The Yankees’ recent stretch of strong play has propelled them to a two-game lead over the pesky Orioles, giving them some much-needed breathing room against an opponent who has refused to go away. While there is still plenty of baseball left, the likelihood of the Yankees winning the division title, or at least earning a playoff spot, grows ever larger. The Yankees have won eight out of their last nine games, and 10 out of their last 12. This run is all the more impressive because they have not gotten huge contributions from their stars. Mark Teixeira is still out, and Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano have all underperformed in September. Despite the offensive struggles of their impact players, the Yankees have solidified their place at the top of the division due in large part to the play of two veterans who appeared washed up at various points in the season.
Since September 6, Ichiro Suzuki seems to have discovered a fountain of youth that transformed him into the dangerous, dynamic Ichiro of old. Over that stretch he is a ridiculous 24 for 48, good for a .500/.520/.708 line, with two home runs thrown in for good measure. One could nitpick by saying that he has only walked three times (once intentionally) during that stretch, but honestly, when a guy’s hitting .500, there’s not much to complain about. Ichiro has also stolen eight bases in his last 16 games, providing a speed element to the Yankee lineup that has been missing for much of the season because of the injury to Brett Gardner.
Like the dark wizard that he physically resembles, Raul Ibanez has demonstrated an incredible ability to bounce back from the most improbable circumstances. Slow in the field and anemic at the plate for much of August and September, Ibanez has started to show signs of life. While we are only operating with a tiny sample size here, Ibanez has made a huge impact for the Yankees over the last three games. In those games, he is a combined 7 for 12, and his two big home runs were key to the Yankees’ comeback win against the A’s on the 22nd.
Fellow geriatric Andy Pettitte has particularly impressed since coming off the DL recently. While several other Yankee starters have picked up their game of late, Pettitte has showed little rust in his return, tossing 11 scoreless innings in two outings (albeit against weak competition). While one would worry about a pitcher retaining his command and feel following a long layoff, Andy seems to be back in midseason form. With at least one more start remaining in the regular season, Pettitte seems to be making a strong case for the #3 spot in the playoff rotation, if the Yankees can make it that far.
It is incredibly improbable, but fantastic, that these players have all managed to turn back the clock and provide some big performances in very important games. Given the advanced age of this trio, it would be reasonable to expect them to fade at the end of a long season, wearing down physically and overall demonstrating a diminished level of performance. The fact that Pettitte, Ichiro, and (recently) Ibanez have elevated their game is a testament to the excellent conditioning and great work ethic that these players have maintained over the course of their career. We could also throw Derek Jeter into this category as well, though he has been pretty strong throughout the season. It has been a pleasure to see these consummate professionals pick up their more-heralded teammates throughout the stretch run. Hopefully, the Yankees’ stars can pick things up over the next week and a half as the Yankees look to hold on to their division lead. It should be a wild ride.