I’ll say again what I tweeted around the fifth inning of last night’s division-clinching, home field-advantage-earning, overwhelmingly satisfying 14-2 romp over the Red Sox: If Tuesday night’s epic comeback win over Boston was the climax of the regular season, then Wednesday’s laugher was a pretty damn good denouement.
The game itself was uneventful, save for Robinson Cano’s continuing quest to destroy the psyche of every pitcher in baseball. In the last nine games, Cano’s slash line is an almost incomprehensible .615/.634/.951 with six doubles, three HRs, 14 RBIs and 11 runs scored. I hate to play the “extrapolating for a full season” game, but at that pace he’d have had 54 HRs, 252 RBIs and 198 runs scored — suffice to say he’s made Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera look pedestrian by comparison over the past week and a half. Cano has been solid in the playoffs for the last two seasons, and he is the only Yankee who could go all 2009 A-Rod on us and simply put the team on his back. Otherwise, not much to say about Game 162 — once Curtis Granderson’s moonball three-run homer landed in the right-field seats in the third inning, the game was pretty much over.
The Yanks now await the winner of the Orioles-Rangers wild card game on Friday night. Amazingly, Texas was swept in Oakland this week when a single victory would have given the Rangers the AL West title. Much more on these two teams tomorrow, but for now let’s just say I would much, much rather see the O’s than the two-time defending AL champs.
Now for some regular-season Yankee awards…
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Robinson Cano, .313/.379/.550, 33 HRs, 94 RBIs, 105 runs scored, 48 doubles, 161 games played. For most of the season, this honor belonged to Derek Jeter, who turned back Father Time for the most remarkable season by a Yankee veteran that I’ve ever seen (notable exception: every Mariano Rivera season since 2007). But despite the Captain’s team-leading .316 average and 215 hits, Cano is the glue that holds the lineup together, a shutdown fielder at second base and the team’s most talented player to boot. In my Yankees’ season preview, I grumbled that Cano has not made the most of his preternatural athletic the way, say, Ken Griffey Jr. did. I also predicted a very good but not great season, exactly what Cano gave us for the first 153 games. But a very good Cano is better than anything anyone else on the Yankees has to offer, even Jeter. Locking up the free-agent-to-be for the next 5-7 years is Job #1 in the offseason for general manager Brian Cashman.
MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: Rafael Soriano, 2-1, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 42 saves in 46 chances. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the losing Rivera to a torn ACL in May probably did not cost the Yankees at all. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that even the ageless Rivera could have forced his 42-year-old body to put together the kind of season Soriano did for the Yankees. Compare Rivera’s stats for the past five full seasons to Soriano’s line in 2012:
Soriano: 2-1, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 42 saves in 46 chances, 2.6 WAR
2007 Rivera: 3-4, 3.15 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 30 saves in 34 chances, 1.9 WAR
2008 Rivera: 6-5, 1.40 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 39 saves in 40 chances, 4.2 WAR
2009 Rivera: 3-3, 1.76 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 44 saves in 46 chances, 3.5 WAR
2010 Rivera: 3-3, 1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 33 saves in 38 chances, 2.4 WAR
2011 Rivera: 1-2, 1.91 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 44 saves in 49 chances, 3.1 WAR
Objectively, Soriano’s season was worse than Rivera’s years in 2008 and 2009, better than his 2007 and 2010 campaigns, and similar to his 2011 season. And with Rivera having already blown one save in six chances before tearing his ACL, it’s hard to imagine he would have blown fewer than four saves in the entire season. His mercurial nature and constant, Dexter Morgan-esque serial killer facial expression notwithstanding, Soriano probably made the difference between winning the AL East and missing the playoffs. With no Yankee starter putting up huge numbers this season, Soriano gets the nod for the Yanks’ most important hurler.
LEAST VALUABLE PLAYER: Andruw Jones. So not valuable that I refuse to post his stat line or write anything about him. No hustle at all on my part. Hey, it’s like the time Jones popped up in the infield and decided to stand by home plate, only to watch the ball fall to the ground on a misplay before he was thrown out at first by 40 feet!
