Though the Yankees will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years – the longest streak since they endured a non-strike season dry spell from 1982 – 1993 – there are still some things to look forward to. The reasons for hope are because of some of the outstanding things that occurred during the year. With the season winding down to the last few days, it is time to look at the great moments of the 2016 campaign. Consider Mark Teixeira’s walk-off grand slam against Boston Wednesday night as memorable moment number “10-a”.
10. United we stand, divided we fall
From the outside looking in it appeared the Yankees had a strong clubhouse presence this season. But, in the final week of the season, they proved it. The Yankees and Blue Jays met in the finale of a four-game series this past Monday. Toronto had taken the first three games and the Yankees were in the midst of four-game losing streak. With Masahiro Tanaka scratched from his regular start, Joe Girardi turned to Luis Severino to take the hill.
Severino was wild in the bottom of the 1st inning. In addition to a pair of walks, he hit third baseman Josh Donaldson with a pitch that grazed his elbow pad. Fast forward to the top of the 2nd inning. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ threw at Yankees third baseman Chase Headley. The pitch missed Headley, but Happ’s next delivery didn’t.
Home plate umpire Todd Tichenor issued warnings to both teams, but it was one pitch too late. Happ’s intent was clear and he should have been ejected. The benches emptied and an enraged Girardi argued with the umpiring crew. In the bottom half of the inning, Severino wasted no time. He threw and hit Blue Jays first baseman left-handed hitter Justin Smoak in the lower portion of his left leg. Tichenor ejected Severino and Girardi immediately as the benches emptied a second time. Ejections were also handed out to pitching coach Larry Rothschild and bench coach Rob Thomson. No one on the Blue Jays received the boot.
The Yankees used eight pitchers the rest of the night and trailed 3-2 in the top of the 9th. Mark Teixeira blasted a long home run to tie the game and uncharacteristically flipped his bat high in the air. After he reached the Yankees dugout, the fired-up Teixeira yelled out,, “That’s a blown save!”. Aaron Hicks added a two-run home run and the Yankees scored four runs to take a 7-3 win. They held on for a 7-5 victory that definitely had an “us against the world” feel to it.
It may have been a meaningless game in terms of the Yankees’ season, but the show of unity was important for the future.
Among the individual accomplishments achieved this season were:
– Teixeira hit his 400th career home run. In doing so, he became the fifth switch-hitter in MLB history to accomplish this feat. He also topped 400 doubles and 1,800 hits for his career. Tex also hit his 200th home run as a Yankee.
– Aroldis Chapman notched his 150th career save.
– Ronald Torreyes hit his first Major League home run.
– Alex Rodriguez reached plateaus as a Yankee in runs scored (1,000) and home runs (350).
– Brian McCann hit his 240th career home run and needs one more home run to have 20 for the ninth straight season.
– CC Sabathia notched his 220th career win and 2700th strikeout.
– Girardi won his 800th games as Yankees manager and surpassed 890 wins overall.
8. The Kids are all right
For the first time in the Steinbrenner era, the Yankees were sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline. In dealing away Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees re-stocked their farm system with some top-notch talent.
The big catch in the Chapman to the Chicago Cubs deal was shortstop Gleyber Torres. The Venezuelan native was named a top-50 prospect by Baseball America (BA), Baseball Prospectus (BP) and was tabbed a Top-30 prospect by MLB.com. He immediately jumped to the top of the Yankees’ list of Top-10 prospects.
Outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield were among the players exchanged with Cleveland for Miller. Frazier came with the reputation of a great clubhouse guy and he has all of the tools to be a star with both his bat and his glove. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Frazier could be part of the outfield mix sometime next year.
Sheffield could prove, however, to be the real key to the deal. Baseball America ranked Sheffield, a late first-round pick in 2014, as the 81st-best prospect in their annual list of Top-100 prospects. He spent the majority of his season in high ‘A’ ball and was promoted to Double-A Trenton for the Eastern League playoffs.
Pitcher Dillon Tate was the big prize when the Yankees dealt Beltran to the Texas Rangers. A 6’2″ right-hander, Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. He entered the 2016 season ranked among the top 70 prospects from BA, BP, and MLB. He’ll likely start the 2017 season at Single-A Tampa.
