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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Adam Warren #43 of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on September 26, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Swingman Of The Year: Remembering Adam Warren

Adam Warren was on the mound for both my personal favorite and least-favorite memories in recent Yankee history. Of course, recent Yankee history has mostly been about embracing steadiness and mediocrity, but I digress. I’d rather mention the least-favorite first to show exactly where Adam Warren came from.

Warren was a prospect that just didn’t get lauded, in many ways the Rob Refsnyder of pitchers, in that all he did in the minor leagues (and at the University of North Carolina) was hurl solidly. With a career minor league ERA of 3.11, it’s a shame he escaped the ladder with just a 28-25 record, counting numbers that failed to impress the casual observer. But when given a chance to shine, his first Major League start in 2012 was…horrid. 2.1 innings, 6 earned runs, 2 bombs, and the searing feeling that he couldn’t do anything at all to overpower a mostly-punchless White Sox lineup. It was disheartening for me, someone who’d stuck up for Warren as a solid four starter at the next level, to see him show little to no promise. It was his only appearance that season.

Which brings me to my recent Least Favorite Yankee Game (all caps necessary). August 7, 2013. The near-.500 Yankees are certainly not good, but they are officially hanging around the top of the wild card chase. The whole season is feeling pretty fruitless: the Yanks have proven time and time again that they are worse, much worse, than the Red Sox, but as a fan, you need to find a reason to believe you’ll be better tomorrow. Just win every game until you stop, and then begin to win again.

On August 7th, the Yankees are trying to salvage the final game of a 3-gamer in Chicago against the very same White Sox of Warren’s debut. It’s another offensive slog: there’s barely a competent team on the field, and it shows. Somehow, Nunez, Vernon Wells, and the boys hop out to a 4-0 lead, but it’s 4-3 by the ninth, and 4-4 when a suddenly scuffling Mariano Rivera can’t retire Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn with two outs.

This blown save hurt me, an idiot staying awake watching this kerfuffle. But in the top of the 12th, after Mo and Warren locked down two innings, Robinson Cano hit a no-doubter to right-center. A season saver. The moment we’d been waiting for. And Adam Warren toed the mound in the bottom of the inning, and struck out Casper Wells. And got Conor Gillaspie to ground out. And secured a dribbler right back to his own glove to end the ga–but the game didn’t end. Warren overshot his leap, and the ball popped out, a precious pill lying on the wet grass. Tyler Flowers was on first. Then, Alexei Ramirez singled. Then, Alejandro De Aza tripled, both men scored, and in a matter of seconds, the win disappeared, and I officially decided the 2013 season was over. I threw one of these weird little throw pillows I had in my living room that was covered in beads. Three beads fell off, one scuffed the white wall with a permanent black mark. It was the middle of the night. I never wanted to see Adam Warren again.

I put us all through this exercise in misery just to prove how incredible it really is that Warren spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons becoming essential to the success of the New York Yankees, and near impossible to completely replace. As a reliever in 2014, he recaptured all of what I thought he could be throughout his rise from the minors, and added to his legacy by becoming basically unstoppable. As a starter in 2015, he didn’t seem to quite have the same bite with a dip in velocity, and his first start against the Red Sox made me question whether he’d ever overpower a Major League hitter again. And then he proved he was the squad’s most consistent starter, amid a pool of high velocity mediocrity.

To me, his May 26th start against the Royals stands the test of time as Warren’s ultimate “Hi Haters” game. Against the eventual World Champions, a squad that refuses to chase out of the zone, takes away a pitcher’s strength, and makes relentless contact, Warren pitched into the seventh inning, allowing only four hits and a late-game Paulo Orlando mysterious solo homer. As a pitcher who makes his living by hanging around the zone, it’s astounding that, when forced to rely on pure stuff against a team that tries to take away your reliance on location, Warren delivered and dominated in a 5-1 victory. He went on to dominate for the rest of the season, whether unfairly aboard a bullpen shuttle or settling things down by almost singlehandedly beating the former-enemy White Sox in the final week of the season.

My Favorite Yankee Game of the past several years? The Clinch. October 1st, 2015 against Boston. A valiant CC Sabathia effort wasn’t quite enough, length-wise, and Warren heeded an early call from the pen. A four-game series had begun with three all-hands-on-deck disasters. A win was more vital than at any time in the past three seasons. Warren entered in the sixth. Three one-hit innings. For a team in need of a bridge to Betances, he was the freaking Verrazano all by himself. With a one-run lead and the tying run on first and two outs in the sixth, Sandy Leon hit a chopper up the middle that skidded along some very familiar wet grass. Warren stuck his glove behind his back, and the ball thudded right into the webbing. Perfect toss to first. Threat over. Champagne on ice.

I only wish we could’ve gotten Adam Warren a playoff start. If I’ve learned anything about baseball over the past decade, it’s that Adam W’s thrive under postseason pressure (Adam Wainwright being the only other Adam W in baseball history, until I get drafted). Adam Warren spent the past two seasons doing all he’d been asked and more. I’m thrilled the middle infield is now comprised of hard-hitting, slick-fielding 25-year-olds. I’m thrilled with the Castro acquisition. And I understand Warren had to be a part of it, and he’ll love Wrigley. But I’ll miss what he became, and I thank him for his service.

It’s not often that someone embodies steadiness just two years after seeming like a nervous last resort. Thanks, Adam W. See you in October.