the season. This was a tight game for nearly all the time he was in it. He gave up seven hits and three walks but was helped by a couple of double plays. The Yanks turned a third double play in the eighth behind Robertson after he entered the game following a leadoff single off Sabathia.
The Yankees still need some help from other teams to make their way through this wild-card maize, but for one night at least they helped themselves.