Results tagged ‘ Jorge Posada ’

Brett reflective in congratulating Jeter

Derek Jeter continues to pass Hall of Famers as he climbs up the all-time hits list. The Captain’s leadoff single Sunday at Oakland was career hit No. 3,155 as he jumped past George Brett to take over 14th place.

Brett issued a statement, which was not only congratulatory and appreciate of Jeter’s standing but also somewhat somberly reflective of his own.

“I’m always kind of bummed out when guys pass you because you had your own place in the records book for a while, and I had that one there for a while,” he said. “But a guy like Derek comes around and passes you, really, I think it all depends on the type of person that did it. I have the upmost respect for him.

“I’ve only met him one time, very briefly, but for a guy to play as long as he has in New York, and I’ve never heard one bad thing said about the guy, he’s definitely a team player, he’s a clutch player. He has been the backbone of this organization for a long, long time and when a guy like that passes you, I’d like to shake his hand and look him in the eye and say congratulations.”

That is a major compliment from Brett, whose heyday with the Royals was back in the 1970s and ‘80s when they were as fierce a rival of the Yankees as the Red Sox in any era. They faced each other in four of five American League Championship Series from 1976-80 with the Yanks taking the pennant three times.

I have come to know George very well from our time together at the annual induction weekend at Cooperstown, and I know his feelings about Jeter and his close pal, Jorge Posada, are genuine. At the same time, there was a sense from Brett that falling down that list is tough to take. I think we can all understand that.

I remember when I covered mostly National League ball in the 1980s, and it seemed that Pete Rose was breaking one of Stan Musial’s records every year. Musial was always gracious in his comments about Rose, yet there was a tinge of remorse when Rose replaced “The Man” as the player with the most hits in NL history.

Stan took his time giving his thoughts that night and said to writers, “I know records are meant to be broken, guys, but I must admit that I really liked this one.”

Elston Howard, historic Yankee

Jorge Posada’s appearance at Yankee Stadium Friday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the home opener led to some discussion in the press box about how the former All-Star catcher might do five years from now when he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot. I suspect he will get some decent support but ultimately will fall short, although I would be very happy to be wrong about that.

It made me think about Elston Howard, another perennial All-Star catcher for the Yankees as well as the 1963 American League Most Valuable Player. Howard never did get elected, but to his credit he remained on the ballot for the full 15 years of eligibility. And in thinking about Howard, it so happens that Saturday marked the 57th anniversary of his first major-league game, which was a significant day in Yankees history because he was the first African-American player in the club’s history.

Howard broke in with the Yanks April 14, 1955 at Boston’s Fenway Park. It was the team’s second game of that season. They had clobbered the Washington Senators, 19-1, the day before in the home opener, but Howard did not get into the game. He didn’t start the game against the Red Sox, either.

Remember, Yogi Berra was the Yankees’ regular catcher in those days and that year would win his third AL MVP Award. Howard was primarily an outfielder at that time (he would later play some at first base) and caught in only nine games in 1955 – four as a starter.

Yankees manager Casey Stengel inserted Howard into the game as a defensive replacement for left fielder Irv Noren in the sixth inning. Howard batted against Boston righthander Willard Nixon, the winning pitcher in the Red Sox’ 8-4 victory, got his first hit and run batted in when he singled in Mickey Mantle from second base in the eighth inning.

Howard played in the first of his 10 World Series that year and unfortunately made the final out of Game 7 on a grounder to Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Ellie and Pee Wee share a dubious distinction as the players who were on the losing side most often in World Series play – six times. Howard did get to play on four World Series champions whereas Reese only had that 1955 ring.

Berra and Howard shared catching duties in 1958, ’59 and ’60 before Ellie took over as the regular in 1961 and hit .348 while Yogi went into a left field platoon with Hector Lopez. In 1963, Howard had career highs in home runs (28) and RBI (85) and batted .287 to earn MVP honors.

As it turned out, Howard’s last game was also at Fenway Park – Game 7 of the 1967 World Series. The Yankees had traded him to Boston Aug. 3 that year, and he played a big part in the Red Sox’ “Impossible Dream” season as they won their first pennant in 21 years but lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series.

