Dec
24

Musings on the turning points of 2009

By

It’s often hard to pick one spot in a baseball season and say with certainty that it was the turning point for an eventual World Series winner. Yet, every team has that narrative when they say they just knew things would change. For the 1998 Yankees, it was rebounding from an 0-3 start to the season by winning 26 out of 30 games after Joe Torre’s job seemed to be on the line. But what about this year?

In one sense, the turning point for the 2009 Yankees arrived a year and a day ago when the Yanks swooped in out of nowhere to sign Mark Teixeira. Before that early Christmas present for Yankee fans arrived under our trees, the team was prepared to start the season with Nick Swisher at first base and Xavier Nady in right field. With one stroke of the pen, the Yanks found themselves stronger at the corners and with fantastic outfield depth. When Nady went down in early April with a bad elbow injury, the team barely noticed his absence.

But what of the play on the field? When did the 2009 Yankees really turn it around? I believe it came in late June in Atlanta, and I think the players would agree. The Yankees found themselves mired in an Interleague Play slump in June. They dropped two out of three to a bad Nationals team and two out of three to a mediocre Marlins club. After losing the first contest of a three-game set to the Braves, Brian Cashman made a trip to Atlanta to talk things over with his ballclub.

We may never know what was said behind closed doors, but we know the results. The Yanks went from 39-32 to 103-59 over the next three and a half months. Over a full season, that 64-27 pace would lead to a 114-win season. It was a run the likes of which we had not seen since that historic 1998 season.

As the Yanks stood on the verge of the postseason in late September, A-Rod spoke about that meeting in Atlanta. “We had a plan in Atlanta,” he said during an interview, “and we stuck with it.”

Ostensibly, the plan for A-Rod was to get him more rest. It involved keeping his surgically repaired hip feeling good while ensuring that his bat kept its spot in the middle of an offensive juggernaut. A-Rod, though, was just one of the Yanks who emerged from Atlanta with a plan. The Yanks won 13 out of 15 before getting swept by the Angels at the All Star Break, and the second half began with the Yanks going on a tear. By early August, the division was all but sewn up.

If and when someone writes the book on the 2009 Yankees, the 27th World Series championship club in franchise history, that moment in Atlanta will make for a nice narrative turn. The beleaguered general manager, tired of watching his club underperform, stepped in to rally the troops. If ever a chewing out can inspire a ballclub, that would be the one.

Now, with a winter of roster moves nearly complete, Brian Cashman is again asking us implicitly to trust him. He’s putting together another team with an eye toward repeating in the World Series. This week, he landed Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson, and these two moves could very well be this winter’s turning points. We’ll find out next year it’s for the better or the worse.

Categories : Musings
  • Jeremy

    It’s a damn good team, that’s for sure.

  • http://fmylife.com JobaJr

    I agree Atlanta was the major turning point of 2009, however, I also believe that A-Rod’s 15th inning blast was critical to the season as well.

  • A fan

    I disagree with it being the major turning point. It was a turning point, certainly (every season will havea few). But the major turnng point was A-Rod returning and hitting the first pitch for a home run.

    • Yazman

      100% agreed. It was Alex’s first at bat that turned the season around.

  • Bill Style

    Cervelli’s home run turned everything around in Atlanta

    • Bronx Ralphie

      I agree.

    • Graves

      I have to agree with this, that week the Yankees couldn’t score a run if their lives depended on it, Cervelli tying it up revitalized the team.

      • Graves

        …Was Girardi thrown out of that game? I seem to remember something like that

        • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bring-Melvin-To-America/193013541601?ref=nf Andy in Sunny Daytona

          Yeah, he was thrown out and THEN Cervelli responded with the homer. Girardi, FTW!!!

      • http://fmylife.com JobaJr

        Score a run? Cervelli’s shot broke up the no-hitter.

    • cheddar

      Yup.

  • mike

    Two points changed the season – when CC finally settled down and became a monster, and when Arod returned and allowed Tex to relax and really lengthened the lineup

  • FrankFernandez

    The Minnesota series, especially the Friday game. The thing that caught my attention that night was Girardi bull-rushing Gardenhire after Carlos Gomez came close to clipping Tex at 1st base for the second time. Felt like he was dying to get out there and show the team how much he cared (and how much they should care). It was the kind of thing that never happened in ’08 (or under Torre in the final years), and the team responded that night and the rest of the weekend. For the first time, you thought this team had something in the determination category that the old Yankee teams had.

    • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bring-Melvin-To-America/193013541601?ref=nf Andy in Sunny Daytona

      In Torre’s defense, he had been told by doctors for years, that he needed to get more rest. The bench is a perfect place for a nap.

