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The 2012 ALDS and the final days of peak CC Sabathia

Triumph of peak CC.

Welcome to CC Sabathia Week. We are using this week – the last home stand of the 2019 season –to honor CC Sabathia. Each day, we have a post about everyone’s favorite big man and his career. Bobby wrote his HOF case yesterday, now here’s one of his moments of glory.

Every great MLB career has a peak. That time when a player is at the top of the profession, striking fear into the heart of opponents.

You can’t always identify the beginning and end of that peak, but for CC Sabathia, the endpoint is very clear; His peak ended with the 2012 ALDS.

In 2012, the Yankees were onto the last days of a near-dynasty, having won the World Series in 2009 and followed that by coming up short in subsequent postseasons.

Derek Jeter was 38. Alex Rodriguez was 36. The team had just two everyday position players under 30 (Robinson Cano and Russell Martin) and both of them were 29. Even the deadline acquisition to add a spark (Ichiro) was elderly in baseball terms.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff was solid, though cobbled together. Mariano Rivera lost most of the season to an ACL injury while Rafael Soriano and David Robertson stepped up. The rotation had the fine collection of Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

Oh, and Sabathia.

We didn’t know it yet, but this was the end of peak Sabathia, the southpaw who fronted a championship-caliber roster and sparked fear in opposing teams. By the time the postseason rolled around, he had 2,564 innings on his odometer, plus another 86 in postseason innings. This was the final time he’d be blowing fastballs by hitters, good for 7-9 innings seemingly on command.

While Kuroda slightly outpitched the big man in the regular season, the right-hander pitched the final game of the regular season to get the Yankees the division title. That made Sabathia the far and away best choice to start the ALDS against the Orioles.

In Game 1, CC delivered, as he so often did. The O’s touched him up for two runs in the third inning (Lew Ford and Nate McClouth getting the big hits!), but Sabathia didn’t allow more than those two runs.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was sputtering. It would for the entire postseason, but we didn’t know that right then. They scored two batters in and added just one more run before Russell Martin led off a five-run ninth inning with a home run.

Therefore, Sabathia had to keep the score tied for five innings in pursuit of a victory. He left men on base in the fifth, sixth and eighth and came within one out of a complete game, pulled 120 pitches into another workhorse outing.

You probably remember the middle of that series with The Raul Ibanez Game sandwiched between a pair of Orioles victories. A condensed postseason schedule meant the Yankees had to play Game 3-5 of the ALDS on consecutive days at home and, if they won the series, roll right into the ALCS the next day.

But the ALCS would be moot unless Sabathia could bring forth one more gem. He didn’t have to go on short rest like in 2008 with Milwaukee or the 2009 postseason. However, the Orioles had beaten him twice in the regular season and had played the Yankees to a draw in that close series.

Sabathia answered the call.

He allowed just two baserunners over the first seven innings, allowing the Yankees’ anemic offense to score first, second and third. There was a certain intensity to the left-hander, a feeling that he was determined through strength, skill and will-power to push the Yankees one round farther.

His will was tested in the eighth inning. Baltimore pushed across the run and had the bases loaded with one out for Nate McLouth and J.J. Hardy to tie or take the lead for the O’s. CC stopped them dead in their tracks with a strikeout and weakly hit grounder to Jeter.

In the ninth, he’d sit the O’s down in order and the celebration was on.

At the time, it seemed like the Yankees might have escaped a tough test and could move on to face a beatable Tigers team. Instead, the Bombers didn’t live up to their nickname with just six runs in the ALCS.

Jeter went down with injury and that was symbolic end of an era in its own right. Sabathia would have his own end to his peak with Game 4 of the ALCS. Media and fans had called for CC to throw on short rest in Game 3 despite him tossing 121 pitches to outlast the Orioles. The Yankees resisted that call, but normal rest wasn’t enough. He got 11 outs, gave up 11 hits and the Yankees watched Detroit celebrate an AL pennant at Comerica Park.

After the season, Sabathia had surgery on his elbow to remove a bone spur. He’d be fine for Spring Training and was on the mound for Opening Day. But his performance didn’t return, not until he became a finesse pitcher two years later. In between, he’d had knee problems and issues with alcohol. He became a changed pitcher and person, trying to maximize his final few years on the mound.