Ellie eventually returned to the Yankees as a long-time coach before his death in 1980 at the age of 51. His uniform No. 32 was retired in 1984 on the same day the Yankees also retired No. 9 for his old teammate, Roger Maris.

Posada family handles first-pitch chores

It was a family affair as Jorge Posada threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday at the Yankees’ home opener. Posada, who was honored Thursday night with the Pride of the Yankees Award at the team’s 33rd annual Welcome Home Dinner Thursday night at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, trotted to the mound at Yankee Stadium with his son, Jorge Luis, while his father, Jorge Sr., positioned himself at his son’s former spot behind the plate.

With the Yankees’ starting lineup standing behind him encircling the mound and the remainder of the team standing in front of the dugout, Posada threw a ball probably too high for a strike but definitely over the plate to his father, who used a regular fielder’s glove instead of a catcher’s mitt to haul it in. The appreciative crowd on a sun-splashed afternoon cheered mightily with a chant of “Come back, Jorge” coming from the right field upper deck.

Posada turned to his teammates after his toss, and the first player he hugged was his successor at catcher, Russell Martin. Mariano Rivera was the first former teammate to greet Posada as he came off the field and then manager Joe Girardi, who had preceded him as the Yankees’ regular catcher.

“It seems a bit strange because I don’t consider him an old timer,” Girardi said.

Yanks first wore pinstripes one century ago

April 11 is an anniversary of sorts for the Yankees. On this date exactly 100 years ago, they wore pin-striped uniforms for the first time. An urban legend grew up that the Yankees went to pin-striped home uniforms in the 1920s to camouflage Babe Ruth’s girth, but that was just a myth.

Ruth was an athletic figure when he came to the Yankees from the Red Sox in 1920 and did not put on excessive weight until later in the decade by which time the pinstripes had become a major part of the team’s identity.

The Yankees were in their last year at old Hilltop Park on Manhattan’s upper west side and the last season in which they went by the nickname Highlanders when they displayed pinstripes for the first time April 11, 1912, four days before RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic.

Contrary to another myth, the Yankees were not the first ballclub to wear pin-striped uniforms. The Cubs had worn them as far back as 1907. The Yankees returned to plain white home unis in 1913, their first year at the Polo Grounds, but brought back the pinstripes for good in 1915 and have worn them ever since, adding the inter-locking “NY” logo in the 1920s. They were also the first baseball team to wear numbers on the backs of uniforms on a regular basis starting in 1929.

With the Yankees in Baltimore to complete a three-game series at Camden Yards, they could not celebrate by wearing pinstripes because they were wearing road grays, but they will show off the famous home uniforms Friday at Yankee Stadium.

Gates will open at 11 a.m. for the 110th home opener that will start at 1:05 p.m. with the Yankees against the Angels, featuring their prized, off-season acquisition – three-time National League Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols.

Former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada will throw out the ceremonial first pitch following a rendition of the National Anthem by Jeremy Jordan from the cast of the Broadway musical Newsies and a Navy F-18 Super Hornet flyover. Another Broadway performer, Paul Nolan in the title role from Jesus Christ Superstar, will sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch.

The Yankees have a 72-36-1 record in home openers and have won 13 of their past 14, 18 of 20 and 24 of 28. They won a record 11 straight home openers from 1998 through 2008 and are 6-0 all time in home openers played April 13.

Yankees Homecoming Dinner April 12

Yankees fans interested in getting a close-up view of the team that will compete for the American League East title in 2012 should consider attending the 33rd annual Yankees Homecoming Dinner April 12 at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Manhattan on the eve of the club’s home opener against the Angels.

Players, coaches, ownership, front-office personnel and former Yankees greats will attend, with all proceeds from the event benefiting the New York Yankees Foundation. Recently-retired catcher Jorge Posada and longtime head athletic trainer Gene Monahan will be honored at the dinner.

Posada, who retired in January after 17 seasons with the Yankees, will receive this year’s Pride of the Yankees Award. During his time in pinstripes, Posada batted .273 with 275 home runs and played on four World Series champions.

