Not all hits are created equal. While a double is a double is a double in the boxscore, a double with men on first and third with two outs when you’re down by two has the appearance of being a bigger hit. Maybe a double, or even a single, earlier in the game could have rendered the above situation moot, but most of the time we’re not thinking of baseball in terms of all possible outcomes. We’re thinking of the specific game situation and what happened.
Big hits can lead to big things. They can rally a team from behind, they can move a team towards symbolic victory. The top teams in the league are bound to have a lot of big hits during the season. We put the value of these hits in better perspective in hindsight, since we can take a long view of the season and determine the ups, the downs, and the turning points.
These are my 10 biggest hits of the 2009 season. Clearly there’s a high level of subjectivity here. I encourage everyone to add in what they feel are the biggest hits. Surely I missed a few that you thought were bigger.
With their magic number falling and their win total approaching 100, the Yankees went to Anaheim in late September for the second time in 2009. Billed a playoff preview, pundits and fans placed much weight on the series. The Yankees had lost the first three games in Anaheim, a July sweep, and had a history of poor performance at Angels Stadium. A loss in the series opener didn’t help matters.
The second game went a bit better. Heading into the bottom of the eighth the Yankees led 5-4, with Hughes and Rivera poised to close out the victory. But a Robinson Cano error opened up an opportunity for the Angels. They tied the game in the eighth, leaving us deflated heading into the ninth. The Yanks didn’t let it get them down, though, and they opened the ninth with a bang, a Brett Gardner single and stolen base.
Darren Oliver came in with runners on first and second with none out, and two batters later it was second and third with one out with Alex Rodriguez at the plate. He didn’t do too much, just hit a line drive to left center, scoring Gardner from third to give the Yanks the lead for good. It might seem like a small matter, a sac fly to break a tie, but for the Yanks and their fans it was big. They won in Anaheim, and A-Rod did one of the small things that wins teams ballgames. The Yanks continued on to win another close one the next day, giving everyone more confidence they could beat Anaheim in the playoffs.
Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
9. Posada homers to take the lead after Opening Day loss (video)
The first game at the new Yankee Stadium didn’t quite go as planned. CC Sabathia started, but lasted only 5.2 innings, throwing 122 pitches. He left the game tied, but in the seventh Jose Veras and Damaso Marte let things get out of hand, leading to a big loss in the home opener. The next day didn’t look so great either, as the Indians opened up a 5-3 lead in the fifth, knocking Joba Chamberlain out of the game before he could finish the inning.
Then came the Chien-Ming Wang debacle, of which we will not speak. Down 2-1 in the series, the Yanks needed a split. Yet, just as on Friday, they got off to a poor start on Sunday, trailing 3-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. What followed was the beginning of the team’s penchant for late-inning comebacks.
Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui led off the inning with back to back hits, cutting the lead to 3-2. Two batters later, Jorge Posada hit a ball just over the right field wall. The umpires had to review the play, but eventually awarded Jorge the home run, giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead, one they’d expand on later. Though it was just an April series, the seventh and eighth innings, in which the Yankees scored six runs, gave us a peek of what was to come.
We might not have realized it at the time, but Posada’s hit taught us to never count out the 2009 Yankees until the last out was recorded.
Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
8. Pena singles to spur another late-inning comeback (video)
The Yankees actually got off to a good start against the Angels in 2009. Their first meeting came early in the season, bridging April and May, and the Yankees took the first contest. The second started off well, too, with the Yanks getting to Jered Weaver for four runs in the first. But the Angels came back, scoring six in the sixth off Andy Pettitte and Mark Melancon. Jose Veras added to the damage in the seventh, allowing three runs while recording just one out.
Down 9-4 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks started a rally. Cano doubled and Posada drew a walk. Mike Scioscia put Jose Arredondo in the game, and that’s when things got interesting. Brett Gardner singled, but not deep enough to score Cano. Melky Cabrera came up next, and he grounded one through the hole, plating one run. Still with the bases loaded, the light-hitting Ramiro Pena came to the plate.
Bases loaded, one out, and the 25th man on the roster is at the plate. We couldn’t have expected success, but Ramiro delivered, lining one to right-center and plating two runs while moving Melky to third base. That didn’t put them up, or even tie the game. In fact, it took a Derek Jeter groundout in the next at bat to score Melky and put the Yankees within one run. But it was a huge hit from an unexpected contributor. The best teams in the game often need those hits to put them ahead of the pack.
Also, let us not forget Brian Fuentes handing the Yanks the game in the ninth, walking the leadoff hitter followed by three straight singles, the clincher on a bases loaded hit by Jorge Posada.
Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
The series opener against the defending World Series champions did not begin so well. Jimmy Rollins hit a home run on A.J. Burnett’s first pitch, and the Yankees never quite recovered. This was also the game in which Raul Ibanez welcomed back Chien-Ming Wang with a monster shot into the right field bleachers, about halfway up. After a 7-3 loss, the Yanks needed a win the next day.
Yet they found themselves down 4-2 heading into the late innings — the bottom of the ninth, even. The game within two runs, manager Charlie Manuel called on his closer, Brad Lidge, despite his having allowed 16 runs in 18.1 innings to that point. Johnny Damon singled and stole second to start the inning, and after a Mark Teixeira strike out Alex Rodriguez slammed a pitch over the right field fence, tying the game at four. Robinson Can followed with a single and then stole second himself, putting him in position to score the winning run on a Melky Cabrera single.
The Yankees were already rolling at that point, having won nine straight heading into the Philly series. The last thing they wanted was to lose the first two, disrupting their momentum. A-Rod’s homer and Melky’s single gave them a big win, and even though they’d lose the next day they continued showing their late-inning perseverance, once again tying the game off Lidge.
Credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
6. A-Rod’s ultimately futile double off Delcarmen (video)
There was a point during the 2009 season, if you’ll remember back far enough, that the Yankees were 0-8 against the Red Sox. Hard to fathom, considering they finished the season series even at 9-9. That was a tough initial stretch to endure, watching the Yankees lose to their perennial rivals. At 0-7 on the season, the Yankees needed a win on June 11, if for no other reason than to prove to fans they could beat the Red Sox.
Through the sixth inning, the Yankees hadn’t done much against Brad Penny. A few runners reached scoring position, but the Yanks drove in none. A David Ortiz solo home run was he difference in the score when Manny Delcarmen replaced Penny. The Yanks immediately started a rally, tying the game in two batters, a Melky single followed by a Francisco Cervelli double. With two on and two outs, Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate, 0 for the series.
I can remember the swing like it was yesterday. A-Rod got out ahead of the pitch, slamming off the wall in left-center. Damon and Cervelli scored, giving the Yanks a much-needed lead. CC Sabathia and Al Aceves would give it all back in the bottom of the eighth, finishing the Sox first-half sweep. Still, the hit by A-Rod gave the Yanks a lead they should have held.
Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
By the last game of a four-game set with the Red Sox in August, 0-8 seemed a distant memory. The Yankees crushed the Sox in the series opener, and then won a 15-inning affair in dramatic fashion. They went up 3-0 in the series that Saturday, when CC Sabathia plowed through the Sox lineup as the Yanks shut out their foes for the second straight day. The scoreless streak actually hit 31 innings on Sunday.
With a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth, Joe Girardi summoned Phil Coke in Phil Hughes’s stead, as the latter would have been pitching for the fourth time in five days. Coke started off fine, striking out Jacoby Ellsbury, but then he surrendered a single to Dustin Pedroia. Just a moment later, Victor Martinez smashed one over the left field wall to give the Red Sox their first runs in days. Even though the Yankees had won the first three games, that one still hurt a lot.
Dan Bard, the Sox high velocity setup man, came on for the bottom of the inning, and did his job well, inducing two straight ground outs. But then he threw a hittable fastball to Johnny Damon, and Damon put an excellent swing on it, lining it over the wall and towards the back of the Yankees bullpen, tying the game. Just a few pitches later, Mark Teixeira timed a curveball and hit a moonshot down the right field line, putting the Yanks back ahead. Swisher would add some insurance runs, and the Yanks would complete the sweep.
Going from 0-8 to 4-8, while jumping out to a decent lead in the AL East, certainly sent a message. The Yankees certainly would have been okay with winning three of four, but the Martinez homer would have had us wondering what if. Damon and Teixeira erased that, delivering a big win for the Yanks.
Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
4. A-Rod’s 15th inning home run (video)
A day after the two teams combined to score 19 runs, neither could muster a single one. A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett battled each other, tossing up zero after zero. Burnett outlasted his Red Sox counterpart by 2/3 of an inning, and turned in quite the dominant performance, allowing no hits after Ellsbury led off the game with a single. Still, at the end of nine the score remained tied.
Terry Francona burned through most of his bullpen after removing Beckett, finally inserting rookie Junichi Tazawa in the 14th, hoping that he could continue pitching while the Red Sox tried to score a run. Meanwhile, Joe Girardi had already coaxed multiple innings out of Al Aceves and Brian Bruney. Phil Coke pitched the 15th, and presumably would have been in line to start the 16th. Thankfully, that wouldn’t be necessary.
