The Unexpected Heroes

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)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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.

June 27th: Chad Huffman & Colin Curtis break Jonathan Broxton (video and video)

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)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

Sept. 14th: Greg Golson is unimpressed by Carl Crawford (video)

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)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

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Yanks set to expand active roster

As the Yanks have wrapped play on August 31, they’ll soon have the option to expand their active roster to 40, and according to Chad Jennings, the team is going to take advantage of the added depth. The Journal News beat writer says that Greg Golson, Jonathan Albaladejo and Chad Moeller will be summoned to the big leagues. The remainder of the Scranton roster will have to take aim at the AAA title without its record-setting closer. Moeller’s promotion will require a 40-man move, but there’s a lot of dead weight on that thing right now.

In addition to these call-ups, the Yankees will activate Lance Berkman from the DL on Sept. 1st as well. Alfredo Aceves could rejoin the Yanks too, and A-Rod will be returned to us on Sunday once his 15-day stint is up as well. For now, Jesus Montero will remain at AAA.

Yankees recall Melancon, option Golson

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have recalled righty reliever Mark Melancon prior to tonight’s game. Greg Golson goes down in his place. The Yanks are now carrying 13 pitchers, so presumably Melancon’s time with the big league team is presumably limited. Maybe if we cross our fingers and wish really really hard, he’ll stick around and Boone Logan will be optioned back down. I’m not going to hold my breath though.

Yanks have a bit of an injury mess

In the past few days the Yankees have had to deal with a number of injuries. Most of them have been mild in nature, but that still causes problems for the roster. In fact, mild injuries can cause more problems than DL trips in some cases, because the player is not available and there is no one to take his place on the roster. Right now the Yankees have three players nursing injuries who won’t hit the DL, so that’s three inactive roster spots. It can make managing the lineup and bullpen a bit tricky.

The Yankees do have options, though, and will likely make a number of moves during the next few days to keep their roster up to speed. The moves will include recalling an infielder tomorrow, and then probably an outfielder early next week. They’ll need an extra OF if Marcus Thames is going to take more reps at DH. Let’s start with what they’ll do tomorrow.

Send down: David Robertson or Boone Logan. Recall: Kevin Russo

Marc Carig reports that the Yankees have scheduled no tests on Robinson Cano‘s knee, so chances are he’ll just sit out a day or two. The Yanks could probably get by with just four infielders, but it’s probably advisable to have a backup. Kevin Russo makes the most sense, since he can play all infield positions and is already on the 40-man roster. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t happen tomorrow.

The Yankees currently have 13 pitchers, which is two too many. Logan and Robertson pitched last night, so they’re the most likely to go on an optional assignment. Mike wrote about demoting Robertson yesterday. Boone Logan writes about his own demotion every time he walks a batter.

Disabled list: Nick Johnson. Recall: Greg Golson

The Yankees sent down Golson before today’s game, meaning that under normal circumstances he’d have to spend 10 days in the minors. With the injury to Johnson, though, the Yankees can bring him right back. If, as Carig reports, they’ll use Thames at DH, they’ll need a reserve outfielder. Golson is the best option right now.

Possible alternative: Moeller instead of Russo or Golson

Both Golson and Russo are really just emergency options. They’re nice to have around, and the Yankees have the flexibility to keep them around as insurance. They could, however, opt to give Jorge some reps at DH. That way they can get his bat into the lineup without risking his legs by playing him at catcher. That would require a third catcher, which would be Chad Moeller.

This is something I can see happening after the need for Russo expires. Once Cano is back to playing the Yanks don’t need two utility infielders, so Russo will likely head back to Scranton. That does leave a roster spot free. The Yankees could opt to recall Chad Moeller as Francisco Cervelli‘s backup and give Jorge reps against righties at DH. They could even ease him back into catching, making sure that his leg issues really are behind him.

Alternative two: Option Russo, recall Miranda

If the Yankees are prepared to let Jorge return to catching full-time, they could opt to replace Russo with a platoon partner with Thames at DH. I like this just about as little as I like carrying a third catcher. Miranda can back up Teixeira at first, and Thames can play the OF if need be, but neither presents a good option. Then again, with these injuries that doesn’t come as a surprise.

I’d probably support recalling Moeller more, because it provides the added bonus of getting Jorge’s bat into the lineup while making sure his calf is ready for the rigors of squatting for an hour and a half each night. Also, Miranda hasn’t played since May 4, so there might be something there.

Rain? That might help

There is rain in the forecast today, and while I’m not normally one to hope for a washout, it might not be the worst thing in this case. Rescheduling this afternoon’s game as a doubleheader later in the year accomplishes a few things.

  1. It pushes the whole rotation back a day. CC would pitch on Sunday, and then Burnett would go Monday against the Tigers. Vazquez could then go Tuesday as scheduled, followed by Hughes on Wednesday. Could Andy Pettitte pitch on Thursday? I doubt it, but there’s a non-zero chance.
  2. It gives Jorge and Robbie a free day. It sounds like Jorge could catch today, but giving him another day couldn’t hurt, especially if there’s no game to win that day. Cano won’t play today, so a rainout will only help there.
  3. It means no Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

No one likes to see injuries, especially ones to key players. The Yankees have weathered a few trips to the infirmary this year, but they’re in an even tougher spot now. They do have options, though they’re starting to get a bit thin.

