The Jorge Posada Game

(Barton Silverman/The New York Times)

The Yankees had lost two in row, three of five, and four of seven. Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui were on the disabled list with wrist injuries and a neck strain kept Jason Giambi on the bench for the day. Coincidentally, he was mired in a 1-for-18 slump. Miguel Cairo started at first base, Andy Phillips at designated hitter. The Rangers were in town with their .283/.349/.454 team batting line, and Shawn Chacon was scheduled to get the ball for the Yankees even after taking a line drive off his left shin in his previous start. The date is May 16th, 2006.

Predictably, Chacon put the Yankees in an early hole. They were down two-zip before they even came to the plate, and six-zip when Joe Torre pulled Chacon with one out in the second. Long reliever Aaron Small’s second pitch was clobbered into the right field bleachers at the Old Stadium for a three-run homer. The Yankees managed to get one back when Cairo singled in Bernie Williams in the bottom half of the inning, but Small gave it right back in the top of third when Mark Teixeira doubled in the junior Gary Matthews.

This one had all the feel of a blowout, one of those inevitable games that occur during the course of a 162-game season. The Yankees were already down nine runs with three of their best offensive players on the sidelines, and the soft part of their bullpen was being thrown at the feet of one of the league’s best offenses. Their win expectancy at that point was two percent, and that felt a little generous. A comeback was unthinkable, but the Yankees and their de facto cleanup hitter had a different idea.

The chipping away officially started in the bottom of the third inning. Johnny Damon singled to start the frame and came around to score on Derek Jeter‘s double. Jeter managed to steal third before Alex Rodriguez popped out in foul territory, bringing Jorge Posada — that de facto cleanup hitter — to the plate. Posada worked the count full before singling back up the middle to drive in Jeter for the team’s third run. A seven-run deficit is still rather significant, but it’s better than a nine-run deficit. More importantly, the comeback wheels were in motion.

Small managed to keep the Rangers in check the next two innings, allowing his offense to chip away a little more in the fifth. Jeter led off the inning with a walk and went to third on A-Rod‘s double. Posada skied John Koronka’s 72nd pitch of the night to deep left field, but it stayed in the park for a sacrifice fly. Jeter trotted home and Alex moved over to third. Robinson Cano, batting fifth for just the third time in his career, plated A-Rod with an RBI ground out. Those two runs turned a 10-3 games into a 10-5 game and effectively ended Koronka’s day.

The Rangers started to make a little bit of noise in the top of the sixth, but Posada helped put an end to a potential rally. Small was lifted with two outs and Teixeira on first, as Torre went to the southpaw Ron Villone to face lefty swinging Blalock. Blalock clobbered Villone’s first pitch the other way to left. Melky Cabrera, playing in just his 12th career game, retrieved the ball and fired back towards the infield. Teixeira was running on contact with two outs and was chugging around third by the time Jeter made the relay throw. Posada received the ball at the plate, then received Teixeira’s left shoulder into his chest as he blocked the plate.

“It was pretty tough,” said Posada after the game. “That was probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit.”

Teixeira, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs. at the time, was running at full speed and said afterward that a collision was his only play in that situation.

“It’s a tough play for a catcher, obviously, but he’s one of the best,” said Teixeira after the game. “He made a very nice play. I’m out if I just slide. Because of the timing of it, if I could have hit him to knock the ball loose, that was my only option to be safe.”

The play at the plate ended the inning and prevented the Rangers from piling on any more runs, and it seemed to inject some life into the offense. Jeter homered in the bottom half of the inning after Melky started the frame with a single and Damon followed with a walk. Suddenly it was a 10-8 game, and the Yankees kept coming after Joaquin Benoit replaced Scott Feldman.

A-Rod walked next, making it four straight batters to reach base to open the inning. Posada then drew a walk of his own to put the tying run on base, and he eventually moved over to third when Bernie doubled in a run to make it 10-9. Cairo slashed a single to left with two outs to score Posada and Williams, turning a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. The Yankees had come all the way back from nine runs down, tying the largest comeback in team history. Of course, the game was far from over.

