Some of these will not be among your traditional choices. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
10) Nick Swisher's surprise pitching appearance
This won't be a traditional choice, since it's not something that anyone is necessarily proud of, but Swisher's relief appearance in April provided a brief moment of levity in a bad loss and also gave Yankee fans an idea as to how valuable Swisher could be for the Yankees—a trade that many were wary of in the first place. One season and 30, mostly road home runs later, Swisher is easily a fan favorite. While he is not solely responsible for the 2009 Yankees shedding the image of a buttoned-up business club and adopting that of, well, a baseball team, it'd be foolish to ignore the large part he played.
9) The Francisco Cervelli Miracle
In May, both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina went down with leg injuries, almost within days of each other. The Yankees' only real option at that point became calling up Francisco Cervelli and Kevin Cash--one who was hitting .190 in AA Trenton, and the other whom was the Yanks' fourth-string catcher.
No one expected anything from Cervelli other than someone that could squat behind the plate and catch pitches.
What they got was someone hitting to a .270 clip. He didn't hit for power (then again, your number nine hitters seldom do), but he made the jump from AA to the Major Leagues without being an automatic out. What's more, like a microcosm of the 2009 team, Cervelli performed best in high leverage situations.
8) Alex Rodriguez bookends the season
When Alex Rodriguez hit the very first pitch he saw of the 2009 season for a home run at Camden Yards, many hailed it as the turning point in the Yankees' season, and it was. How many, however, thought he would hit a grand slam on the last pitch he saw of the 2009 regular season?
The thing about A-Rod's 2009 season is that it seemed, for the most part, to fly under the radar. He had his 30 home runs, his 100 RBI, and his best moment hitting a 15th inning walk-off home run against the Boston Red Sox, but what he didn't have was the New York media hounding his every move.
The steroid story broke in February, but like his teammate Andy Pettitte, Rodriguez admitted he used, and then moved on. When Selena Roberts' tell-all book came out, it fell flat and for once, surrounded by new teammates named CC, AJ and Teixeira, Rodriguez could simply be "one of the guys".
Just how valuable was A-Rod to the 2009 season? Thirty home runs over five months means 36 had he played a whole year, and 100 RBI in that time becomes 120. Thirty-six home runs and 120 RBI in any circumstance buys you some MVP votes.
7) Brian Cashman visits Atlanta
The Yankees had just won a series against the Mets on sheer luck, and then dropped series to the Nationals and Marlins. They were in danger of doing so yet again to the Braves, before Brian Cashman showed up on the road.
If anyone knows what Cashman said, they've done a good job keeping it quiet, but whatever he said seems to have worked. After that date—June 24—the Yankees went 65-27—a .706 winning percentage.
A-Rod's return helped the Yankees go from a third place team to a contender; after Cashman's visit, the Yankees went from a contender to the odds-on favorite to win it all.
6)Luis Castillo walks off for the Yankees
Of all the moments of either team's respective season, perhaps nothing more exemplifies the way the seasons were for either team than this moment.
It is a testament to the number of times the Yankees won on nothing more than sheer luck in the 2009 season, but any team winning over 100 games is going to have their fair share of calls going their way or errors in their favor.
The thing about this game, though, is that when Castillo dropped the ball, there are a large number of baserunners that would have simply advanced one base and then passed the baton to Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees, though, had Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira on the basepath, and the two of them hustled around the bases—Teixeira from first—scoring and winning that game. Everyone will remember Castillo dropping that ball, but how many will remember Teixeira's hustle?
5) Phil Hughes goes to the bullpen
No, I'm not arguing that Hughes should forever more be a reliever, but in the 2009 season, putting Hughes in the bullpen at once solved the Yankees' bullpen problems (okay, helped solve would be more accurate) and may, in the end be the best thing for the development of young master Hughes.
