12/26/09 12:44 PM EST
World renowned: Yanks achieve their goal
Bombers return to playoffs in '09, win 27th Fall Classic title
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Not only did the Yankees open the doors to their gleaming new cathedral across 161st Street, filling it with the top stars from the free-agent market, but they were able to finally celebrate as the last team standing, bringing home their 27th World Series championship.
Like any good Yankees season, there were the prerequisite amount of ups and downs, filled with various amounts of controversy and heartaches. But there was also lots and lots of winning, 103 such victories in the regular season, which made it all worth it for the Bombers.
They put their own patented stamp on the campaign by hammering home 15 thrilling walk-off victories and leading the Majors with 50 come-from-behind wins, backed by a franchise-record 244 home runs and homering in 73 of their 81 games at home, where they won 31 of their last 39 games entering the playoffs.
Sweeping the Twins in the American League Division Series, the Yankees then edged the Angels in a six-game AL Championship Series and then went six games against the Phillies to win the World Series.
It all finished with the guys in pinstripes hoisting the championship trophy high above the infield at Yankee Stadium on a cool November evening, setting up an epic parade down the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan and leaving the baseball-crazed city of New York wondering just what the Yankees will do in 2010 for an encore.January: The year opened with a final event at the old Yankee Stadium, as the Yankees formally introduced Mark Teixeira as the club's new first baseman. After the news conference, Teixeira walked to the new stadium and the rest of the Yankees soon followed suit, boxing up everything -- including Babe Ruth's monument -- and making the short trip across 161st Street to begin business in the new home.
If they only knew what was to come by November! Later in January, the Yankees congratulated Rickey Henderson on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and downplayed the critical commentary of Joe Torre's new book, "The Yankee Years," before getting back to priorities. Near the end of the month, Andy Pettitte came to terms on an incentive-laden contract that would prove essential to their success.February: The month opened with a bombshell, as Sports Illustrated reported that Alex Rodriguez twice tested positive for anabolic steroids during the 2003 season, making the talk in Torre's book about players using the name "A-Fraud" seem tame by comparison. Even President Barack Obama weighed in, calling it "depressing," and Rodriguez would soon hold an awkward news conference at the Yankees' camp in Tampa, Fla., where he admitted to using "boli" for three seasons while with the Rangers.
The Yankees supported Rodriguez publicly through what Brian Cashman called a "major crisis" and vowed to move past the swirling controversy, which obscured the Spring Training arrivals of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Teixeira. Permitted to train early with the focus set directly upon A-Rod, the Yankees did their best to get ready for the upcoming season and also the World Baseball Classic, where Derek Jeter would serve as the captain of the USA squad.
Needing a break, Joe Girardi sent his first message that things might be different on Feb. 23, when he called off a team practice and had his players ditch their bats in favor of pool cues at a local billiards hall. The bonding exercise would be looked back upon as one of the reasons the Yankees developed fine chemistry.March: A-Rod jumped into a Maybach outside the Reds' Spring Training complex on March 1, intending to head to the Dominican Republic club for the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees wouldn't see him again for two months. Shortly after arriving there, Rodriguez would be flying to Vail, Colo., destined to have right hip surgery that would knock him out until May. Cody Ransom would be the Opening Day third baseman.
For the first time in his career, Jeter played against the Yankees, wearing a gray USA uniform on the left side of the infield in Tampa. Sabathia had some bumps in his spring workload, promising that he'd find his groove by the time the season started. The Yankees weren't pleased when lefty Damaso Marte returned from the Classic with an ailing pitching shoulder.
All the while, Mariano Rivera kept up his usual spring slate, shunning road trips and pitching a handful of dominant innings. Jorge Posada got back behind the plate for the first time since '08, Brian Bruney had high hopes after working hard to trim his waistline, and Girardi pulled a late spring switch, having Jeter lead off and Johnny Damon hit second.
There were final decisions to be made, and Xavier Nady beat out Nick Swisher for the right-field job, while Brett Gardner edged Melky Cabrera in a competition to serve as the Yankees' Opening Day center fielder. Neither victory would last.April:
A new chapter of history was set to begin, as the Yankees hosted a pair of exhibition games against the Cubs to work out the kinks of the new Yankee Stadium. New York outscored Chicago, 17-5, in the dress rehearsals, and the season began with a 10-5 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore on Opening Day, with Teixeira booed loudly by fans from his home state.