That 11-10 lead was short-lived thanks to Scott Proctor, who started the seventh inning by walking Kevin Mench and giving up a two-run homer to Brad Wilkerson. Five pitches into the inning, the Yankees were down a run again. In the bottom half of the inning, Damon and Jeter again applied pressure by starting things off with back-to-back singles. A-Rod grounded back to the pitcher, but it allowed Jeter to move up a base and put runners at second and third with one out for Posada.

Jorge worked the count to 2-2 against the forgettable Rick Bauer, then lifted the fifth pitch of the encounter towards left-center. It wasn’t deep enough for a homer and it didn’t even drop in for a hit, but his second sacrifice fly scored Damon and re-tied the game. Two-hundred and seventy four pitches, 39 base runners, and 24 runs into the game, the Yankees and Rangers were tied after seven.

The eighth inning went by without a hitch thanks to Kyle Farnsworth and Ron Mahay, the only pitchers in the game to record a 1-2-3 inning. Farnsworth was the only guy to appear in the game and not allow someone to reach base. Go figure.

Tied at a dozen in the top of the ninth, Torre gave the ball to Mariano Rivera. On this crazy night, not even Mo was safe. Mench opened the inning with a broken bat bloop single, then pinch-runner Adrian Brown moved to second on Wilkerson’s bunt. After a walk to Mark DeRosa, Rod Barajas drove in Brown with another broken bat bloop hit to give the Rangers a 13-12 lead. That put the game in the hands of closer Akinori Otsuka with the top of the order due up.

As he had done all night, Damon got things started with a leadoff single that was nothing more than a ground ball that took a bad hop past Teixeira at first. “This field gets very choppy,” Teixeira later said. “The last one almost hit me in the hand. I just kind of got my hand up there to block it.”

Damon moved up to second on Jeter’s ground ball back to the pitcher, the first time all game the Cap’n failed to reach base. A-Rod nearly tied to game with a line drive back up the middle, but Matthews reeled the ball in to bring Posada to the plate with two outs, the team’s final chance.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Otsuka was a fastball-splitter pitcher, and he went after Jorge with splitter after splitter. The first three were down below the zone for balls, then Posada took the get-me-over fastball for an autostrike one. Otsuka went back to that fastball in the 3-1 count, and Jorge was looking for it.

“I was just hoping it was out of the park so we wouldn’t have to keep playing,” said the Yankees’ backstop after the game. “I didn’t want to play anymore. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone.”

As Jorge said, the ball was gone off the bat, a walk-off two-run shot deep into the right field bleachers. Posada rounded the bases and hopped on home plate with his hands in the air, mobbed by his teammates as the comeback bow was officially tied.

In terms of win probability added, good ol’ WPA, it was the greatest regular season game of Posada’s career at +0.93. It’s not particularly close either. He went 2-for-3 with the walk-off homer, a walk, and two sacrifice flies. Jorge scored the tying run in the sixth, drove in the tying run in the seventh, then won the game in the ninth. He also went 1-for-1 protecting the plate, and years later he and Teixeira would share a laugh over the collision after becoming teammates.

Aside from the game-tying double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, this game was the first that jumped to mind after I’d heard about Posada’s intention to retire over the weekend. It was just so perfectly Jorge. He helped drive the offense with his patented power and patience, and he took a pounding behind the plate when he needed.

Posada did exactly that for the Yankees for a decade and half, but his contributions often went under the radar because of others on the team. In Game Seven it was Aaron Boone. In Game Three of the 2001 ALDS — when his solo homer accounted for the only run of the game — it was Derek Jeter’s flip play. There was always something that stole the spotlight from Posada, but not in this game. The injuries allowed his star to shine as he carried his team to one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history.

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Report: Jorge to announce his retirement

It looks like Yankees fans won’t have to worry about seeing Jorge Posasda in a different uniform this season. WFAN’s Sweeny Murti reports that Jorge will announce his retirement within the next two weeks. We’ll surely have a riveting tribute to Jorge once he does make the announcement. For now we can reminisce about our favorite Jorge memories — I’m sure his double off Pedro Martinez ranks highest for many. We can also get a head start on making arguments for his Hall of Fame candidacy. Remember, he still has the highest WAR of any catcher since 2000.

