May
09

Memorable home runs from Yankee backup catchers

By

Ramon Castro. That is the list of backup catchers who have a spot because they can run into one. Maybe Miguel Olivo counts, depending on his role at any given time. With very few exceptions, not only are backup catchers remarkably poor hitters, but they specifically lack pop. Francisco Cervelli might not be a remarkably poor hitter — he does have a .272 BA and .340 OBP in 434 career PA — but he certainly does lack pop. That’s why it came as such a surprise when he finished a stellar at-bat with a grand slam.

Just because backup catchers hit home runs infrequently doesn’t mean they lack gravitas. In fact, Cervelli’s homer conjured images of backup catcher home runs from recent memory. There were only five from 2008 through 2010, but three of them stuck out particularly in memory.

Jose Molina’s farewell blast: September 21, 2008 (video)

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

I can picture the scene now. In a decade or so I’ll be sitting in my recliner while my kid is sitting in the middle of the floor, looking up at the Yankees game on TV. He’ll love catchers, of course, since his old man, and his old man, and his old man before him all played the position. On this day the Yankees backup catcher will hit a home run, and I’ll pull out the trivia question: Who hit the last home run at old Yankee Stadium?

We all know the answer now, since it is such a recent memory. On Sunday, September 21, 2008, the Yankees played their final game at the old ballpark in the Bronx. Andy Pettitte took the mound; I’m fairly certain he would have gone even on two days’ rest if it meant throwing the last first pitch in the Stadium. He ran into a little trouble, as he did so frequently in the second half of 2008, allowing three runs in the first four innings. Johnny Damon helped him out with a three-run homer in the third, but he needed a little more help later on.

Robinson Cano got on to lead off the fourth, and Molina came to bat with one out. On a 2-0 count Orioles starter Chris Waters laid one out over the plate, and Molina put the bat head on it. Out it went to Monument Park in left-center, which, because of the historical occasion, was still open to fans at the time. Those fans browsing through the plaques were lucky enough to see that final home run coming right at them.

Francisco Cervelli’s motivational homer: June 24, 2009 (video)

In mid- to late-June the 2009 Yankees had some issues. They got swept by Boston, needed a dropped pop-up to win two of three against the Mets, and then lost two of three to both Washington and Florida. Things only got worse when they arrived in Atlanta, as they failed to score a run in the series opener against the Braves. That’s when Brian Cashman stepped in, flying down and talking to the team prior to that Wednesday’s game. Apparently he reached Cervelli.

Everything happened so fast. The Yankees trailed 1-0 heading into the sixth, when Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk. Things started to look optimistic. That is, until Gardner got picked off. That ignited Joe Girardi‘s ire, and he gave the ump an earful and got tossed. Even at the time it felt like one of those ejections that managers use to fire up their teams. Who knew that it would actually work? On a 2-2 pitch Cervelli popped one out to center, fist pumping as he rounded the bases. The crazy part is that he wasn’t even the backup at that point. He was the backup to the backup; Molina was on the DL at the time.

Lost in the narrative is A-Rod‘s two-run single later in the inning that gave the Yankees the lead. But it matters little. Cervelli was the unexpected hero in that one, breaking a long scoreless streak and injecting some life into the Yankees. That game started a seven-game winning stream, and the Yankees would win 13 of their next 15.

Molina caps a huge inning with a granny: April 28, 2009 (video)

(Duane Burleson/AP)

April, 2009, was a forgettable month for the eventual World Series champions. Mark Teixeira didn’t hit. Alex Rodriguez was out recovering from hip surgery. Chien-Ming Wang got whacked around in historical fashion. This led to some up-and-down baseball, with the down coming right before a trip to Detroit. The Yankees dropped three straight to the Red Sox, and then lost the opener to Detroit, despite CC Sabathia throwing a complete game. They were then 9-10, already four games out of first.

The first six innings of the game felt like another typical listless day for the offense. They managed just four hits in that span, and didn’t score any of them. The only thing that made the game reasonably bearable was Phil Hughes‘s performance; he, too, was shutting out his opponent through six. But them came the seventh, and it was as though the Yankees had found new life.

It took an error to get things really moving, but from there the Yankees singled and walked the Tigers to death, picking up six runs in the process — the sixth of which coming on a Melky Cabrera bases loaded walk. That brought Molina to the plate, though with the game 6-0 and the bullpen ready to close this one out, no one thought much of the occasion. That is, until Molina popped the first pitch over the fence in left, capping the huge inning and sending the Yanks to an 11-0 victory. That sparked a mini streak, though it would be squashed two series later when the Yanks again ran into the Boston juggernaut.

