The Yankees were in first place — either sole possession or tied — since June 11th, a span of 101 team games. They officially clinched not just the AL East title with Wednesday night’s season-ending 14-2 win over the Red Sox, but they also finished with the best overall record in the AL. Pretty good year, I’d say.
So Long, Dice-K
It’s kinda hard to believe that the Daisuke Matsuzaka era is over in Boston. It still feels like just yesterday that we were talking about how much the Yankees should bid and how much it set the franchise back that he wound up with the Red Sox, crazy stuff like that. It’s safe to say that the Bombers avoided a big nine-figure mistake there, even though they reacted by blowing $46M on Kei Igawa. Definite end of an era of the Yanks-Sox rivalry.
Anyway, Dice-K came into this start with a 5.52 ERA (~4.55 FIP) in ten starts and 58.2 career innings against the Yankees and made those numbers even worse by allowing five runs in 2.1 innings on Wednesday. Oddly enough, he retired the side on just six pitches in the first before blowing up in the second. I guess that’s part of the Dice-K experience. Curtis Granderson did the honors with a three-run homer to right in the second inning, and an inning later Robinson Cano hit a loud two-run shot to right. Granderson’s was more of a big fly ball with a lot of hang time while Robbie’s was a line drive. And just like that, Matsuzaka’s career with the Red Sox came to an end.
Welcome to HIROKtober
Much like David Phelps on Tuesday, Hiroki Kuroda let Boston take a lead in the very first inning. Again much like Phelps, he settled down and ultimately carried the Yankees through seven efficient and highly effective innings. The two runs in seven innings came on seven hits (five singles and two doubles) and two walks, though he retired 14 of 19 batters faced from the second through sixth innings. One of the five exceptions was an infield single. Eighteen of his 21 outs came on the infield.
From start to finish, Kuroda was the team’s most reliable and consistent starter, which is somewhat ironic since he got tagged with the inconsistent label back in April after like, three starts. He finished the year with a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 33 starts and 219.2 innings, which is pretty incredible for a 37-year-old pitcher coming over to Yankee Stadium and the AL East after spending years pitching in a big ballpark in the NL West. I’ll look at this more in-depth at some point this winter, but Kuroda will certainly go down as one of the best free agent pitching signings in franchise history.
The third inning homer wasn’t all Cano did on Wednesday. He singled in the second inning and tacked on a second two-run homer in the fifth inning, extending his career-high to 33 dingers. That’s pretty awesome. He also singled in a pair of runs in the sixth for a 4-for-4 night (six runs driven in), allowing him to end the season with a .313/.379/.550 batting line. Robbie’s multi-hit game streak is up to nine, the second longest in franchise history. None of those hits have been cheap either, dude is locked in.
Jeter went 1-for-4 on the night, bringing his season line up to a ridiculous .316/.362/.429. He finished the year to 216 hits, the second highest total of his career and just just three short of his career-high set back in 1999. The Cap’n led the big leagues in hits and it wasn’t close — Miguel Cabrera had 205 and no one else was over 200. Cano finished in third place with 196. Pretty unbelievable year by Jeter, who also led the Majors in plate appearances and at-bats. Yes he was a leadoff man for a strong offensive team, but it also speaks to his durability at age 38. He’ll definitely get some MVP votes.
Alex Rodriguez ended an 83 plate appearance extra-base hit-less streak with a double into the left field corner in the fifth, one batter before Cano’s second dinger. He also singled and drew a pair of walks. Nick Swisher also had two hits and two walks. Granderson tacked on a solo homer in the eighth, his second long ball of the game, extending his career-high to 43 homers. That blast gave the team a franchise record 245 dingers, breaking the previous record set in 2009.
Things got a little silly in the late innings as the Yankees piled on against Boston’s Grade-D relievers. They wound up scoring 14 total runs on 23 baserunners, broken down in 15 hits, seven walks, and one hit-batsman (Russell Martin). It was the fifth time they’ve scored double-digit runs in the last 14 games after doing it just nine times in the first 148 games. Pretty awesome. Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada, and Freddy Garcia closed things out with two nice-and-easy innings.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while ESPN has the end-of-season standings. The Yankees officially won the division by two games over the Orioles and were one game better than the Athletics for the best record in the AL. They also won 95 games for the fourth straight year, which is pretty great. I don’t think people understand just how hard it is to win that many games in a single year, nevermind year after year.
Three days off, then things get really serious. The Yankees will open the ALDS on the road thanks to the new 2-3 format, so that means either Texas or Baltimore depending on what happens in Friday’s wildcard play-in game. Game One is scheduled for Sunday, and I assume CC Sabathia will be on the mound.