When I saw the Yankees two weeks ago in Toronto, I thought they were toast. They lost a game to a Blue Jays lineup that included the Bisons’ starting outfield. They lost another when they gave up two runs on a third-strike wild pitch that would have been the last out of an inning. They looked like anything but a playoff team.
The Bronx Bombers come back to the Rogers Centre for three more games starting Tuesday night and it’s hard to believe they’re legitimately in the race for a wild-card. They’ve dealt with the Alex Rodriguez circus all year, with injuries beyond belief and here there are still alive in mid-September.
Just in the last five days, Derek Jeter has been shut down for the season and Brett Gardner suffered an oblique strain that will likely keep him out until a potential postseason series.
The starting pitching has been cover-your-eyes bad at times, to the point where it’s run the bullpen ragged. Even the wondrous Mariano Rivera has blown four saves since Aug. 1.
Yankees haters and even Yankees fans might not believe this, but it’s time to admit that Joe Girardi is one heck of a manager. The guy won a World Series in 2009, has gone to the playoffs the last three years, and it’s still easy to say this is his best managing job yet.
There have been 55 players — the most in the storied history of the franchise — wearing pinstripes this year. Some glove-first guy named Brendan Ryan (we don’t see many Seattle games here) was acquired to replace Jeter and finish out the season at shortstop.
Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes look like they’re at the end of the line in New York and forget prospects for another year, at least until the kids who helped Double-A Trenton win the Eastern League Thursday night are ready to contribute.
Girardi handles all of it incredibly. The media group that follows the Yankees is as professional as they come and they’re also voracious for information. The clubhouse is a zoo before the game and afterward. Girardi answers the endless questions and hardly ever gets flustered. One day never carries into the next.
On his way up with the Bisons 12 years ago, Eric Wedge taught me the term “separate”. It’s a reference to the fact baseball is every day and you just can’t have any carryover from one game to the next. Girardi is a master at it.
The Yankees entered the weekend 11 games over .500 in a season where Jeter hit .190 in only 63 at-bats, Mark Teixeira hit .151 in 53 at-bats, someone named David Adams played 41 games at third base, Hughes is 4-13 and CC Sabathia has an ERA that is nearly 5.00.
Teams like that lose 90 games. Girardi will come close to winning 90. And get this: He’s a free agent after the season. Can’t imagine the Yankees won’t make him a big offer he can’t refuse but he’d be quite the free agent prize.
Girardi is a Chicago guy who met his wife at Northwestern. Think Theo Epstein might want to tweak the Yankees again and talk to him about the Cubs job? Think the Nationals, with the retiring Davey Johnson, might be attractive to Girardi because of their stable of young talent?
It’s going to be an interesting winter for Girardi. John Farrell of the Red Sox is likely going to get American League Manager of the Year. But everyone in the game knows the job the Yankees’ skipper has done this year too. His binder of stats drives Yankees fans crazy at times but you can’t argue the results.
Melky’s tumor benign
The Blue Jays say the days of watching Melky Cabrera hobble around the bases and basically being unable to play left field should be over because of a surprising discovery — a benign tumor in his lower back that was removed without complications.
“As the tumor grows, it starts to push on your nerve and causes complete weakness in the legs,” GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters in Minneapolis last week. “That’s why we’d find inflammation and things like that, but we never found a tear.
“Those were the only things he said were sore, were his legs, which when you talk to the training staff, ultimately, the result is weakness in your legs. Ultimately, you wish it never occurred, but at least we have something to point to.”
Cabrera was shut down on Aug. 1 after a series of leg issues ruined the first year of his two-year, $16 million contract. He hit .279 with three homers and 30 RBIS in 88 games, and also spent two games on injury rehab with the Bisons.
I’m always wary of big numbers at the plate from September callups — largely because they can often be facing September callup pitchers. That said, ex-Bisons outfielder Moises Sierra is really finding his stride at the plate in Toronto.
Sierra can often forget how many outs there are and loves to airmail throws from right field past the cutoff men but he can sure hit.
He entered the weekend leading the major leagues for September in both extra-base hits (12) and doubles (10). He had 13 extra-base hits in 59 at-bats and was batting .322 since being recalled from the Bisons in late August —– and .412 in September.
A good read
Who says it’s too early for Christmas reading lists? I’ve got a good one with an in-house tie: It’s “Today in Buffalo Sports History: 366 Days of Milestones” by News Sports Reporter/Copy Editor Budd Bailey.
It’s a day-by-day look at great moments in local sports, in the format of the daily feature that formerly appeared in these pages. And there’s plenty of Bisons representation recounted.
Some of the moments include the 1961 debut at War Memorial Stadium, the nine-run ninth to beat Pawtucket in 2007, the four home runs against the Herd by Newark’s Bob Seeds in 1938, the 1991 home run derby with Barry Bonds and the Pirates, the four-homer game by Billy Bottenus in 1895 (yes, 1895) that remains the last one by a Bison, and Jackie Robinson’s 1946 trip to Offermann Stadium.
And there are many more baseball-related nuggets, in addition to plenty of Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Braves, colleges and more. The book, which includes plenty of great photography from The News archives, is available at local outlets and online at Buffalobooks.com
Around the horn
• Rivera will be honored by the Red Sox prior to tonight’s 8 p.m. game on ESPN, his final one at Fenway. It will be quite a sight to see the ovation you know he’s getting from the fans of the Yankees’ biggest rival. The Blue Jays are also slated to honor Rivera prior to Thursday’s game, his last one in Toronto.
• Disgusted Mets manager Terry Collins, on his young players’ lack of production this month: “You think some of these guys will grab the opportunity that’s in front of them because of the injury issues on our club and say, ‘Here’s my chance to show I’m a major league player.’ And we’re not seeing it.
“Not in this clubhouse, not in this league, you don’t feel sorry for yourself. Nobody feels sorry for you in the game. Our guys in that room, because a lot of them are young, they better learn that lesson real fast, because if they’re going to play here they better know how to bounce back.”
• Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt earned a college degree earlier this month, wrapping up his bachelor’s in management from the University of Phoenix. He took his final 10 classes online the last two years after getting three years done at Texas State.
• Reminder: The Triple-A National Championship Game is Tuesday night at 7 on NBC Sports Network from Lehigh Valley. It matches the Durham Bulls, the champions of the International League, against Pacific Coast League champ Omaha.