Monahan, who retired following the 2011 season, began his 50-season career with the Yankees as a bat boy and clubhouse attendant during spring training in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1962. At the time of his retirement, Monahan was the longest-tenured employee in the organization and the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in Major League Baseball.

There are several different table packages available, as well as two different individual-ticket options for the event, which begins at 5 p.m. with a cocktail reception followed by dinner at 6.

Prices range from $900 to $50,000, with all proceeds going to the charitable initiatives of the New York Yankees Foundation, which includes national charities, supports various national and worldwide disasters and local initiatives.

“The Yankees Homecoming Dinner welcomes the team back to New York and is the celebration of a brand new baseball season,” Yankees senior vice president of marketing Debbie Tymon said. “With the entire team present you’ll welcome home Yankee heroes, but you’ll also get to know new members. It’s a great celebration of baseball and the primary fundraiser of the New York Yankees Foundation. It’s a great time that raises a lot of money for good charities.”

Table package options include:

• The $50,000 “Champions Package” includes a premier table for 10, early entry to the pre-dinner reception with the Yankees at 4:30 p.m., 10 tickets for the home opener, four tickets for the 2012 Old Timers’ Day game July 1, an invitation for four to be the Yankees’ personal guests in a party suite July 30 against the Orioles, a commemorative Posada collectible piece for each of the 10 guests and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a boy or girl between the ages of 7-14 that begins with an on-field visit prior to a game.

• The $35,000 “Grand Slam Package” includes a premier table for 10, early entry to the pre-dinner reception with the Yankees at 4:30 p.m., 10 tickets for the home opener, four tickets for the 2012 Old Timers’ Day game July 1, an invitation for four to be the Yankees’ personal guests in a party suite July 30 against the Orioles and a commemorative Posada collectible piece for each of the 10 guests.

• The $15,000 “Home Run Package” includes a prime table for 10, invitations for 10 to join the reception with the Yankees at 5 p.m., 10 tickets for the home opener, four tickets for the 2012 Old Timers’ Day game July 1, an invitation for two to be the Yankees’ personal guests in a party suite July 30 against the Orioles.

• The $8,500 “Slugger Package” includes a table for 10, invitations to a pre-dinner cocktail reception with Yankees legends and 10 tickets to the home opener.

Individual ticket options are:

• The $1,500 “MVP Ticket” includes one ticket to the dinner, an invitation to the reception with the Yankees at 5 p.m. and a ticket to the home opener.

• The $900 “Designated Hitter Ticket” includes one ticket to the dinner, an invitation to a pre-dinner reception with Yankees legends and a ticket to the home opener.

For more information, contact the Homecoming Dinner office at 212-843-1758 or log on to http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/nyy/fan_forum/coming_home.jsp

Phelps wins Dawson Award

Prior to Wednesday’s conclusion of the Yankees’ Grapefruit League schedule with their victory over the Mets at Tampa’s Steinbrenner Field, the Yanks honored pitcher David Phelps with the 2012 James P. Dawson Award as the outstanding rookie in camp as voted on by writers covering the team.

Phelps, 25, had a 0-1 record with one save and a 2.08 ERA in seven spring appearances, including one start. The righthander pitched 17 1/3 innings and allowed six runs (four earned), 16 hits, including one home run, and four walks with 14 strikeouts.

In 2011, Phelps led all minor-league pitchers in the Yankees organization in ERA at 2.99 in his 7-7 season at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he made 20 starts and pitched 114 1/3 innings. Phelps was also the 2010 recipient of the Kevin Lawn Award as the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year for compiling a combined 10-2 record with a 2.50 ERA in 26 outings, all but one as a starter, for Scranton and Double A Trenton.

The Missouri native attended Notre Dame and was the Yankees’ choice in the 14th round of the 2008 First Year Player Draft.

The award was established in honor of James P. Dawson (1896-1953), who began a 45-year career with The New York Times as a copy boy in 1908. Eight years later, he became boxing editor and covered boxing and baseball until his death during spring training in 1953. In conjunction with the award, Phelps received an Elysee watch from Manfredi Jewelers.