(Fun fact: even though they didn’t score until the seventh inning, the Yankees still had more home runs in that game than they did in the entire Detroit series last week.)

Categories : Days of Yore
  • http://www.twitter.com/jmhs Jake S

    Jim Leyritz is the king of this category.

    • squishy jello person

      This.

      Alhtough I wish we could make Joe Girardi’s triple count.

      • http://www.richardiurilli.com Richard Iurilli

        And John Flaherty’s ground-rule double.

        • Johnny O

          Was at that game. Everyone remembers Jeter diving into the stands, but no one remembers that Manny hit a HR in the top of the inning to give the Sawx the lead, and the Yanks had nobody on base and 2 out before starting the rally. Amazing.

          • T-Dubs

            I remember irrationally thinking ARod turned the triple play when he stepped on 3rd, threw home & then tagged out Manny before realizing Manny was the runner out when ARod stepped on 3rd.

            As Gammons said after “Manny is the only player who could get out twice on the same play.”

            • Ed

              I was at that game. I think most people in the stands thought it was a triple play. I don’t remember the play anymore, just that we were all confused as to what actually happened. A-Rod seemed to think he turned a triple play, so we did too.

  • Jorge

    There has to be some memrable Rick Cerone highlight somewhere.

    • nsalem

      It had to be from 1980, other than that year he didn’t do to much. Cerone was one of Bill James main targets back in his early days with some famous memorable quotes.

  • T-Dubs

    Poor Sal Fasano. He hit one homer with the Yankees. {video not found}

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I love you, Johnnycakes.

  • Rick in Boston

    I was thinking Mike Stanley had a big homer in 1997 after coming back from Boston. He did on 9/26, but a) he was playing as a 1B, and b) the Yankees won the wild card by 12 games.

  • http://bigleaguewiffleball.com/ Jon

    When is Cervelli supposed to be coming back? I think the Yankees could use his help to give Martin some off days.

    • http://www.twitter.com/jmhs Jake S

      Dude he played yesterday and hit a grand slam

    • Andrew

      Are you kidding me man? He’s been back a week already. Got called up last Friday night before the Toronto game. You living in no-man’s land or something?

      The whole point of this article was to celebrate his slam yesterday. Come on man!

    • pat

      They traited him to Las Angeles for Coltrane Martins.

      • bakekrukow412

        Don’t feed the trolls.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I dunno, but I hope he comes back soon, I’m sick of seeing Wil Nieves get all of the backup catcher starts.

      #playingalong

      • Esteban

        Kelly Stinnett gets no respect.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          As it should be.

          • Esteban

            You’re just a big meanie aren’t you? Kelly is a man and he deserves respect.

  • nsalem

    1961 was a much different story for backup catchers. Johnny Blanchard was the backup catcher and Yogi Berra was the number three. Between them they may have had more HR’s in 1961 than the all of the Yankee backups this century.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      1961 Yankee catchers:
      Elston Howard: 129 games, 482 PA, .348/.387/.549 (153+)
      Johnny Blanchard: 93 games, 275 PA, .305/.382/.613 (168+)
      Yogi Berra: 14 games, 57 PA, .275/.351/.412 (111+)

      Holy Embarrassment of Riches, Batman!

      • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

        But could they call a game like Captain Varitek?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          You’re flirting with blasphemy, Steve. Tread lightly.

          • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

            May Peter Gammons have mercy on my soul.

      • greatscott723

        That trio combined for 64 homers too. Damn.

  • billy’s bartender

    Barry Foote!!!

  • Joey Pawl Jr

    {time travel post}

    Actually, because of you, I will hate catchers! Screw you dad!

  • greatscott723

    One of the first baseball games I watched start to finish was a game in 2001- the Yanks had just cut Joe Oliver and called up Todd Greene to back up Posada. In his first start, he hit a 3-run homer against the Orioles to tie the game at 3 in the 5th inning, a game the Yanks would go on to win 7-4. It was the only homer he ended up hitting all season, and he’s probably best known now as the guy who caught George Bush’s first pitch in the 2001 World Series Game 3.
    Fun fact: on the first anniversary of 9/11, he hit a walk-off homer for the Rangers. I’m sure someone would say he had the “magic touch of freedom” or something.

  • Dicka24

    I remember watching Cervelli’s homer when it happened. Girardi’s ejection looked so planned too. Still, the Yankees went on a run after winning that game. Cervelli has been a binky of mine ever since!