This offseason, I’m doing deep dive into the Yankees’ postseason runs since the 2009 World Series and examine why the Bombers fell short for a title. First up, the title defense of 2010.
The Yankees didn’t fully reunite the band in 2010 as Brian Cashman and co. said farewell to Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera, among others. Brought in to fortify the World Series defense were Marcus Thames, Nick Johnson, Chan Ho Park and Javier Vazquez, the latter of whom came over with Boone Logan to extend the rotation and bullpen.
The big acquisition of the offseason was Curtis Granderson. The 29-year-old center fielder cost the Yankees Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy, but he had the potential to add left-handed pop to the top or bottom of their order.
That eclectic group complemented a strong core. Through in their 30s, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira formed the heart of a powerful lineup, while Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher were no slouches. On the pitching side, CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett returned from the 2009 squad in front of the ageless Mariano Rivera.
2010 Regular Season
What Went Right
Robinson Canó turned into a superstar. The 27-year-old was the Yankees second-youngest everyday player and had hit .320 in 2009, but he put together both outstanding hitting and glovework to finish third in MVP voting.
Nick Swisher, meanwhile, gelled in his second season with the Bombers and became an All-Star, turning into a better all-around player. Those contributions complemented a rotation with three All-Stars — Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte — to give New York perhaps the AL’s best top-3 on their staff.
At the deadline, the Yankees made a key addition with Kerry Wood, who would then allow just two runs over 26 innings over the final two months of the season.
What Went Wrong
The bullpen outside of Rivera and Wood wasn’t fantastic. Both Logan and David Robertson were good, but D-Rob’s leap to fireman came a year later while Joba Chamberlain scuffled in his bullpen return.
At age-36, Jeter declined sharply from his resurgent 2009, while A-Rod missed brief time with a calf strain and was good, not outstanding. Granderson could not hit lefties until August.
Meanwhile, the back-end of the rotation wasn’t cutting it with Burnett and Vazquez not panning out. The Yankees could have shored up that issue, but …
The Inflection Point: The Cliff Lee trade
On July 9, the Yankees were reported to be nearing a deal for Mariners ace Cliff Lee after Seattle had fallen out of contention. The deal apparently was set to include top prospect Jesus Montero as well as infielder David Adams and pitcher Zach McAllister.
It all went wrong. Reports said the M’s raised issues with Adams’ medicals and requested either Eduardo Nunez or Ivan Nova in his place. The Yankees then countered with Adam Warren, but Seattle wouldn’t accept the deal.
At the same time, the Mariners had re-opened (or perhaps never stopped) negotiations with the Rangers, who had suddenly become willing to part with their top prospect, Justin Smoak. That swung the deal as Lee went to Texas as part of a six-player deal.
In retrospect, it’s obvious the Yankees would have been wise to deal Nova, Nunez or any of the players in that deal for Lee, but that might not have been on the table. The Mariners may have simply been playing the Yankees off Texas to get Smoak and never actually planned on accepting the initial deal.
The Obligatory Twins Sweep
Even without Lee, the Yankees cruised to a postseason berth. They ceded the division to the Rays and were rewarded with a matchup against an overachieving Twins squad, who had homefield advantage in the series.
I’d do a “What went right” and “What went wrong” for this, but it all went so well. The Bombers trailed in the first two games at Target Field but won on the backs of heroics from Granderson, Teixeira, Posada and Lance Berkman, another deadline acquisition.
Hughes then got the start back at Yankee Stadium for Game 3 and picked up the win in his first postseason start. The Yankees didn’t have to push anyone and avoided going to Sabathia on short rest in Game 4. Meanwhile, the Rangers needed five games to beat the Rays and needed Lee in Game 5, an all-too-familiar scenario to the present day.
Falling Behind in the ALCS
In terms of which games the Yankees won, the 2010 ALCS looked exactly like the 2019 series. The Yankees took Game 1 on the road, Game 5 at home and nothing else en route to defeat.