Though he regained a semblance of success towards the end of his career, the end of the fearsome, no-doubt Hall-of-Fame pitcher CC Sabathia came on October 7 and 12, 2012 against Baltimore. It was a dang near perfect end to a chapter.


What Joba Chamberlain can teach us about Deivi Garcia’s pending debut

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The Yankees, with just over a month to go in the season, seem poised to call up their top pitching prospect as a reliever for the stretch run. No, this isn’t 2007 again, but in some ways, it may as well be.

In 2019, the pitching prospect who shot up the Yankees’ system is Deivi Garcia, a 20-year-old wunderkind with a heap of talent packed into a 5-foot-9 frame. Twelve years ago, it was Joba Chamberlain who captivated the imagination of entire fanbase.

So what can we learn from Chamberlain’s debut a dozen years ago? And how do his similarities and differences apply to Garcia? Those are the questions I hope to answer here, beginning with a look back at Joba’s circumstances.

Though the Yankees have called up pitching prospects late in the season in recent years, Chamberlain may be the closest pinstriped comparison for Garcia. Luis Severino, in 2015, was called up to start and bolster the rotation. Justus Sheffield didn’t appear to get serious consideration for a postseason spot in his three-game audition last year, and he didn’t debut until Sept. 19.

Garcia, meanwhile, recently converted to relief after starting the year in High-A Tampa and moving all the way up to Triple-A Scranton. That’s just about the same trajectory as Joba in 2007, when he was a 21-year-old in his first year out of college. The 6-foot-3 Chamberlain came with a different body type and background but a similar buzz.

Chamberlain pitched to a 0.38 ERA in 24 innings the rest of the season after debuting on Aug. 7, 2007. The Yankees had struggled to find a bridge to Mariano Rivera and were in the thick of a wild card race in addition to fraying hopes of chasing down the Red Sox. Though inexperienced, Chamberlain possessed upper-90s heat and a dynamite slider, a two-pitch mix that fit perfectly into the bullpen.

Chamberlain’s health was a priority; That’s how he fell to the Yankees in the 2006 draft because he was an injury risk coming out of Nebraska. You likely recall the steadfast guidelines applied to him a.k.a. The Joba Rules. Every time he pitched one inning in relief, he got a day off afterward. If he pitched two innings, he got two days off. The media made a big deal out of the Yankees’ strict approach, and Joe Torre didn’t have him pitch in back-to-back games until Sept. 26-27.

As a younger player in a smaller frame, Garcia will likely have training wheels as well. He’s pitched twice since joining the bullpen at Triple-A. After throwing two innings his first time around, he got three days off and then recorded five outs in his second appearance.

Unlike in 2007, the Yankees don’t have an urgent need for Garcia. Otherwise, they may have moved him to the bullpen quicker and had him up before Sept. 1. Though the team surely would like to see him earn a postseason roster spot, he’ll have to do just that: Earn it. He’s allowed a run in each of his two relief appearances in Scranton and hasn’t been as dominant as Joba consistently was.

The right-hander simply might not be ready for the Majors yet. Garcia has given up more home runs in Triple-A, including one in his last relief outing, and he’s on the back-end of his innings limit. The 20-year-old had already begun practicing with the MLB ball in Double-A, but actually using it in games is another task entirely.

That’s OK; Garcia doesn’t need to electrify fans right away. He’s 20. Still, he could provide the Yankees with a new multi-inning option and has four plus-potential pitches to confound Major League hitters.

Deivi won’t have the pressure placed upon his predecessor. It took all of three outings before Chamberlain got tossed into a high-leverage, late-inning spot. After a scoreless first month, he had more high-leverage spots than not and was the Yankees’ setup man. Garcia isn’t going to unseat the Yankees’ top five relievers — or top 6-7 depending on Luis Severino and Dellin Betances.

Twelve years after Chamberlain, we’re in an era where more relief innings are up for grabs, particularly if the Yankees choose to skip a Domingo German start or two down the stretch. Like Stephen Tarpley last year, Garcia might get a chance to get a back-end postseason spot with a stellar month.

