What they got instead was a very welcome sight, courtesy of Carlos Beltran.
The score was actually 3-2 when Beltran stepped to the plate against Baltimore lefty Zach Britton, and there were two runners on to boot. But there were also two outs, meaning the Yankees had what FanGraphs calculated was a 16.8 percent chance of winning. In other words: not particularly high.
But after running the count to 3-1, Beltran took a 96 mph fastball from Britton and deposited it deep into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer.
Cue some 46,000 fans packed into Yankee Stadium making a whole bunch of noise, John Sterling shouting something or another, and the Yankees winning 5-3 to make it four in a row and eight of 10.
Now, the Yankees would have taken that homer from anybody in their lineup. Walk-off homers are good no matter who hits 'em, especially when you need one to keep pace in a tight division race.
That it was Beltran who hit it, however, has a feeling of something that could be significant. For when the ball left the yard, the Yankees got a taste of everything they shelled out $45 million for over the winter.
There's the overarching reality, for one, and that's that the Yankees got some offense from a guy who hasn't provided nearly as much as expected. Beltran came into Friday night's game with just a .672 OPS in pinstripes after posting an .836 OPS across two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Worse, the 37-year-old managed just a .512 OPS over his last 31 games, with a stint on the disabled list in the middle.
Then there's how Beltran's homer was a big blow from the right side of the plate. There haven't been many of those from him in 2014, as he came in with just a .610 OPS from the right side after compiling a .794 OPS as a righty in St. Louis.
But you don't just think of Beltran as a good hitter who can do damage from both sides of the plate. You also think of him as one of the better clutch hitters out there. You know, a guy who can hit with runners on base, drive in guys in scoring position and come through in high-leverage situations.
And rightfully so. Beltran's done these things his whole career, and he was certainly still capable of doing them in St. Louis.
But not so much in New York, as this comparison makes clear, via FanGraphs:
|Carlos Beltran in the Clutch: 2012-2013 vs. 2014|
|Split||2012-2013 OPS||2014 OPS|
|Men on Base||.860||.575|
In clutch situations, Beltran hadn't been hitting like Carlos Beltran for the Yankees. He'd been hitting more like, oh, I dunno, Pete Kozma or somebody in clutch situations.
In short, the Yankees have been missing out on not just Carlos Beltran this season, but the totality of Carlos Beltran.
Right up until his laser off Britton landed in the left field bleachers, that is. If the moment proved anything, it's that the totality of Beltran hasn't passed into legend just yet. He's still got it. Or at least some of it, anyway.
Now, here's where we must mention that one big hit is neither a trend nor necessarily the start of a trend. Especially so when they come from guys who have been as cold as Beltran's been this season.
There isn't doubt everywhere you look, however.
Actual humans are liking what they're seeing. Including Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, who tweeted this after Beltran doubled off Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez in the second inning Friday night:
Later, the man himself told this to Erik Boland of Newsday after his big homer:
It could be that the old Westerosi saying that "Words are wind" is coming to mind right now. But if there is indeed something true to these remarks, Beltran could be in for a strong finish for 2014.
Which, as it happens, is just the finish that the computers, in all their wizardry wisdom, have in mind for Beltran.
According to FanGraphs, the ZiPS projection system has Beltran down for a .780 OPS the rest of the way. The Steamer projection system is even more optimistic with an .808 OPS. Both systems agree that the Yankees are owed a better version of Beltran.
Goodness knows they hope so, as actually getting a better version of Beltran would change a few things.
It would certainly change the depth of the Yankees lineup, as they'd be getting an above-average hitter to put alongside Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and the surprising Yangervis Solarte. Ideally, more depth would at least mean more consistency.
Beltran coming up with more hits in the clutch the rest of the way would be an equally big bonus. This is, after all, a Yankees offense that hasn't done a very good job of that. By OPS, they entered Friday ranked 21st in MLB with men on base, 20th with men in scoring position and 18th in high-leverage situations.
The Yankees haven't gotten the Carlos Beltran they paid for, and it's been bad. But the Carlos Beltran they paid for showed up Friday night, and it was good.
If he can find a way to stick around, that would be great.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted/linked.
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