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Keefe To The City: What Went Wrong And Right For The Yankees

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(credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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I know that you aren’t supposed to make announcements on game days during World Series, but I couldn’t wait any longer to do my second annual “What Went Wrong And Right For The Yankees” piece.

“To me, baseball is better with doubleheaders and without A.J. Burnett, baseball is better without the empty seats between the bases, baseball is better in October, baseball is better when the Red Sox lose and collapse in epic fashion. And baseball is, best of all, when the Yankees win the World Series.”

That’s what I would have said if I got to a hold a press conference at the end of the Yankees season. Just kidding I would never say something that ridiculous while also saying “baseball operation” 49 times and using the word “culture” another 73 times during one press conference. I leave that kind of stuff for Theo Epstein to do and he did it so brilliantly at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.

Thursday night is Game 6 of the World Series. It was supposed to be on Wednesday night, but sometime between the CC Sabathia-Justin Verlander matchup in Game 1 of the ALDS on Sept. 30 and last night (Oct. 26), Joe Torre and Major League Baseball learned how to read a Doppler radar so they wouldn’t compromise any other playoff games this fall and that game’s starting pitchers.

Before we get to what went wrong and what went right, I thought I would bring up this interesting hypothetical question: Could you imagine if Joe Girardi couldn’t communicate with his bullpen during the World Series or if A-Rod put on a hit and run himself during Game 5 of the World Series? I can’t. I really can’t. Yes, it would be the best thing to ever happen to sports radio, but it would also be the worst thing for any Yankees fan who enjoys sports radio or watching sports channels on TV or going on sports websites. But honestly could you imagine the chaos and fallout from something of that magnitude happening with the Yankees? I would probably be wandering the streets of Manhattan, eating out of trashcans and sleeping in Central Park searching for the meaning of life.

I don’t know how I will remember the 2011 Yankees. I guess I will remember them as a team that overachieved in the regular season and then underachieved in the postseason. I don’t know if they would have had enough pitching to get by the Rangers’ lineup since they didn’t even have enough pitching to get by a weak Tigers lineup. Maybe we were all saved from an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers and avoided the devastation of Adrian Beltre hitting home runs from his knees, Mike Napoli shooting balls into the left field bleachers and Josh Hamilton rekindling his relationship with the short porch in right field. Or maybe the Yankees would be playing in Game 6 of the World Series tonight looking to win their 28th championship.

This is the last thing I will write about the 2011 Yankees. After this the season is officially over even though it was officially over when A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher left the tri-state area on base in Game 5. Everything after this will be about next season and the 2012 season. There won’t be any pieces dedicated to Cliff Lee standing me up since there isn’t a Cliff Lee this winter, and the only thing I really fear is the possibility of the catastrophic event that would be CC Sabathia deciding that he doesn’t like it in New York anymore.

Last season after the season I wrote about a few things that I was right about with the 2010 Yankees and a few things I was wrong about, revisiting things I had written throughout the year. So, I decided to do it again this year. The only difference is that last year I did between Game 162 and Game 1 of the ALDS. This year I waited a little longer. I needed the finality of the season to set in, for hockey season to begin to gear myself up for Giants football, which judging by their schedule will probably end up in the third straight epic collapse.

I have done a lot of thinking over the last 21 days, and this is it: the ninth inning of everything I have written about the 2011 Yankees. The next time I write it will be about 2012. Let’s hope I’m spraying Coors Light all over my apartment a year from now or live blogging the parade and not writing about where I went right and wrong with my Yankees writing in 2012.

Let’s start with What Went Wrong since there are fewer things. (That’s what happens when you’re a genius. Just kidding. That’s what happens when the team finishes in first place and wins home-field advantage for the playoffs. That mattered…)

(Thoughts from previous columns written in italics.)

WHAT WENT WRONG

March 23
That’s right. Bartolo Colon is a week away from being a New York Yankee. The man who admitted to being about 25 pounds overweight (his estimation) on the first day of pitchers and catchers is going to own one of the 25 possible roster spots on the $200 million New York Yankees. I’ll give you a minute to let that settle in…

I still can’t believe it. I hoped it was just one big, early collaborative April Fool’s joke from the Yankees beat writers, but it’s not. It’s the truth. But in what was the Murphy’s Law Offseason, it only makes sense as every move made by Brian Cashman since the 2010 season ended has been in spite of me, almost as if he’s on a personal vendetta to ruin my summer and make me hate baseball.