7. The Big Man dominates
Sabathia is no longer the power pitcher he once was, but in seven starts that spanned the month of May and part of June, the big man dominated. Sabathia limited opponents to four earned runs in 44 innings (0.82 ERA). He earned four wins, had one no decision and lost two games. The Yankees scored one run in each of the losses as well as in the no-decision, which was also a loss. In three of the games, Sabathia kept the opponent off the scoreboard.
He allowed 29 hits, only one of which was a home run, and struck out 41 batters. The seven game stretch saw Sabathia lower his ERA from 5.06 to 2.20.
6. Celebrating 1996
On August 13, the Yankees celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1996 World Series championship team. Nearly everyone from the 1996 team was on-hand. In addition to the players, manager Joe Torre and coaches Willie Randolph Lee Mazzilli, Chris Chambliss, Jose Cardenal, and Mel Stottlemyre were there. Also in attendance were head trainer Gene Monahan and then assistant/now head trainer, Steve Donahue. Chief among the players in attendance was Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Girardi, David Cone, Mariano Rivera, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Click here to see the complete list. The following day the Yankees unveiled Rivera’s plaque for Monument Park.
5. The Big 3
One of the few bright spots for the first four and one-half months of a season was the Yankees bullpen. To be more specific, the Yankees’ setup men and their closer dominated the opposition. Dellin Betances, Miller, and Chapman formed a three-headed, triple-digit, radar gun reading monster. They were penned into the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, but could pitch an inning-plus at any given time. Miller was the closer for a month due to Chapman’s suspension for off-the-field activity.
When Chapman returned, he was regularly blowing past 100-mph on the radar gun with ease. The trio struck out batters at a phenomenal rate and if the Yankees had a lead after six innings, you could almost certainly count on a win. But, as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, there was no doubt that pending-free-agent Chapman was as good as gone. And, if the right deal came along, Miller would be too. That’s exactly what happened. The writing was on the wall, but it was painful to watch the bullpen disassembled anyway.
Chapman was the first to go, sent to the Chicago Cubs on July 25 for three prospects and former Yankee, Adam Warren. Miller made it to the 31st before he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for four prospects. After play on July 31, the Yankees were 52-52. The trio had figured directly in 42 of the 52 wins, with 13 victories and 29 saves. They had struck out 210 batters in 127 innings pitched, an average of 14.9/9 IP.
4. It’s so hard to say goodbye
A-Rod and Teixeira played or are playing their last games of baseball. Both are headed to retirement, one forced and one by choice. A-Rod was approached by managing partner Hal Steinbrenner, who made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. A-Rod would retire after he played on August 12 and would be a troubleshooter/special assistant to Steinbrenner the younger in 2017. It was an emotional press conference for A-Rod when the deal was announced. For the finale, A-Rod, who had his Mom and two daughters at the Stadium to cheer him on, went 1-4 with an RBI. He went from DH to third base for one batter in the top of the 9th, before exiting the field to a chorus of cheers.
A-Rod’s 13 years in New York were a mixed blessing. He won MVP awards and home run titles, and was instrumental in the Yankees’ World Series victory in 2009. He was also suspended for PED use, threatened to sue the Yankees and baseball, and often wilted under the pressure of the post-season. His relationship with the fans had more ups and downs than the Dow Jones.
Teixeira’s goodbye presser was just as emotional. The eight-year Yankees’ first baseman held a press conference on August 5th to announce that this season would be his last. The teary-eyed Tex knew that it was time. Injuries had caught up to him for the last handful of years and his offense had declined. His batting average was below .200 for much of the season and he couldn’t drive the ball as consistently as he once had. He’ll be honored by the Yankees before the final game of the season on Sunday, October 2nd.
Texeira’s daily demeanor as a Yankee was the opposite of A-Rod’s. He quietly did his job to the best of his abilities; a trait well received by his teammates, manager, and the fans.