A departure, but not yet the end, for Jorge

In 1991, Jorge made his professional debut with the Oneonta Yankees.

And then there were two.

As the Yankees gear up for an active off-season as the team prepares for the 2012 season, the clock is ticking inexorably forward for the players with whom I’ve grown up. Bernie Williams faded from view in 2006, Andy Pettitte stepped down after the wear and tear of 2010 grew to be too much, and now, it seems, it is Jorge’s turn.

The erstwhile catcher turned part-time DH spoke on Wednesday night at a charity event for his foundation. He hasn’t decided to hang it up yet, and a few Major League teams have come a-knockin’. The Yankees however are not one of them. “I don’t think there’s even a percentage of a chance that I can come back. It’s not going to happen,” Posada said.

I can’t imagine Posada’s emotions as the season ended. Drafted by the Yankees in the 1990 amateur draft when he was all of 19 years old, the Puerto Rican native has spent an eternity with the Yankee organization. In fact, only Mariano Rivera has been with the organization for longer. Over the past 17 years, Posada has earned more than $117 million from the Yanks, and he has put up numbers as a catcher that make him a serious contender for Cooperstown. He hit .273/.374/.474 with 275 home runs and starred in October on four World Series winners.

“I,” Posada said, “will always be a Yankee. The Yankees for me is my second family. It would be tough to put on another uniform for real and learn another set of rules and all that stuff, but that’s one of those things. I have to see if I want to keep playing.”

Posada, who had a tough time coming to grips with a team that no longer needed his full services this year, knows what baseball is all about. After 17 years in the Majors with the same team, Jorge harbors no grudges. “At the end of the day, it’s a business,” he said. “You look back and you wish there was some things that could have gone differently, but they didn’t. There’s nothing I could control. Everything happened for a reason. I’m not bitter at the Yankees. I’m not bitter at Joe Girardi. I’m not bitter at Brian Cashman. It just happened.”

We lived through the Posada drama this year. Mired in a bad slump, he benched himself when he was on the verge of hitting ninth. He ended the year at just .235/.315/.398 in 387 plate appearances, and he saw the future in Jesus Montero emerge in September. He isn’t quite ready to call it a career though, and his .269/.348/.466 line against right-handers has made him a wanted man. Still, Jorge said, questions remain: “Do I want to do it for somebody else? Do I want to leave home? Do I want to do it all over again without knowing anybody? It would be tough. I’ve got great people, great friends and great teammates and it would be tough to learn new people again.”

His wife last night expressed an interest in seeing Jorge play for the Marlins at a new stadium near their home. It would be the final hurrah of a great career, but I selfishly would rather not see him anywhere else. He’s Jorge Posada, Yankee. Even as other Hall of Fame lifers have ended their careers elsewhere, I want to see my favorite players go out on top as proud Yankees. It’s the cheesiness of the emotional impact of the game. Jorge was there through my teen years and well past college. Don’t wind up playing out a perfunctory final season with Tampa Bay or the Marlins just to show the world you can.

Jorge told reporters last night that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but he said he’s been talking to Bernie about it all. “Make sure you make the right decision,” Jorge said Bernie told him. “Don’t say or do something that you are going to regret.” Go out on your own terms, go out when you want to, and hopefully after 20 years, go out a Yankee.

Cashman Conference Call Notes: Burnett, Yu, Montero, Martin, Cervelli, Posada, More

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

Brian Cashman held a conference call with reporters this afternoon following the announcement of his new three-year contract, and he downplayed the significance of running a New York team. “It’s an easier situation for me because I haven’t really been anywhere else,” said the Yankees-lifer. “This is all I know.”