The first Dawson Award winner was Norm Siebern in 1956. Tony Kubek won the next year and went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award that season. Another future AL Rookie of the Year Award winner who had also won the Dawson Award was Tom Tresh in 1962. Other prominent Dawson Award winners over the years include Roy White (1966), Willie Randolph (1976), Don Mattingly (1983), Al Leiter (1988), Jorge Posada (1997), Alfonso Soriano (2001), Hideki Matsui (2003) and  Brett Gardner (2009).

 

Posada leaves quite a legacy

Here is how some of the people who crossed Jorge Posada’s path feel about the former Yankees catcher who made his retirement as a baseball player official Tuesday:

Bernie Williams: “I want to congratulate ‘Jorgito’ on an outstanding career. He was one of the greatest catchers of his era, and one of the best Puerto Rican players to ever play the game. He was a great teammate, is a great friend and human being, and will always be a great Yankee. I was honored to take the field with him every day for so many years, and I cherish all the memories we have together, topped off by those World Series championships. Frankly, I can’t believe that ‘Jorgito’ is actually announcing his retirement before I do. Seriously, I wish him, Laura, and the kids happiness and success in their future. He will be missed by the Yankees family, all of his teammates, coaches, and most of all, the great Yankee fans.”

Andy Pettitte: “Jorge was obviously one of the heart and soul pieces of all those championships with us. Everyone brings their own style to the table but Jorge played with so much fire and intensity, and you have to have all the different mixes of personalities on a team to be able to win the way we did. The intensity that he brought on a daily basis to the field was just amazing to watch. He was one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever played with and a great friend and a great person. The fans loved Jorge because of the passion he played with. He didn’t try to hide it, and he didn’t make up excuses. He’s a stand-up guy, and if he wasn’t able to get it done, he would say ‘I didn’t get it done.’ He handled all the victories and all the success with class and never made excuses for anything. Fans love that. They love to see you be real and passionate. When you’re like that in New York, you’re going to be loved, that’s for sure.”

Tino Martinez: “Jorge was one of the cornerstones of all those championship teams, handling the pitching staff all those years. The way he prepared every single day assured that he became the best player he could possibly be. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest all-time Yankees. It’s very rare that somebody comes up through the minor league system with the Yankees and plays 17 years with the club. He did it the right way as a true professional, a great teammate and a great baseball player.”

Yogi Berra: “Jorge is a good kid, and he had a wonderful career. He has always been one of the toughest and most passionate guys on the club. The Yankees don’t win those championships without him.”

Alex Rodriguez: “Jorge has bled the pinstripes for a long, long time, and he played with a passion that certainly rubbed off on his teammates. To play the number of games that he did, at the level he did, year in and year out, at the toughest position on the field, is a credit to his commitment to his craft. He left everything out on the field, and that’s what made him special.”

Gene Michael: “I remember when we switched Jorge in the minors from second base to catcher. I always got reports of his improvement. Jorge was a worker – someone who was always in shape and who you didn’t have to worry about. Even from the beginning, I loved how selective he was at the plate, his power, his strong arm and the fact that he was a switch-hitter. In my tenure as general manager [from Aug. 1990 through Oct. 1995], I never talked about him in a trade. In the big leagues, he provided big time offensive production, and you never had to platoon him. He was tough, durable and the little things just didn’t bother him. He was a lot like Thurman [Munson] in that way.”

Gene Monahan: “Jorge Posada is far beyond your true, loyal Yankee. Jorge lives this team, organization and city. A family man unmatched, his love for family and team is shown every single day, and I’ve been there every step of the way to witness and testify to it. Jorgie’s sense of humor with his teammates and especially with me, in spite of countless painful days, has always been refreshing and energizing. He always helped us to excel, succeed and enjoy the game the way it’s supposed to be. His career blessed us. On Opening Day 2010, it was Jorge Posada who singlehandedly took his team and the entire Yankee Stadium crowd to a place that was humbling beyond expression, when he lovingly honored me. Every day for the remainder of my life, I will remember and reflect on his love, as he brought it out from our team and our fans. There is no real way to adequately express the emotion of that moment and what it meant to me.”

