In my last post, we cleansed the palate by looking back on the 10 worst Yankees GIFs of 2013. Since that mess is done and over with, we can now look back on the 10 best Yankees GIFs of the year in peace, without the bad memories sullying the mind. There were some bright spots during the season, so as the year comes to a close, focus on the good rather than the bad of 2013. (Especially focus on a certain future Hall of Fame closer. No, not Mike Zagurski.)
The 2013 campaign was mostly one to forget for a near-40 Ichiro Suzuki, as his decline from his All-Star decade in the 2000s continued with the lowest wRC+ of his career (71). However, Ichiro's pursuit of his 4,000th career hit combined between the NPB and MLB was widely covered by the Japanese media and an incredible career accomplishment, so it's worth noting on this list. Ichiro reached number 4,000 on August 21st at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. He wasted no time, shooting an R.A. Dickey knuckleball to the opposite field in the first inning:
It was Ichiro's 2,722nd hit in the majors and combined with the 1,278 hits he accumulated across nine seasons in Japan to give him 4,000 for his career. While there has been some debate about how seriously we should take Ichiro's numbers in Japan (which has been estimated to be 95% the level of play in the majors compared to Triple-A being 86%) , there's no denying that he joined an elite club. SABR researcher Scott Simkus determined that when counting all league stats, from the postseason and American minor leagues to the NPB, the Mexican League, winter leagues, and even the scant Negro League records, only eight other players in baseball history ever reached the 4,000 hit plateau.
While there are wild cards on that list like PCL great Jigger Statz and All-Star baseball nomads Julio Francon and Minnie Minoso, the rest of the list includes some of the most fantastic hitters to have played the game: Ty Cobb, Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Derek Jeter. Anyway, longtime Mariners fan and blogger Jeff Sullivan put it best when summing up the debate about Ichiro's 4,000th hit:
The number 4,000 mattered because it represented a specific opportunity to recognize Ichiro for all that he’s done since he was virtually a kid on another continent. When a player is piling up impressive statistics, you want there to be a chance to honor him, to appreciate him. The fact of the matter is that we don’t appreciate elite-level talent on a daily basis... This is about what 4,000 means, and what it took to reach that number over so many years. Ichiro actually has 27 career hits in the playoffs. (Ichiro has been in the playoffs.) So 4,000 isn’t even necessarily accurate. But boy is that ever not the point.
Hear, hear, Jeff. Congrats on a wonderful career, Ichiro.
9. Sori not sorry
With the Yankees clinging to faint playoff hopes in late July and in desperate need of a power infusion to their lineup, they traded minor league pitcher Corey Black to the Cubs in exchange for Alfonso Soriano. It was a nice homecoming for the former farmhand who belted 95 homers in pinstripes during his first three full seasons as a major leaguer before getting dealt to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade. Soriano had a very productive decade with the Rangers, Nationals, and Cubs from 2004-13, slugging 334 doubles, 291 homers, making the All-Star team five times, and finally reaching the 40/40 club in 2006 after a pair of near-miss seasons in the Bronx. Since his last All-Star season in '08 however, Soriano declined with the Cubbies as the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed prior to the '07 campaign became an albatross and he only produced 3.1 rWAR from 2009-13 in Chicago, most of which came in a bounceback two-win 2012. The Cubs sought to shed some of the 2013-14 salary still owed to him, and the Yankees were happy to take him back for $6.8 million.
Pundits thought that Soriano would provide that influx of power to the Yankees' lineup, but no one thought he would be quite as good as he was in the second half. He notched a 130 wRC+ and hit as many homers in 58 games as he did in 93 with the Cubs, 17, a total that actually ended up second-highest on the team behind Robinson Cano. Soriano seemed to have a knack for coming up with clutch homers anytime the Yankees needed one, and he also had memorable highlights like a walk-off single during his first series back in the Bronx and his 400th career homer. Perhaps his greatest night was on August 14th against the Angels. The night before, he set a career-high with six RBI in a multi-homer game, leading the charge in a 14-7 rout. The very next day though, he went one better.
The night before, Soriano torched a few underwhelming pitchers in his assault on Angels pitching, Jason Vargas, Michael Kohn, and Joe Blanton. What made his night on the 14th more remarkable was that it came against one of the AL's elite pitchers, Jered Weaver. In the first inning, Soriano crushed a grand slam to deep center, breaking the scoreless tie. One inning later, he was at it again, lining a two-out, two-run double to left, tying the career-high in RBI he set fewer than 24 hours ago. In the fifth, he capped his demolition of Weaver with a leadoff homer to left, making the score 9-3 Yankees and setting a new career-high with seven RBI:
Soriano's perfect night at the plate was likely the biggest single-game offensive performance on any Yankee in 2013. Hopefully he can keep it going for at least one more year in 2014.