The biggest piece of news to come out of the conference call was Andrew Brackman’s release. You win some and you lose some a lot in the draft, and in Brackman’s case, the Yankees spent nearly $11M (according to Pete Caldera) to have him face 13 big league hitters. Ouch. Cashman also confirmed that the starting rotation will continue to be the team’s priority this offseason (duh), though they could still add a second left-handed reliever as well. Here’s a list of the free agent lefty relievers, in case you’re wondering who might fill Damaso Marte‘s DL spot next season. Here are the rest of the notes from the press conference…

Pitching

  • “We’re in a position now to take our time and explore and digest as well as pursue, but at our own pace, not in an emotional or reactive state,” said Cashman when asked about pursuing pitching. “It allows us to survey the landscape in a more conservative way. [Re-signing CC Sabathia] provides us a lot of security.” (Mark Feinsand, Chad Jennings & Marc Carig)
  • “He’s had to deal with adversity because of the inconsistent performance,”said Cashman when asked about A.J. Burnett. “He still was able to step up in October.” Cashman did laud Burnett’s ability to take the ball every five days and be accountable after his starts. Unless something unexpected happens, A.J will be in the rotation next season. (Kim Jones)
  • As for Yu Darvish, Cashman simply said: “I think like with anything else you learn over time. I think we’re more prepared today than we have been in the past.” I take that to mean the Yankees did more research on Darvish than they did with Kei Igawa, but that’s a quote open to (mis)interpretation. (Jon Lane)
  • Cashman confirmed that Rafael Soriano did not exercise his opt-out clause before last night’s deadline and will be with the team in 2012. (Anthony McCarron)

Offense

  • When asked about soon-to-be free agents like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, Cashman said: “I don’t anticipate a bat being a need at all. Offense is not a problem with this club despite what happened in the Detroit series.” (Bryan Hoch & Feinsand)
  • Picking up Nick Swisher‘s option was “an easy call,” and the GM isn’t concerned too much about his right fielder’s third straight poor postseason showing. (Feinsand)
  • As for Jesus Montero‘s role with the team next season, Cashman said: “He could be a catcher, he could be a DH, he could be a bat off the bench, depending on how the roster looks.” (Jones)

Miscellaneous

  • As for the trade market, Cashman said he’s open “to anybody’s ideas” and is willing to discuss a deal involving Burnett or pretty much anyone else on the roster. “If anybody wants to approach me on anybody on this roster, if they don’t have a full no-trade clause, worst I can tell em is no.” Burnett has a partial no-trade clause, but as yesterday’s Derek Lowe trade showed, A.J. has minimal trade value. (Jones, Hoch & Dan Barbarisi)
  • Cashman said that a long-term deal for Russell Martin is possible, but he likes the flexibility that their upper level catching depth provides. “He’s under our control [as an arbitration-eligible player]. He was fantastic, he didn’t disappoint … I’m a big fan.” (Kim Jones)
  • Cashman on Jorge Posada‘s future: “That’s something we’ll have to discuss here on the short term … it’s not something I’m prepared to talk about today.” (Barbarisi)
  • “[Frankie Cervelli] is fine,” said Cashman. “He’s full-bore, ready to go as a catcher.” That’s good news. Frankie suffered his third concussion in four years in early-September. (Jones)
  • Cashman also confirmed that no one big league roster needs any kind of offseason surgery. (Jennings)

Eight Yankees file for free agency as offseason begins

The 2011-2012 free agency period officially started at 12:01am ET this morning, and eight Yankees have filed for free agency: Luis Ayala, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, and Jorge Posada. Free agents can talk to other teams right now, but they can not receive any offers until 12:01am ET this coming Thursday. Adam Rubin has the full and official list of free agents as supplied by the players’ union.

The 40-man roster is now at 35, but Colin Curtis still needs to be activated off the 60-day DL.

What Went Wrong: Jorge Posada

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

After more than a decade behind the plate, the Yankees decided that Jorge Posada‘s days as a catcher were done last offseason. They signed Russell Martin in December, making Posada’s transition to DH official. The Yankees had concerns not just about his defense, which had deteriorated to unacceptable levels, but also his long-term health. Jorge scored poorly in two of the three ImPACT tests he took in 2010, the result of countless foul tips to the head over the years.