The other key factor is the Joba phenomenon that took over the Bronx. He became the show, the main attraction, a fist-pumping act that captivated and delighted or disgusted everyone. There was no lukewarm enjoyment of his game, just pure love or hate as he brought emotion to the mound every other night.

Garcia has less of a runway to create that kind of buzz, though his debut would carry considerable weight. In the past 12 years, prospect coverage has only grown and we’re also talking about the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year, a strikeout machine. He’s been hailed for his poise and probably won’t bring the personality Joba did. That doesn’t mean fans won’t embrace him if he can get big outs.

If Garcia does debut next month and struggles, no problem. It’s an important taste of the Major Leagues and he can go back to starting pitching next spring with an eye towards breaking through by Summer 2020. If he excels, he still shouldn’t find himself in the extremes of October, both in terms of pressure and midges.

But Garcia’s excellence would bring questions about whether to keep him in relief. That question would only amplify if Betances and Aroldis Chapman skip town in free agency. The Yankees as an organization are in a place where they can prioritize development and push Garcia back to the Minor Leagues if they need to. Ideally, his future means heading the starting rotation, and one month in the Majors shouldn’t change that.

Any top Yankees prospect brings enormous expectations to their debut. Chamberlain was an exception, a bright-burning star who had a nearly unparalleled two months of excellence. Garcia doesn’t need to replicate that and the Yankees have the luxury to bring him along in a slower fashion, allowing him to sustain any success he achieves.

Success by the Bay: Nine of the Yankees’ finest games in Oakland

(MLB Gifs)

I’m not sure the data backs this up, but the Yankees seem to really struggle in Oakland, right?

That’s just a gut feeling, likely based on a few select road sweeps since I’ve been allowed to stay up for West Coast games and waking up groggy and mad the next morning for school. Meanwhile, the 2012 and 2017 sweeps were wakeup calls to those Yankee teams at midseason.

Still, the Yankees have had some great games at the Oakland Coliseum. Even when the Bombers lose two straight and are on the verge of a sweep as they are right now, it’s worth remembering that.

In fact, the Athletics are one of just three American League teams to have met the Yankees in the postseason and not win at least one series against them (Orioles, Twins). So with that in mind, here are nine Yankees-in-Oakland games worth remembering with a heavy recency bias (If you have another game, mention it in the comments or on Twitter!).

Bartolo Throws a Shutout

On Memorial Day 2011, Bartolo Colon was at the height of his Yankee powers. Teaming with Freddy Garcia, he was one of a couple stopgaps in the rotation that season after Andy Pettitte retired and Phil Hughes was limited by injuries. Colon had missed the entire 2010 season and the idea that he would be effective in New York in his age 38 season was dubious at best.

But for one day in Oakland, the big man was dominant. He nearly tossed a Maddux as he four-hit the A’s without a walk in his nine frames. I just remember being amazed that a guy could throw basically all fastballs and dominate a team at his age. It may have been PED assisted, but it was glorious.

Giambi ends a marathon

Ending past 1:30 a.m. back in New York, the April 14, 2007 game between the A’s and Yankees was a wild one. It featured starters Darrell Rasner and Joe Blanton, one of whom would be in the World Series a year later.

The Yankees trailed 3-0 after an inning, then didn’t give up another run over the final 12 frames to win 4-3 in 13. New York got 7.2 innings scoreless from seven relievers, namely Sean Henn, Scott Proctor, Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnworth, unanimous Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera and Brian Bruney.

Jason Giambi, meanwhile, was in his worst season with the Yankees, yet he found some heroics in his former digs, smashing a solo homer off Lenny DiNardo in the 13th.

Opening Day 2006

Remember the Yankees scoring 15 runs on Opening Day in 2006 and Alex Rodriguez hitting a majestic grand slam? I sure do. I went to sleep almost immediately after that dinger, knowing full well the Yankees were going to be 1-0 on the season.

The Yankees started out west in ’06 and had Randy Johnson on the hill in their first game. They made it easy for the Big Unit, scoring seven runs in the second inning, capped by that A-Rod slam. They’d win 15-2 and then lost their next four games. Save some runs for the next day!