8. Gardner saves Mo
On the heels of the Yankees' humilating sweep at the hands of the White Sox, they had to play the red-hot Tigers, who rode a 12-game winning streak into this three-game series. It seemed like the 57-56 Yankees were destined to finally fall under .500 for the first time since early April, especially when down to the last strike, Mariano Rivera blew the lead in the opener thanks to Miguel Cabrera's game-tying two-run homer. The Yankees picked up the slack for Mo in the 10th on a walk-off single by Brett Gardner against Al Alburquerque, an ending that foreshadowed what was to come.
The Yankees lost the next day and again risked falling to .500 with a loss in the series finale on August 11th. It didn't seem promising since Tigers ace Justin Verlander faced the slumping Andy Pettitte, but thanks to a couple homers from Soriano and A-Rod, the Yankees carried a 4-1 lead into the eighth. A three-run lead with Robertson and Rivera ready to go appeared to be plenty. Unfortunately, a Brayan Pena homer off Robertson in the eighth and two solo homers by Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the ninth against Mo tied it up and stunned the Yankee Stadium crowd. Rivera settled down to retire the last two batters though, and the Yankees had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth against Jose Veras. The former Yankee retired the first two men, then faced Gardner, who had a chance to be the hero and bail out Mo for the second time in three days:
Outta here. It was Gardner's first career walk-off homer and helped the Yankees pick up a much-needed series victory over a very good playoff team. Gardner's not a home run hitter, but he muscled up to give his time a big win.
7. All-Star farewell
The 2013 All-Star Game was held at Citi Field this year, a conveniently close location for Mariano Rivera's final All-Star Game. He was well-qualified to make the team, and he did. There was some question about when he would be used, but AL manager Jim Leyland made sure that he would get an appearance by bringing him in for the eighth inning. It turned out well and he entered to a roaring ovation in an incredibly cool moment. Mo saluted the crowd and produced this terrific GIF:
Mo went on to pitch a 1-2-3 eighth inning and was voted the All-Star Game MVP in an otherwise-quiet 3-0 win for the American League. Mo's All-Star teams went 10-2-1 in his career.
6. The triple play
Very early in the season on April 12th, the Yankees accomplished a rare feat that they had only managed once in the past 45 years: the triple play. The Yanekes were leading 5-2 at the time; I'll turn it over to Jason, who recapped the game, to describe the eighth inning:
In the bottom of the eighth it looked like the Orioles were about to get to CC Sabathia. He had thrown only 70 pitches in the first six innings, but by now he had started to labor. Alexei Casilla singled and Nick Markakis singled to put two on with no outs and Manny Machado came up to bat with Adam Jones waiting on deck. The game was on the line and Joe Girardi stuck with Sabathia. Then the triple play happened. Machado hit a ball to Robinson Cano, who threw it to Jayson Nix, who stepped on second to get the runner coming to second for the first out. He threw it to Kevin Youkilis, who got the lead runner in a rundown and eventually tagged him for the second out. Machado tried to make it to second during the rundown, but Youkilis threw to Lyle Overbay, who threw it to Cano for the tag out. Three outs and they were out of the inning. 4-6-5-6-5-3-4. Clutch fielding?
And the excellent GIF, courtesy of Josh Gold-Smith:
The players were understandably thrilled. It was the Yankees' first triple play since April 22, 2010. Given that it was 42 years between that triple play and the Yankees' previous one (which was so old that it included Bobby Cox and Mickey Mantle), who knows when it will happen again? Regardless, it was a ton of fun to watch and it helped the Yankees secure a 5-2 victory.
5. Auf Wiedersehen, Andy
Andy Pettitte announced his retirement late in the 2013 season, and this time it seems extremely unlike that he changes his mind. His final season was an up-and-down affair, but he eventually ended it with an above-average ERA (3.74, 91 ERA-) and FIP (3.70, 91 FIP-) in 30 starts. His 3.2 fWAR was his highest total since the last time he made at least 30 starts, the 2009 championship season. Missing the playoffs was obviously not exactly how Pettitte envisioned his career ending, but his send-off turned out to be pretty fitting anyway.
After making his last home start, Pettitte's final game took place not far from his actual home in Deer Park, Texas. At Minute Maid Park in Houston on September 28th, Pettitte faced the lowly Astros, who were about to end their 111-loss season on a record 15-game losing streak. He gave up fourth-inning run thanks to some Astros smallball, but the Yankees rallied for two in the sixth on a Cano RBI single and the Astros Astrosing. Pettitte hadn't thrown a complete game since August 16, 2006, back when he was on the Astros, but he didn't throw too many pitches and held the Astros to four hits and two walks through eight innings. Girardi sent him back out for the ninth to complete the job, and he did just that:
J.D. Martinez was the last hitter Pettitte faced, and once the groundout settled in Mark Reynolds's glove at first base, a terrific 18-year career came to a close. Pettitte is one of the greatest pitchers in Yankees history, and his presence will surely be missed at Yankee Stadium. Thanks for the memories, Andy.