I said I was sorry to Bartolo Colon a bunch of times. I said it here. And here. And probably a dozen other places.

I didn’t want Bartolo Colon on the Yankees. Then once he made the team, I didn’t want him in the starting rotation. Then once he made the rotation, I didn’t want him to go back to the bullpen. Then when he was pitching a shutout in Baltimore, I didn’t want Mariano Rivera to come in. Then when he went on the DL, I wanted him to come back. Then when he came back and wasn’t as good as before, I wanted the pre-DL Bartolo. Then I wanted him to start Game 2 in the playoffs. Then I didn’t want him to start any game in the playoffs.

I called Bartolo Colon a lot of things from the day he signed until the end of the year. I called him fat and old. I used incentives like Wendy’s Baconators and nachos for him to perform well. I called him the No. 2 starter and I might have gone as far as calling him 1-A at some point during the year.

Colon impressed every single person that watched him this year. He only won eight games and pitched to a 4.00 ERA, but he was better than his stats suggest, and I think anyone that watched his 26 starts and 29 appearances would agree. He gave the Yankees 164 1/3 quality innings, which is 164 1/3 more than I thought he would give them. It was a pleasure to watch Bartolo Colon come back to being solid from being nothing, and it was an honor to root for him.

May 3
Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s a $35-million setup man on the mound or Jose Veras. That’s probably not a good thing. It’s also not a good thing when you’re praying that the day’s starter will go eight innings or that the Yankees will break open a lead before the eighth inning because if they don’t it means your $35-million setup man will be coming in.

Last week when it was determined that Rafael Soriano would not be using his first of two opt-out clauses, I wondered if that really needed to be announced. Would a guy dating a girl way out of his league break up with her if he knew there was no way she would break up with him? No.

I will remember Rafael Soriano’s as being a disappointment. It all started with that disaster against the Twins in the first week of the season in April and ended when he gave up a series-changing home run in Game 3 of the ALDS after the Yankees rallied against JUSTIN VERLANDER (how badly did I want to type that name in size 1 billion font?) to tie the game at 4. A first-pitch fastball to Delmon Young (something John Smoltz called on the TBS broadcast) to a dead fastball hitter ultimately changed the Yankee season. Yes, the embarrassment that was hitting with runners in scoring position in Game 5 didn’t help, but it was that home run that erased the Yankees’ momentum and gave life-saving CPR to a Comerica Park crowd that had just been stunned after Brett Gardner’s two-run double. Only two more years of Rafael Soriano!

June 21
Jones’ job on the team was supposed to be to play left field against the left-handed pitchers to prevent Brett Gardner from facing lefties. But a funny thing happened on the way to Joe Girardi’s master plan: Brett Gardner learned how to hit against lefties. And since Gardner can hit lefties and so can Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter and Jorge Posada will threaten to quit the team if he is taken out of the lineup, there’s no need for Jones on the team. But since Girardi sat the Yankees’ hottest hitter (Gardner) for Jones on Monday, maybe Joe isn’t ready to give up on the guy that most fans gave up on a long time ago. (I wonder if Girardi’s decision to sit the team’s hottest hitter and current leadoff man for a struggling right-handed bat will be part of his updated “Yankeeography”?)

That was from something I wrote titled “Designate Them For Assignment.” Yes, it was a little much and maybe a little premature, but it came after Jones jogged out a grounder that resulted in a double play and didn’t leave the game due to injury. I didn’t want Andruw Jones on the Yankees. I understood why they got him (to replace Marcus Thames and not be a liability in the outfield) but it took me a while to warm up to Jones.

Jones finished the year at .286/.384/.540 against lefties, which was impressive and he hit eight home runs with 25 RBIs against lefties and added another five home runs against righties. I was wrong about Jones and he ended up being a big bat off the bench and a reliable starting option for Joe Girardi on days when outfielders needed rest or as a DH against lefties once Jorge Posada proved he could no longer hit them.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

March 30
What does make a difference is the No. 3 and No. 5 spots in the order. Robinson Cano is the best hitter on the team, and over the course of a season the difference of two spots in the order will translate into a lot more at-bats for Teixeira than Cano.

I know people are scared of change, but this would be a change for the better. Teixeira has become Giambi-esque with the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium and his average has become a product of the shift. Where was this problem hitting going the other way as a lefty when he was with the Rangers and Angels hitting against the Yankees?

