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This Day in Yankees History: Rafael Soriano joins stacked Yankees bullpen

The reigning saves leader signed with the Yanks on this day in 2011.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. The New Year is upon us, and the winter hot stove continues to percolate. That being said, the Yankees seem to have made their big moves in DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber, so that gives us more time to dig into the history books. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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74 Years Ago

This is a bizarre one, so stay with me. On this day in 1947, the Tigers sold superstar Hank Greenberg to the Pirates for $35,000, just one season after Greenberg led the league with 44 home runs.

So, what does this have to do with the Yankees? To answer that, we need to backtrack three more years, when the New York City native participated in the All-Star War Bond Game at the Polo Grounds, but forgot his Tigers jersey for practice. Greenberg was given a Yankee jersey instead, based solely on the fact that it fit him.

Well, photos were taken, and fast forward three years, and Sporting News writer Dan Daniel wrote a story claiming that Greenberg was contemplating retirement, or playing for the Yankees. Daniel used a photo of Greenberg with that Yankee jersey from 1943, and Tigers owner Walter Briggs reacted almost immediately, selling Greenberg to Pittsburgh, where Greenberg hit 25 home runs before retiring after the 1947 season.

10 Years Ago

The Yankees already boasted the best closer of all time in Mariano Rivera, but still went out and got the league’s saves leader on this day in 2011, signing free agent Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million contract.

The deal came after Brian Cashman had said that he would not sacrifice the team’s first round draft pick to sign a free agent, but with a little prodding from ownership, the front office changed tactics. The move added Soriano to a bullpen that already included Rivera, soon-to-be All-Star David Robertson, and the rehabbing Joba Chamberlain.

Soriano, who recorded 45 saves with the Rays a season before, would serve as Rivera’s setup man in 2011, but he didn’t immediately thrive in the role, pitching to a 4.12 ERA over 39 13 innings. He returned to the closer role in 2012 after Rivera was injured, and he more than stepped up, picking up 42 saves and posting a 2.26 ERA as the Yankees captured the AL East. This was the season of #untuck, prompted by Soriano’s quietly emphatic save celebration:

Soriano untuck

Soriano took advantage of his return to the closer’s role by opting out out of his contract following that 2012 season. He signed with the Nationals, where he again eclipsed 40 saves in 2013, though his career came to an end two years later.

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Happy Birthday to Michael Pineda! The former Yankee pitcher was born on this day in 1989, and after an All-Star season with the Mariners in 2011, was traded to the Yanks prior to the 2012 season in what was at the time considered to be a blockbuster, with catching prospect Jesus Montero heading to Seattle. As we know now, the trade was all bust, no block.

Injuries kept Pineda off the mound in 2012 and 2013, and he pitched just 76 13 innings in 2014, a season that included a suspension for pine tar. In four years with the Yanks, he recorded a 4.16 ERA over 509 innings. But again, given how Montero turned out, the Yankees didn’t have to ponder what could have been. It was a wash on both sides.

At least we’ll always have that memorable Mother’s Day in 2015, when Pineda fanned 16 Orioles in just seven innings.

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We thank Baseball Reference and for providing background information for these posts.