LEAST VALUABLE PITCHER: Michael Pineda. Hard to have any value when you don’t pitch a regular-season inning. The worst case of damaged goods since we signed A.J. Burnett without fully examining his brain.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Other than Jeter, it’s gotta be Ichiro Suzuki. The hope among Yankee fans when we traded for him in July was that he would benefit from playing in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium and be rejuvenated by a pennant race after a losing decade in Seattle. Boy, was that a good call. Ichiro’s stats before and after the trade:
Before (Seattle): .261/.288/.353, four HRs, 28 RBIs, 49 runs, 15 SBs (95 games)
After (Yankees): .322/.340/.454, five HRs, 27 RBIs, 28 runs, 14 SBs (67 games)
Not only did Ichiro become one of the AL’s best hitters in the last 2+ months of the season, the 38-year-old did it while playing in every game. In the last three seasons, he’s missed one game total. The constant presence of a veteran hitter in the lineup was gigantic for the Yankees, who otherwise might have seen a steadier diet of (gulp) Jones or Casey McGehee.
BEST SINGLE-GAME HITTING PERFORMANCE: Again, gotta go with Ichiro. Though Raul Ibanez had miraculous games in the two biggest wins of the season (more on this later) and Cano went 4-for-4 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs on Wednesday, Ichiro’s 7-for-8 performance in a must-win doubleheader against the Blue Jays on Sept. 19 takes the cake. In the night game, Ichiro went 4-for-4, stole four bases and drove-home the game-winning run with a two-out eighth inning single in a 2-1 victory. I was at that game, and the I!-CHI!-RO! chants were deafening — and deservedly so.
BEST SINGLE-GAME PITCHING PERFORMANCE: No great one stands out, but I’ll go with Hiroki Kuroda‘s complete-game shutout win over the Rangers on Aug. 14. Facing the best lineup in baseball, Kuroda allowed two singles and two walks and faced just 29 batters, two above the minimum. I dubbed Kuroda’s performance a Sapphire Game right after it happened, and it looks even better in hindsight.
BEST WIN: I can’t pick between the 10-9 extra-inning win over the Athletics on Sept. 22 or Tuesday’s 4-3 extra-inning miracle win over the Red Sox, so let’s say both. Full disclosure: I missed the wild finish to the A’s game, when the Yanks scored four runs in the bottom of the 13th to improbably tie the game (the last two on a Raul Ibanez home run) and then won it in the bottom of the 14th on a two-out error by Oakland. I was on the golf course with my father and knew only that the scored was tied 5-5 after eight innings. When we got back the car after the round, I turned on my phone and called up the score, suffering through the five-second, heart-in-your-throat delay as the score loads that every sports fan from my smartphone-addicted generation knows well. When the final tally popped up, I had to look again to believe what I was seeing.
As for Tuesday’s victory, the only time all season that the Yankees won a game where they trailed after eight innings? Read my Fandemonium post for the full rundown, as seen live in all its glory.
WORST LOSS: Three games stand out: a 4-3 loss to the White Sox on June 28, when Clay Rapada threw a routine double-play ball into right field to start a three-run ninth-inning comeback for the ChiSox (and I almost got into a fight after the game with a fat, drunk evolutionary mistake in a Nick Swisher jersey); a 5-4, 12-inning loss to the A’s on July 23 that featured a blown 4-0 lead, a game-tying home run by Seth Smith off Soriano in the ninth, and a game-winning hit by Coco Crisp of all people (and oh yeah, it meant we got swept in a four-game series for the first time since 2003); or an 8-7, 11-inning loss to the Blue Jays on Aug. 27 when Soriano blew the save after he was one strike from victory.
All were awful, but I’ll go with the Aug. 27 loss, because after Soriano choked away the lead, Derek Jeter tied the game with a leadoff HR in the bottom of the ninth. That’s the kind of clutch hit that could overcome a Bad Loss, but the Yankees couldn’t get another run, and the Jays scored in the 11th after a costly throwing error by Derek Lowe. Bad times all around.
BEST NEW YANKEE: As good as Ichiro and Ibanez have been, it’s got to be Kuroda. With C.C. Sabathia making two trips to the DL this season and Andy Pettitte missing two months with a broken leg, the Yankees needed a day-in, day-out stopper to anchor the rotation. They unexpectedly found one in Kuroda, who set career highs in wins (16), strikeouts (167) and inning pitched (219.2) without missing a start all season.
LOWEST LOW: Watching the video of Rivera tearing his ACL. Let’s just move on.
HIGHEST HIGH: Watching Ibanez’s game-tying home run clear the right-field fence on Tuesday — in person. It’s the only baseball moment of this season that will be truly unforgettable for me.
That’s all for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with a brief look at the wild card matchups and a couple hundred words on why Baltimore is an easier opponent than Texas.