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Yankees' Late-Inning Home Run Magic Simply a Bronx Illusion?

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Yankees' Late-Inning Home Run Magic Simply a Bronx Illusion?

The recent performances of Yankee sluggers while being stared in the face by adversity have been nothing short of miraculous.

Time and time again, New York managed to forge last-second escapes reminiscent of Harry Houdini, and made leads disappear in ways even David Copperfield would be envious of.

Whether breaking the hearts of Red Sox Nation or stunning their winged Canadian adversaries, the Yankees have displayed the mettle and “never say die” attitude that personifies a championship ball club.

It may be wise to ask yourself, however, if this tidal wave of valor is merely a product of the comfort, energy, and tiny walls of the imposing stadium they can now call home.

If the ghosts of Yankee past represent the supernatural ingredient, and the supportive crowd plays the role of New York’s assistant, is Yankee Stadium’s tiny right field porch its “magic wand?”

In no way are these statements attempting to diminish the achievements of a star-studded Yankee lineup, nor imply that the short porch was the sole catalyst for each of the game-changing long balls.

Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the majority of the walk-off and comeback magic has occurred within Yankee Stadium’s recently constructed walls.

The back-to-back shots of Sunday and Tuesday lifted the spirits of an entire city, but they unveiled a potential problem moving toward October.

While this team refuses to give up, it tends to rely very heavily on the solo home run. Many of these comebacks and late-inning heroics have been built on this foundation, and most of these have gone to right field in Yankee Stadium.

When analyzing the statistics of each of New York’s double-digit home-run artists, one will find that 102 of their combined 162 homers have been of the “solo” variety (63 percent).

This attack will continue to be a valuable asset at home, but it will likely fail to translate on the road—especially in October.

Teams cannot come back from deficits in as many games as the Yankees have on a consistent basis, and they are going to have to rediscover how to manufacture runs to win come October.

The dynasty of the recent past hit key home runs when necessary, but it was able to use clutch and situational hitting by Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter to score runs in bunches—as opposed to one or two via the solo HR.

The reason the Yankees have struggled so much against teams like the Tigers, Indians, and Angels in recent postseasons is centered on this very dilemma.

These teams pitched and defended very well, put immense pressure on their opponents with team speed, and found ways to scratch out enough runs to win.

The Yankees instead sat back and anticipated a three-run home run that never arrived—stood up like a high school chess captain by the head cheerleader.

The 2009 model has a drastically improved (infield) defense, as well as a starting staff and bullpen that translate much more favorably to postseason success. Unfortunately, the offense continues to rely on souvenirs to provide the difference-maker in big moments.

In many games, including those involved in the recent outbreak of heroics, the Yankees have let pitchers off the hook early in games when they were backed up against a wall.

They avoided placing their cleats on the opponent’s jugular and were unable to stretch a modest lead into a convincing one. Zeros began to pile up during the middle of the game, where teams bound for consistent playoff success would have been able to add a run or two with small ball.

This “middle of the game complacency” has left New York in many precarious situations in the eighth and ninth innings.

At home, a prescription of muscle-flexing is usually just what the doctor ordered. On the road, however, most of these deficits turn into losses in the standings.

The Yankees have displayed grit, resiliency, and an unrelenting backbone. They have provided countless memories to prove to fans that the mystique of the old stadium did not die in its final game in 2008.

On the other hand, October baseball is an entirely different animal, and New York will have to finger through the recipes for success of a past dynasty in order to achieve a World Series birth.

 

Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx

 

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