  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    Nick Swisher shutting the door on the Rays with his stellar relief work.

    Honestly, the already mentioned meeting in Atlanta and A-Rod coming back stand out for me, but I’d also like to add the three consecutive walk-offs. For me that showed that this team was never out of game and would never give up.

    • Bill Style

      I think every Yankee fan expected them to win any game that went into extra innings.

      “Get the pie ready!”

  • Guest

    For me, it was the A-Rod homerun on the first pitch he saw. I mean it seem like a switch was flipped and the season started at that moment. It didn’t hurt that CC was dominant that night either. The message was sent: “OK, now we’re the Yankees again.”

    It was nice…

  • Guest

    Also, while we are on it, has any Yankee in recent memory had a greater collection of “clutchitude” moments in a single season than A-Rod had this year?

    I’m personally not a huge believer in clutchy-ness; A-Rod had big hits in big moments because he’s an all-time great hitter, and all-time great hitters get hits in both large and small moments. But still, his ’09 season presents quite the narrative:

    1. Homerun on first pitch back from major surgery after an off-season of self-inflicted turmoil. Probably the single most watched and high-stakes regular season at bat in his entire career.

    2. Walk-off homerun in first homestand.

    3. Division defining walk-off homerun in 15 inning classic against the Red Sox.

    4. 28 HR’s 93 RBIs going into the six inning of the last game of the season. He would come up twice in the inning and a total of 5 men on base for his at bats. He needed to hit a homerun in both at bats to get to 30 HR and 100 RBIs. He finished the season with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs.

    5. Game tying two run homerun in the bottom of the ninth in the 2 game off the ALDS against the second best closer in the game.

    6. Game tying homerun in the top of the seventh of games 3 of the ALDS off a pitcher who was throwing a shut-out.

    6. Game tying homerun in the bottom of the 11th of AL saves leader on two strike count in ALCS.

    7. World Series defining two run double in the top of the 9th off Brad Lidge in game 4 of the World Series.

    And there were many more lesser big hits in his season. Quite something.

    • OldYanksFan

      That post made me all tingly.

      • scooter

        That 15-inning gem alone gets me a little tingly

        Even Michael Kay was on that night – the “long night’s journey into day” line – alluding to the famous Eugene O’Neill play – was just about poetic.

      • ecksodia

        Amen. He put up the numbers; both in the mother of all small sample sizes, and the regular season (including that ridiculous, makes-you-think-it-was-scripted 2 HR, 7 RBI inning), ending any and all debates as to whether he is “clutch” or not. He brought the intangibles, too; “not trying drawing all the attention to himself”, finally “letting his play speak for himself”, and what have you.

        2009 was definitely his year of redemption. Just when it looked like he was going to be forgotten, he reminds us all why we’re lucky to be watching this guy play baseball.

        But of course, the other big things – ‘stealing’ Tex (what CURSE?!) from the Sox (we’ll really be looking back at this one if we win another championship or two), lots of people putting up career years or close to them (kudos, OldYanksFan)…

        But the swing all started with A-Rod, and his swing, on a 97, 98mph heater.

    • steve (different one)

      i think it’s safe to say that #5-7 make A-Rod’s 2009 one of the “clutchest” postseasons we’ll ever see.

      and you could even add the HR off the TV camera. it was 3-0 Phils at that point and Hamels was looking pretty tough. that HR made it 3-2, and started up the offense on the way to a crucial game 3 win.

    • Evil Empire

      Best part about this: no reason to think he’ll be anything but better in 2010

    • Jeremy

      Thank you for writing this comment. It made my day.

    • ecksodia

      About #5 – I remember thinking that Nathan might ensure that we never get any late inning heroics from the Yankees; boy was I wrong!

  • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

    As a history buff with a literary turn of mind, I love the concept of narratives in baseball. And as someone who followed the Yankees game by game this season, what happened that night in Atlanta after the team had dropped two series and being shutout for so many consecutive innings was HUGE.

    You had: a visit from Cashman, Gardner being “picked off” and Girardi getting fired up, Cervelli hitting his first big league home run to tie the game and put the Yankees on the board for the first time in two games, and then, the pièce de résistance, A-Rod broke out of a frustrating slump with that beautiful two-run line drive single. It also featured Joba pitching well and Mo coming out of the pen with no rust and enough energy for an at-bat.

    And, um, yes. I trust the Cashman and think 2010 is going to be another good year even though the Yankees will now be lifeless zombies without Melky and Damon.