The Yankees continued on the road to Kansas City, where Sabathia logged his first Yankees win on April 11, but a trip to Tampa Bay would prove costly. Nady felt something pop in his elbow on a routine play and, though no one knew it at the time, he would miss the rest of the season. Swisher would give the Yankees something to laugh about in that series when he pitched a scoreless inning to help save the bullpen.
Yankee Stadium officially opened on April 16, with Sabathia throwing the first pitch (a ball) to Grady Sizemore of the Indians and Posada slugging the first home run. Even the presence of a symbolic Ruth bat, laid across home plate before Jeter led off the bottom of the first, couldn't keep the Yankees from a 10-2 loss when the bullpen imploded. The Yankees would notch a 6-5 win over Cleveland the next day.
There was some more ugly baseball that month, as Chien-Ming Wang and Anthony Claggett served up 14 runs in the second inning on April 18, and players started buzzing that Yankee Stadium might be a homer haven. Cabrera had the first of the Yankees' walk-off wins on April 22 to defeat the A's, but the Yankees stumbled in a sweep at Fenway Park, with Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home plate, and both Ransom and Wang went on the disabled list.May: Rodriguez came back in Hollywood fashion, belting the first pitch he saw over the wall at Camden Yards on May 8 for a three-run homer. Sabathia pitched a complete game to beat the Orioles that night and the Yankees were moving in the right direction.
The injury bug hit the Yankees, as Posada and backup Jose Molina both had to hit the disabled list, forcing rookie Francisco Cervelli into duty and offering him a chance to impress. Burnett got to lock up with mentor Roy Halladay in a start at Rogers Centre, and while Damon sparked the offense, Teixeira showed signs of busting out of an early-season slump.
Gardner legged out the first inside-the-park home run at Yankee Stadium on May 16, and Bruney returned from the disabled list -- only to have come back too quickly and go on the shelf again. Rivera and Pettitte made history with their 58th win-save combination, a Major League record.
The Yankees had some lighthearted fun by bringing back the kangaroo court and taking in a NBA Finals game during a seagull-infested trip to Cleveland. They also quietly said a prayer for Ian Kennedy, who was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his right armpit and had surgery.June: The Yankees' good glovework set an all-time record, as the Bombers made it through their 18th consecutive game without an error. A-Rod had the lineup pumping out win after win, and with Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes stepping up as key bullpen contributors, the Yankees were starting to find their groove, though they still couldn't beat the Red Sox.
One of the Yankees' most memorable victories of the year came on June 12, when Luis Castillo dropped an A-Rod popup that would have ended the game. Instead, two runs came home -- the winning one on Teixeira's hustle -- and the Yankees were leading a charmed existence with another walk-off victory.
There were some other oddities. Damon sat out a game with a fluke injury he called "fluttering eyes," and Bruney got into a tiff with Francisco Rodriguez after tossing barbs through the newspapers. The Yankees and Nationals waited out a five-hour, 26-minute rain delay on June 18, with all fans invited to move closer to the action. It was the first homerless game at the new Stadium after 35 games.
Cashman jumped a flight to Atlanta and chewed out the scuffling Bombers behind closed doors, and when Girardi was ejected on June 24, it sparked the Yankees to turn around their season. A-Rod tied Reggie Jackson with his 563rd home run and Rivera reached a milestone with his 500th save on June 28 at Citi Field. The month closed with a trade, as the Yankees picked up bench help in Eric Hinske from the Pirates.July: A seven-game winning streak was a nice touch to the beginning of the month, as the Yankees ironed out their early troubles and would compile six such strings in '09. Robinson Cano was still struggling with men in scoring position, but otherwise playing well enough, and the troubled season of Wang ended on July 4 when he suffered a shoulder strain that would require surgery.
The Yankees commemorated Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech on its 70th anniversary. Jeter, Teixeira and Rivera were named to the American League All-Star team for the Midsummer Classic in St. Louis, with President Obama telling Jeter and Rivera that he has been a fan of their work.
