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October 2, 2005

A moment to reflect
by SG

Having had a little time to digest the Yankees' division clinching win over Boston yesterday, it still seems unreal to me. Even with the Yankees losing today and ending up with the same overall record as Boston, they won the AL East by beating Boston in the head-to-head series, so I don't want to hear any crying from Red Sox fans. If that's what the rule book states, then so be it.

We know about the 11-19 start. We know about the Yankees paying $33 million for 13 wins combined from Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright, and Carl Pavano.

What we didn't know at the time was how the roster would change as the season progressed. I did not like this team at the beginning of the year. Part of it was the memories of last year's collapse against Boston and seeing many of the faces involved still around. Part of it was the importation of people like former Yankee beaters Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, and Carl Pavano. Part of it was the signing of the mediocre Tony Womack, as well as ignoring what I thought was an insurmountably gaping hole in center field.

However, in a 162 game season, nothing ever goes according to plan. The playoffs start Tuesday, and unfortunately the final ledger of the Yankees's season will not be this hard-fought division title, but how they do in the tournament. Let's worry about that on Tuesday, and just enjoy what was a very entertaining season.

One thing that I thought was pretty apparent yesterday was just how much Joe Torre's players like and respect him. I give Torre a very hard time for his tactical decisions, but I don't think there is a fanbase in baseball that likes their manager. I won't give him a pass for the numerous mistakes that I feel he made this season that cost the Yankees games. However, I think he deserves some credit for holding this team together through a lot of injuries and adversity. As an outsider, I can't really judge the intangibles that he may bring, but I will acknowledge their existence. To me, the most critical thing he did all year was stick with Jason Giambi throughout his struggles, to the point where he became a key contributor. I also credit him for eventually sticking Womack in his proper place, and for having patience with Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. He also finally got the lineup optimized, with Giambi's OBP ahead of Gary Sheffield, and not surprisingly the Yankees tore through the league after that switch was made.

I don't know that any of this makes up for the fact that he bunts more than I like, hits and runs too often, can't manage a bullpen well, and fixates on batter-pitcher matchups when making out his lineups, etc., but this team could very easily have folded when they started out so poorly, and they did not.

Brian Cashman also deserves a lot of credit for this season. The big money moves that the team made did not pan out, but if not for the Chacon Acquisition, this team very likely does not make the postseason. Faced with one of the most inflexible rosters in sports, Cashman took chances and was aggressive. A lot of the moves didn't pan out (Darrell May, Tim Redding, Sean Henn), but the Yankees kept trying things, scouring the waiver wires, discussing deals with teams, and promoting minor leaguers. It was particularly satisfying to see a Yankee farm system that has been denigrated by many produce two key contributers in Wang and Cano.

I think it's also time to acknowledge that the front office made the correct move for this season in trading Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and Dioner Navarro for Randy Johnson. Johnson went 5-0 against Boston, and in his last 8 starts went 6-0 with a 1.63 ERA at a time when his team needed him to step up, big time. I felt the trade was a risk not worth taking, and that Carlos Beltran filled a bigger need, but Johnson showed me why he is a first ballot Hall of Famer, while Beltran struggled in his New York debut. Entering the postseason, they are far better off with Johnson and an offense-defense platoon of Bernie Williams and Bubba Crosby, then they would have been with Beltran and no Johnson.

I still think they shouldn't have traded Jose Contreras incidentally, who has been the best pitcher in the AL in the second half of the season.

The season was filled with emotional highs and lows, and I thought I'd touch on some of them here. This list is by no means complete, but these are the moments that pop in my head when I look back at the season.

April 26th: Alex Rodriguez announced his candidacy for MVP by hitting 3 HRs and driving in 10 runs against Bartolo Colon. I had actually picked Rodriguez to win the MVP this season, guessing he'd bounce back from a slightly disappointing first year in pinstripes. I don't know if he'll win it, but I think I know who I'd rather have on my team if I could only choose one of either Rodriguez or Ortiz.

April 30th: Chien-Ming Wang makes his Yankee debut. A blown save by Tom Gordon cost him the win, but his 7 innings and 2 runs allowed hinted to the contributions he would make all year.

May 3rd: Robinson Cano debuts as the Yankees fall to Tampa. Cano would end up being a key contributor, through his own play and the eventual subsequent removal of Womack from the lineup.

May 6th: A 6-3 loss to Oakland drops the Yankees to 11-19, and their graves were dug by everyone, including me.

May 7th: Mike Mussina pitches a shutout to start a 10 game winning streak that would get the Yankees back over .500.

May 15th: Tino Martinez his two HRs, his 9th and 10th in 12 games, setting the stage for what I still feel was the most critical hit of the Yankees' season, Jason Giambi's two out, go-ahead double off Ricardo Rincon, where he pulled a 90+ fastball down the RF line. This was right after the stories about Giambi refusing an assignment to the minors were going around, and Joe Torre hinting that Giambi's time was running out.

May 16th: Bernie Williams hits a grand slam off J.J. Putz to give the Yankees a come from behind 6-3 victory in Seattle.

