Melky wins May's Pepsi Clutch Performer
Yankees center fielder recognized for walk-off prowess
NEW YORK -- The Yankees lead the Major Leagues with 20 come-from-behind victories already in this young season, and they have a poster boy for that late success: Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera has become a trusted face in pressurized situations, coming through when the Yankees need it most. Of Cabrera's 23 RBIs this season, nearly half (11) have either tied the game or put the Yankees in the lead in the seventh inning or later.
Fans worldwide voted Cabrera the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Month for May, Presented by Pepsi.
It is one of two MLB-sanctioned, Pepsi-sponsored awards as part of an ongoing multi-platform marketing campaign involving Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and Pepsi, which is celebrating its 12th anniversary as the Official Soft Drink of Major League Baseball. This is the third year for the Clutch Performer award.
On the night of May 15 at Yankee Stadium, it was Cabrera who came through with a two-out, bases-loaded single off Twins closer Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, pumping his fists in the air as his teammates crowded him on the basepaths.
"The fact that I had a chance to be in the position to help the team, I really felt good," Cabrera said. "[The fans chanting] helped my confidence, and I was just ready to do what I had to do."
It has happened time and time again, so much that radio man John Sterling has had to bust out his "Melk-man delivers" call on five occasions for walk-off moments authored by the 24-year-old Cabrera, who has only been unsuccessful at one thing -- dodging post-game whipped cream pies.
Cabrera's three walk-off hits this season are the most by a Yankee in a single season since Claudell Washington, who had four in 1988, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"What can you say about Melky?" first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He's always coming through for us."
Cabrera's year didn't look to start out with this much drama. He lost a Spring Training battle with Brett Gardner to be New York's Opening Day center fielder and was essentially regarded as a spare part until Gardner lost his grasp on the job.
But Cabrera crushed a walk-off home run on April 22 to boost the Yankees to a 9-7, 14-inning victory over the Athletics, then got the hit off Nathan on May 15 to cap a three-run rally in New York's 5-4 win.
Nine days later on May 23, Cabrera came through again, connecting on a game-winning single to topple Phillies closer Brad Lidge in a 5-4 decision.
This season, Cabrera is batting .452 (14-for-31) with two home runs and 12 RBIs in close-and-late situations: defined as the seventh inning or later, with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi credits Cabrera's hard work after being optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last August, when New York promoted Gardner in an attempt to rev their offense and pursue fading postseason hopes.
"He went to winter ball on a mission," Girardi said. "He came to Spring Training on a mission. He didn't like being sent down."
"I was down, but I never put my head down," Cabrera said. "And that was basically it."
In winning the May award, Cabrera outpolled some strong competition: Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays, Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays, Torii Hunter of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.
Any player at any position can win. All-Star sluggers, slick-fielding shortstops, run-of-the-mill starting pitchers, you name it. This is purely a recognition of the Major Leaguer who carried his team in one form or another, regardless of contract, past accomplishments or shoe endorsements. All that matters here is who performed best when the game was on the line, offensively or defensively.
At the conclusion of the 2009 regular season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi award winner from among six finalists selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.