Joe Torre: “Jorge Posada has been a winner during the season, the postseason and in the clubhouse. He is a loyal and devoted Yankee and is a champion in the game of life. I will always treasure the time I spent with him.”

David Wells: “Jorge was exceptional behind the plate. He gave you so much in terms of his target, working the umpires, and with the level of communication that he had. To me, the pitcher has to be comfortable and in-sync with the catcher. He fought with me, worked with me, and knew the counts. If I didn’t see something that he did, I would shake off his sign, and he would just put down the same sign again. Whenever that happened, I realized that he knew something I didn’t. It speaks to the trust I had in him. He always wanted the pitcher to feel as comfortable as he could. That’s why in my mind, he was the greatest catcher.”

Mike Piazza: “I’d like to congratulate Jorge on a fantastic career. As two catchers playing in New York at the same time, I was able to get to know him over the years and appreciate everything he brought to the table. He was a general behind the plate and delivered in the clutch when it mattered most. I wish him well on his retirement.”

Jason Varitek: “After hundreds of head-to-head games during the regular season and the postseason, I can’t say I respect and admire anyone at our position more than I do Jorge. The hard work and preparation he put into catching is a huge reason he has five championships on his resume. He is a true grinder.”

Arlene Howard (widow of Elston): “Jorge has carried on the tradition of great Yankees catchers most notably Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson. Jorge has lived up to the tradition of great Yankees catchers.”

Paul O’Neill: “Jorge was one of my most favorite teammates of all time. He was into winning. He was mentally tough, physically tough, and he was never scared. It means a lot that he is retiring as a Yankee. As the seasons go on, I think people will realize how important he was to the team, and how big a role he played in the Yankees’ success over the years. He was a great teammate and a fun guy off the field. I had a lot of fun with Jorge. I have all the respect in the world for him. He is going to be considered for the Hall of Fame, and any time people talk about you that way, it tells you what type of player you are.”

Al Leiter: “Jorge was an unbelievable competitor, one of the fiercest competitors I’ve seen in a long time. He was always tough to face when I was pitching. He made me work hard, like when he drew a leadoff walk against me in the 2000 World Series [I still think I got him on that 3-2 pitch!]. On the flip side, I loved having him as a teammate in 2005. He had a special drive and a special will to win, which is a throwback to the old days. You always knew what to expect with Jorge. He wasn’t flashy. He was just immensely talented and a great leader.”

John Flaherty: “Jorge was the ultimate teammate, someone who always put the team before himself. He wasn’t a vocal leader; rather, he let his actions speak for themselves. It was an honor sharing the Yankees clubhouse with him, and my time with him was made even more special since we were both catchers. He handled himself with such class on the field and in the clubhouse. When I think of what the New York Yankees represent, I think of Jorge. Class. Humility. Tough as nails. Fierce competitor. That’s Jorge Posada.”

Derek Jeter: “I know how he feels, I know how much he cares. That’s what people are going to miss. I think that’s what the fans are going to miss. You can’t fake it. The fans appreciated him so much because he cared about winning, he cared about doing his job.”

Mariano Rivera: “It’s hard, playing with teammates like that and they’re retiring. That’s telling you one thing: your time will come. Bernie and Andy and now Jorge. . .it was a blessing to me to play with all these men that I love.”

No turning back for hip-hip Jorge

The trade 11 days ago that took Jesus Montero out of the Yankees’ picture and off to Seattle created the idea that just maybe Jorge Posada’s career with the Yankees might not indeed be over. Perhaps the five-time All-Star catcher could just be what they needed to platoon with Andruw Jones at designated hitter, a role that Montero might have filled before he was dealt for pitcher Michael Pineda.

It was all just wishful thinking. Jorge Posada had made up his mind that 2011 would be his last season. He admitted Tuesday in a moving retirement announcement at Yankee Stadium that he made that decision during last season and shared it only with his wife, Laura, and his longtime teammate and friend, Derek Jeter.

“I knew this would be the end,” Posada said.