The Yankees Beat Arthur Rhodes, 2004 Edition

Arthur Rhodes has to hate the Yankees, right? It seems like at every big moment in his career (outside of the 2011 World Series), the Yankees were there to torment him. They beat his team in the 1996, 2000 and ’01 ALCS, and handed him so many regular season defeats. He had a 7.43 ERA against them in 86 innings.

In ’04, A-Rod was the one to get to him. Rhodes tried to close out a 3-2 lead on May 5 after Barry Zito outdueled Kevin Brown. Instead, Rodriguez took him deep on the first pitch of his outing and Tony Clark hit a go-ahead double five batters later. Mo made it interesting by allowing two singles to start the ninth, but he closed the door from there.

2000 ALDS Game 2

The Yankees started on the road in the 2000 ALDS and lost Game 1. That made Game 2 more or less a must win. Joe Torre, as he so often did, turned to Andy Pettitte for that big Game 2 and the lefty came through.

Pettitte allowed just one hit over the first five innings of a scoreless game until the Yankees broke through against Kevin Appier en route to a 4-0 win. The southpaw allowed just six men to reach base over 7.2 innings while Rivera closed it out. A forgettable, yet highly important playoff win.

2000 ALDS Game 5

After losing Game 4 of the 2000 ALDS, the Yankees had to fly across the country to play the next day. They came out swinging.

The Bombers got six sun-aided runs in the first inning and held on with a scoreless bullpen performance to beat the Athletics, 7-5. The big hit was Tino Martinez’s three-run double to center field that would have been a flyout with a better center fielder or without a blazing sun.

2001 ALDS Game 4

OK, so you probably know the last game I’m going to mention, but this one came after it. The Yankees, down 2-1 in the best-of-five ALDS, needed a win on the road and weren’t going to let this one be a nailbiter. They cruised to a 9-2 win over the Athletics.

The star in this one was Bernie Williams, who had three hits, five RBI and a walk. This was Williams near the peak of his powers and the late Cory Lidle had no answer.

Meanwhile, I’ll mostly remember this game for Jermaine Dye breaking his leg on a foul ball. I won’t link the video because it’s awful, but it’s on the internet if you’re a masochist.

1981 ALCS Game 3

Ha! You thought it’d be the other 2001 ALDS Game here, but I got you! Instead, let’s go all the way back to 1981 for the best-of-five ALCS between the Yankees and Billy Martin’s Oakland Athletics. This was the time of Billy Ball, as George Steinbrenner had already fired Martin and had yet to re-hire him, allowing him to frolic in the Bay Area.

The Yankees handily took the first two games of the series in the Bronx and merely had to win one in Oakland to grab the series. They won Game 3, 4-0, though it was a scoreless game into the sixth inning as rookie Dave Righetti clashed with Matt Keough.

Keough broke first, allowing a solo homer to Willie Randolph. After Righetti had already handed it off the Bombers’ dominant duo of Ron Davis and Goose Gossage, ALCS MVP Graig Nettles hit a three-run double in the ninth inning to clinch the game. Gossage would then close it out.

The Flip Play

This game was one of the finest moments in the career of Mike Mussina, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter. For Jeter and Posada, it was the signature defensive play while Posada provided the game’s only run with a solo shot. His bloop double in the Aaron Boone game surely outranks this, but it was a huge homer nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame starter tossed seven scoreless frames before giving way to his fellow 2019 inductee, as Rivera closed down a two-inning save.

But if you scrolled down to see the Flip Play, I won’t disappoint.

Remembering the 1999 Yankees: Part II

On Tuesday, I began a two-part series on the 1999 Yankees, remembering the 98-99 offseason and the regular season that followed. Now, here’s part II on the dominant postseason.

For most championship runs, there’s a moment of doubt. Time stands still as fans collectively hold their breath in a key moment, realizing that their team of destiny might be quite the opposite.

The 1996 Yankees had that in at least the first five games of the World Series. The ’98 Yankees, the best team in living memory, were down in the ALCS to the Indians.

Somehow, the ’99 Yankees never went through that. The Rangers were an afterthought within a few days. The ALCS was closer than the 4-1 finish would indicate and the Fall Classic had a few nailbiters.

However, in running roughshod to a repeat, the Yankees went 11-1 in the postseason with just a single loss to the league’s best pitcher.