Up, down and out with Romulo, Greg and Jorge

Updated 4:47 p.m. (scroll down for more on the rotation and Mariano): As the Yankees gear up for a weekend showdown with the Red Sox, the team announced a pair of complementary roster moves this afternoon. With Andy Pettitte expected to miss a start and Sergio Mitre all but officially penciled in for Tuesday, the Yankees have recalled Romulo Sanchez from AAA. To make room on the roster, the team has optioned Greg Golson back to Scranton.

Meanwhile, Jorge Posada isn’t in the lineup tonight, but neither he nor Pettitte are going on the disabled list yet. For the Yankees, then, the team is effectively struggling to make do with a 23-man roster. Until they know the extent of Posada’s and Pettitte’s injuries, they will play with a short bench and a long bullpen. Sanchez, scheduled to start tonight for Scranton, will replace Mitre as the team’s long man, and Randy Winn will be expected to be the versatile back-up outfielder in the event of a catastrophe out there. Hopefully, this roster holding pattern will clear up soon, and for what it’s worth, Posada, who says his tight calf may limit his running, says he could play tomorrow.

Going forward, this move suggests that the Yankees will send out Sergio Mitre, Javier Vazquez, Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia to pitch against Detroit next week. Pettitte wants to pitch, but the Yanks keep saying no no no, according to Amy Winehouse Jon Heyman. Posada, who took BP today, should be back in the lineup soon, and if he’s not, then Chad Moeller will be activated. The team can’t go too long with Ramiro Peña as the emergency catcher.

Sanchez, 26, is a big guy with two cups of coffee in the majors. Listed at 6′ 5″ and 260 pounds, the right-hander made 26 appearances for the Pirates in 2007 and 2008, and he arrived on the Yanks in a trade last year for Eric Hacker. In his limited big league career, he has thrown 31.1 innings while giving up 16 ER on 14 hits and 14 walks. He has struck out 14 as well. This year for Scranton, he was 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA but impressed the Yankees during Spring Training.

According to Greg Fertel at Pending Pinstripes who has a full scouting report on Sanchez, the righty can dial his fastball up to 99 but sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. He has a good change and some decent enough breaking pitches that he has trouble keeping under control. Despite starting at AAA, the Yanks seem to view him as a bullpen option only in the big leagues, and for the weekend at least, he’ll be the team’s 25th guy on a rather inflexible roster.

Mitre to pitch Monday; Rivera available tonight

The updates for the walking wounded continue to pour in. Joe Girardi announced a few minutes ago that the team is reshuffling its rotation next week to give Andy Pettitte a few days off. Sergio Mitre will start Monday’s game against the Tigers, and Javier Vazquez will pitch on Tuesday. Pettitte, says Girardi, will likely pitch next weekend against the Twins and will avoid a trip to the DL. No word yet on why Mitre and Vazquez are getting flip-flopped. The Yankees, though, are in need of a long outing from Vazquez.

In good news, Mariano Rivera is available to pitch tonight, and if the Yanks have a late lead, Girardi will not hesitate to call upon his future Hall of Fame closer to save a win. Take that, Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Yankees recall Golson, option Melancon

Update (6:01pm): Melancon has indeed been sent to Triple-A.

12:46pm: Via Donnie Collins, the Yankees are expected to call up outfielder Greg Golson (who is already in New York) today to replace the injured Curtis Granderson. Mark Melancon will likely be the 25-man roster casualty following Sunday’s two inning, 27-pitch outing. Golson’s call up is an unsurprising move not just because we heard it was coming over the weekend, but because the Yanks don’t have another true centerfielder on their roster beyond Brett Gardner.

The 24-year-old Golson is crazy fast and a defensive whiz, but he’s not much with the stick. In 21 Triple-A games this season, he’s hitting .253-.289-.430 with twelve strikeouts, four steals, and just three walks. He won’t be used for much more than pinch running and late-game defense.

Yanks trade Mitch Hilligoss for Greg Golson

Back in the day, a move like this would have flown under the radar. But now we have schmucks, like the guy covering MLBTR today, digging up little tidbits to satiate our transactional thirst. As MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reports, the Yankees have sent Mitch Hilligoss to the Rangers for outfielder Greg Golson. It’s a small-time move, for sure — the Rangers DFA’d Golson last week to make room for Khalil Greene. The Yanks are the beneficiaries, trading a guy with no future on the team for a possible outfield option.

The 21st overall pick in the 2004 draft, Golson spent most of his professional career in the Phillies system. Known primarily for his speed, Golson didn’t flash much of anything else during his journey from A ball to AA. His OBP never hit even .330 until his age-22 season, in AA, and even then it sat at .333. His contact and power numbers were decent for a speedster, however, as he racked up 120 hits, 35 of which went for extra bases, over 426 at-bats in 2008. The Phillies then traded him to Texas for John Mayberry.

Golson slipped in 2009, his batting average dropping to .258, his OBP to .299, and his SLG to .334, all while in the hitter-friendly PCL. But even before then he lost the prospect luster. John Sickels extended his top 20 Rangers prospects to 24, and still Golson fell into the “others” list. Baseball America clearly left him out of their top 10, though Golson did rank as the best athlete, fastest baserunner, and best outfield arm in the organization.

For the Yanks, this represents just another low-risk move. Hilligoss, most remembered for his 38-game hitting streak in the Sally League three years ago, probably won’t amount to much, especially in the Yankees’s system. All Golson costs is one of the free 40-man roster spots, and even then it doesn’t seem like they’ll hesitate to cut him if the need arises. For now he’ll compete for a spot on the team in Spring Training, though chances are the Yankees will just stash him in AAA. It appears he was added to the 40-man roster after the 2008 season, so he’ll have options.

Credit: AP Photo/Tom Mihalek