All of a sudden the Yankees had an eighth inning guy that was simply stellar—like Joba Chamberlain in 2007, but more efficient. Not a 100 mph guy like Joel Zumaya, but a guy that came in, got three outs, and handed the ball to the great Mariano. The Hughes-Rivera tandem sparked more than a few comments about reminiscing to the dynasty years of the late 1990s.
What's more, however, is that unlike Chamberlain, Hughes had the majority of the season in the bullpen—time to get used to the everyday-ness of major league life for one, and plenty of talking time with Mariano, for another. There are quite a few who will argue that breaking in a pitcher as a reliever first, before transitioning him to the rotation in the next season, is the way to go. We'll see if it works with Hughes, but for the moment, the Yankees have gotten themselves, quite probably, the best back end of a bullpen in the 2009 playoffs.
4) Mariano Rivera nabs his 500th save and first RBI in the same game
One feat will get Rivera to the hall of fame and the other will not, but guess which one the beat reporters all said Rivera wanted to talk about more?
There's something to be said for the save statistic itself as being overrated—saves are only possible when your team has already done most of the work—but even if we were to look at save percentage, a better measurement for how successful a closer is, Rivera is still the top of the pack.
While Rivera may not have been as decent, in terms of peripherals, as he was in 2008, this is rather a statement as to how absurdly good his 2008 was than anything else—in 2009 he was still easily one of, if not the, best closer(s) in all of baseball.
He had his longest converted saves streak in his career,while managing a K/9 ratio of over nine and a WHIP under one.
Thirty nine year old closers aren't supposed to do that...
3. Jeter breaks hit record
It was an ugly, rainy night and an uglier game that resumed at 12.40 AM after a lengthy rain delay, but no one will remember that.
What they will remember, however, is Jeter breaking the all-time hits record for a Yankee. It's still sort of marvelous that Jeter did not have to get a 3,000th hit to do so (though he likely will sometime in 2011), but what Jeter did is still quite an accomplishment, especially when one considers how historically-minded the Yankee fan base can be.
Derek Jeter's 2009 was simply a renaissance; he wasn't just better with his bat, the switch to the lead off spot working wonders there, but he was also that much better in the field. Many attribute his better range to playing farther back on the infield, but whatever it was that he did, it worked.
Jeter's value has long been unquantifiable, but his breaking the hit record simply gave us another reason to celebrate it.
2. Yankees sweep Red Sox in four game series
This series seems to have been the defining moment for the 2009 season. Going into the series, the Yankees were just barely in first place and 0-8 against the Red Sox for the season. Needless to say, there was a lot riding on the results.
In front of a stadium crowd that had a relentless, playoff-like atmosphere, the Yankees thrived.
They won games every way possible—slugfests (Thursday), extra inning pitcher's duels (Friday), and close games that involved coming from behind in the late innings (Sunday).
The Yankees simply out-played the Red Sox in every facet of the game, and at the end of the series they were so far in first place that they cruised to a division title, their first since 2006.
That series, perhaps more than any other, was a testament to the character and resiliency of the 2009 Yankees, who started the season 0-8 against Boston and then went 9-1 the rest of the way.
1) Melky Cabrera gets pied
Okay, so this isn't so much about Melky Cabrera's getting pied—in May, against the Twins and Joe Nathan, as the Yankees came back from a 4-2 deficit in the ninth inning—as it is about the number of pies the entire team had. I think the final tally is something like:
Canó 2 (?)
Castillo (okay, no actual pie).
The walk off wins speak of a team that doesn't quit and a team that fans can always believe will win—a team where everyone stays through the ninth inning, even when losing because they always believe there is that chance, and the pies speak of a team that's, well, a team.
As friends and I have discussed quite often, what sets the 2009 Yankees apart from many of the recent teams is that this team is one you want to root for, a team that's good, that's fun, and that does as much good off the field—such as Hope Week—as they do on it.
In the course of the 2009 season, the Yankees only had one homestand in which they did not have a walk off win, which is quite the accomplishment. You do sort of get the feeling that the walk off magic might lead to some interesting things happening throughout the rest of this month...
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