The Unexpected HeroesBy
It happens every year. Injuries and/or ineffectiveness force each and every team to call up players from the minors, sometimes minor league lifers and other times rookies. Inevitably one of two or those players comes up big in some way, whether it be in one at-bat or over a prolonged stretch of time. The Yankees have enjoyed quite bit of success from unexpected sources this season, and they ultimately needed every little bit of it en route to clinching a playoff spot.
Some call-ups obviously did more than others, but these five moments really stand out from the pack. Presented in chronological order, let’s relieve the magic by the unexpected heroes…
May 21st: Kevin Russo buries the Mets (video)
The Yankees were dealing with a plethora of injury issues in May, with everyone from Curtis Granderson (hamstring) to Nick Swisher (biceps) to Robbie Cano (knee) to Jorge Posada (foot) battling ailments and needing various degrees of rest. Russo was recalled because he provided enough versatility to sub for any of the walking wounded, but even the staunchest of Russo backers expected little with the bat.
With the Yanks coming off three straight losses and heading across town to take on the Mets, Russo drew his first career start, an assignment in leftfield. The two New York clubs played to a scoreless tie through six, but the Yanks threatened to break things open when Elmer Dessens relieved Hisanori Takahashi. Nick Swisher led the seventh inning off with a solid single to center, though Frankie Cervelli tried to kill the rally with a tailor made double play to ball to second. Unfortunately for the Mets, it was not meant to be. Alex Cora airmailed the flip to Jose Reyes, throwing the ball into leftfield and allowing Swish to move to third and Cervelli to second, all with no outs.
That brought Russo to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks a lead even if he made an out. He had picked up his first career hit in his first at-bat, but on Dessens’ second offering he picked up his first career extra base hit, poking a double down the rightfield line and into the corner. Both Swisher and Cervelli came around the score, and those two runs were all the Yanks needed on the day. Mariano Rivera nailed things down in the ninth, and the losing streak was kaput.
When Granderson and Marcus Thames hit the disabled list earlier in the season, the Yankees were stretched a little thin in the outfield. Huffman did a poor but still admirable job filling in, and during interleague play he found himself substituting for another injured outfielder: Brett Gardner, who left this game against the Dodgers after Clayton Kershaw hit him on the wrist with a fastball in the third inning. Huffman singled in his first at-bat, but his moment to shine didn’t come until the ninth inning.
Down four runs coming into the frame, the Yankees were already mounting a rally off Broxton when Huffman came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Broxton challenged the rookie, giving him three straight fastballs at 96. After taking the first two for a ball and a strike, Huffman lined a single to the opposite field to drive in a pair of runs and bring the Yanks to within one. The next batter was Curtis, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the previous inning and remained in to play defense. Again, Broxton came right at him, and the kid who made his big league debut less than a week earlier in his home state of Arizona fouled off the first two pitches for a quick 0-2 count.
At this point, against a reliever of Broxton’s caliber, most kids with six big league plate appearances to their credit are toast. But not Curtis, he hung in there and then some. The third pitch was a fastball down for a ball, the fourth was a slider in the dirt for a ball, and the fifth a fastball well of the plate for another ball and a foul count. Just working the count back full was impressive, but then Lil’ CC went ahead and fouled off the next four pitches. The tenth pitch of the confrontation was Broxton’s 40th of the inning, a fastball at the knees that Curtis grounded sharply to first. James Loney fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the force, but Grandy slid in safely and beat the throw home to tie the game.
The Yankees, as you know, went on to win the game in extras, thanks in large part to the efforts of these two young outfielders. Too date, those are Huffman’s only two big league RBI and his last hit before being sent back down. Curtis eventually went back to Scranton but has since resurfaced as a September call-up. Before this game, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA with a 48-5 K/BB ratio in 32.2 innings. Since then though, he’s got a 6.59 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 21 walks in 28.2 innings. The Yanks straight up broke him that night.
