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September 21, 2006

2006: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
by SG

With the Yankees clinching the division and with the postseason starting in two weeks, it's a good time to reflect on the season and what they accomplished. A lot of the commenters already got the ball rolling on this in the previous entry. I did this last year and it was enjoyable for me, so I figured I'd run through it again for 2006.

Too often we as Yankee fans discount the regular season and the difficulty of reaching this point. Granted, the Yankees have the financial advantage to put
themselves in a favorable position to reach the postseason every season, but that should not take away from getting there. When the Yankees lost two All Star outfielders early in the season, players like Bernie Williams and Melky Cabrera stepped in, and filled in well. Bernie's nothing like he used to be, and his defense is pretty awful, but he did provide some offense and prevented the team from needing to gut their farm system in a trade, although they eventually picked up Bobby Abreu in a salary dump. Abreu's arrival has been huge.

Scott Proctor's development from a talented but erratic hard-thrower to a resilient and valuable setup man was another one of the treats to watch this season, as was Robinson Cano's development into an offensive stalwart at second base. After what looked like the start of his decline phase, Jorge Posada bounced back with a solid season, and has arguably been the second most valuable catcher in the AL this season. Derek Jeter has a statistical case as the AL MVP, and other players like Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez all had their moments (besides SI articles).

As much as Joe Torre's tactical decisions and bullpen management can be questioned at times, there's no doubt his team respects him and he manages his clubhouse and the media well. That is valuable, even if we can't quantify it. Let's just hope he lays off Proctor for a few days now after his recent stretch of 7 appearances in 10 days. He won't get much credit for it, but Larry Bowa coached the hell out of third base this season. I can't think of any bad sends from him off the top of my head. It also appears he's helped Robinson Cano find more defensive consistency, as Cano has been a +2 defensively this season by ZR and been more sure-handed. Tony Peña apparently made a big difference in Jorge Posada's throwing this season too, as Posada has his best defensive season in a long time. It's tough to know how much of the Yankee staff's ERA this season can be attributed to new pitching coach Ron Guidry and bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan, but the staff ranks fifth in the league in ERA at 4.40, compared to their ninth place ranking last season at 4.52.

To the games. I'm sure I'll miss some in here so by all means pipe in.

April 4: The Yankees open the season in style, mauling Oakland 15-2. Randy Johnson pitched well, and Alex Rodriguez's second inning grand slam made the game a laugher from the start.

April 11: Trailing 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees rallied for five runs, topped off by a Derek Jeter 3 run HR, beating Kansas City 9-7 at the Stadium.

May 8: The Yankees get mauled at home by the Red Sox, 14-3. Red Sox Nation throws a premature victory parade.

May 16: This was probably the game of the season. Shawn Chacon got shelled, giving up 8 runs in 1.1 innings, and the Yankees trailed 9-0 heading into the bottom of the second. The Yanks scored in the second, but Texas answered right back in the third off Aaron Small. Trailing 10-1, the Yankees scored two in the bottom of the third, two in the bottom of the fifth, and then six in the bottom of the sixth to take an 11-10 lead. Scott Proctor gave the lead right back by allowing two runs in the top of the seventh, but a Jorge Posada sacrifice fly tied the game. Rod Barajas drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth against Mariano Rivera, making it 13-12 Texas. Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both made outs, and then Jorge Posada hit a game-winning two run HR.

May 20: Trailing the "best team in New York" by four entering the ninth, the Yankees rallied for four runs to tie off the Mets' closer, Billy Wagner. Andy Phillips drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th, while Mariano Rivera pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and fanning four toget the win.

May 20: Kyle Farnsworth couldn't hold a 6-5 eighth inning lead against Detroit, but Mariano Rivera pitched three brilliant innings, needing just 25 pitches. Contrast that to Farnsworth's eighth inning which also required 25 pitches. Jason Giambi's 11th inning HR led the way to a five run rally, and an 11-6 win in Detroit.

June 7: Chien-Ming Wang outdueled Dave Pauley over seven innings, scattering eight hits and allowing just one run. Manny Ramirez's bid for a game-tying homer was robbed on a leaping catch by Melky Cabrera in the top of the eighth, and Melky-mania was in full swing. Mo closed out the 2-1 win over the Red Sox with five pitches in a perfect ninth.

June 13: More Wang, as he held the potent offense of the Cleveland Indians to five hits and no runs over 7.1 innings, in a 1-0 pitcher's duel with Paul Byrd. Yeah, that Paul Byrd.

June 17: Possibly the worst loss of the year. Shawn Chacon again failed to give the team innings, and the Yankees gave up five runs over the seventh and eighth innings, turning a 9-6 lead into an 11-9 loss.

June 18: Actually, this loss was probably worse. With Rivera unavailable, and Torre still not fond of Ron Villone (he made up for this, didn't he?), the Yankees took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. With Villone the annointed closer not even warming up, Chien-Ming Wang got an out and then gave up the game-winning two run HR to Ryan Zimmerman on his 107th pitch of the game.

June 25: I love a good pitcher's duel, and this one between Dontrelle Willis and Mike Mussina was a treat. Moose allowed one run over seven innings, and the Yankees edged Florida 2-1.

June 28: The unclutch Alex Rodriguez hits a two-run HR in the bottom of the twelfth inning, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win over Atlanta.

