From Kat O’Brien -
But after the Yankees clinched a berth in the postseason Wednesday night, at least a few players admitted the almost unthinkable — that they had their doubts this season.
“I didn’t think we would be here,” Alex Rodriguez said shortly after the 12-4 win over Tampa Bay that clinched at least the wild card. “It feels weird for me to say that.”
The Yankees were 21-29 on May 29, and Rodriguez said all the losses “started stacking the chips” against the Yankees. Back in June, Mike Mussina calculated the kind of winning percentage the Yankees would need to get to the postseason. The mathematics were daunting.
When the Yankees fell to 38-41 on July 1, they trailed wild-card leader Detroit by 8 1/2 games. But they went 53-26 in their next 79 games.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult it was to be able to pull this off,” Andy Pettitte said.
Various turning points stand out to members of the Yankees as far as when they got on track.
Torre saw hints of good things as far back as April 19, when the Yankees rallied from a 6-2 ninth-inning deficit against the Indians and won on Rodriguez’s walk-off three-run homer. For Torre, a better turning point was when Melky Cabrera began to play every day because of the “energy” he provided.
For Pettitte and several others, May 28 stands out. Although the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays, 7-2, and lost again the next day, 3-2, they held a pregame meeting that many see as a starting point.
Another key game occurred on June 3 in Boston, when Rodriguez homered off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning to give the Yankees a 6-5 win.
Johnny Damon’s thought was that the arrival of Duncan and Chamberlain provided a spark.
That team meeting was on May 28th. Melky pretty much became the full-time center fielder on June 1st. (For what it’s worth, June 1st was also the day that Jason Giambi left the line-up as a full-time player.) Shelley Duncan came up on July 20th. Joba Chamberlain came up on August 7th.
To me, that June 28th observation that I made the other day still stands out.
Looking at it some more, I just noticed that Johnny Damon, from Opening Day through June 27th, batted .247/.333/.357 (BA/OBA/SLG) in 66 games. From June 28th through September 26th, Damon batted .283/.363/.409 in 72 games. Could Damon’s return to good production be the key to the Yankees turnaround?
Or, was it all about Robinson Cano getting hot with the bat?
Perhaps the key was Damon and Cano starting to swing the bats well? Then again, Hideki Matsui ripped the cover off the ball in July and August this season – as did Bobby Abreu.
It’s probably safest to say that the Yankees season started to take-off after June and once Damon, Cano, Matsui and Abreu began to mash the ball – joining Posada, A-Rod, and Jeter (who, as a trio, had been doing it all year). When these guys are hot, and doing it at the same time, it’s the best “one through seven” in baseball when it comes to the sticks.