A 10-game divisionlead in mid-July vanished. The Yankees lost the greatest closer in the history of baseball, their best weapon on defense and baserunning, and the big young pitcher they acquired in the offseason in exchange for their top prospect. Russell Martin hit under .200 for most of the season. Ibanez and Andruw Jones wore down from overuse in the outfield as a result of the injury to Brett Gardner, and their once-hot bats went silent for months. Alex Rodriguez missed about a month after Felix Hernandez broke his hand with a pitch, and Mark Teixiera was absent for almost the entire stretch drive due to a calf injury. Despite a franchise-record 245 homers, the team constantly struggled with runners in scoring position and only won one game when trailing after eight innings all season long, their 161st game.
Andy Pettitte's amazing comeback was stunted on a Casey Kotchman line drive that broke his leg and forced him from the team until September. Ivan Nova had a horrible follow-up to a terrific rookie campaign and finished with a dismal 83 ERA+, and Freddy Garcia had to make 17 starts long after his "smoke and mirrors show" from 2011 had fizzled. Joba Chamberlain didn't throw a pitch until August due to a freak trampoline injury, Cory Wade's arm went dead in June, and Chad Qualls pitched 7.1 innings (okay, maybe the latter was not such a big deal).
And yet ... the team triumphed.
Derek Jeter proved that it was possible to drink from the Fountain of Youth after his 3,000th hit last year by posting one of the best offensive seasons of his Hall of Fame career, leading the league with 216 hits. Robinson Cano again demonstrated that he is the best second baseman on the planet by hitting .313/.379/.550 with a career-high 33 homers and a team-leading 149 wRC+. In a season without unbelievable performances by
Mickey Mantle Mike Trout and Carl Yastrzemski Miguel Cabrera, Cano might have won the MVP (either way, he'll still likely get his third straight Top 6 finish). We were captivated all season by #HIROK mania, as Hiroki Kuroda established himself as the best signing of the 2011-12 offseason, leading the team with a 3.32 ERA and 219.2 innings. Rafael Soriano led us through life without Mariano Rivera by pitching a relief season with 42 saves, a 2.26 ERA, and 185 ERA+ that would be right up there with Mo's best.
Curtis Granderson struck out 194 times, but he mixed in 43 homers, a mark even better than his 2011 total. Surprising contributions from the likes of over-the-hill veterans Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Eric Chavez kept that Yankee magic that rejuvenates players alive. CC Sabathia was still an ace, Nick Swisher did his Swishalicious 126 wRC+ thing, Phil Hughes became a competent pitcher again, and David Phelps impressed all who saw his curveball baffle the best hitters in the league. David Robertson was not as unhittable as in 2011, but he had a fine season for a setup man with far better control than ever before. No-names like Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, and Cody Eppley helped the bullpen stay afloat in tough times. Did you ever think Derek Lowe, Jayson Nix, DeWayne Wise, and Chris Dickerson would play a helpful role on the 2012 Yankees when Spring Training broke in March? Stop lying.
These Yankees deserved to be 2012 American League East champions, and damn if this wasn't one of the most satisfying and hard-fought division titles in franchise history.
Granderson crushed a three-run homer against Matsuzaka to right field in the second inning, turning an early 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead that was never relinquished. The second baseman Cano pounded consecutive two-run homers to the second deck in right, two innings apart (in the third and the fifth). Dice-K was long gone, but Cano added a two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth, for a career-high-tying six RBI. He was 4-for-4 in the final game of the season, ending the year on a nine-game multi-hit-game streak, during which time he hit over .600. Ridiculous. A five-run seventh that featured Granderson's 43rd homer of the season ended the offense's night at 14 runs. Granderson ended the year a homer shy of Miggy for the AL home run crown.
Kuroda never wavered in seven innings of two-run ball, giving the Yankees one last great start before returning to the #HIROK lair, where he will prepare to start Game 2 of the ALDS. One could certainly an argument that he should start Game 1, but it is hard to see that going to anyone other than CC, who has dominated in his final three starts. The Yankees officially clinched the AL East when the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh, but Garcia got the honor of closing out the 14-2 victory, striking out Ivan DeJesus to end the game. With their AL-leading 95th victory of the year, the Yankees ensured themselves of home-field advantage through the ALCS (though thanks to Bud Selig's bizarre format this year, the Yankees will begin the ALDS with two games in Texas or Baltimore. Some "home-field advantage.")
No one knows what the postseason will bring, but for now, here's a toast to the New York Yankees, 2012 American League East champions. Enjoy it. Do it for the Pirates. Don't be afraid to just be happy to reach playoff baseball. Fans from the Horace Clarke years will smack you if you don't.
The Yankees will play Game 1 of the ALDS on Sunday. Stay tuned to The Pinstriped Bible for more content and features as we draw closer to that date.