10/02/12 12:45 PM ET
Ten reasons why Yankees are headed to playoffs
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
But as anyone who has bought a lottery ticket explains, you've got to be in it to win it, and the Yankees are in. New York's magic number to secure the American League East rested at two entering play on Tuesday, as it hopes to hold off the Orioles and lock up the division title.
"I'd rather win the division because it's less heartache, but whatever," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Bottom line is, we want to be the last team standing. I'd prefer the division clearly because it's -- in theory -- a better way to go than the heart attack way."
Indeed, no one wants any part of putting their season's destiny on the line for just one afternoon. But even if that happened, it wouldn't be the first obstacle the Yanks have had to overcome in this eventful campaign around the Bronx.
"I'm really proud of the way that we fought all year," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We've had a lot of things that haven't gone our way and no one has used it as an excuse, but there's a lot of teams that would love to be in our position right now."
Here, in no particular order, are 10 major reasons why the Yankees have landed exactly where they are:
42 untucks ... and counting
The Yankees were somehow prepared for the unthinkable this year, watching Mariano Rivera writhe in agony at Kauffman Stadium on May 3 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament that would prove to be a season-ending injury.
Fortunately, the Yanks had an elite closer masquerading in their bullpen as an $11 million reliever. Rafael Soriano was superb stepping into Rivera's role, locking down 42 of 46 save opportunities, marking each successful outing with a violent untuck of his jersey.
Soriano's style is certainly different than Rivera's, and it will still be strange to not hear the strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" late in postseason games. But the Yankees still like their chances if they're able to get leads to the ninth inning.
The Captain refuses to quit
Regardless of whether he actually wins the award (our guess is that it'll go to Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, especially if he can wrap up baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967), the fact that anyone was even talking about Derek Jeter as a legitimate AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate during his age-38 season speaks volumes.
Jeter entered play on Tuesday leading the Majors with 213 hits and 63 multihit games, and is the oldest player to collect at least 200 hits in a season since Paul Molitor did so in 1996. The Yankees are no longer surprised by Jeter's success; at this point, they'd prefer to just marvel and cross their fingers that it can continue for a few more weeks.
Strength in reserves
Injuries ravaged the Yankees at times this season to the point where manager Joe Girardi marveled on Monday that he was actually able to fill out a lineup card with both Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira in the heart of the order. It had been a while.
Sixteen players spent time on New York's disabled list, but the Yanks survived in part because their bench went above and beyond the call of duty. Eric Chavez has embraced his role as a reserve after starring for so many seasons with the A's, and with Opening Day left fielder Brett Gardner limited to just a handful of games, New York pushed Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones much harder than anticipated. Utility man Jayson Nix also played a large contributing role.
Muscling up with the long ball
There was a telling moment in early September when the Yankees were going through another scuffle with runners in scoring position and the idea was floated -- by hitting coach Kevin Long, no less -- that the team might want to try bunting more, embracing small ball to create runs. Girardi scoffed the next day, "We're not the Bronx Bunters."
No, the Yanks live and die by the long ball, and they don't apologize for it. The good news is that their lineup is suited to take advantage of playing in Yankee Stadium's cozy confines. With a Major League-high 240 homers entering play Tuesday, New York boasts nine players with at least 15 home runs this season, marking a franchise record.
Kuroda's adjustment to the Junior Circuit
Having scouted Hiroki Kuroda for several years, the Yankees finally landed their target this winter, signing the veteran to a one-year contract. Immediate hand-wringing began; at age 37, was Kuroda too old to hang in the AL East, trading pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium for the homer haven of Yankee Stadium?
It turns out, those concerns were largely unfounded. Kuroda's style translated to the AL just fine, as he won 15 games and would have had more if the Yanks had provided league-average run support. He showed signs of fatigue in September, but Kuroda was New York's most reliable starter for much of the summer.
You just never have too much pitching
Speaking of Kuroda, remember this spring when the Yankees wrestled with the dilemma of how to fit so many starters into five slots -- and then Andy Pettitte decided to show up, too? The refrain then was that these things tend to sort themselves out. Guess what happened?
Never would the Yanks have guessed that Michael Pineda would be lost for the season without throwing a single pitch, and it was only slightly less likely that CC Sabathia would serve two stints on the disabled list -- including one with an elbow injury.
Phil Hughes had what he described as an "so-so" season, Pettitte missed months with a broken leg after coming out of retirement and by season's end, Girardi didn't trust Ivan Nova -- a 16-game winner last year -- to make Tuesday's start in Game 161.
Yet they survived. Kuroda paced the rotation in innings, Freddy Garcia filled a variety of roles and the Yankees squeezed starts out of rookie David Phelps, who also helped out in a bullpen that asked heavy workloads of David Robertson, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley.
Reigniting Ichiro's fire
The July 23 trade with the Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki will go down as one of Cashman's best moves of the year, as it has seemed to be an outright steal. As some predicted, Ichiro gleefully raised his game to the surroundings of a pennant race, thrilled to be on a veteran ballclub where winning today -- and not development for tomorrow -- is the primary focus.
All the Yankees were asking Ichiro to do, acquiring him for Minor League pitchers Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell, was to approximate what they thought they were going to get out of Gardner this year. Originally slotted at the bottom of the lineup, Ichiro caught fire in September and has been a fan favorite in the Bronx.
Beating up on the National League
Ask any manager what his keys to a winning season are, and odds are that you'll eventually hear something along the lines of "beating the clubs we're supposed to beat." And, with apologies to the NL, that's exactly how the Yankees viewed Interleague Play.
The Yanks' best month was June, when they rolled to a 20-7 record, including running off a 10-game winning streak against the Mets, Braves and Nationals. They finished 13-5 against the NL overall, while also posting winning records against sub-.500 AL clubs like the Red Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins, Mariners and Blue Jays.
Rollin' with Robbie
A-Rod still cashes the Yankees' biggest paychecks (and that won't change for quite a while), but these days, even Rodriguez would agree that the Bombers would be lost without Robinson Cano manning second base. Cano wields the Yanks' most lethal bat, a fact no one who witnessed his monster blast off the facing of Yankee Stadium's center-field restaurant on Monday would deny.
Cano said that his season has been "up and down, up and down," and certainly the Yankees could have benefited from a few more hits with runners in scoring position, as his 88 RBIs (the lowest in three years) attest. But right now, he's locked in, and that couldn't be coming at a better time.
Steady at the helm
As much flak as Girardi takes from the peanut gallery for curious decisions and a reliance on statistical matchups (by the way, the Yankees have upgraded his binder to a 21st century iPad), he has also maintained a consistent presence in managing his roster through what could have been crippling injuries and -- in some corners -- underperformance.
Were there moments that Girardi took his stress out on umpires and others? Sure, you bet -- and we laughed out loud when he marched off the field in Detroit back in August, waving his arms wildly and mimicking the umpiring crew.
But no matter what the Yankees went through -- including frittering away that 10-game lead -- they never lost first place after June 10, not even for a day. Girardi became the fourth Yanks manager to lead the club to four straight postseasons, joining Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and predecessor Joe Torre.