The ceremony of the 88th Academy Awards took place night, and a number of Oscars were handed out to some mostly deserving winners, non-Sam Smith division. (Okay, and Mad Max: Fury Road needed more love, but I digress.) Celebrating the best films of 2015 reminded me that we never really looked back at the top Yankees games of last year.
Sure, there were posts about moments that were "favorite" or "defining," but one great moment does not necessarily make a fantastic game. The ones I like the most present the full package, with lead changes, comebacks, dramatic hits, and plenty of action that keeps fans glued to their screens. That's why I consider the rollercoaster Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS an even better contest than the stirring late-inning homers in the 2001 World Series.
Milestone moments can occasionally bring the games up that level, but not all the time. That is why Alex Rodriguez's 3,000th hit blast, Michael Pineda's 16-strikeout mastery, and the playoff clincher are not included. There was also a fun 5-0 comeback in a July 28th game against Texas, but the Yankees had 15 runs by the third inning, effectively ending the affair way too early to be nominated.
Without further ado, here are the five Yankees nominees for Best Picture in 2015. Vote in the poll below to let us know who should win!
July 3rd: Fireworks - Yankees 7, Rays 5 (12)
The Yankees were tied for first place with the Orioles heading into action on Independence Day Weekend, with both the Rays and Blue Jays a mere game behind as well. They had an off-day the night before and appeared to be incredibly sluggish, particularly against ace/Yankee killer Chris Archer, who threw 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball while Tampa Bay put up three runs on Masahiro Tanaka.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead into the eighth, giving the ball to setup man Kevin (Rae) Jepsen. With one out, he gave up back-to-back singles to Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, setting the stage for the resurgent Mark Teixeira and one mighty bat carry.
Suddenly, the game was tied, though a chance for more after back-to-back walks was snuffed out on a Chris Young double play ball from Brandon Gomes. Headley also hit into a double play in the bottom of the ninth to send it into extras.
Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, and Adam Warren capably held down the fort for three innings, notching six strikeouts before wilting in the 12th. Then a quick rally off Warren and Chasen Shreve capped by back-to-back RBI singles from Kevin Kiermaier and light-hitting catcher Rene Rivera gave Tampa Bay a 5-3 lead. Steve Geltz tried to close it out, but Brett Gardner began with a leadoff walk, followed by a Headley strikeout, and a single by A-Rod. Tex slapped an RBI single to draw within one, bringing Brian McCann up to ensure a happy ending:
July 25th: Three times the #ROD - Yankees 8, Twins 5
The McCann walk-off put the Yankees in sole possession of first place for a good month and a half. They focused on expanding their lead and in late July flew to Minnesota for a series against their old patsies, the Twins. Through six innings however, Tommy Milone was surprisingly tough, holding the Yankees to one hit, an A-Rod home run, as Aaron Hicks and Torii Hunter launched bombs off CC Sabathia to put the Twins in front, 5-1.
That all fell apart in a hurry when Milone returned to the mound. Young doubled and A-Rod crushed his second homer of the game. Teixeira sent Milone to the showers with a double and soon scored on a sacrifice fly, making it a one-run affair. It stayed that way until the ninth, when All-Star Glen Perkins entered for the save. On his very first pitch, those hopes were crushed by one Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez:
It was A-Rod's third home run of the night, his first three-homer game in five years. It was just another terrific moment in his out-of-nowhere DH renaissance in 2015. That only tied the game though; they still had to win it.
Teixeira reached on a single, Carlos Beltran hit into a forceout, and Headley lined a single to center field. Backup John Ryan Murphy had the start at catcher in place of McCann..Joe Girardi probably wished he had saved McCann for this spot rather than pinch-hitting him in the eighth. After all, Murphy hadn't homered all year. That changed in a hurry, and the Yankees went on to win 8-5 with Andrew Miller slamming the door.
August 14th: Showdown at the Blue Jay Corral - Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3
The surging Jays rocketed into first place with an amazing 11-game winning streak but still only held half a game lead on the Yankees entering a pivotal three-game set north of the border. For seven innings, it was all Canada. Ivan Nova fared better than expected against the scalding hot lineup to hold them to three runs and five hits through seven, but David Price refused to yield a single run.
The Yankees turned the tables in the eighth. Teixeira laced a one-out single, then moved to second on a base hit to left by McCann. Headley lifted a long drive to deep center that bounced over the wall for an RBI double, putting the Yankees on the board. Price departed in favor of hard-throwing youngster Aaron Sanchez. He would face Carlos Beltran, who had rebounded from an absolutely awful start in April to become the team's most consistent hitter. On a 1-2 count, Beltran rocked the Great White North:
The stunning homer put the Yankees in front, 4-3, but with a dangerous offense like Toronto, it was far from over. After all, they had won 11 games in a row and did not want to see that streak come to a close. Betances and Brett Cecil countered with scoreless innings, setting it up for Miller in the bottom of the ninth.