Everyone knew the statistics, or at least it seemed that way. Posada was just a .223/.336/.358 career hitter in 350 career plate appearances as a DH coming into the season, a performance that foretold certain doom for 2011. Maybe that’s a little overdramatic, but it wasn’t promising even if 350 plate appearances spread across 14 years isn’t much of a sample. However, it stood to reason that fewer time spent behind the plate would help keep Jorge fresh and therefore make him more productive at the plate. There were two sides to narrative.

Posada did not get a hit in the first game of the season, but he did reach base three times (a single and two walks) in the second. All was right in the world when Jorge hit two homers in the third game of the season, then another in the fourth game. After a four-game, 15-at-bat hitless streak (eight strikeouts), Posada went deep in each game of a two-game set against the Orioles in mid-April. He homered again nine days later, but that was basically the end of Posada as an effective hitter.

An 0-for-17 stretch followed the two homers against Baltimore, and it took 18 games for Jorge to record his next ten hits. With his batting line sitting at .165/.272/.349 on the morning of May 14th, Joe Girardi penciled Posada in as the number nine hitter against the Red Sox. Insulted by the move, Jorge pulled himself from the lineup and originally covered by saying his back was stiff. He told the Yankees he wanted out out of frustration, but later apologized for the incident. The team never discussed releasing him even though he was in breach of contract.

(AP Photo)

Posada returned to the starting lineup three days later, and promptly went 2-for-3 with a double against the Rays. Another double followed the next day, and Jorge went on a little mini-tear that saw him hit .330/.392/.426 with three homers in 102 plate appearances immediately following the benching. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. He reached base just ten times in his next 56 plate appearances, and with Eric Chavez coming off the DL, Posada lost playing time. From August 1st through the end of the season, a span of 55 team games, he batted just 88 times.

Jorge finished the season with a .235/.315/.398 batting line and 14 homers, easily the worst full season of his career. His .309 wOBA ranked 14th out of the 16 DH’s that came to the plate at least 300 times. Posada did not go down without a fight though, he was the Yankees best hitter in the ALDS (6-for-14 with four walks in five games against the Tigers), the last hurrah for a great Yankee. He threw a base stealer out while catching six emergency innings in a September game against the Angels, and he even played an inning at his original position, second base. Ironically enough, defense was the highlight of his season.

Despite the awful overall performance, Posada did hit right-handed pitchers well, to the tune of .269/.348/.466 in 316 plate appearances. He was completely unusable against southpaws though, hitting .092/.169/.108 in 71 plate appearances. That’s the only reason why he was in the lineup against the Tigers in the ALDS, they started four righties. The Yankees managed to get an almost exactly league average performance out of their DH’s in 2011 (.249/.329/.427), but that’s because Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Jesus Montero helped pick up the slack. Posada, an all-time great Yankee, was part of the problem this past season, almost assuredly his last in pinstripes. The end is almost always painful, and Jorge will be no exception.

Press Conference Roundup: CC, Hughes, A-Rod, Teixeira, Posada, More

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference at Yankee Stadium this afternoon, and unlike last year, there wasn’t any significant news to be broken. No coaches were fired, no secret injuries were unveiled, no talk about contracts for legacy players. The overwhelming theme was the idea of “clutch” and “clutch players,” just every other question was about that (seriously). I thought Girardi handled that well, saying that a lot of times it’s a function of luck, especially in a short series when things don’t have a chance to even out.

Anyway, the press conference was broadcast on YES, and had I know sooner, I probably would have live-blogged it. That’s my bad. Here’s a recap of the important stuff…