3. The Streak
Just when it appeared the Yankees’ regular season was done despite plenty of games still left to play, they went on a winning streak to climb back into the playoff chase. From September 4th through the 10th, the Yankees won seven consecutive games. The streak moved them to 11 games over .500 and just three games behind Boston in the AL East. They also closed in on Toronto (two games) and Baltimore (one game) in the Wild Card race.
9/4 – It began with a 5-2 victory over Baltimore that salvaged the finale of a three-game series. Severino entered the game in the 5th inning and worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to preserve a 4-2 lead.
9/6 – The next night was a thriller. The Yankees blew the lead in the 8th inning but scored four runs in the bottom of the inning to take the lead back, 7-4. Headley’s two-run HR was the capper. Toronto rallied for two runs in the 9th inning against Betances, who was working his third straight game. With the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, Girardi called for Blake Parker to relieve Betances. Parker struck out Kevin Pillar and then everyone held their breath as Smoak smoked one to the left field wall. Brett Gardner leaped in front of the fence and corralled the ball in his glove for the final out. And, everyone exhaled.
9/7 – The Yankees pitching put on a show in the series finale with the Blue Jays. Bryan Mitchell made his first appearance of the season and tossed five scoreless innings. Severino worked three innings and Tyler Clippard got the save in a 2-0 victory.
9/8 – Austin hit a walk-off home run to open a four-game series with the Rays.
9/9 – The streak reached six with a 7-5 win behind a pair of home runs from Teixeira and one from Sanchez.
9/10 – The streak reached seven on Saturday behind a dominant performance from Tanaka. The ace of the staff pitched into the 8th inning and struck out 10. Ellsbury and Sanchez both homered and drove in two runs apiece.
Unfortunately, all good things come to end. For the Yankees, that happened on Sunday, 9/11. The Rays pulled out the finale of the series, 4-2.
2. Back-to-back and a belly-to-belly
John Sterling loves to put on a show with his home run calls. So, the longtime Yankees’ radio voice was in his full glory when Aaron Judge and Austin made their Major League debuts on August 13. The game with the Tampa Bay Rays was scoreless when the right-handed hitting Austin came to bat in the bottom of the 2nd inning. With the count at 2-2, Austin smacked pitcher Matt Andriese’s next pitch towards the right field corner. The Rays’ Mikie Mahtook ran toward the foul pole, but the ball continued to carry and cleared the fence in fair territory for a 331-foot home run.
The crowd was still buzzing when Judge stepped to the plate. The 6’7″ right-handed hitter is a behemoth of a man and he put his power on display when Andriese delivered a 1-2 pitch. Judge drove the ball to the deepest part of center field. The Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier could only turn and watch as the ball hit the top of the glass in the “batter’s eye”. The 457-foot home run was just the third baseball to reach the area at the new Stadium.
Austin and Judge became the first teammates to homer in their first Major League at-bats in the same game. Not only that, the home runs came back-to-back, another first in Major League history. And, yes John Sterling, a belly-to-belly.
1. Release the Kraken
Ever since Zeus commanded to his underlings to “Release the Kraken” in the 2010 remake of “Clash of the Titans” the phrase “Release the Kraken” has been heard in many different contexts. The most recent surge in usage of the phrase going viral began when the Yankees recalled their top hitting prospect, Sanchez, from the minor leagues. Sanchez went on a tear and it hasn’t stopped.
Sanchez reached 19 home runs faster than any other player in Major League history. It all began the night of August 10, Sanchez’ seventh game of the season. He went 4-5, with his first Major League home run in a win against the Red Sox. He went deep again on the 14th. He hit a pair on the 16th and another next day. Sanchez then homered on the 20th and hit two more on the 22nd. He then hit home runs in three straight games from August 24th through the 27th.
Sanchez wasn’t just hitting home runs, though. For the month of August, Sanchez had nine doubles, 21 RBI, 20 runs scored, and a 1.290 OPS. And, it hasn’t stopped. Entering Monday’s game with Toronto, Sanchez had hit eight home runs in September to add to the 11 he hit in August. His defense has been outstanding as well. He’s called good games, worked the strike zone well, and has thrown out 36% of runners attempting to steal.
“Release the Kraken!!!”