A little over eight years ago, a 22-year-old second baseman hitting .333/.368/.574 in Triple-A Columbus was brought up to the major leagues, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman sought to shake up his seven-time defending division champion team, off to an ugly 11-15 start. After an inauspicious 2-for-23 start, young Robinson Cano started to pummel baseballs, and outside of an off-year in '08, he has not stopped since then. His power gradually developed over time, and he went from averaging 16 homers per year in his first four years to averaging 29 per year in his next four years. Cano has set new career highs in homers three of the past four seasons, and he is on pace to set another career-high this year with 35 (though perhaps pitchers will not be giving him as many pitches to hit considering his lineup protection).
With two more dingers, Cano will become the 16th Yankee in team history to hit 200 homers, the first second baseman in this club. Since this is a nice, round rumber, it's a good opportunity to look back at some of the milestone homers that helped bring him to this point.
Details: Cano recovered from a sluggish start to his MLB career to go 16-for-36 (.471) over his next eight games, but he was hitless since May 20th entering a home series against Detroit. The Yankees had won 10 of their previous 12 games to vault to over .500, and they pounded the Tigers on this night, 12-3. Both Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada had multi-homer game, and Gary Sheffield went yard as well. Mike Mussina threw seven scoreless innings, so it was a complete blowout by the time Cano came up in the eighth inning against veteran reliever Doug Creek.
The lefty was in his ninth and final big-league season; he only appeared in 16 more career games after mopping up on this night. On his first pitch, Cano laced one into the upper deck for his first homer in the majors and the sixth dinger on the night for the Yankees. After the game, he remarked, "It was exciting. I've been trying to hit my first home run, because when you hit one, more are going to come." Cano was right on the money with that prediction.
Details: The Yankees were off to a middling start in their final season at the old Yankee Stadium under new manager Joe Girardi, and they had just lost stalwart catcher Jorge Posada to right shoulder soreness that would eventually cost him the season due to labrum surgery. They called up Quad-A catcher Chris Stewart from Scranton to start this game, and it would be his only one in pinstripes until returning to the team four years later. Cano was off to a miserable start to the '08 season after hitting .322/.358/.504 with a 122 OPS+ over the previous two years; the first month was almost complete and he had just 15 hits to show for it, a .153/.217/.214 triple slash.
Cano had a tricky draw on this Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium as well. Veteran lefty Kenny Rogers was on the mound in his 20th and final season in the majors. "The Gambler" was near the end of the line, but he held lefties to a .197/.303/.303 the previous year despite missing time due to injury. The Tigers quickly scored two runs against struggling young prospect Phil Hughes, but he induced new Marlins import Miguel Cabrera to bounce into a double play, ending the first inning. Cano came up to the plate two innings later with Shelley Duncan on first base following a leadoff walk. With one out and a one-strike count, Cano roped the Gambler's next pitch to deep right field and gone for a game-tying two-run homer, the 50th of his young career. The Yankees went on to lose the game, 6-4.
Details: It took Cano a much shorter time to hit his next 50 homers to reach the century mark. He recovered from an awful '08 to notch back-to-back 200-hit seasons in '09 and '10, and in the latter season, he emerged as the Yankees' best player while the older stars took a step back. Cano was on fire entering a mid-June game at the newly constructed Yankee Stadium, with a .371/.414/.604 triple slash and 12 homes. He got to help the Yankees beat up on an Astros team that was quite not yet in "Plan Blow Everything Mode Up," and the Yanks swept Houston away.
In the finale, Cano teed off on Astros starter Brian Moehler for his 100th career homer, a long fly to deep right-center that simply kept sailing out of the the park. The Yankees drove Moehler from the game in the fifth inning when Jorge Posada hit his second grand slam in two days, and Cano went on to finish third in the AL MVP voting for his tremendous 6.5 rWAR season.
Details: It is a testament to the increase in Cano's power that he has hit almost 50 homers in only about a year and a half of baseball since this moment. The Yankees started the season 23-21 and hit the road for a West Coast trip. Cano was still the catalyst of their lineup, and he entered the game hitting .297/.354/.477. A double off A's starter Ross in the third inning followed up a Mark Teixeira homer led to a 3-0 lead. Two innings later, Cano and Tex swapped strategies, as Cano homered and Tex followed with a double.
The dinger was Cano's sixth in what would be a career-high 33 homers in 2012, and on August 27th, he broke Hall of Famer "Poosh 'em Up" Tony Lazzeri's second base team record of 169 homers with his 170th, a blast off the Blue Jays' Henderson Alvarez. Cano will have plenty more left in his bat after 200 as he rises through the Yankees' all-time record books.