So all that talk about the possibility of his signing with the Rays or some other club was just that – a lot of talk. In the end, Posada wanted no part of any other organization than the Yankees, even if his final season in pinstripes was hardly warm and fuzzy. He struggled to get used to not catching on a regular basis, had an invisible year batting from the right side and endured some embarrassing moments as being dropped to ninth in the batting order or lifted for pinch hitters in pressure spots.

Yet through it all, Posada persevered and put a nice finish on his season with some clutch hits in September to help the Yankees clinch the American League East title and a .429 effort against some tough Detroit pitching in the AL Division Series.

“It is a very emotional day for me,” Posada said, fighting back tears. “Since I was a kid all I ever wanted to do was be a major leaguer. The Yankees were my family away from home. I am so proud of the hard work I put in. I could never wear another uniform. I will forever be a Yankee.”

Posada was all about work. Signed originally out of Puerto Rico as a shortstop, Posada was moved to second base and then behind the plate. He recalled leading the league in passed balls his first season as a catcher but was encouraged when the Yankees jumped him to Triple A in 1994 where he continued to improve with the aid of manager Stump Merrill, a former catcher.

Along the way, Posada made connections to the players with whom he would eventually team as the “Core Four,” playing alongside Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera in 1991 at Oneonta, N.Y., and with Jeter in 1992 at Greensboro, N.C. The quartet would all make it to the Yankees in 1995.

Mo and DJ were in attendance Tuesday as well as another teammate, CC Sabathia, and a host of dignitaries: managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, president Randy Levine, chief operating officer Lonn Trost, general manager Brian Cashman, assistant general manager Jean Afterman, manager Joe Girardi and special advisor Gene Michael. A nice touch was the appearance of former second baseman and coach Willie Randolph, who drove in from his New Jersey home.

“My dad loved warriors, and Jorge was a warrior,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “He loved guys that worked hard and were good role models. Those are the things to be a great Yankee that my dad felt were absolutely essential.”

There were other touching moments from guests who flew in from the Midwest. Diana Munson, Thurman’s widow, came in from Ohio. Lisa Nederer, who works for the Jorge Posada Foundation in Wisconsin, attended with her son, Brett, who suffers from Craniosynostosis, the same disease that Posada’s son has and which inspired Jorge and Laura to form the foundation.

As Posada sat on the podium with Laura, their daughter Paulina and son Jorge Luis, Diana Munson addressed the audience and explained how coming to know Posada renewed her interest in baseball after she had turned away from it following the death of her husband Aug. 2, 1979 in a single-engine airplane accident.

She talked about meeting Jorge in the dugout before a game and his telling her that he kept a quote of Thurman’s in his locker. Jorge left he briefly, then returned to the dugout to show her the newspaper clipping he had saved in which Munson had said batting fourth in the lineup was all right but what he did behind the plate working with the pitching staff was more important.

“I actually got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get the newspaper to read the box scores,” Diana Munson said. “That’s unusual. The only box scores I ever read in my life were Thurman’s, but Jorge stayed very close to my heart. I think he and Thurman would have been best buds. I’m honored to have loved two Yankees catchers in my life.”

Not surprising but when it came to singling out the highlights of a playing career in which he batted .273 with 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI, Posada settled on team-oriented moments. In chronological order, they were his major-league debut in 1995, catching David Wells’ perfect game in 1998 and hugging Rivera on the mound at the Stadium after the final out of the 1999 World Series. He added that his worst memory was from an inter-league game in Philadelphia when he committed three passed balls.

Of course, there are so many other moments than fans will remember, such as Posada hitting the first home run at the new Stadium in 2009. I think the one fans treasure the most is the two-run, game-tying double he hit off Red Sox nemesis Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series. It brought the Yankees even after entering the inning with a three-run deficit and kept the game alive so that Aaron Boone could push the Yankees into the World Series with his walk-off home run off Tim Wakefield in the 11th.

“I thought [Martinez] was going to come out of the game,” Posada recalled. “After [manager] Grady Little left him in, I thought about how he had pitched me inside all game, so I looked for something inside. Sure enough, he jammed me, and it found a lot of grass.”

