Wednesday, September 16, 2015
OUR SUCCESS LIES IN OUR FUTURE
The New York Yankees have been anything but energetic over the past couple of weeks. In fact, they’ve been downright lethargic. The team that GM Brian Cashman has banked on is loaded with veterans on the decline, and as we entered the concluding act of summer, they were starting to show their age. First baseman Mark Teixeira finally broke down – a seasonal occurrence since 2011 – and is lost for the remainder of the season.
40-year old Alex Rodriguez’s surprising year of rebirth has slowed to a crawl, and while he occasionally contributes, it is at a much lower frequency than the first half of 2015 (.278 average before the All-Star break, .222 after). Speaking of decline, Jacoby Ellsbury’s picture shows up in the dictionary under the word. He was hitting .318 before the All-Star game, and .204 since. He’s had just 5 hits this month (.104 average) and is in the midst of a 1 for 27 stretch through Monday’s game. Even Brett Gardner, the homegrown Yankee-turned-All-Star has slumped badly in the second half, hitting just .214.
Only two of the regular starting veterans have raised the level of their hitting in the second half: Carlos Beltran (from .260 to .306) and Chase Headley (.255 to .294). Even though Stephen Drew could be considered in this group (.182 to .242), his batting average (.203) currently ranks dead last among regular second basemen in the history of the Yankees.
In spite of the offense’s collapse this half of the season, the team has managed to do slightly better than treading water (going 30 – 24) in part thanks to the turnaround of shortstop – and Derek Jeter successor – Didi Gregorius. The 25-year-old has gone from a .238 hitter to the team’s best in the second half – hitting .311 after the break. He can hardly be considered a seasoned veteran, and when you combine his achievements with the intermittent injection of energy from call-ups, you have a team managing to hold onto a wild card spot.
Speaking of call-ups, it would be remiss of me to not mention some of the “Baby Bombers” that have significantly contributed to this team’s success. Luis Severino has made seven starts with the club, and until his 9/11 start against the Blue Jays had not allowed more than three runs in any of them. In spite of his pounding at the hands of Toronto, his ERA is a respectable 3.35 (it was 2.04 before allowing 6 earned runs in a little over 2 innings) and he has made himself a regular in the rotation – probably ensuring a playoff roster spot as well. Greg Bird has taken over for Mark Teixeira at first base and has driven in 17 while scoring 16 in 27 games. Most recently, Slade Heathcott – the last of the call-ups – brought life and a win to a team that desperately needed it on Monday.
After being no-hit through seven innings, Carlos Beltran hit a single to break the ice in the eighth. Joe Girardi pinch ran for Beltran, hoping to take advantage of Rico Noel’s speed (he promptly stole second base). Unfortunately, nothing was to come of that. To replace Beltran in the field in the bottom of the eighth, Girardi called upon Heathcott. Blessed with speed, arm, and pure athletic ability (in spite of injuries), the 24-year-old gave the team a huge upgrade in the field should he be called upon. However, it’s at the plate where the young outfielder truly gives this club a boost. In an earlier stint with the team in May, Heathcott showed his hitting prowess, batting .353 over five games in which he made appearances at the plate. As fate would have it, the team found itself down 1 – 0 in the top of the final frame, and with the help of Brett Gardner (walk + stolen base) and Alex Rodriguez (double), tied it 1 – 1 with two outs.
Chris Young was called upon to pinch run for ARod, and Brian McCann was intentionally walked to set the stage for Slade. As a side note, I found it borderline offensive that Michael Kay of the YES Network seemed surprised that Stephen Drew wasn’t called upon to pinch hit for Heathcott (really Michael?). With the team limping offensively for the better part of the second half of the season, and with visions of a division title gradually fading, Heathcott needed only one pitch to change the entire feel and attitude of the team.
One pitch, one swing, and suddenly the youthful slugger was dancing around the base paths, having deposited the only offering he saw all night into the left field seats. As the camera switched from following Heathcott to the Yankees dugout, one only need to look at Rodriguez bounding his way back and forth, high-fiving and fist-pumping with uninhibited joy to know that our newest hero had erased the lifeless march this team was making toward anonymity.
Those of you who read my articles know that I have had the honor of interviewing Slade’s grandfather. Since then, he and I have stayed in touch and I couldn’t help but send him a text congratulating him and expressing my joy at his grandson’s accomplishment. I truly felt this was a turning point for our team, and in a month where our pathetic offense has wasted fine performances by our starting pitchers, Heathcott’s shot was an injection of life and saved what was perhaps CC Sabathia’s best outing of the season.
In interviews following the game, Slade showed class and maturity saying he was just trying to help the team. He very much reminded me of a young Derek Jeter – putting team first and offering up all the right things to inquisitive reporters. The outfielder has a well-documented past – most of which you may have read (though most of that has either been exaggerated for the purpose of getting a high number of “hits” on an article, or just plain untrue). As his grandfather has told me, Slade only knows one way to play - all out. You’ll never see him loaf after a ball in the field (Carlos, you reading this?) and you’ll always see him hustling down the baselines (anti-Cano, if you will). He’s a battler and doesn’t sulk about setbacks. Instead, he uses them as launching points for his next move forward. This time, I think the Yankees have no choice but to keep him with the parent club.
What the likes of Heathcott, Severino, Bird and others yet to be given their chance by our stale, unimaginative management team represent is the future of our team, and it bodes well. If Girardi and Cashman could simply see the forest through the trees, they’d realize the chemistry and life these youngsters provide and let them move the team forward from here on. If we are to be successful, it won’t be on the tired backs of ARod, Beltran, or Teixeira. It has to be on the shoulders of our Baby Bombers. Their time is now, and the Yankees’ time could be now too if our manager would set his binder down and simply open his eyes.
--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
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