August 8th: Dustin Moseley tames the Red Sox (video)
The common themes in this post seem to be injuries and losing streaks, and sure enough this moment features a little of both. Moseley was starting every fifth day in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, and made his third start of the season against the Red Sox on a nationally televised Sunday night game. It was a recipe for disaster, something the Yanks could ill afford after losing five of their previous eight games.
Instead of wilting, Moseley thrived. One-two-three went the Sox in the first, then again in the second. They didn’t put a runner on base until Bill Hall singled on a ground ball through the left side with one out in the third, but Moseley quickly recovered. He sat the next two men down without incident, and then worked himself out of a bases loaded, two out jam in the next frame with yet another groundout. Hall led off the fifth inning with a solo homer, but Moseley sat five of the next six men down in order (with a 3-6-1 double play mixed in) and took the ball into the seventh.
That’s when things got a little dicey thanks to an Adrian Beltre double and a single by (of course) Hall, putting runners on the corners with one out. Joe Girardi pulled the righthander from the game after that even though he had thrown just 87 pitches, but Joba Chamberlain allowed Beltre to score and hang another run on Moseley. His final line couldn’t have been much better considering the circumstances: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 13 GB, 6 FB. The Yanks took the screws to Josh Beckett a few innings earlier to take the pressure off, but Moseley came up big in a spot where his team really needed a win. He’s not a traditional prospect like the other guys in this post, but he certainly wasn’t someone that the Bombers expected to rely on this season. For at least this one night, he justified their faith in him.
With the Yankees in the middle of a four game losing streak and in Tampa to take on the division rival Rays earlier this month, Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead homerun in the top of the tenth inning that had the potential to made things all right in Yankeeland, at least for one night. Mariano Rivera came in for the save opportunity in the bottom half, and Golson had already taken over in rightfield after Juan Miranda pinch hit for Curtis in the eighth inning.
Mo was in the middle of his recent rough patch, and things looked ominous when Crawford led off the frame with a single. He eventually stole second with one out, and all it would take was a single to knot things up. Matt Joyce, with a hit and a run driven in already to his name on the evening, came to the plate and managed to work the count full. He lifted the seventh pitch of the at-bat moderately deep to right, deep enough to move Crawford over to third on a sacrifice. Or at least he thought it was.
Golson settled in under the fly ball close to the line and caught it flat-footed when Crawford broke for third. It wasn’t until he heard Granderson yelling from center that he realized the Rays’ leftfielder was going, and that’s when he he uncorked an absolutely beauty of the throw. It reached A-Rod at third on a single bounce and in plenty of time for him to apply the tag for the rarely seen 9-5 game ending double play. For at least one night, the win and the throw put the Yanks back on top in the AL East.
Sept. 26th: Juan Miranda takes a walk (video)
Just a dozen days after Golson’s throw ended a four game losing streak, Miranda’s batting eye did the same. The Yanks and Red Sox played to a rather suspenseful two-all tie through nine innings and headed to extras. Miranda entered the game in the top of the tenth as a defensive replacement for Mark Teixeira, who had to be pinch run for in the ninth. Hideki Okajima made things very interesting in the bottom half of the tenth, loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk with none out. Thames nearly ended things when he hit a screamer to third, but Beltre made a play on it and got the force at the plate for first out.
A career .237/.313/.393 hitter against southpaws in the minors, Miranda stepped to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks arguably their most important win of the season. Okajima fed him nothing but soft stuff, feeding him a curveball off the plate for a ball before getting a swing-and-miss on a changeup in the dirt. The third and fourth pitches of the at-bat were more curveballs off the outer half, and Miranda laid off both to work himself into a favorable 3-1 count. It’s a big time hitter’s count, one where the batter looks to do some serious damage, but the fill-in first baseball remained disciplined. Victor Martinez called for a changeup down in the zone to try to induce the inning ending double play, but Okajima missed inside and Miranda simply took the pitch for ball four and the walk-off walk. The losing streak was over, and more importantly the win reduced the Yanks’ magic number for a playoff spot to just one.