June 2nd: 5-2 loss to KC completes a Royals sweep of the Yankees and drops them to 27-26.

June 15th: Jason Giambi hits an upper-deck walk-off HR in the 10th inning off of Jose Mesa.

June 21st: Down by 4 entering the 8th, the Yankees did this:

Franklin Nunez pitching:
Robinson Cano: Ball, Strike looking, Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Cano singled to center.
Derek Jeter: Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Jeter singled to right, Cano to third
Ruben Sierra hit for Tony Womack.
Ruben Sierra: Ball, Sierra grounded out to second, Cano scored, Jeter to second.
Gary Sheffield: Strike looking, Strike swinging, Sheffield singled to left center, Jeter to third.
Alex Rodriguez: Strike looking, Ball, Rodriguez singled to left, Jeter scored, Sheffield to second.
Travis Harper relieved Franklin Nunez.
Hideki Matsui: Ball, Foul, Ball, Strike looking, Foul, Matsui doubled to deep right, Sheffield scored, Rodriguez to third.
Jason Giambi: Intentional ball, Intentional ball, Intentional ball, Giambi intentionally walked
Russ Johnson ran for Jason Giambi.
Bernie Williams: Williams tripled to center, Rodriguez, Matsui and Johnson scored.
Jorge Posada: Ball, Ball, Foul, Ball, Foul, Posada homered to right, Williams scored.
Robinson Cano: Ball, Ball, Cano flied out to center.
Derek Jeter: Ball, Strike looking, Foul, Ball, Jeter singled to right.
Ruben Sierra: Strike looking, Sierra singled to right, Jeter to third.
Gary Sheffield: Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Ball, Foul, Sheffield homered to left center, Jeter and Sierra scored.
Alex Rodriguez: Ball, Strike swinging, Rodriguez homered to right.
Hideki Matsui: Ball, Ball, Strike looking, Matsui homered to center.
Russ Johnson: Strike looking, Ball, Strike swinging, Foul, Ball, Johnson flied out to right.
End of Inning (13 Runs, 12 Hits, 0 Errors)

June 28th: Mike Stanton throws one pitch in the bottom of the 10th, and Brian Roberts hits it out to beat the Yankees 5-4.

July 4th: Giambi starts a hot July with two HRs to lead the Yankees over Baltimore.

July 14th: The Yankees begin a brutal post-All Star Break stretch in Boston. Alex Rodriguez shuts up 35,000 Red Sox fans with a go-ahead two run homer off Curt Schilling in the top of the ninth. Mariano Rivera adds an exclamation point to it by striking out Johnny Damon, Edgar Renteria, and David Ortiz on 13 pitches, proving that Boston's claims that they owned him were perhaps not quite accurate.

July 17th: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Al Leiter and his 6.64 NL ERA pitches a gem to beat Boston, allowing only 1 run and striking out 8 over 6.1 innings.

July 19th: Three words. Wayne F___ing Franklin. 10 weeks later and I'm still annoyed about this one.

July 20th: Aaron Small, with a 4.96 Columbus ERA makes his Yankee debut. He gets the first of his 10 wins without a loss.

July 30th: Two debuts. Shawn Chacon's, which went well, and Alan Embree's, which didn't. Trailing 7-3 after the top of the 8th, the Yankees scored 2 in the 8th and 3 in the ninth, capped off by Hideki Matsui's two run double off Francisco Rodriguez.

July 31st: The Yankees rally again against the Angels' bullpen.

August 4th: In what turned out to be a huge momentum swing in the playoff picture, trailing by one, Alex Rodriguez hits a game-tying HR off Cleveland closer Bob Wickman. One out later, Jason Giambi hits the go-ahead HR, his second of the game.

August 27th: Down 7-3 entering the ninth, the Yankees rallied to score five runs and top the Royals 8-7. A Giambi walk was followed by a strikeout, a Royals error, three straight singles by Matt Lawton, Tino Martinez, and Derek Jeter, a Matsui flyout, then a Gary Sheffield double and a game-winning single by Alex Rodriguez. (Thanks to cutter for reminding me)

August 31st: In one of the better pitching duels of the season, 41 year old Randy Johnson showed 19 year old Felix Hernandez how it should be done.

Sept. 3rd: Aaron Small continues his improbable run of success by throwing a complete game shutout against the then streaking Oakland Athletics.

Sept. 11th: This was Randy Johnson's defining Yankee moment in my mind, and he came up huge, holding Boston to one hit over 7 of the most overpowering innings you'll ever see, outdueling Tim Wakefield 1-0.

Sept. 17th: The much-maligned Yankee defense supports Shawn Chacon, who only strikes out 1 but combines with Tom Gordon to shut out Toronto 1-0.

Sept. 19th: Bubba Crosby strikes a Ken Griffey Jr. pose at home plate as his walk-off HR beats the Orioles.

Oct. 1st: The Yankees beat Boston to clinch the season series and with Cleveland losing, the AL East.

I'm curious to see how the postseason roster shapes up, but I'll worry about that tomorrow.