John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
For a franchise that brands itself as championship or bust, the Yankees' failure to reach the World Series over an entire decade for the first time in 100 years made the 2010s hugely disappointing, despite seven postseason appearances.
Still, it had its moments, linking the nostalgia of its Core Four-past with the promise of its Baby Bombers-future.
So here are my Top 10 best/most memorable moments of the Yankees' decade, along with five of the worst.
10 To Remember:
1) Jeter's 3,000th hit/Hollywood Ending
It was after Derek Jeter belted a home run for his 3,000th hit In July of 2011 that Joe Girardi said he wasn't surprised because "Derek is a movie. His life is a movie."
Everyone understood what he meant, and yet a few years later even movie-makers might have rejected the final act of Jeter's career as a bit too hokey to be believable. Yet somehow it unfolded as if indeed scripted for him on Sept. 25, 2014, with the Yankees blowing a 5-2 ninth-inning lead that allowed their Captain to come to the plate one last time at home and win the game with one of his patented opposite-field singles.
Of course, it was far from the perfect ending for Jeter, only the third time in his career the Yankees were missing the playoffs. But he always had a flair for the moment, right to the end, as it turned out.
2) Rivera's Tearful Exit
It started out as something of a lighthearted moment, Girardi sending Jeter and Andy Pettitte to the mound to take Mariano Rivera out of what turned out to be his final appearance in the big leagues, on Sept. 27, 2013.
It turned into an emotional and unforgettable farewell, with Rivera embracing Pettitte in a prolonged hug, tears streaming down his cheeks, and then Jeter as well, while the Stadium crowd roared in tribute to the greatest closer in baseball history.
3) Pettitte Comes Out of Retirement
Yes, the early 2010s were mostly about closing the book on the stars of the Joe Torre glory years, but unlike Jeter and Rivera, Pettitte's final chapter is remembered less for his final act than his unexpected return to pinstripes.
After sitting out the 2011 season in retirement, Pettitte got the itch to return in March of 2012, thanks in part to a stint throwing batting practice as a celebrity spring training coach. So at age 40 he came back to pitch at a high level for two more seasons, including a couple of strong postseason starts in 2012 -- almost as if he'd never left.
4) Judge Sets Rookie HR Record
The transition in the Bronx from old to new is personified mostly by Aaron Judge, the 6-foot-7 slugger who quickly became the face of the so-called Baby Bombers, astonishing the baseball world with his seemingly limitless power.
He hit 52 home runs in 2017 to break Mark McGwire's rookie record of 49, and much like Pete Alonso, who then broke Judge's record in 2019, the Yankee right fielder earned as much acclaim for his likable personality and natural leadership ability as his remarkable power.
5) Cole Signs Record Contract
Gerrit Cole didn't play a game for the Yankees in this decade, obviously, but his signing to that nine-year, $324 million deal a few weeks ago seems significant enough to include on this list.
The combination of Cole's spectacular talent and the Yankees' 10-year championship drought was enough to prompt Hal Steinbrenner to open the vault, Evil Empire-style, and outbid everybody in baseball in a manner that his father made famous for so many years.
Then, in a rare departure from his usually measured comments, Hal even channeled George's bluster, saying that nothing short of multiple championships will make the Cole signing worthwhile.
6) The Chapman-For-Torres Trade
When Brian Cashman traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in July of 2016 for Gleyber Torres, all anybody really knew was that the Yankees were selling/rebuilding for the first time in 20-plus years.
Turned out not for long, however, in large part because Cashman re-signed Chapman after the reliever helped the Cubs win their long-awaited championship, while convincing Theo Epstein to give up the young infielder who has blossomed into a star already and looks like he could be a perennial MVP candidate.
7) Yanks ALDS Comeback Stuns Indians
Led by young, homegrown stars that re-energized a jaded fan base in 2017, the Yankees were playing in their first playoff series since 2012 against the defending AL Champs, who were fresh off a late-season 22-game winning streak.
They looked not ready for prime time in falling behind 0-2 in Cleveland, with Girardi publicly admitting to a major mistake in failing to challenge a costly missed call in Game 2, yet the young Yanks pulled off a gutsy comeback to win the five-game series and then took the mighty Astros to Game 7 of the ALCS.