The lefty got Russell Martin to fly out to left, but caused problems by walking pinch-hitter Chris Colabello and allowing a single to the pesky Kevin Pillar. Then Miller made matters worse for himself by uncorking a wild pitch, putting the tying run on third and the winning run in scoring position. All Ben Revere needed was a fly ball to tie the game. Miller would have none of it, blowing him away on a strikeout. This was all a setup for one of the best batter/pitcher of the year, a 12-pitch, heart-pounding showdown between Miller and new shortstop Troy Tulowitzki:
Victory: Miller. (Phew.)
September 14th: Rays slayed by Slade - Yankees 4, Rays 1
Fast-forward exactly a month later, and the Yankees were fighting to stay in position for the Wild Card with an outside shot at the division title. It wasn't over yet, as they were three games out with a few weeks to go. On the road in Tropicana Field though, the outlook was bleak.
Powered by his new (perhaps magical) knee brace, Sabathia shut out Tampa Bay through 6 2/3 innings, allowing just three hits while striking out six and looking like the CC of old. Erasmo Ramirez was even tougher against a Yankees offense clearly running out of steam. In fact, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning until Beltran broke it up with a leadoff single. That was the only hit Ramirez gave up through 7 2/3 dominant innings.
The game remained scoreless until the eighth, when with Betances resting, the Rays rallied against Justin Wilson. The lefty had worked out of trouble one inning prior but this time, surrendered a single to Mikie Mahtook and an RBI double to Logan Forsythe. Caleb Cotham entered to strike out Asdrubal Cabrera, but de facto closer Brad Boxberger had his 1-0 lead. A double play ball from Jacoby Ellsbury drove the Yankees down to their last out.
Then Gardner walked on four straight pitches out of the zone and for once, actually did not waste any time at first base. He bolted on Boxberger's second pitch, stealing second base. A-Rod was the Yankees' last hope, and though he had slumped in the past month, he came up huge, smoking an opposite-field RBI double to tie the game.
Rays skipper Kevin Cash decided to intentionally walk McCann since the Yankees only had Slade Heathcott coming up next. The rookie outfielder had entered for Beltran after Rico Noel pinch-ran for him. Heathcott hadn't made a big-league plate appearance since May 27th. It was as unlikely a time as ever for a home run. And yet...
With everyone charged up, Miller struck out the side in the ninth inning to secure the shocking victory. In my mind, Heathcott still hasn't fallen asleep after all the energy he got from that blast.
September 22nd: The last word - Yankees 6, Blue Jays 4 (10)
About a week later, the Yankees were still fighting for their playoff lives as they went on the road to Toronto again. They dropped the first game of the series but would have a back-and-forth battle in the second. The two runs they scored off Marco Estrada in the first would be all they could manage against the righty.
Rookie standout Luis Severino was sharp as well, holding Toronto to three hits and three walks through his six innings of work. However, one of the hits was a Pillar homer, and another was an RBI single by Justin Smoak following a walk and a wild pitch. So the game was tied at 2-2 to begin the eighth. That was when Beltran made it "deja vu all over again" with another clutch eighth inning blast in Toronto, this time off Liam Hendriks:
In the bottom half of the frame, Betances danced around trouble as he had all September, loading the bases on a single and two walks before fanning the powerful Edwin Encarnacion to escape. Miller tried to close out the win, but a one-out Dioner Navarro blast spoiled the fun, tying it up at 3-3 and handing the tall lefty just his second blown save of the season.
Miller wasn't out of trouble yet though; Pillar doubled with two outs to put the winning run in scoring position, and soon, the bases were loaded for MVP Josh Donaldson. Thankfully, Miller won that tense battle with a strikeout. In the 10th, McCann surprised everyone by dropping a bunt single near third to beat the shift. It was a brilliant play, as the Yankees needed baserunners. Heathcott reached on catcher's interference. That brought up the first baseman who was capturing all Yankees fans' hearts, Greg Bird:
B-b-b-bird Bird Bird. Bird is the Word.
This time, Miller secured the victory. It was a tiring 10th inning and Encarnacion took him deep as well, but after 42 pitches, he survived and the Yankees won, a definitely hard-earned victory.
So which will you vote for the Yankees' Best Picture in 2015? Vote below and let us know!