A Forgettable Sweep

The 1999 Rangers exemplified the high-offense era; They had six players with at least 20 home runs and three with 35 (Pudge, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro). At the same time, none of their five starters had an ERA below 4.79 (which was actually above-average). John Wetteland was their closer.

The Yankees took Game 1 of this ALDS in lopsided fashion as Orlando Herandez tossed eight two-hit innings. Ricky Ledee put the Yanks up with an RBI double in the second and the Bombers slowly extended the lead with Bernie Williams going deep.

Game 2 was the closest call with the Yankees trailing 1-0 through 4.5 innings. However, Scott Brosius and Ledee had RBI doubles over the next few innings to put the Yankees in front. Darryl Strawberry homered in the first inning of Game 1 as Roger Clemens shut down the Rangers in a 3-0 Game 3 win.

When I came up with ALDS MVPs at River Ave. Blues, I copped out and gave it to Royce Clayton for this series, as he went 0-for-10 for Texas. The Rangers had just three extra-base hits in 92 at-bats.

Rivalry Revived

Pedro Martinez pitched the Red Sox into the ALCS, which pitted the long-time rivals against each other for the first time in postseason history. With Martinez unavailable until Game 3, the Yankees worked to the early advantage at home.

Fitting the rivalry, Game 1 was a nailbiter as Boston put up three runs in the first two innings. The Yankees tied it up on a Derek Jeter single in the seventh. After El Duque completed eight innings, Rivera took the ball through the 10th inning, where Bernie Williams came through as the hero on Rod Beck’s second pitch.

Williams, of course, had nearly signed with the Sox in the offseason, making his walk-off shot even more crushing for Boston.

The Sox rebounded in Game 2 as Ramon Martinez went toe-to-toe with David Cone. A Tino Martinez homer broke the tie before Nomar Garciaparra responded with a two-run homer off Cone to put Boston up.

The Yankees trailed with two outs in the seventh when Chuck Knoblaugh doubled home Ledee. Two batters later, Paul O’Neill smacked an RBI single as New York held on for a 3-2 win.

Game 3 belonged to Pedro and only Pedro. Martinez struck out 12 over seven scoreless innings at Fenway Park while the Red Sox beat up on Clemens and Hideki Irabu for a 13-1 victory, the only Yankee loss of the postseason.

While the Yankees won Game 4 by seven runs, it was close enough that Rivera got a five-out save in relief on Andy Pettitte. The Yankees went ahead for good on an error by Bret Saberhagen early and an error late led to a six-run ninth, capped by a Ledee grand slam.

Derek Jeter homered two batters into Game 5 while Hernandez tossed seven one-run innings en route to ALCS MVP. Ramiro Mendoza got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning and closed out the series, sending the Yankees to their second straight World Series.

Team of the Decade

For most of the 1990s, the Braves were the bandied-about dynasty. They reached back-to-back World Series and finally won in 1995. Up 2-1 in the ’96 Fall Classic, they had their grasp on the heart of a decade and, one Jim Leyritz homer later, it slipped from their hands.

Even with the 125-win ’98 Yankees, the Braves had a chance to wrest control back of the decade in the ’99 World Series. They had the same Big 3 in their rotation and had the NL MVP with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.

Game 1 pitted Greg Maddux against Hernandez and the duo gave fans at Turner Field a duel to remember. Jones broke the ice with a solo shot in the fourth inning and Maddux made it stand up … until the eighth.

The series pivoted on that eighth inning with the Yankees putting two runners on right away. Knoblauch bunted, but defensive replacement Brian Jordan Brian Hunter misplayed the ball and loaded the bases for Jeter. Jeter singled and knocked Maddux out, tying the game.

Paul O’Neill then singled against John Rocker and a drawn-in infield as the Yankees went on to win, 4-1.

Hernandez struck out 10 and brought his postseason record to 5-0 at the time.

Six of the first seven batters reached against Kevin Millwood in Game 2 as the Yankees blew out the Braves, 7-2, behind a marvelous start from Cone.

Back at Yankee Stadium, Pettitte was shelled and the Braves took a 5-1 lead through four innings. The Bombers slowly chipped away against Tom Glavine with convicted awful human Chad Curtis, who didn’t even play Game 2, hitting a solo shot. Then Tino added one.

