"New York!!! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you're in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new, the lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York"
Alicia Keys couldn't have sung it better on Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" song (off his Blue Print 3 album in stores now). And the New York Yankees seem to have an Empire State of Mind of their own.
Led by Derek Jeter the New York Yankees seem poised to win the American League and play for their 27th World Series title. The dynasty looks as if they are back and ready to go on another title after taking out the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the Division Series Sunday night.
This series win was a complete team effort.
The Yankees were the only team with 100 wins in Major League baseball. They cut payroll by signing C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira this past offseason. And finally, in an offseason that was overshadowed by Alex Rodriguez's positive test and admission to using "Boli" (a supplement banned by baseball), the Yankees still won the A.L. East.
But the Yankees are in a no win situation. If they don't win the World Series then it was another season of "The Evil Empire" outspending everyone else and failing. But if they do win it all, then it's because the Yankees out spent everyone else. They will not be as well received as any other team that could win it (outside of New York and Yankees fans).
Much has been said in the past about these Yankees, like "25 players, 25 cabs", but not this year. The additions of Teixeira, Burnett and most notably Nick Swisher has made the clubhouse a lot looser and closer enviroment then what it had been in the past.
Think of the cream towels in the face after a close or come from behind win. The laughing in the dugout during games. The hand shakes. It all points to a clubhouse that is special, and that was not the case in years past. It has made players more relaxed and more comfortable, especially Alex Rodriguez, who always seemed to be uptight and pressing.
The healing and bonding started right after Rodriguez addressed his teammates when he reported to spring training. He came clean and opened up to his teammates like never before. With Jeter, Swisher, Teixeira, Burnett, Sabathia leading the way, the Yankees joined their teammate in his moment of need to show support, and that was a defining moment for this team, in my opinion.
As we all know Rodriguez missed the month of April after hip surgery, and upon his return the Yankees (and Teixeira) took off. It took A-Rod a while to find his swing, but he seemed more relaxed, a better teammate something he said he would do, all season.
As Yankees fans know better than anyone else, Rodriguez has struggled in post seasons past. Here is a stat most Yankees, and baseball fans already knew, he entered this past post season in an 0-16 slump with runners in scoring position. No one knew what to expect from him this post season. The "experts" were split on his impact, but for the first time since he came to New York, the pressure wasn't on A-Rod's shoulders. The Yankees "new investments", Teixeira, Burnett and Sabathia were getting the attention for their "new roles" in the post season for the Yankees. Rodriguez was at least fourth on the list.
Now back to the team, we'll come back to Rodriguez a bit later.
All season long there was a different look to the Yankees. They seemed to have a different swagger about them and of course, Derek Jeter led the way. Jeter may have had his finest season at the age of 35. He batted .334, hit 18 hr's, 27 doubles, a triple, stole 30 bases, scored 107 runs , drove in 66 and had 212 hits. Jeter also became the Yankees all-time hit king with a total of 2,747 hits passing the great Lou Gherig. He has to be near the top of the A.L. MVP race.
Jeter's outstanding year may have been overshadowed by Teireira's great year. He was everything that the Yankees had hoped an more after signing an 8 year $180 million dollar deal. He provided Gold Glove defense at first base and he was great in the clubhouse. Offensively Teixeira was the perfect number three hitter in the line-up. He hit 39 home runs (tied for the A.L. lead), drove in 122 runs, hit .292 and slugged .565.
Sabathia and Burnett were brought in to give the Yankees two front end pitchers to lead their rotation and give them two dominenet pitchers in the post season. Sabathia won 19 games, struck out 197 hitters and had a 3.37 era while Burnett won 13 and struck out 195 players with a 4.04 era. Burnett got off to a hot start was was the Yankees "stopper" early on, while Sabathia got better as the year went on and proved he could indeed handle New York.
The Yankees, as a whole, received outstanding production from Swisher, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabera, a healthy Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano. Cano, who was almost dealt to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp, hit .325, hit 25 home runs and drove in 85 Yankees. Cano also improved his defense as well after slipping the previous couple years.
The pitching staff got better as the year went on. Sabathia, Burnett, Andy Pettitte (who had a resurgence) and Joba Chamberlain gave the Yankees one of the better staff's in the A.L. The fifth spot in the rotation is cause for concern for the Yankees, but Phil Hughes, who seemed to have found a home at the back end of the bullpen, seems to be the likely canidate to fill that void next year.
The bullpen in the post season is deep with Hughes and Chamberlain being the seventh and eighth inning pitchers setting up Mariano Rivera. David Robertson is yet another young pitcher that gives the Yankees even more options in the pen. Phil Coke is the "lefty specialist" and has thrived in that roll each of the past two seasons.
But as it has for the past 14 seasons, it all begins and ends with Rivera. He had yet another special season saving 44 games with an era of 1.76. His cut fastball is still the best in the game.
Now back to Rodriguez.
After missing April, he ended his year batting .286, hitting 30 hr's driving in 100 Yankees with a .532 slugging percentage. The numbers are not "A-Rodesqe", but he became a better ball player and teammate this year. He has never loked so relaxed and joyful playing the game in pinstripes. This postseason it is showing. Thus far (after the Divisional Series) Alex is hitting .455 with 2 home runs, 6 rbi's and a slugging percentage of 1.000.
But the difference in Alex Rodriguez came to the world's sight on Friday, October 9th, 2009. He came to bat with no outs in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees trailing the Twins by two runs. Teixeira had just singled and was on first. Five pitches later (on a 3-1 count) Rodriguez was circling the bases after he tied the game with a two run home run deep to just right of centerfield into the New York night. It was his Yankee moment and his October rebirth.
This appears to be another post season that the Yankees and Yankees fans will remember. The feel of this team is different. This Yankees team seems to be more like a family, more like a band of brothers with one common goal in mind, to bring home the World Series for the 27th time in Yankees history.
That is an Empire State of Mind.
E-Mail Joe @ joeslockerroom.wordpress.com