Down goes Ivan Nova! Down goes Michael Pineda! Down goes C.C. Sabathia! Down goes Masahiro Tanaka! One by one, the Yankees starting pitchers dropped from injuries. Nova was all set to put it all together for a career year before Tommy John surgery was needed to repair his injured elbow. Pineda was comeback player of the year before a foolish suspension and an oblique injury sidelined him for months to come. Sabathia was hoping for a comeback season that wasn’t looking good at all when a knee injury cut down his season. Masahiro Tanaka was all New York could talk about. He’s an ace! He’s young! What a great sign for the Yankees! This guy is going to be the Rookie of the Year maybe even the Cy Young! He had already shaped himself into one of the best pitchers in baseball, when the injury bug bit him and halted his season for at least 6 weeks.
On top of it all, the offense was flat as stars like Brian McCann struggled at the plate and Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira struggled with injuries. Second baseman Brian Roberts and third baseman Kelly Johnson looked lost at the plate and blindfolded in the field, while surprise player, Yangervis Solarte gave fans something to cheer about early on before, succumbing to reality and flat lining a few months into the year. The season looked bleak at best.
Somehow the Yankees hung on, and treaded water in the standings. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitely would join the rotation along side Hiroki Kuroda as the first wave of reinforcements. Phelps struggled with consistency, Whitely got off to a good start before collapsing and Nuno served as the opposing lineup’s punching bag every time he stepped on the mound. What was there to do? There was no one to take over? Shane Greene was called up to take a rotation spot and Brian Cashman threw a Hail Mary pass by trading Vidal Nuno for Brandon McCarthy, a guy who hadn’t pitched much better than the man he replaced. Cashman kept making deals, acquiring starter Chris Capuano from the Rockies for cash, utility man Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks for Peter O’Brien, second basmenan Stephen Drew from the Red Sox for Johnson and third baseman Chase Headley from the Padres for Solarte and a minor league pitcher. Reliever Esmil Rodgers joined the club off waivers. It didn’t seem like enough.
What looked like moves of raw desperation quickly morphed into the work of pure genius. McCarthy has been one of best pitchers in baseball since joining the Yankees and Capuano looks revived in pinstripes. Shane Greene became a shining example of what the Yankees farm system can produce, as he’s been dominant since being called up to the big leagues. Headley and Drew have tightened up the infield defense, while at the same time providing spark to the offense. Prado has been a huge boost for the team, as his versatility has proved invaluable, and his defense and offense have added new elements to the team. Esmil Rogers, a cast off from the Blue Jays pitched great out of the pen and even in a spot start. Carlos Beltran has picked up his offensive attack, and Brian McCann has found his power stroke. Some how the Yankees are competing and thriving and along the way the baseball community’s view of them has changed.
At the trade deadline, the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers each brought a top starting pitcher, while the Red Sox brought in super star sluggers. The Yankees played a smaller roll, improving bits and pieces without making big moves which is uncharacteristic of the organization. Now, Oakland, Detroit and Los Angeles have become the scorn of baseball fans while the Yankees have become lovable underdogs. When Chris Capuano, who was pitching in Triple-A a few weeks ago, walked off the mound on Wednesday after out-pitching Justin Verlander, he received a standing ovation from the fans in the Bronx. You couldn’t help but smile. When Chase Headley, through all his struggles in San Diego the past few seasons, lined a walk-off base hit in his first game with the Yankees, it was a pretty beautiful moment. When Brandon McCarthy pitches, all of baseball watches and hopes he wins. They hope for him. When Brett Gardner, a homegrown Yankee, hits a home run as he continues his career year, it’s fantastic. It is! Sports writers have taken to love the Yankees and root for something that hasn’t happened in a long, long time. The Yankees have become the underdog and their roster is filled with a healthy mix of underdogs and superstars. You know what? It’s working! They mowed down the Detroit Tigers by getting timely hits and great pitching. The beat the Boston Red Sox by doing the same thing. How is it happening? Is it the ghosts whose spirit remains in Monument Park? Is it the Baseball Gods willing Derek Jeter and the Yankees to play in the post season one last time? Nobody can figure it out, but this is only proof that there is still magic in the Bronx. No, they won’t go undefeated down the stretch. They’ll lose some games, but what’s going on with the Yankees is pretty special.