Bobby Cox allowed Glavine to start the eighth, which was a mistake. Joe Girardi singled and Knoblauch came through with a game-tying two-run shot to the short porch (Read: Our blog title) that snuffed out the Braves’ title hopes.

Rivera tossed two scoreless frames to bring back up Curtis, who led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a walk-off homer.

A forgotten performer in Game 3? Jason Grimsley. The right-hander relieved Pettitte and worked around four baserunners to keep the Braves at five through the sixth, paving the way for Jeff Nelson and Rivera. Without his sterling long relief, the comeback wouldn’t have been possible.

From there, it was simply a matter of whether it’d be another sweep. After a tough first season in pinstripes and a bad ALCS start, there were plenty of doubters for the 36-year-old Clemens. He put those doubts to rest when he touched Babe Ruth’s plaque before Game 4 and proceeded to shut down the Atlanta, providing the perfect culmination to his first title.

Rocket held Atlanta scoreless for the first seven innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees got all the runs they needed in the third inning. They loaded the bases off John Smoltz and brought up Tino Martinez with one down. Martinez hit a grounder which could have been double play fodder. Instead, it went off Ryan Klesko’s glove and into right field for a two-run single. A Jorge Posada single made it 3-0, which it’d stay until a lone run crossed in the eighth.

Aided by an insurance run, Rivera closed down a four-out save without issue. He forced Keith Lockhart to fly out to Curtis, and the celebration was on in the Bronx.

Rivera tossed 4.2 scoreless innings and had two saves to go with a win, earning MVP honors. For the unanimous Hall of Famer, it was a plaque-worthy accomplishment.

The 1999 Yankees remain mostly a footnote to the ’98 team for many, but I hope my long diatribes have shown some of the value hidden in remembering this great and worthy champion.

Remembering the 1999 Yankees 20 years later: Part 1

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When we talk about the 1990s Yankees dynasty, we never mention the 1999 team.

By that, I mean we never formally mention them. They’re included when you talk about the three-peat of 1998-2000, but they’re in the middle somewhere. Their place becomes more nebulous in the 1996-2000 four-titles-in-five-years crew, just somewhere in the middle, but overshadowed still by ’98.

However, that 1999 team was special, just as any World Series champion has to be. They weren’t all-time special like the prior season, but they did something rare as well: Repeated. Growing up around that time, the Yankees’ championships were ubiquitous and repeating seemed simple. As evidenced by 19 years since any MLB team has pulled off the feat, it’s not.

Enough happened in ’99 that this will be a two-part article: One covering the 1998-99 offseason and subsequent regular season, and then another focusing on the 11-1 postseason run to the Yankees’ 25th title.

Let’s get into Part 1:

The Offseason

The 1998-99 offseason was the first full winter for Brian Cashman at the helm. The 31-year-old wunderkind wouldn’t have necessarily been wrong to just sit on his hands, reassemble the same team that has just won 114 of 162 and call it a day.

Instead, he was aggressive, not wanting to let himself or the team become complacent. The team’s lone major free agent was Bernie Williams, but Cashman sought a different outfielder, attempting to court Albert Belle. Belle was coming off a season where he had a league-leading 1.055 OPS with 49 home runs for the White Sox and was entering his age-32 season.

That led Bernie to consider the Red Sox. The unthinkable nearly happened as rumor has it Williams neared a seven-year deal with the Sox. However, Baltimore budged into negotiations with Belle and the Yankees snagged Williams at the last second.

“He was getting close to going to Boston,” Cashman told the New York Times. “We were getting close to losing him. At some point during today, both parties took a step backwards and reached out again one more time, and after that it just happened quickly.”

Still, the Yankees didn’t bring back the same team. Instead, they chose to trade the staff ace in 1998, David Wells, along with Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd for the reigning Cy Young winner, Roger Clemens. Clemens was entering his age-36 season yet he had just won back-to-back Cy Youngs in Toronto, perhaps fueled by a little something extra.

The Clemens deal was a classic Yankees move harkening back to the 1980s, getting an older pitcher when he value was at its peak, but it gave the roster a star player hungry for a title.