Tazawa allowed a Derek Jeter single before recording two outs in the 15th before zoning in for a long at-bat against Alex Rodriguez. I’m not sure if it was actually long, or it just seemed long because the game was already five and a half hours old. Tazawa finally made a mistake, and A-Rod slammed it over the left-center wall, mercifully ending the game and giving the Yankees their second straight victory over the Sox.
The home run was big not only because of the drama, but because of the effect it had on the Red Sox. After watching their starter give it his all, after watching the bullpen hold the Yankees at zero, it all toppled with one swing of the bat. How deflated must they have been? We can’t be sure of the exact psychological effect, but the Sox scored no runs the next day.
Credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
3. Melky goes deep off Smoltz (video)
Clearly, the first August series against the Red Sox was a turning point of the season. We knew it would be big — the Yankees were 0-8 against the Sox, though by the time the series started they were up by 3.5 games in the AL East. Still, they needed to beat the Red Sox. Standing in their way was veteran John Smoltz who, despite good strikeout and walk numbers, didn’t look anything like his former self.
The Sox struck first, plating a run in the third, but the Yankees answered in the bottom of the frame to tie. Then, frustratingly, Joba Chamberlain gave the lead right back, allowing two more runs in the top of the fourth on a home run to Casey Kotchman of all hitters. Little did we know at the time what a hurting the Yankees were about to put on Smoltz.
Posada led off the fourth by smashing a double deep down the right field line. Robinson Cano followed by actually getting a hit with a runner in scoring position, singling up the middle to put the Yankees within one. Nick Swisher walked, bringing up Melky Cabrera with two on and none out. I was in the stands for this, and I could just feel it. Melky was going to bust this one open. And he did, absolutely crushing a Smoltz pitch into the right field stands to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead.
The fun wouldn’t end there. Derek Jeter hit a ball well to center, but just didn’t get it on the right part of the bat. Damon singled and Teixeira doubled, bringing up A-Rod with two on. Of course, Smoltz walked him, and thus ended his Red Sox career. Billy Traber came in to mop up and failed miserably, allowing a run on an out followed by a three-run jack by Posada. The Yankees had just earned their first victory against the Red Sox.
As a bonus, Boston DFA’d both Traber and Smoltz that weekend.
Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
2. Cevelli’s homer in Atlanta (video)
The series against the Red Sox was a turning point in that it solidified the Yankees as the best team in the AL. But before they could get there they needed to transition from underachieving team to one that would fulfill its potential. In early June, things didn’t look so hot for the Yankees. They entered a series against Boston tied for the division lead and ended up getting swept. It would have been four straight if not for a Luis Castillo dropped ball, and then after getting dominated by Fernando Nieve the next day, they laid a beating on Johan Santana. We really didn’t know who this team was at the time.
After opening strong, as expected, against the Nationals, the Yankees dropped two straight, and then lost two of three in Miami before losing the opener to the Braves. That second game proved a turning point. First, Brian Cashman showed up to rally the troops. Then, Joe Girardi got them fired up by getting himself tossed. One batter later, Francisco Cervelli hit his first big league home run, tying the game at one. It sparked a three-run inning, giving the Yankees a lead they would not surrender.
Like A-Rod’s 15th-inning home run, Cervelli’s shot was as dramatic as it was important. The Yankees had struggled to score runs, and in this game they had gone through five scoreless innings after getting shut out the day before. After Cervelli’s shot they scored seven more runs in that game, 11 in the next, and then nine in the series opener against the Mets. They’d win 13 of their next 15 before the sweep in Anaheim heading into the break.
The best teams always get contributions from the little guys. While Cervelli woudln’t stay with the team all year, and wouldn’t make the playoff roster, he made an enormous contribution with his team-rallying home run. It’s one we probably won’t forget for many years.
Credit: AP Photo/LM Otero
1. A-Rod’s season-opening home run (video)
What says “I’m baaaaack” better than smashing a three-run home on the first pitch you see after missing the first month of the season? A-Rod, of course, was cheating fastball, but Jeremy Guthrie delivered it. Alex just did the only thing he knew how. All we could do was pick up our jaws off the floor and applaud the man. After a spring of turmoil, including the steroid revelations and his hip surgery, A-Rod told us early that things on the field hadn’t changed.
The homer was bigger than just a symbol of A-Rod’s return. THe Yankees had just lost five straight to the Angels, Red Sox, and Rays. They were 14-15, underachieving early in the season as they had in the past two. A-Rod’s shot gave them an early lead that CC Sabathia had no problem holding. They went on to win 11 of their next 13, eventually taking an AL East lead a month after A-Rod’s return. They’d slip, but they came back. It’s always sweeter when you come back.
Credit: AP Photo/Rob Carr
Note: All images from the actual games, except Pena and Cervelli, which I could not find.