Molina returned to the roster, displacing Cervelli, and A-Rod moved into 10th place all-time with his 570th homer, moving past Rafael Palmeiro. While Chamberlain's starting struggles were continuing to draw attention, the Yankees had a day to celebrate with the annual Old-Timers' Game -- the first at the new Stadium, with Mike Mussina among the first-time participants.
The Yankees also introduced HOPE Week, a week-long community program designed to "Help Others Persevere and Excel." Yankees players toured New York City and opened up the Stadium for special events, including one where Burnett stayed on the field until after 4 a.m. pitching Wiffle Balls to the kids from Camp Sundown.
Gardner fractured his left thumb sliding into second base and Wang had season-ending surgery. Damon hit his 200th home run and the Yankees made a minor move to pick up Jerry Hairston Jr. from the Reds. The club was visited briefly in St. Petersburg by the elder Steinbrenner, who essentially told them to keep up the good work. On July 21, the Yankees took sole possession of first place in the AL East for good.August: Cabrera hit for the cycle on Aug. 2 at Chicago, making him the 15th Yankee and the first since Tony Fernandez in 1995, and it was a good sign for the changing fortunes of the club. The Yankees ended their skid against Boston at eight games on Aug. 7 -- they wouldn't lose to the Red Sox again in 2009.
Rodriguez ended a memorable 15-inning scoreless game against Boston with a walk-off two-run homer on Aug. 7, and Yankee Stadium finally started rocking with regularity.
New York acquired Chad Gaudin from the Padres to add depth, and while the slugging Hideki Matsui had to have a knee drained, it proved to not be a serious setback -- he'd hit two homers and drive in seven runs in a 20-11 rout of the Red Sox later in the month.
Sabathia conquered the Oakland Coliseum in a win on Aug. 18, a place that has given him fits over the years, and while Burnett and Posada still clashed at getting on the same page, the Yankees promised they had a plan for Chamberlain in place.
Cano looked at his numbers and realized he might be having his best season, and on the month's final day, New York picked up speedster Freddy Guzman from the Orioles.September: It was full speed ahead for the Yankees in September, as Pettitte flirted with a perfect game into the seventh inning opening the month at Baltimore and the Yankees played a Labor Day doubleheader against the Rays -- New York's first since 1978.
Thoughts were set on getting home-field advantage locked up for the playoffs, and Jeter was set to pass Gehrig's franchise record for hits, notching his 2,722nd safety on Sept. 11 against the Orioles to earn a terrific amount of praise and acknowledgment.
Pettitte skipped one turn in the rotation, his only breather during a solid campaign, and the Yankees took a page out of the Angels' speedy playbook on Sept. 14 as Gardner raced around the bags on a double steal. New York scuffled with the Blue Jays in a fracas the next day, as Posada earned a suspension.
The Yankees clinched the AL East title against the Red Sox on Sept. 27, marking their 100th victory and their 16th division title since 1969. In some ways, the Yankees knew now they could spray champagne around the clubhouse, secure in having achieved a goal. But it was just the first stage of what they truly wanted to accomplish.October: After wrapping up the regular season in a series at Tropicana Field, which concluded with A-Rod homering twice and driving in seven runs on the season's final day to finish with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, the Yankees soon learned they would be playing the Twins in the ALDS.
The first playoff game at the new Yankee Stadium saw a win, as Sabathia held down the Twins behind homers from Jeter and Matsui, plus Rodriguez's two RBIs to break out of his playoff funk. In Game 2, Rodriguez hit a dramatic game-tying blast off Joe Nathan in the ninth to send it into extra innings, but that was only the beginning of the thriller. In the 11th, Teixeira hit a walk-off homer to give the Yankees a commanding 2-0 edge in the ALDS.
Flying to Minneapolis for what would be the final game at the Metrodome, the Yankees completed the sweep behind a postseason gem from Pettitte, homers from A-Rod and Posada, and a heads-up play in the eighth when Nick Punto was tagged out at third.
Next up were the Angels, who flew to a frigid Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the ALCS and wished Sabathia had stayed away like the rain did. In Game 2, the Yanks prevailed over the Halos in a five-hour-plus epic: Down one in the 11th, A-Rod hit a game-tying blast to negate a Chone Figgins go-ahead single, and in the 13th, a Maicer Izturis throwing error allowed Hairston to score the game-winner.
