If Jorge Posada has played his last game in pinstripes—and I think we can all agree that he has—his legacy as one of the greatest catchers in Yankees history has been solidified. Posada’s reputation as a clutch player and emotional leader cannot be understated. Time after time Jorge came through when the Yankees needed him most; and while he may not receive the credit Jeter, Mariano, or Pettitte receive(d), Posada was every bit as important to the success of the Yankees’ most recent dynasty. Here’s why:
One last hurrah
2011 was the most difficult year of Posada’s major league career. He was removed from the everyday lineup (the first time this happened to a Core-Four player), lost his identity as the Yankees catcher, and posted the worst statistical season of his career. At one point there was speculation that Posada would either retire mid season or be released, but Jorge was determined to go out in style with one last hurrah.
It came as a bit of shock that Posada was included on the 2011 postseason roster. Girardi discussed many times that the absurd number of make-up games and rain delays forced him to play Posada on a semi-regular basis; and it’s a good thing it did. On September 21 the Yankees had a chance to clinch the AL East with a win over the Rays. Tied at 2 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Posada’s 2-run pinch-hit single with the bases loaded sent the Yankees to the playoffs and clinched their 12th AL East Division crown of Posada’s tenure.
Posada’s heroics continued in the playoffs when he posted a .429/.579/.571 line in the 5 game ALDS loss to the Tigers. Despite his efforts, the Yankees were unable to advance but Posada was able to hold his head high as he walked off the field at Yankee Stadium for what will probably be his last time.
It’s difficult to watch a beloved star player fade late in his career, and Yankees fans unfortunately had to suffer along with Posada in 2011. Thankfully though, Posada’s last hurrah reminded us of why he was so great throughout his career.
First and Last
In fifty years when the new Yankee Stadium is more than a half-century old, people won’t remember that the Yankees lost its first regular season game (especially because they won a championship in its inaugural season). They will remember that Yankee legend Jorge Posada was the first player to round its bases however. On April 16, 2009, Posada joined Babe Ruth as the first player to homer in a newly built Yankee Stadium, insuring that his name will forever be the answer to that Yankees trivia question.
Posada’s home run on October 11, nearly six months later, was a bit more meaningful, if not symbolic. Jorge crushed the last homer in Metrodome history, an opposite field shot of Carl Pavano to break a 7th inning tie. This propelled the Yankees to a 4-1 victory and helped send them back to the ALCS for the first time in 5 years.
The Flip Game
It is easy to forget that Jorge Posada provided the lone run for the Yankees in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS versus Oakland. Two innings prior to Jeter’s Flip, Posada crushed a solo home run off Barry Zito, snapping a 15 inning scoreless streak for the Yankees. Oakland’s Big-Three of Mulder, Hudson, and Zito had dominated the Yankees’ offense in the first two games, but Posada finally got to Zito to give Mussina and Rivera the only run they needed to stave-off elimination.
Jorge is also the forgotten hero of Jeter’s Flip. Somehow, Posada had enough awareness to stand his ground next to home plate as Shane Spencer’s throw faded further and further away from him. He saw Jeter sprinting across the diamond and counted on Derek getting there in time to relay the errant throw. Posada’s great tag on Giambi’s calf capped off the most remarkable defensive play in MLB postseason history.
Three of the Core-Four were directly responsible for the win in Game 3. Mariano received the save, Jeter prevented the only run for Oakland with The Flip, and Posada provided all the Yankees offense with his home run. The only way this game could have been more fitting for the Yankees is if Pettitte had started in place of Mussina. Nevertheless, it was one of the most remarkable and memorable games of the Yankees’ Core-Four Dynasty.
2003 was the best season of Posada’s career. At age 31, Jorge was in his prime and solidified as one of the best catchers in Baseball. His 30 home runs, 24 doubles, and 101 RBIs earned him his fourth straight All Star selection and a third place finish in MVP voting, the highest of his career. It was by all accounts the most complete season by a Yankees catcher since Thurman Munson won the MVP in 1976 (and you can argue that Posada’s 2003 season was more productive than Munson’s 1976). Posada continued his clutch hitting in the playoffs with 6 RBIs against Boston in the ALCS, but it was the timing of his final two that really mattered for the Yankees.
Posada’s game-tying bloop-double off Pedro in the 8th inning of Game 7 was the biggest hit of his career, but it was the events of Game 3 that made the hit off Pedro that much sweeter.
From 1999-2004 the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was the best in sports, and Pedro Martinez was public enemy number one in New York. Yes, Pedro was freakishly good, but it was his arrogance and head-hunting nature that made the hatred for him even greater. In Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, Pedro drilled Karim Garcia in the back and then gestured towards the Yankees dugout while screaming in Spanish. Posada, being the emotional leader of the Yankees, took exception and came to the top step of the dugout as the two argued. The following inning when Manny Ramirez charged Roger Clemens for throwing a ball up-and-in (even though it was just up) a brawl ensued that was highlighted by Pedro throwing a charging Don Zimmer to the ground. The Yankees went on to win the game but the hatred between the two teams just grew stronger.
Five days later, with the Red Sox 5 outs away from going to the World Series, Posada stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game with a hit off Pedro. On a 2-2 count Jorge blooped a two-run double to center field to tie the game at 5, which set the stage for Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in the 11th. Looking back, it was fitting that Posada came through with the biggest hit of the Yankees 2003 season.
Now that half of the Core-Four is, in all likelihood, gone, reflecting on the last 15 years is bitter-sweet. Like many Yankees fans who are in their twenties, I grew up with Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada. It is difficult to get used to the thought of a Yankees team without these four players, just as it was for past generations of fans to get used to a team without Mantle, or without Munson. That is the nature of fandom however. Players come and go, and some—if we are lucky enough—leave a legacy as great as Jorge’s.
NYYUniverse.com Staff Writer
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