The only reason I can think of for Girardi keeping Tex third and Cano fifth is that it’s the way he’s always done it and he doesn’t want to change it now. Call me crazy, but I think Cano should be hitting third.

I said that above paragraph to Sweeny Murti the day before Opening Day. It only took Joe Girardi the entire season to realize that the lineup is better with Robinson Cano (THE BEST HITTER ON THE TEAM!) hitting third. What a concept!

I know how to get every Yankees hitter out. It’s something you learn through 162 games and a million at-bats. I would go through the entire lineup except I would be publicizing how to beat the Yankees and that’s probably not a good idea. (Plus, I can still hold out hope that some team will give me a seven-figure salary for this information.) Obviously I don’t really know anything that every other Yankees fan and advanced scouts around the league don’t already know.

Any pitcher that doesn’t throw changeups to Mark Teixeira deserves to lose. Granted, if you throw Teixeira fastballs he will probably just foul them back or pop one up to the shortstop, but if you throw him changeups, he WILL NOT beat you. It’s that easy. He will not beat you because he won’t make contact. He will swing over the ball, puff his cheeks and walk back to the dugout pretending like it’s the first time his loopy swing ever went over a changeup.

I have gotten tired of Teixeira’s transformation into Jason Giambi at the plate. Here is what Teixeira has done in his three years with the Yankees:

2009: .292/.383/.565

2010: .256/.365/.481

2011: .248/.341/.494

Does anyone else see a problem here? Let’s try to forget that in Teixeira’s contract year he hit .308/.410/.552 for the Braves and the Angels. Let’s also try to forget that amount of times that Kevin Long said he “didn’t care” about Teixeira’s average since he was hitting home runs and that he wasn’t worried about him.

In the ALDS, Teixeira went 3-for-18 (.167) with one RBI and five strikeouts. This coming after a solid 0-for-14 performance in the 2010 ALCS before his season ended with a hamstring injury (It’s never good when you don’t care that your All-Star first baseman is out for the rest of the postseason and that the Mailing-It-In version of Lance Berkman is taking over him.) Yes, Teixeira hit .308 in the 2010 ALDS, but he also hit .167 in the 2009 ALDS, .222 in the 2009 ALCS and .136 in the 2009 World Series. That’s all.

April 6
The Yankees led by four runs. Girardi doesn’t use Rivera in four-run games and in the past he has only used his setup man to set up save situations. So why Rafael Soriano?

That spot had David Robertson’s name written all over it. Robertson could easily be in Joba Chamberlain’s role, but he isn’t, so what exactly is his role? He’s doesn’t pitch the seventh inning. He doesn’t pitch the eighth inning. He’s not the closer. He’s not a lefty specialist. He’s not the long reliever. So he’s the guy you bring in to a bases-loaded gongshow to clean up a mess?

Everyone I talked to when Rafael Soriano was coming off the DL assured me that he would regain his role in the eighth inning and that David “Copperfield” Robertson would be returned to the seventh inning. But I didn’t want to be assured of this because I didn’t want it to happen. Luckily it didn’t and Robertson continued to be lights out in the eighth inning and the best setup man in all of baseball.

I don’t think I will ever get over the fact that Robertson and Mariano Rivera pitched in just two of the five ALDS games, or as I like to look at it: the same amount of games that Luis Ayala appeared in. Where was Robertson to hold the deficit in Game 2? Where was he when Rafael Soriano was giving up the go-ahead home run in Game 3? What was the point of resting Robertson and Rivera throughout September if they weren’t going to be used they way they should have been in the playoffs? I’m just glad that our back end of the bullpen and the team’s biggest strength will be ready and rested for spring training. Watch out baseball! The most important part of the Yankees is going to be unstoppable in March!

April 11
If Posada had a fourth at-bat against Beckett on Sunday, I don’t think I would have been able to sit there and watch it. In three at-bats, Posada struck out three times against Beckett and looked like he was playing Dizzy Bat the entire night. After feeling embarrassed and bad for Rory McIlroy earlier in the day as he imploded at the Masters, I thought I was going to get that same feeling during the game if Daniel Bard entered in the eighth inning to face Posada with his high-90s fastball. Instead, Beckett just overmatched him for the third time.

After the Yankees lost to the Rangers in the ALCS, I said the following about Posada:

Posada is like the aging family dog that just wanders around aimlessly and goes to the bathroom all over the place and just lies around and sleeps all day. You try to pretend like the end isn’t near and you try to remember the good times to get through the bad times, and once in a while the dog will do something to remind you of what it used to be, but it’s just momentary tease.