July 4: I'm not sure what was worse, Shawn Chacon's one inning of seven run ball, or T.J. Beam's 2/3 of an inning of six run ball. Either way, it all contributed to a 19-1 blowout by Cleveland at Jacobs Field.

July 14: The Yankees opened the second-half of the season in style, edging the White Sox 6-5. The White Sox made it scary in the ninth scoring two runs and putting the tying run on third. Mariano Rivera got the better of A.J. Pierzynski after a long at bat, and the Yankees would go on to sweep the defending World Series champs at home.

July 18: Sidney Ponson's lone useful Yankee appearance, as he pitched 6.2 innings, allowing four runs. Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees scratched out two runs. The bullpens traded zeros until the bottom of the 11th, when Melky Cabrera hit a walkoff HR in the 5-4 win over Seattle.

July 20: The Yankees blew a 3-0 lead when Mike Mussina imploded in the sixth. They managed to tie the game in the eighth, but Vernon Wells hit a high cutter in a bad spot for the game winner of Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 11th, as the Yankees lost to Toronto 5-4.

July 26: Scott Proctor has been a big part of the Yankees' success this season, but he just didn't have it in this game, combining with T.J. Beam to blow a 6-4 eighth inning lead in Texas. Shawn Chacon entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs and the Yankees trailing 7-6. Chacon got a big strikeout then a lineout into a double play. Jason Giambi hit a two-run HR in the top of the ninth to give the Yankees the 8-7 win.

Aug 8: A Joe Crede HR in the bottom of the eighth at US Cellular turned a 7-2 laugher into a 7-6 nail-biter. Mariano Rivera closed out the 7-6 win, although it was a bit more stressful than his typically style.

Aug 18 (Game 1): The first game of the 2006 Boston Massacre. Johnny Damon went 3 for 6 with 4 RBI, and Chien-Ming Wang gave the team six solid innings as they edged Boston 12-4.

Aug 18 (Game 2): In the nightcap, Sir Sidney's final Yankee game went about as well as could be expected, as he did not make it out of fourth inning. Boston took a 10-7 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Then came the seventh inning.

Top 7th: NY Yankees
- C. Hansen relieved J. Tavarez
- R. Cano grounded out to shortstop
- J. Giambi hit for C. Wilson
- J. Giambi walked
- B. Williams singled to right, J. Giambi to second
- J. Posada hit for S. Fasano
- J. Posada singled to left, J. Giambi to third, B. Williams to second
- M. Timlin relieved C. Hansen
- M. Cabrera singled to right, J. Giambi scored, B. Williams to third, J. Posada to second
- J. Damon flied out to left
- D. Jeter doubled to deep right, J. Posada, B. Williams and M. Cabrera scored
- B. Abreu intentionally walked
- A. Rodriguez doubled to left, D. Jeter scored, B. Abreu to third
- R. Cano singled to right center, A. Rodriguez and B. Abreu scored
- J. Giambi popped out to shallow left center

7 runs, 6 hits, 0 errors
NY Yankees 14, Boston 10

Mariano gave up a solo HR to David Ortiz in the bottom of the ninth, but the Yanks held on for the 14-11 win.

Aug 19: Randy Johnson wasn't particularly good, but Josh Beckett was far worse, and the Yankees rolled to a pretty easy 13-5 win.

Aug 20: This is probably the game that broke Boston's back. Yankee nemesis Curt Schilling pitch seven strong innings, holding them to three runs, while Mike Mussina, Ron Villone, and Mike Myers gave up five. The Yankees managed to load the bases with no outs in the top of the eighth, and the Red Sox went to their closer, Jon Papelbon. Jason Giambi hit a sacrifice fly that was just a shade away from being a HR, and then Alex Rodriguez drew a walk, but Papelbon recovered to strike out Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada, preserving a 5-4 lead. Melky Cabrera led off the top of the ninth with a double. Papelbon threw a wild pitch that advanced Melky to third, then struck out Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon, bringing up Derek Jeter. Jeter took a strike, then singled to right to score the tying run. The game went to the 10th, and then Jason Giambi homered (his second of the game) to give the Yankees the lead. Jorge Posada added a two run HR for insurance, and the Yankees had an 8-5 win.

Aug 21: Having won the first four games in the series, the Yankees busted out the brooms, with Cory Lidle out-dueling David Wells in a 2-1 victory, effectively eliminating Boston from the AL East race.

Sep 4: Trailing Kansas City 5-1 in the eighth, the Yankees explode for 10 runs and win 12-5.

Sep 9: Chien-Ming Wang picks up his 17th win, out-dueling the feared Adam "Cy" Loewen in the process, as the Yankees win 3-2.

Sep 20: The Yankees lose to Toronto 3-2, but clinch the AL East when Minnesota beats Boston.

I'm sure I missed some along the way, so feel free to add to the list.

Now the Yankees have 10 games to experiment with Gary Sheffield at first base, to rest their pitchers and position players, and to set up their rotation for the first round of the playoffs. While home field advantage would be nice, being healthy heading into the postseason would probably be nicer. Mariano Rivera has made progress and is expected to make his return to the mound over the weekend. That seems like the last hurdle for the team to be at just about full strength heading into the postseason.