It’s often hard to pick one spot in a baseball season and say with certainty that it was the turning point for an eventual World Series winner. Yet, every team has that narrative when they say they just knew things would change. For the 1998 Yankees, it was rebounding from an 0-3 start to the season by winning 26 out of 30 games after Joe Torre’s job seemed to be on the line. But what about this year?
In one sense, the turning point for the 2009 Yankees arrived a year and a day ago when the Yanks swooped in out of nowhere to sign Mark Teixeira. Before that early Christmas present for Yankee fans arrived under our trees, the team was prepared to start the season with Nick Swisher at first base and Xavier Nady in right field. With one stroke of the pen, the Yanks found themselves stronger at the corners and with fantastic outfield depth. When Nady went down in early April with a bad elbow injury, the team barely noticed his absence.
But what of the play on the field? When did the 2009 Yankees really turn it around? I believe it came in late June in Atlanta, and I think the players would agree. The Yankees found themselves mired in an Interleague Play slump in June. They dropped two out of three to a bad Nationals team and two out of three to a mediocre Marlins club. After losing the first contest of a three-game set to the Braves, Brian Cashman made a trip to Atlanta to talk things over with his ballclub.
We may never know what was said behind closed doors, but we know the results. The Yanks went from 39-32 to 103-59 over the next three and a half months. Over a full season, that 64-27 pace would lead to a 114-win season. It was a run the likes of which we had not seen since that historic 1998 season.
As the Yanks stood on the verge of the postseason in late September, A-Rod spoke about that meeting in Atlanta. “We had a plan in Atlanta,” he said during an interview, “and we stuck with it.”
Ostensibly, the plan for A-Rod was to get him more rest. It involved keeping his surgically repaired hip feeling good while ensuring that his bat kept its spot in the middle of an offensive juggernaut. A-Rod, though, was just one of the Yanks who emerged from Atlanta with a plan. The Yanks won 13 out of 15 before getting swept by the Angels at the All Star Break, and the second half began with the Yanks going on a tear. By early August, the division was all but sewn up.
If and when someone writes the book on the 2009 Yankees, the 27th World Series championship club in franchise history, that moment in Atlanta will make for a nice narrative turn. The beleaguered general manager, tired of watching his club underperform, stepped in to rally the troops. If ever a chewing out can inspire a ballclub, that would be the one.
Now, with a winter of roster moves nearly complete, Brian Cashman is again asking us implicitly to trust him. He’s putting together another team with an eye toward repeating in the World Series. This week, he landed Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson, and these two moves could very well be this winter’s turning points. We’ll find out next year it’s for the better or the worse.