For all the hard liners Posada hit that were caught, he was happy to accept a bloop hit that broke the Red Sox’ backs.

Posada said he would miss his teammates the most, but he also had a special message to his fans.  

“I thank the fans for all their years of support, the cheering and the ovations,” he said. “You kept me going when I needed it the most.”

As I type this, I am looking up at a photograph of Jorgie and me that was taken before a game during spring training at Tampa in 1997. I was presenting to Posada on behalf of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America the James P. Dawson Award that Yankees beat writers vote on for the top rookie in camp. The award itself is an engraved watch.

I remember that after the game Jorgie came over to me and said that the box was empty. I told him that the watch was being engraved, and we would get it to him soon. The engravers had misspelled his name by using the anglicized George instead of Jorge. Well, the replacement seemed to take forever, which became a running joke between the two of us. Every day for the first month of the season, he’d come up me and ask what time it was.

After Tuesday’s proceedings, I kidded Jorge and asked him what time it was. He smiled and said, “You know. It’s time to go.”

Empty feeling on a night Yanks come up empty

And so it all came down to the guy who boasted after the Tigers took a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-5 American League Division Series that it would not return to New York. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Jose Valverde put his money where his big mouth was and remained spotless in save situations.

Valverde is a real three-ring-circus act as a closer constantly walking the high wire with none of the cool effectiveness of Mariano Rivera. He had Detroit in the AL Championship Series before this series was over, and the Yankees hoped they could make him pay for his putting the cart in front of the horse.

Facing the taunts of those in a record crowd of 50,960 at Yankee Stadium Thursday night, Valverde navigated himself through the ninth inning against three of the Yankees’ best hitters. The closer who converted all 49 of his save opportunities in the regular season made it 2-for-2 in the ALDS by sending Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez back to the bench, as it turned out for good in 2011.

One of the ironies in how the season ended for the Yankees in the 3-2 loss was that the fault lay more with the hitters than the pitchers. The Yankees were an offensive juggernaut for most of the season, and they did have 10 hits in Game 5, but only two came in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position, neither of which produced a run.

The Yankees stranded 11 base runners – six in scoring position – and left the bases loaded twice. The killer inning as the seventh when infield hits by Derek Jeter and Cano surrounding a single by Granderson filled the bags with one out for Rodriguez, who had a huge chance to overcome an injury-riddled regular season and atone for a dismal postseason.

Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit, who had to remove a huge bandage on his face that covered a big cut on his left cheek, seemed distracted in trying to protect a 3-1 Detroit lead. The inning was getting away from the Tigers and moving in the Yankees’ direction.

A-Rod didn’t have to be a big hero. All he had to was make contact, get a fly ball deep enough or even a ground ball slow enough to stay out of a double play and get a runner home. Instead, he swung through a 2-2 changeup – a pretty gutty pitch when you think of it – for the second out.

The Yanks got to 3-2 when Benoit walked Mark Teixeira to force in a run, but Benoit struck out Nick Swisher, and you could feel the air suck out of the Stadium. With two out in the eighth, Brett Gardner, who had a splendid series, gave the Yankees hope with a two-out single to left off a two-strike fastball. Jeter brought the crowd to its feet with a drive that right fielder Don Kelly caught right in front of the wall.

That was as close as the Yankees got. The ninth was all Valverde, who struck out A-Rod for the final out.

Another irony is that CC Sabathia, the ace in the hole who made the first relief appearance of his major league career, gave up the run that proved the difference on a two-out single in the fifth by Victor Martinez, who used to be his catcher in Cleveland years ago. Sabathia and five relievers were used by Girardi, who felt forced to pull Ivan Nova after two innings because of stiffness in his right forearm.

Nova gave up successive home runs to Kelly, who started the game at second base, and Delmon Young (No. 3 of the ALDS) in the first inning, but it was the way the ball came out of Nova’s hand in the second inning that disturbed Girardi. Nova overcame a leadoff double that inning but was replaced by Phil Hughes at the start of the third. Sabathia’s run was the only one allowed in seven innings by Nova’s successors.

