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2012: The Season in Review

December 31, 2012
Ibanez greets his teammates after a magical Game 3 (Sporting News)

Ibanez greets his teammates after a magical Game 3 (Sporting News)

The New York Yankees’ 2012 season was one worth remembering.  It may not have ended the way we wanted, but before we ring in 2013 let’s look back at the special moments from a season ago.

*     *     *     *     *

Perseverance

The excuse was there for the taking: Injuries.  Pinstriped shoulders bear the weight of crushing expectations every game of every season, so in the most competitive division in baseball it would have been easy to say, ‘This ain’t our year.’  Michael Pineda, our highly-touted acquisition, didn’t throw a single pitch in 2012.  Joba Chamberlain suffered a freak trampoline injury on March 22nd and at the time we were told his season, and possibly his career, was finished.  Mariano Rivera, the anchor of 5 championships, tore his ACL on May 3rd while shagging BP flies.  How many of us were ready to throw in the towel as we watched the Sandman writhing on the warning track?  Brett Gardner injured his elbow early in the season and his speed was lost until late September.  David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Ivan Nova also spent significant time on the disabled list.

When you think about what the Yanks did during the regular season, without such vital cogs, it boggles the mind.  How could such a depleted club have a league-leading 95 wins and secure an 18th AL East crown in a division where 3 teams won 90 games?  The consistency of Derek Jeter (.316), Hiroki Kuroda (16-11), and Robinson Cano (.313) was crucial, carrying the team while stars like Sabathia, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez were mired in extended slumps.  The replacement play of Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and Raul Ibanez was indispensable as well during stretches of the season when gaps needed to be filled.

Uh-O’s

On July 18th the Yanks dusted the Blue Jays 6-0, extending their AL East lead over Baltimore to 10 games.  That was the high-water mark of the season for the Bombers as their edge steadily shrunk until the rivals entered a tie on September 4th.  From that day until the final game of the season, the Yanks never held more than a 1.5 game lead over the O’s, but they never relinquished the lead either.  For 27 straight games they had their feet to the fire but refused to give it away, going 19-8 over that span.

Magic

Raul Ibanez will be remembered as the bald-headed angel that descended for one year to give us a season’s worth of thrills in just a few weeks.  On September 22nd, after the Orioles had already won, Ibanez hit a game-tying, 2-run home run in the 13th inning of a 10-9 victory.  On October 2nd he launched a game-tying, 2-run blast in the 9th, then drilled a walk-off single in the 12th to give the Yanks a monumental 4-3 win over Boston to keep them 1 game ahead of Baltimore with 1 game to go.  But Ibanez saved his biggest theatrics for the postseason.

In Game 3 of the ALDS, Miguel Gonzalez mystified the Yankee bats over 7 strong innings and Darren O’Day mowed them down in order in the 8th.  When Ichiro Suzuki lined out to start the 9th there was little joy in the Bronx, even with Roy Hobbs 2.0 at the plate.  Jim Johnson led the league with 51 saves during the season and was 2 outs away from giving his team a 2-1 edge in the series, until Ibanez took a 1-0 pitch into the right field stands for yet another game-tying blast.  Then, true magic happened in the 12th when he launched the first pitch he saw from Brian Matusz into Yankee lore for an epic walk-off homer as heroic as any in Yankee history.

Power Outage

After dispatching the feisty Orioles in 5 games, who could have foreseen the ignominious ending that awaited the Yanks in the ALCS?  Detroit didn’t just beat the Yanks, they put them over their knee and sent them to their room without dinner.  They had been ousted from the playoffs before because of bad luck, or falling to a better team, or underachievement, but I have never seen them lose the way they did during 4 excruciating days in mid-October.

They never had a lead during the series, not even for an inning.  In 4 games they scored a total of 6 runs, 2 if you exclude the 9th inning of Game 1.  They had 36 strikeouts in the series and 22 hits.  Their series batting average was .157.  Heavy hitters Cano, Granderson, Nick Swisher, Teixeira, and A-Rod were a combined 8 for 65 at the plate (a .123 average) with 1 RBI.  1.  All of this contributed to their first playoff sweep since 1980 and only their 4th in 51 postseasons (1922, 1963, and 1976 being the other 3).

It was unfortunate that a great season had to end so abruptly, but baseball is inexplicable sometimes, which is why we love it so much.  If you’re like me, you’ll remember the strength the Yanks showed during much of the season and the magic they provided during an incredible run toward the postseason and not just a collapse in the pennant.  Hopefully they can build on that toward a better finish in 2013.

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