Posada left an indelible impression in Bronx
As catcher nears retirement, veteran exits with many highlights
NEW YORK -- In the center of a frenzied, celebratory Yankees clubhouse on the evening of Sept. 21, Jorge Posada was wiping bubbly from his eyes as he savored what would turn out to be one of the final highlights of his playing career.
Entering as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter against the Rays' Brandon Gomes, Posada helped the Yankees clinch the American League East by lacing a two-run single into right field, giving New York the lead.
The Yankee Stadium crowd rose to salute the 40-year-old Posada, who stood at first base and adjusted his batting helmet, accepting a pat on the back from coach Mick Kelleher. That ovation touched Posada, who recognized that his Yankees career appeared to be coming to a close.
"The fans have been very supportive my whole career, especially this year," Posada said that night. "They've been very supportive. I've really got to thank them, because they have been there for me the whole year this year."
Posada tried to deflect attention to his teammates that night, preferring to praise CC Sabathia's strong 7 1/3-inning effort, but Posada grinned when asked if the satisfaction of the hit had created one of his top career highlights.
"I don't know if it's an all-time moment," Posada said, "but it's a pretty good moment."
Here, then, is a glance at some of the most memorable times of Posada's 17-year career in pinstripes:
Oct. 4, 1995: Posada would play 125 postseason games, nearly the equivalent of a full season, and this was the first. Carried on the playoff roster against the Mariners despite appearing in only one regular-season game, Posada is called upon to pinch-run for Wade Boggs in the 12th inning. Posada scores on a Ruben Sierra double as the Yankees tie the game, which New York wins in 15 innings on Jim Leyritz's home run.
This appearance also gave birth to Posada's long-standing in-house nickname. Running in from the bullpen to pinch-run, Posada heard legendary public address announcer Bob Sheppard refer to him as "Jorge Posado." New York would learn his name quickly, but Derek Jeter still calls his friend "Sado" to this day.
May 4, 1997: Beginning his apprenticeship under starting catcher Joe Girardi, Posada connects for the first of what will prove to be 275 Major League home runs on this afternoon in Kansas City, off the Royals' Jim Converse.
Posada goes 3-for-5 and catches the entire 13-5 Yankees victory as Brian Boehringer picks up the victory in relief of Kenny Rogers, who was knocked out in the third inning.
May 17, 1998: If you ask Posada, this moment may top them all. Just getting comfortable in New York and beginning to earn the trust of manager Joe Torre, Posada finds himself behind the plate for perfection, calling the pitches for David Wells' perfect game over the Twins.
On Beanie Baby Day at Yankee Stadium, Posada guides Wells to all 27 outs, embracing the burly left-hander after Pat Meares flies out to right fielder Paul O'Neill for the final out.
"It seemed like I was thinking everything along with him. It was freaky," Posada told the YES Network in 2008. "I was putting down everything he wanted to throw. I'd tell him to throw it in the dirt and he threw it in the dirt. He was unbelievable that day."
Posada will come close to being part of a perfect battery again on Sept. 2, 2001, as Mike Mussina strikes out 13 at Fenway Park. But Mussina and Posada are denied by Carl Everett's two-out, ninth-inning single.
|"It really tells a lot about this team. We didn't lie down. We kept coming. The double by [Derek] Jeter, the base hit by Bernie [Williams] and the double by [Hideki] Matsui gives me a chance to tie the game."|
|-- Jorge Posada|
"I got a pitch, it was a fastball, middle in," Posada said that day. "I was trying to stay back on [Zito], and he did a great job to keep us off-balance all day. And that was the only run. I thought we were going to get more runs. I didn't think 1-0 was going to be the end result."
It's one of only two hits the Yankees will get in the game, but no matter, as the series turns on Jeter's adept backhanded flip of an errant Shane Spencer throw in the seventh inning. Posada alertly sweeps the tag onto the right hip of a standing Jeremy Giambi, and the A's never recover and a legendary highlight is born.
Oct. 16, 2003: Arguably the biggest hit of Posada's career was a bloop double that shattered countless New England hearts. It happened during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, as Red Sox manager Grady Little elected to stay with a tiring Pedro Martinez, unable to pull the trigger on a pitching change even with an 86-year curse hanging in the balance.
There was no love lost between Posada and Martinez, who famously engaged in heated jawing earlier in the series, which included Martinez tossing coach Don Zimmer to the turf and addressing Posada with gestures toward his head. In fact, five years later, Posada would still smolder that Martinez showed "no class" during that ALCS.
But Posada got the last word for 2003, sending a flare into shallow center field on Martinez's 123rd pitch. Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui scored, and after alertly taking second base, Posada screams and pumps his fists as his teammates spill out in front of the dugout of a shaking Yankee Stadium.
"What comes to my head is we tied the game," Posada said that night, in the aftermath of Aaron Boone's pennant-clinching homer. "[Martinez] was pretty tough. To tie it with a big hit is pretty special.
"It really tells a lot about this team. We didn't lie down. We kept coming. The double by Jeter, the base hit by Bernie and the double by Matsui gives me a chance to tie the game."
May 16, 2006: Posada ends a wild slugfest in the Bronx, belting a two-run walk-off homer facing Rangers reliever Akinori Otsuka and lifting the Yankees to a 14-13 win.
"I was just hoping it was out of the park so we wouldn't have to keep playing," Posada said after his two-out, ninth-inning blast. "I didn't want to play anymore. It was a long game."
Posada was on his game defensively as well. He helped hold the Rangers from extending their lead in the sixth inning, tagging Mark Teixeira out at the plate after a violent collision. Years later, as teammates, Teixeira will jokingly present a photograph of the hit to Posada as a peace offering.
"That's probably the hardest I've ever been hit," Posada said that night. "I've never played football in my life, but that's probably what it feels like."
April 16, 2009: The first home run at the new Yankee Stadium is fittingly hit by a Core Four member, as Posada christens the building with a line drive over the center-field wall in the fifth inning, plopping onto the netting that protects the relocated Monument Park.
It was not until he reached the Yankees' dugout that Posada realized he'd done something special. Posada doffed his helmet for a curtain call, but the solo blast off Cliff Lee can't save the Yankees from a 10-2 loss to the Indians.
"It's going to set in a little later," Posada said that day. "I'm going to remember the home run, no question about it. ... I'm happy about it, but right now, it's a little disappointing on our part."
Oct. 11, 2009: A sweet moment of redemption comes in the clinching Game 3 of the ALDS for Posada, who allowed two passed balls in Game 1 and found himself benched in favor of light-hitting backup Jose Molina for Game 2.
Posada crushes a seventh-inning Carl Pavano pitch over the wall in left-center field, giving the Yankees the lead after Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a solo homer of his own. Behind Andy Pettitte, the Yankees post a 4-1 win in the final baseball game played at the Metrodome.
"I think we played the same way we have been playing the whole regular season," Posada said that night. "I think pitching is just so important when it comes to a series like this. Once you see it, you understand why pitching is so important now."
Aug. 13, 2011: Removed from designated-hitter duty earlier in the week, Posada returns to the lineup in dramatic fashion, belting a grand slam and collecting six RBIs as the Yankees roll to a 9-2 victory over the Rays.
Starting pitcher Phil Hughes said he got goose bumps in the dugout when Posada connected for his grand slam off Gomes, and Posada passed Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle for sixth place on the club's all-time grand slams list with 10. Once again, Posada is rewarded with a standing ovation worthy of his fan favorite standing.
"The fans are a big reason why I love playing the game, especially here," Posada said that day. "They deserve a lot of credit. They've supported me all throughout my career. They were a big part for me today."