Game 1, however, was a wild ride. The Rangers had homefield advantage despite an inferior record in the regular season, but Sabathia struggled and the Yankees found themselves in a 5-0 hole. Dustin Moseley (remember him?) kept the Yankees in the game with two scoreless frames with Canó hitting a solo shot. From there, the first seven Yankee batters reached to start the eighth inning as the Bombers scored five and overtook Texas.
The series appeared all set for a Yankees victory and potentially a rematch of 2009 with the Phillies hosting the NLCS with the Giants. However, New York’s lack of depth in their rotation as well as the non-trade for Lee struck hard and ultimately swung the series.
The Yankees flipped Hughes and Pettitte in their rotation and Hughes was battered in Game 2. It was revealed after the fact that Petitte, who missed a swath of the second half with a groin injury, was dealing with hamstring and back issues and needed the 11 days between ALDS Game 2 and ALCS Game 3 to start.
While Pettitte made just one mistake in Game 3 — a first-inning two-run homer to Josh Hamilton — Lee made none and fired eight scoreless frames to give Texas the series lead.
AJ Burnett’s Big Mistake
Game 4 started out well in a duel between Burnett and Tommy Hunter as the latter lasted just 10 outs and gave up three runs. The Yankees’ first run came via a controversial home run as a Canó blast to right field was perhaps interfered with by fans.
Nothing was called and the best gif in recent Yankees history was born.
The Yankee bros. They summed up a fanbase, one that cared not for lackluster franchises such as the Rangers and had the bird prepared for all challengers. A salute to said bros, who were basically the Laker bros but across the continent.
Stringing together a couple runs, the Yankees led going into the fifth inning. Burnett allowed three men to reach base but persevered unscathed. The Yankees, meanwhile, got their first two men on for Tex and A-Rod, just for a groundout and double play to foil a rally.
And then the fateful sixth inning. Joe Girardi stuck with Burnett with a thin bullpen. The right-hander put a man on before getting two outs. He intentionally walked David Murphy to bring up Bengie Molina. On the first pitch, Molina hit a series-changing homer to put Texas up for good.
The bullpen faltered later, which might absolve Girardi and AJ slightly in a 10-3 defeat. The now 3-1 deficit in the series was compounded by a severely strained hamstring for Teixeira, knocking him out of the series.
The Final Loss
The Yankees rebounded a day later with a 7-2 win behind Sabathia and plenty of offense, including three homers. Back in Texas, the Bombers turned to Hughes with hopes of keeping them alive for a Game 7.
With the Yankees tying the game at one in the fifth inning, Hughes trotted out and, like Burnett, got two outs and a man on before issuing an intentional walk, this time to Hamilton. The final pitch for Hughes on the evening went to Vlad Guerrero Sr., who lined a two-run double. Robertson came in and promptly allowed a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz, just about ending the series in a two-batter span.
The Lee deal truly swung everything and might have hung over the Bombers for a couple seasons. Not only were they unable to repeat without the veteran southpaw, they then couldn’t reel him in during free agency. His wife said she was harassed at Yankee Stadium during the postseason, and he ultimately chose to accept a smaller offer to return to Philadelphia. (Reports also put the Rangers’ offer above the Yankees’ deal, but the mystery team Phillies made that moot.)
The Yankees were one or two pitchers short of a title. With another reliever or just a quicker hook, they could have afforded to take out Burnett earlier in Game 4, or they could have held tight in Game 6. Another starter would have bumped Burnett entirely, even if it wasn’t Lee joining the Bombers.
Compounding the issue was the Yankees’ inability to get a big hit against Colby Lewis in Games 2 and 6. The journeyman put 16 men on over 13 2/3 innings but allowed just three to score, earning two victories over Hughes. Perhaps with the games in the Bronx, the Yankees could have poked across more runs, but the wild card team can’t claim homefield there.
That closes the 2010 retrospective. Coming soon will be Missing Rings: 2011. If you have a key moment I missed from 2010, or something you think we could forget from 2011, mention it in the comments below.