A of the unique part about baseball, at least compared to other sports like football, is that one moment in any given game is unlikely to be a complete game changer. The sheer number of pitches, at bats, and games mean that until the end of the season and the playoffs, games rarely have massive effects on the season as a whole. Still, this doesn’t mean each year lacks their fair share of important events, whether good or bad, that will stick in a player or fan’s mind once the season is over. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of not-so-positive times in an unsuccessful season that saw the Yankees miss the playoffs, but the Yankees also had a number of great moments.
1. Mark Teixeira walk off grand slam
Less than a week removed from being crushed by multiple come-from-behind wins by the Red Sox, the Yankees were back in Boston and a loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention. Down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, with one of the best closers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel on the mound, it looked like the Yankees’ season was three outs away from being over. Then, it wasn’t.
Things started with a Brett Gardner single, then three straight walks to Jacoby Ellsbury, Gary Sanchez, and Brian McCann to bring home a run. Boston was on the ropes, with bases loaded and no outs, but Joe Kelly replaced Kimbrel and quickly recorded a pair of outs. Then, Mark Teixeira, in what could’ve been his final career game of contention, stepped to the plate and on the second pitch pummeled a waist-high, 99 mph fastball into the Yankees bullpen for a walk off grand slam.
If there’s an image I, along with many other Yankees fans, will take away from 2016, it’s probably Teixeira rounding first base with his arms in the air after saving the Yankees season, however briefly. Not only did the walkoff put a damper on the Red Sox’ postgame celebration after clinching a playoff berth with the loss of another team, but this home run breathed life into the Yankees’ season and was one of the best possible ways for Mark Teixeira to hit his final home run of an incredibly productive career.
2. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge back-to-back
There are plenty of moments last season that signified the movement into a new era of Yankees baseball, from an sluggish and overpriced roster of veterans into an exciting young ballclub, but things truly clicked in the minds (and hearts) of many New Yorkers when Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge hit back-to-back home runs in their first at bats.
If that sounds ridiculously improbable, you aren’t wrong—it’s the first time this event has ever happened in baseball’s long history. There’s no better example of ‘there’s no way it can get better than thi—OH MY GOD IT GOT BETTER” than the home runs, which had to be the most unbelievable moment of the whole season.
Starting with an inspiring opposite field dinger from Tyler Austin, marking the start of his major league career after an arduous comeback from a serious wrist injury, and continuing with an absolute moonshot from the highly touted Aaron Judge, a face that is the future of this organization, the two at bats ushered in a new time for the Yankees in one of the most euphoric ways imaginable.
3. A-Rod’s final game
Perhaps this is more of a bittersweet moment than one of pure joy, but Alex Rodriguez’s retirement is a day many of us won’t forget. The moment was, unfortunately, marred slightly by some awkward clubhouse moments between Joe Girardi and the press, and A-Rod’s retirement felt much more forced than natural, but it’s hard not to remember the final hit of his career fondly.
Despite being trapped in a year-long slide that forced Rodriguez into a designated-sitter role on the Yankees 25-man roster, he came out for one last hurrah with a game-tying double into the gap. Considering how rough of a season 2016 had been for Rodriguez and Yankees fans, this hit offered a respite that allowed the crowd to go absolutely nuts and for A-Rod to get fired up with a loud “F*CK YEAH!”
Rodriguez’s final moments on the field, when he trotted out to play third base in the bottom of the ninth inning for one last time, were incredibly emotional, but the sheer excitement and electricity pulsing throughout the stadium during the double is a feeling that will be hard to forget.
4. Brett Gardner game ending catch
Those last two moments were more memorable for their context, and not their impact on a single game, but Brett Gardner’s game-winning catch against the Blue Jays was all baseball. Although the catch itself probably wasn’t going to find itself on any highlight reels, one glance at the scoreboard shows just how important the play was.
The Yankees and Blue Jays were in the midst of an epic back-and-forth game featuring a number of late inning lead changes. The Yankees notched a seventh inning lead on a two-run home run from Tyler Austin, fell behind when Kevin Pillar hit a two-RBI double, and came back with a (seemingly) comfortable three run edge in the bottom of the eight.
Unfortunately, bad Dellin came out of the bullpen in the top of ninth inning, and allowed three straight runners to reach before retiring a batter. With two outs and first and second, Betances walked another before allowing a Melvin Upton single to shrink the lead to two runs. Blake Parker entered with the bases loaded, struck out a batter, and then watched as Justin Smoak skied a deep fly ball destined for the top of the left field wall. Luckily, Brett Gardner reached in time and launched into the air to make a spectacular snow-cone catch, winning the game and allowing us to enjoy a Michael Kay voice crack.
5. Five run comeback
I knew this was a good comeback because I didn’t find out the Yankees won until the next morning. I probably wasn’t the only fan that stopped watching when New York was down 6-1 after the top of the sixth inning, and many others likely threw in the towel after the 7-2 deficit in the top of the eighth. Luckily, there were some people still watching when the Yankees begun their five run comeback on a McCann solo shot in the bottom of the eighth inning.
What followed was a collection of ‘bloop and a blast’ events. Rob Refnsyder notched a hit, followed by an Ellsbury walk and a Gardner single (plus an error) to bring in Refsnyder. Brian McCann then hit a huge three-run home run to tie the game, and Didi Gregorius followed up with another home run after a Starlin Castro walk to walk it off for the Yankees.