  • OldYanksFan

    Rather then 1 specific point (although Atlanta WAS that point), I look at an offensive lineup where EVERY player except ARod posted a better then career average year. Actual, many players posted years closer to their best year then their average. Considering how many older giuys we had, that’s really pretty amazing. 8 of 9 offensive players just hit the snot out of the ball.

    MTeix: 149 OPS+ (13 pts higher then his career average)
    A-Rod: 147 OPS+ (33, tied his career average. TRADE DA BUM!)
    Jorge: 137 OPS+ (37 year old Catcher, 9 pts higher then average)
    Jeter: 132 OPS+ (35, 2nd bast year of a 15 year career)
    HMats: 131 OPS+ (35, 2nd best year, 9 pts higher then average)
    Damon: 126 OPS+ (35, BEST of his 15 year career)
    Swish: 129 OPS+ (His BEST year, 14 pts higher then average)
    RCano: 129 OPS+ (His BEST year, 16 pts higher then average)
    Melky: 099 OPS+ (His BEST year, 11 pts higher then average)

    4 career years, 2 second bests! Aside from the fact that those numbers are INSANE, statistically speaking, how many times has this happed.

    P.S. And ARod wasn’t really that bad either.

  • steve (different one)

    For the 1998 Yankees, it was rebounding from an 0-3 start to the season by winning 26 out of 30 games after Joe Torre’s job seemed to be on the line.

    was this really the case? i honestly don’t remember. i’m not saying i don’t believe you, i do. but i’m just thinking about how absurd this looks 10 years later. as much as i love this team, the BS can be exhausting sometimes. Torre’s job was really on the line after losing THREE games? seems so silly in the post-George era, doesn’t it?

    • Rick in Boston

      It definitely was the case, at least according to the media at the time. They were on the west coast to start the season. Don’t forget, while they had won the division and WS in 1996, they were the wild card in ’97 and lost in the division series. And George had been quoted during Spring Training asking “Has anyone ever gone 162-0?” The pressure was on.

      • steve (different one)

        yeah, i believe it. doesn’t make it any less annoying though.

        sure, they lost in the division series in 97, b/c Mariano gave up a crucial HR. not really Torre’s fault.

        • Rick in Boston

          It was still George being George, the bluster, etc. was still there in full force. Nobody would have been shocked at that time, in fact, it wouldn’t have been that annoying, since George had just decided to not bring Showalter back a couple years before.

  • YFan

    Girardi: What about me getting thrown out?
    Cerveli: What about my homerun?
    Ben: No offense but I’ts all about the Cash, man.

  • steve s

    I agree that the 2nd game of the Atlanta series was a major turning point of the Yankee season but Arod’s 7 RBI game on the last day of the season giving him 30/100 seemed to be his personal turning point in terms of energizing him for his great post-season run; no matter what turning point is picked (season or post-season) somehow it should involve Arod.

  • crapula

    What about Mo’s 500th? Jeter breaking Gehrig’s record? Mo walking in a run at Citifield (HA!), Melky’s cycle?

    It was a bit magical this season. Yes it was.

  • OldYanksFan

    And just a little-itty-bitty thing.
    ARod passed 5 guys on the all-time HR list, and ending up tied for 8th place… at the ripe old age of 33.

    But the bottom line of bottom lines:
    It was INDEED a magical season!

  • Adam Parker

    Ugh, I was at game 1 in Atlanta, and it was terrible. If I remember it was a shutout, and I didn’t hear the end of it for awhile. Sure wish I had gone to game 2 or 3. ;)

  • http://kikojones5.blogspot.com Kiko Jones

    Managers, yeah. Owners, of course. But I can’t wrap my head around the concept of a GM chewing out a team. I mean, it’s because to me, GMs have always come across as administrators. And I know it’s not the best of analogies but I’d feel weird if the company I were working for had the owner’s assistant reprimand me, as opposed to my supervisor/dept. head or the owner of the company.

    Those A-Rod highlights were awesome. Thanks, guys.

    As for turning points during the season, here’s a minor but crucial one: in May Posada hits a walkoff single for the second of 15 such wins during the season. Sensing AJ’s apprehension about “pieing” the notoriously cranky, old-school, veteran Yankee, Mo tells AJ to go get the whipped cream. That, was huge.

    Late in the season no.42 was telling the press how the new guys had fit in so well, praising their leadership and going on about how it was as if they’d been Yankees for years. But he was being modest regarding his role in all of that. Not only was Mo seemingly the direct influence on Giradi’s more relaxed vibe with the team this season–I don’t see Jeter, Posada, or Pettite, taking that kind of initiative–but also, a very big reason as to why the first year players felt at home from the start. And that was awesome.

    Btw, the World Series was won the moment Johnny pulled off the double steal in Game 4.