Starting Rotation

  • “He’s extremely important to our rotation, we rely on him heavily,” said Girardi when asked about CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause. “I can’t imagine what it would be like without him. I don’t want to imagine what it would be like without him.” Girardi did acknowledge that Sabathia gained a few pounds during the course of the season, but he didn’t think it affected his performance.
  • On A.J. Burnett: “He’s a work in progress … lost a mile or two [off his fastball] … the adjust he made from August to September really helped him. I think we can count on him, and we’re going to need him.”
  • On Phil Hughes: “We consider him a starter, we do, but he’s got to get back to the form he had in 2010 to continue to stay in our rotation. He’s gotta stay healthy, that’s the other thing.” When asked about Hughes’ conditioning, Girardi said the right-hander is “in shape to do the job” and is happy with everyone’s work ethic.
  • “I would assume that they would both be part of our rotation,” said Girardi, referring to Hughes and Ivan Nova. “Nothing in life is every given to you, you have to earn it.”
  • On rotation depth: “[Hector Noesi]’s a guy that can start to challenge [for a starting spot].” Girardi mentioned D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances by name as players that could push for a rotation spot at some point next year, but Noesi was the first one out of his mouth.
  • “The one need we’re going to have to address again is our rotation,” added the skipper. “It starts with CC, go from there.” When asked about adding a high-end starter even if Sabathia returns, Girardi replied: “That’s something that I’m sure we’ll look at doing.”

The Lineup

  • Girardi said all possibilities will be considered with the lineup, including Brett Gardner at leadoff. “Are you going to add? If we add someone, how do they fit in the lineup?” The batting order is something they’ll address in Spring Training.
  • “[Alex Rodriguez] is someone we need to keep healthy, first and foremost,” said the skipper. “If he plays 145-150 games, I think he’ll be much more productive.” The meniscus tear and sprained thumb were freak injuries more than anything, and Girardi said A-Rod was not more hurt than he led on down the stretch. “My expectation is he’ll be our third baseman, he might DH a little bit.”
  • On Mark Teixeira: “Some of it is luck. I think he made more contact this year than he did in the past.  Using the whole field will become important … so they can’t shift. He made a small adjustment on his openness to cut down on [balls hit into the shift] … I think he can give us more than that … I believe all of our guys can give us more. Tex, I don’t believe he’s a .240 hitter, no I don’t believe that.”
  • “Our guys will try to make adjustments to get their numbers back to where they’re used to having them,” added Girardi when asked about players who had down years.
  • On Jesus Montero: “It’s something that we will look at in Spring Training, heavily. I can’t tell you exactly what the makeup of our team will be behind the plate. Montero’s a guy that can probably do a lot of different things, DH some, catch some, gotta see the makeup of our team. I was very pleased with his at-bats in the month of September. Lot of upside there.”
  • “We expect him to have another good year and be productive for us,” said Girardi when asked about Derek Jeter. “When you’re an older player, people are always going to wonder.”
  • When asked about being too dependent on homers: “I think our offense became a little more diversified this year with the speed we had. [The homers are] part of who were are, part of the age we live in … from a speed standpoint, we can do a lot more things, we can do a lot more things this year than in years previous.”

Miscellaneous

  • “I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen with [Jorge Posada], but whenever you do say goodbye to someone, it’s difficult,” said Girardi. “When a player leaves a new player comes in, and I’m not saying that’s going to happen … if this is it, we’re going to miss him. There’s no doubt about it, we’re going to miss the intensity he brings.”
  • On the coaching staff: “The first guy that has to get done is Brian Cashman. I’m happy with my coaches, but that’s something I’ll talk about with Brian when the time comes.” Doesn’t seem like there will be any changes here.
  • On players pressing, in general: “I think you can do things to try and help players, but part of it has to come from within, part of it has to come from experience. It’s something we continually work on from a physical and mental standpoint.”
  • “Add a corner [infield] guy? Possibly. I’m sure we’ll look at that,” said Girardi, who expressed confidence in Eduardo Nunez being able to fill in all around the infield. “[Nunez] might even play more positions next year.”
  • Girardi joked that he could have “batted Gardy fourth and stacked my lefties” because Gardner was hitting so well in the postseason. The primary reason they used the same lineup in each game of the ALDS was that they faced four right-handed starters. If they faced a lefty, Girardi said the lineup would have looked very different.
  • “We didn’t reach out goal, that’s the bottom line,” said Girardi when asked if the season was a failure. “Bottom line is we didn’t get it done, and it starts with me.”