“Our pitchers threw as well as they could all year,” Girardi said. “They pitched their hearts out. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Pitching, particularly the rotation, was supposed to be the Yankees’ Achilles heel, but the staff was fourth in the AL in ERA and the bullpen was first. The Yankees batted a decent .260 and outscored Detroit, 28-17, in the ALDS, but their situational hitting left something to be desired — .229 with runners in scoring position. Their victories were in 9-3 and 10-1 blowouts. Their losses were in two 1-run games and one 2-run game.

Jorge Posada, who just might have played in his last game for the Yankees, was their leading hitter in the series with a .429 average. Gardner hit .412 with 5 RBI, but other than Cano (.318) no other Yankees player batted above .300. It was a particularly rough series for Rodriguez and Teixeira, who were a combined 5-for-36 (.139) with 2 extra-base hits (both doubles by Tex) and 4 RBI.

Posada could not contain his emotions after the game and excused himself from a crowd of reporters with tears covering his face. Girardi also choked up when speaking of Posada.

“What he went through this year and what he gave us in the postseason, I don’t think there’s a prouder moment I have had of Jorgie,” Girardi said. “You can go back to when he came up in ’96, how proud of him I was when he caught the perfect game [by David Wells in 1998] and all the championships that he has won. The heart that he showed during the series; that’s why Jorgie has been a great player.”

The only hit that produced a run for the Yankees in the finale was Cano’s second home run and ninth RBI of the ALDS off Tigers starter Doug Fister, who made up for his Game 1 loss with five innings of 1-run, 5-hit pitching.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland kept his promise to keep Justin Verlander out of the game and has him fresh to start Game 1 of the ALCS Saturday night at Arlington, Texas, the place the Yankees had hoped to visit and take revenge for being eliminated by the Rangers last year.

“It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room,” Girardi said. “It hurts.”

A.J. does his part

You must have heard the expression dozens of times over the past 24 hours that A.J. Burnett would be on a short leash as the starter for the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. No surprise there, of course, considering how erratic and unreliable Burnett has been the past two seasons.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave an indication of just how short that rope was Tuesday night by having Cory Wade warm up in the bullpen in the first inning. Burnett walked the bases loaded (one walk was intentional), which made the skipper nervous enough to be prepared for an early hook.

A.J. was visited on the mound by pitching coach Larry Rothschild but got an even bigger boost from center fielder Curtis Granderson, who made a sensational running catch of a drive by Don Kelly for the third out of the inning. That was the beginning of the Yankees’ support for their teammate.

They gave Burnett a 2-0 lead in the third on Derek Jeter’s double to center off Tigers starter Rick Porcello that scored Jorge Posada, who was hit by a pitch, and Russell Martin, who singled up the middle. Those were the first two RBI in the series for the Captain, who had come to bat with 14 runners on base before he knocked anyone in.

Jeter came up with two runners aboard again in the fifth and attempted a sacrifice, a good play since there were no outs. A remarkable play by third baseman Wilson Betemit ruined it all. He broke back to third on the bunt and had to reach across his body to glove Porcello’s throw that was to Betemit’s left and somehow he tagged the bag before Martin arrived with a head-first slide. Let’s hope Eduardo Nunez was paying attention. The rookie had problems several times in that situation when he filled in for Alex Rodriguez at third base.

Even though Jeter didn’t advance the runners, they came around to score anyway on a double by Curtis Granderson and a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez, who still does not have a hit in the series but has driven in three runs.

Burnett has a history of not shutting down opponents the inning after the Yankees score, and when Austin Jackson led off the fifth with a single it seemed a here-we-go-again moment. But the Yankees turned a double play behind A.J. on a grounder by Ramon Santiago, and Burnett got Delmon Young on a pepper shot to come away unscathed.

Girardi let Burnett start the sixth, a questionable move considering Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, Detroit’s two most productive hitters, were the first two batters, but Burnett retired both on balls hit in the infield. After Kelly singled, Burnett was relieved by Rafael Soriano. One run in 5 2/3 innings for Burnett, find me a Yankees fan who would not settle for that.

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