That was the meanest thing I ever said about anyone I think, but it’s true. In the end Posada was exactly who I thought he would be in 2011 with a variety of performances and achievements and disappointments and redemptions. Posada had his bad days (anytime he faced an elite pitcher) and his horrible days (when he took himself out of the lineup, whined and threatened to retire), but he has also had some good days (the home run against Kevin Gregg in April, the grand slam against the Rays and the hit to win the division) and his great days (his entire ALDS against the Tigers).

I know Posada isn’t coming back next year. Bernie Williams hit .281 in 2006 and the team only offered him a chance to try and make the club out of spring training. Posada is a switch-hitting catcher than can’t hit right-handed anymore and can’t catch anymore. So, ultimately he’s now a 40-year-old left-handed bat that needs to be pinch run for. I talked about what Jorge Posada has meant to me during his time with the Yankees in my end of the year discussion with Sweeny, and Sweeny told me why Posada was such a joy to watch play for the Yankees. Thank you, Jorge.

May 6
I never thought it would get to this point, but really I just didn’t want to believe it would ever get to this point. And the point I’m referring to is the point where the world turns on Derek Jeter because maybe he has finally lost it for good. The fact that I have to even write this shows things aren’t going the way I hoped (but maybe this will serve as one big reverse jinx for me to helping turn around Jeter’s season). I feel like I’m one of a few still supporting No. 2, still sticking by No. 2 and still believing in No. 2, mainly because I don’t want to believe anything else.

Everyone gave up on Derek Jeter. Everyone, but me. Sure, things weren’t looking good when he was hitting .260/.324/.324 on June 13. But then he went on the DL, came back on July 4 and hit .331/.384/.447 the rest of the way to finish the year at .297/.355/.388.

I have said maybe five negative things about No. 2 in my life and none of them cam during his season-opening slump. However, one of them did come during the ALDS, but the postseason is different. It’s like getting into an argument while drunk and everything is exaggerated. Some things are said that probably shouldn’t be said, but all is forgiven the next day. (Unless you’re A.J. Burnett or Nick Swisher or Boone Logan, then I meant everything I said. Swisher should be lucky I barely ever write about him and couldn’t find anything good enough to use for this.)

If Jeter starts off slow again next year or doesn’t hit .334, the anti-Jeter movement will grow larger. I’ll still stand where I stand now … supporting No. 2 and waiting for him to prove everyone wrong again.

August 22
At the end of Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck’s character (Chuckie Sullivan) tells Matt Damon’s character (Will Hunting), “You know what the best part of my day is? The ten seconds before I knock on the door ’cause I let myself think I might get there, and you’d be gone. I’d knock on the door and you just wouldn’t be there. You just left.”

I live this every day. You know what the best part of my day is? Every day when I sign online, or go on Twitter, or turn on the TV or the radio ‘cause I let myself think that I will see the headline or hear the phrase, “A.J. Burnett removed from Yankees rotation.” I’m not foolish enough to think that I might hear, “Yankees release A.J. Burnett” because of the money he is owed this season and the $33 million for the next two years. But I let myself think that maybe, just maybe he will be sent to the bullpen and given the Jorge Posada treatment in that he doesn’t fit the team’s plan in putting the best team on the field. I think we’re getting there.

If Curtis Granderson doesn’t catch that ball in the first inning of Game 4 of the ALDS, I have my wish. A.J. Burnett would have been out of that game and would have walked off the mound in a Yankees uniform for the last time. That’s not an exaggeration. After a 10-15, 5.26 season in 2010, he followed it up with an 11-11, 5.15 season in 2011. He won for just the second time in seven postseason starts – a place where he also holds a 5.08 ERA.

A.J. Burnett will be back in 2012, giving me plenty of material to write about and giving me plenty of heartache and headaches along the way. He will most likely not be good. Is that pessimistic? No, I like to think of it as being realistic. He’s 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in three year in the Bronx. He has worked with Jorge Posada, Jose Molina, Francisco Cervelli and Russell Martin as catchers and Dave Eiland and Larry Rothschild as pitching coaches. I think every possibility for possibly turning around this 34-year-old’s (he will be 35 in January) career has been exhausted. All we can do now is sit back and watch him take the ball every fifth day and hope that the final two years and $33 million can be salvaged in some way.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

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