Now it was back to Anaheim, where the Yankees have struggled mightily over the years in front of the Rally Monkey. Hoping to win back-to-back extra-inning games vs. the Angels, the Yanks were denied in Game 3 when Jeff Mathis hit a walk-off double in the 11th, overshadowing a four-homer show by the Bombers and giving New York its first loss of the '09 playoffs.
But Sabathia was nothing short of spectacular on short rest in Game 4, pitching a gem. He had plenty of helpers, one being A-Rod, who homered in his third straight ALCS game. In Game 5, the Yanks appeared to have landed the knockout punch with a big six-run seventh, but the Angels rallied off Burnett and the 'pen, and the Bombers returned to New York, where they hoped to clinch their 40th AL pennant in Game 6.
Postponed for one day by rain, the Yankees were soon back where they belong -- in the Fall Classic. Pettitte won his postseason-best 16th game, and Sabathia was named MVP of the ALCS, as the Yankees returned to the World Series for the first time since 2003.
The Yankees couldn't figure Cliff Lee in Game 1, suffering a 6-1 loss despite a stellar start by Sabathia that was interrupted by two Chase Utley homers. In Game 2, the Yankees used a superb start from Burnett, spotless relief by Rivera, and two huge homers by Teixeira and Matsui to clip Pedro Martinez and pull even.
So they rode the rails to Philadelphia, and the two clubs spent Halloween night playing a spirited Game 3, with the Yanks bagging an 8-5 win thanks in part to an A-Rod home run on a replay review. The Yankees completed October by taking a 2-1 World Series lead into the next month.November: Leaving their Philly hotel rooms, the Yankees were back in November baseball for the first time since 2001. Game 4 went in their favor, a 7-4 decision that saw A-Rod cash a tiebreaking RBI double in the ninth after Damon's savvy baserunning. Posada followed A-Rod with a two-run single of his own as the Yanks bailed out Chamberlain and moved to within one win from their 27th World Series championship.
Presented a chance to clinch in Philadelphia, Burnett made the Yankees wait another day, struggling mightily and leaving in the third inning. Rodriguez doubled twice and plated three runs, but the Yankees bussed it home after an 8-6 loss in Game 5, ready for some home cooking and to celebrate in front of their supportive fan base.
Game 6 saw the Yankees bring it home behind Series MVP Matsui's six RBIs and Rivera providing yet another patented finish. The Yankees hoisted the 27th World Series trophy in franchise history, posting a 7-3 victory and clustering at the center of Yankee Stadium to celebrate the Yankees' first Fall Classic triumph since 2000.
The customary parade down the Canyon of Heroes followed, with the Bombers rolling through lower Manhattan in double-decker buses and on parade floats. Jeter said he felt like the president waving, wanting to thank every single fan individually, and Girardi commented that this might be the last time the '09 Yankees are together as a unit. Indeed, the eligible Yankees began to file for free agency and the clock for 2010 had already started too soon.December: December saw Jeter add yet another honor to his growing pile when Sports Illustrated tabbed him as the 2009 "Sportsman of the Year." He selected his father, Charles, to introduce him at a New York gala. The Hot Stove started in earnest when Hal Steinbrenner provided Cashman with his budget for 2010, calling for a payroll reduction south of $200 million but still the highest in the big leagues.
The Winter Meetings were busy for the Yankees, who acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Tigers in a three-team, seven-player deal, costing them outfield prospect Austin Jackson, plus pitchers Phil Coke and Kennedy. New York hit a priority by re-signing Pettitte to a one-year deal and swapped Bruney to the Nationals for Rule 5 Draft pick Jamie Hoffmann.
Watching Matsui head to the Angels, the Yankees completed a certain amount of turnover later in the month by cutting ties with Wang and moving close to locking up designated hitter Nick Johnson on a one-year deal, a move that effectively shut the door on Damon's career in New York.The Yankees' search for another starting pitcher led them back to an old friend after they reacquired right-hander Javier Vazquez and left-hander Boone Logan from the Braves for fan favorite Cabrera and Minor League pitchers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.