It all felt like an official passing of the torch to a new era with years ahead of championship possibilities.
8) A-Rod's 3,000th Hit/Image Makeover
It may not have been a particularly feel-good moment for fans, especially the many who never really warmed up to Alex Rodriguez as a Yankee, but it was certainly a notable milestone, as A-Rod notched his 3,000th hit only weeks after hitting home run No. 661 to pass Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list.
What made it remarkable, however, was the spirit of cooperation between the front office and A-Rod a little more than a year after they were at war, with the player threatening to sue practically everyone in the organization as he tried in vain to avoid a PED suspension.
Remember, the fan who caught A-Rod's home run/3,000th hit at first refused to give it up, doing so days later only when the Yankees' brass offered to make a $150,000 donation to a charity the fan supported. Turned out to be the first major step in an improbable image makeover that turned A-Rod from potentially being a Jose Canseco-like outcast into an omnipresent TV broadcaster, corporate pitchman and social-media presence.
9) LeMahieu's Blast
It was quickly rendered inconsequential by Jose Altuve's series-winning home run some 10 minutes later, but DJ LeMahieu delivered one of the great clutch hits of any postseason in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS, staving off elimination at the time with a ninth-inning, two-out, game-tying home run against Astros' closer Roberto Osuna.
Turned out it couldn't save the series, but the home run did cap a spectacular first season as a Yankee for LeMahieu, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting and had a knack for delivering when it counted all year, leading the majors by hitting .389 with runners in scoring position.
10) The Raul Ibanez Game
Unlike LeMahieu's feat, Raul Ibanez's crazy-clutch heroics in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS against the Orioles did lead to a series win, but they're still largely forgotten because the Yankees were promptly swept by the Tigers in the ALCS.
Ibanez, who played only one season in the Bronx, first tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a solo home run off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, while pinch-hitting for A-Rod, of all things. And then Ibanez won it in the 12th off lefty Brian Matusz with another home run, giving the Yanks a 2-1 lead in a series they eventually won in five games.
And Five To Forget:
1) Altuve's Walk-Off HR
Aroldis Chapman paid for hanging a slider. Or did Altuve know it was coming? With the Astros it's obviously a pertinent question in the wake of the revelations about sign-stealing, but either way Altuve's home run in the bottom of the ninth won Game 6 to eliminate the Yankees in the 2019 ALCS.
2) Jeter's Broken Ankle
This marked the unofficial end of the Core Four era, when Jeter suffered a fractured ankle moving hard to his left to field a ground ball in Game 1 of the 2012 ALDS -- in which the Yankees were swept by the Tigers. Jeter was never the same after the injury, playing only 17 games in 2013, and enduring a feeble farewell season in 2014.
3) A-Rod's Suspension
It was 2009 when Rodriguez first admitted to having used PEDs, but he claimed to have stopped in the early 2000s. By 2013 he was going scorched-earth against the Yankees and MLB trying to avoid a suspension related to the famed Biogenesis case, making for some ugly back-and-forth, but it didn't save him from a season-long ban in 2014, adding to the team's fall from prominence at the time.
4) Mo's Knee Injury
Rivera loved showing off his athleticism shagging fly balls during batting practice over the years, but he paid a price in May of 2012 when he tore his ACL tracking down a fly ball at the wall in Kansas City, necessitating surgery that caused him to missed the rest of the season and what would have been one last chance to pitch in October. He came back to finish his career with a remarkable 2013 season, posting 44 saves with a 2.11 ERA at age 43, but the Yankees missed the postseason for only the second time since 1996.
5) Stanton's Empty October
Giancarlo Stanton looked overmatched in his first taste of postseason play, going 4-for-18 in the 2018 ALDS against the Red Sox with all of hits being singles while striking out six times, including some crucial spots against Craig Kimbrel that could have turned the series in favor of the Yankees. After injuries rendered him a non-factor in the 2019 post-season, Stanton now has eight more years on his contract to change the perception that he can't hit elite pitching.