Great from the Start

Like the 1998 edition, the 1999 Yankees lost their first game. This team, however, got rolling quicker than their predecessors, reeling off seven straight wins to go 7-1. They had two winning streaks of at least six games in April.

They slipped as much as 2.5 games back of Boston on May 25, but that’s the farthest the Bombers would go out of first place all season. By June 9, they were back in first place and would never relinquish the reigns of the AL East afterward.

The team’s best player was a future Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter. Jeter had his finest season at the plate and was especially dominant in the first half, batting .371 at the break. In April, the soon-to-be captain hit five home runs and four triples with more walks than strikeouts, posting a 1.217 OPS.

Meanwhile, Williams showed no ill-effects from the tense offseason negotiations. After an April with just one home run, he turned into high gear with a .367 average and five homers in May. He’d eventually smack seven homers in both June and August, hitting a remarkable .384 in the latter month.

On the mound, Mariano Rivera was his same dominant self. In an era where starters went deep into contests, the Sandman gave the Yankees all they needed in his third year as closer. Rivera led baseball with 45 saves while posting a 1.83 ERA in 69 innings. That was a 257 ERA+ as he earned an All-Star appearance and finished third in Cy Young voting.

In the rotation, the breakout player was Orlando Herandez, better known as El Duque. His first full season in the Bronx meant he was going full tilt and he (leg) kicked his game into high gear. He’d toss 214.1 innings with a 4.12 ERA (114 ERA+). More than his strong year or two complete games, Hernandez’s regular season was immortalized by his glove toss to save a run against the Mets.

Meanwhile, a 36-year-old David Cone was the team’s best pitcher. An All-Star that season, he had a staff leading 3.44 ERA and struck out a team-high 177 batters over 193.1 innings. Of course, he’d have a shining moment, but more on that soon…

(MLB Gifs)

Another AL East crown

Though the Yankees never fell out of first place in the second half, the Red Sox remained on their heels for much of the season. Boston had missed out on the top free agents — they also lost Mo Vaughn to Anaheim — but they were buoyed one of the finest pitched season in baseball history from Pedro Martinez.

In the highest offensive eras ever, Martinez won the Cy Young with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. His FIP was a ridiculous 1.39. His best outing came against the Yankees that September when he struck out 17 pinstripers in a one-hit complete game. That was in the midst of an eight start stretch where he struck out 107 batters.

Despite his Cy Young, Martinez wouldn’t have the best start among AL East pitchers. That belonged to Cone, who tossed a perfect game in his first start after the All-Star break. Bending the hapless Expos to his will, the wily veteran struck out 10 and was in disbelief in the iconic finish to the contest.

Cone was the rotation’s stalwart, though the pair of Texas natives expected to front the rotation were merely average. Clemens and Andy Pettite each had ERAs above 4.5 and were barely league average. Cashman’s big gamble flopped in the regular season, failing to live up to his back-to-back Cy Young prowess.

Re-signed in the offseason, Scott Brosius couldn’t maintain his 1998 pace. Still, the World Series MVP maintained aptitude for the dramatic with a walk-off home run against Arthur Rhodes.

In that regard, even if they weren’t winning 114 games, the team had an innate sense to play the hits from the dynasty. Throw a perfecto game. Take Arthur Rhodes deep. Cruise to the division lead. This wasn’t a time to break from tradition.

As the season wound down, some now-familiar faces debuted, months after Tony Tarasco made an ill-fated one-month stint in the Bronx. Then-top prospect D’Angelo Jimenez played seven games in the Bronx. The championship whisperer Clay Bellinger played in 16 games in September, as many as he had played all season after debuting at age 30.

However, Alfonso Soriano had the most memorable debut. What, after all, can be more memorable than a walk-off homer for a future All-Star? Better yet, Soriano’s first career hit clinched the division title for the Yankees.

After 162 games, the Yankees came in at 98-64, four games clear of the Red Sox and one game ahead for the AL’s best record. Tino Martinez led the team with 28 home runs while Jeter posted a career-high 8.0 WAR, one of the seasons where he rightfully could have claimed the MVP.

The MVP would instead go to Ivan Rodriguez of the AL West champion Rangers, the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. More on that still to come …

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