When Ivan Nova surged onto the scene in 2011, fans thought that the tall righthander would be a rotation mainstay for years to come. The next year and a half was an uphill climb for the 26-year-old though, as he was so bad in 2012 that his last start was skipped at the end of the season with the Yankees fighting for a playoff spot, and he was left off the playoff roster. Nova started 2013 in the rotation, but was shellacked in April and later hit the DL with inflammation in his right triceps. When he was healthy again, he returned to the 25-man roster but had lost his rotation spot to David Phelps. As players came back from injury, there was a roster crunch, and ultimately the Yankees decided to demote him to Triple-A Scranton so that he could get some starts and work on his technique. By the time he returned to the MLB rotation, he seemed a lot better, and he emphatically marked his return with arguably his best career start to date, an 11-strikeout complete game victory over the Orioles on July 5th.
Nova was a key part of the Yankees' August resurgence, as he took home AL Pitcher of the Month honors with a dominant stretch of pitching mastery. In six starts, he pitched to a 2.08 ERA with a .635 OPS against and 31 strikeouts. He capped his brilliant month on August 31st with an outstanding performance against the same Orioles team he beat in July. It was no easy task fending off this Orioles offense, which led the major leagues in homers in 2013 with 212, led by AL MVP candidate Chris Davis's 53 dingers. Yet for the second time in two months, they could do nothing against Nova. Cano gave him all the offense he needed with a first inning RBI double and an eighth inning solo homer. Having thrown just 89 pitches through eight innings, Nova returned to the mound in the ninth to finish his first career shutout:
Nova's three-hit shutout was one of a team-high three complete games for him in 2013 (he later shut out the Giants in late September as well). A big theme throughout the Yankees' 2013 season was remembering the past, but Nova's career resurgence gave the rotation great hope for the future. If the Yankees are to stay competitive over the next several seasons, having a young and talented cost-controlled starting pitcher like Nova live up to his potential will be crucial to their success.
3. The Captain's return
Derek Jeter's ankle injury plagued his 2013 season and hit Jeter with the first severely-shortened season of his long career. There weren't many highlights, but his second return from the disabled list did bring a moment to remember. Jeter's first trip back from the DL lasted just one game before a quad strain sent him back to the DL for three more weeks.T
The Yankees appeared to be on the skids when he rejoined the team on July 28th. They had just been shut out by Rays rookie Chris Archer and needed some kind of jolt to wake up the offense and avoid a three-game home sweep. Jeter hit second in the lineup and wasted no time in bringing the afternoon crowd to life on the first pitch he saw from All-Star Matt Moore:
After a hard-fought game, the Yankees went on to win it 6-5 on Soriano's walk-off single. Jeter had a multi-hit game and all seemed right with the world. Unfortunately, that was Jeter's only homer all year long; he only played four more games before hitting the DL for the third time in 2013. He missed most of August, was ineffective in 12 games when he came back, then was shut down for the season on September 11th. At least we were able to witness one awesome Jeter moment in 2013.
2. Dumpin' on Dempster
I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.
Everyone knows the whole ordeal with A-Rod at this point, so here's the SparkNotes version. MLB announced that they would suspend players involved with the Biogenesis PED investigation, and they slammed A-Rod with a 211-game suspension. A-Rod exercised his right to appeal the suspension and joined the Yankees in August with more critics than ever, including some of his own peers in the MLB Players Association. Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster was one of them, and in a Yankees/Red Sox Sunday Night Baseball game on August 18th, he threw at A-Rod twice, hitting him on the his second attempt. What folowed was chaos.
Girardi was furious at Dempster, and at the umpires for allowing him to stay in the game. The sweetest revenge came later when A-Rod faced Dempster leading off the sixth with the score 6-3, Red Sox:
The titanic blast was measured at 446 feet, the longest homer hit by any Yankee in 2013. It was the ultimate payback for A-Rod against Dempster, and it inspired the Yankees to a comeback in Fenway. They dropped seven runs on Demspter alone and Gardner's sixth inning three-run triple was the decisive blow in the Yankees' 9-6 victory. They took two of three from the Red Sox on the road and continued their August surge, undeterred by Dempster's idiocy.
1. The Hug of Eternal Feels
Man, I'm going to miss that guy. Not much needs to be said here. Jeter and Pettitte removing Rivera from his final career game was easily the best Yankees moment of 2013 and is one that will tug at the heartstrings for years to come. He was the Yankees' security blanket for almost 20 years and it will be so strange to see the team assembled without him in 2014. There will never be another closer like Mariano Rivera, and there will probably never* be moment as uniquely emotional for the Yankees ever again.
You think Jeter's going to cry? I don't know that he's capable of showing such emotion in public.
We'll miss you, Mo. Happy retirement and happy trails, 2013. The feels are getting to me.
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