It’s safe to say that Yankees fans expected to still be watching them play baseball in mid-October, and I expected to be writing this post sometime in November. But, as the fates would have it, here I am, writing season wrap-up posts a month early.
We’ve previously discussed how disappointing 2021 was for this team and this fanbase, but it’s equally important to remember some of the awesome, awe-inspiring, and downright absurd moments that the 2021 New York Yankees gave us. Here are just a few.
1. Corey Kluber throws a no-hitter
Not too long ago, Corey Kluber was one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. A number of injuries ultimately derailed what was shaping up to be a truly promising career, though.
Signing with the Yankees in the offseason, Kluber came into this season having thrown just 36.2 innings since 2019. In just his ninth start as a Yankee, he dominated the Texas Rangers. Striking out nine across nine no-hit innings, Kluber had everything working, and he actually looked like his old self again. In fact, he was a third-inning walk to Charlie Culberson away from being perfect. After the last out, though, Kluber had thrown the 12th no-hitter in Yankees history — the first since David Cone’s perfecto in 1999.
Unfortunately for the 35-year-old, he would make just one more start before hitting the injured list again with a shoulder injury that would sideline him until late August. But moments like these are the reason why so many of us keep coming back to the game, and it’s one that will have its place in the Yankees’ record books forever.
2. Gerrit Cole one-hits the Houston Astros
Because of his disastrous September, it’s easy to forget just how dominant Gerrit Cole was before his hamstring injury. When Cole got the ball against his former team on July 10th, the Yankees found themselves eight games behind in the division and on the outside looking in for the Wild Card race. Needless to say, it was the outset of one of the most important stretches this team would face in 2021.
After taking game one the night before, the Yankees desperately needed a big series win against the Astros, and, man, did Cole ever deliver. Against a team that would eventually find itself in the ALCS, Cole threw a whopping 129 pitches of one-hit ball while striking out twelve and walking just two batters. Anecdotally, it might be the single most dominating performance from a Yankees starter I’ve ever seen that didn’t end as a no-hitter or perfect game. And, if that wasn’t already good enough, he also had his own Mike Mussina moment in this game.
3. Luis Gil’s improbable debut
On August 3rd, Luis Gil was called up to the big leagues to make a spot start against the lowly Baltimore Orioles. While Gil had been a very intriguing prospect, mostly due to the rocket that he calls an arm, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the show that the 23-year-old flamethrower would give us. In his first start, he pitched six innings, struck out six, walked just one, and gave up four hits. Oh, I forgot to mention; he didn’t give up a run.
Five days later, Gil’s name was called again, this time against the Seattle Mariners. His encore performance saw him throw five scoreless innings, giving up just two hits, walking two batters, and striking out eight. After being sent down for some fresh arms, he was ultimately recalled on August 17th to pitch the second game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox. Though he struggled with command as he walked four batters, he pitched 4.2 innings, gave up just three hits, and struck out four on route to his third straight scoreless appearance.
In Gil’s first 15.2 innings pitched, he did not surrender a single earned run. Although he ultimately struggled with his command and showed some rookie lapses down the stretch, Gil’s debut was one of the most remarkable moments of the season and demonstrated why this organization thinks so highly of him.
4. Giancarlo Stanton becomes the best hitter on the planet
While I can talk ad nauseum about how good Giancarlo Stanton was this year, I want to focus on his late-season performance at Fenway Park. Fenway is always a hostile environment, but it’s especially rough when both the Red Sox and the Yankees are in the middle of a heavyweight fight for the Wild Card. Cue the dramatics from September 24th until the 26th.
In a three-game set in Boston, Stanton went absolutely bonkers, going 7-for-13 with 3 home runs, 10 runs driven in, and a double, all of which includes one of the most impressive late-game grand slams that I have ever seen. That’s good for a slash line of .583/.615/1.417. There’s hot streaks, and then there’s whatever the hell Stanton was on.
The most impressive part about this feat is that he kept it up! Over the last three series to end the season — all against division opponents with each game more important than the previous one — Stanton slashed .324/.378/.765 with 4 home runs, 14 runs driven in, and 3 doubles. He even carried that success into the doomed Wild Card Game, where he might have had three home runs had the game been played in New York instead of Boston. He was truly on another planet during this stretch.
5. Luis Severino returns at last
No player has been missed more than Luis Severino. In 2019, Severino suffered a rotator cuff injury in April, followed by a lat strain that sidelined him until September. In 2020, the ace underwent Tommy John surgery, delaying his return even longer. After a series of setbacks during rehab starts in June and August, it was beginning to look like 2021 was going to be another lost season for Severino.
However, after a lengthy absence, Severino was finally activated on September 20th, and the very next night, he threw his first Major League pitch in 706 days. Although he would end up throwing just six innings total this season, Severino’s return to the mound was a remarkable success story in an otherwise-lost campaign. While Yankee fans hope and pray that he’s able to stay healthy for the rest of his career and help bring New York its 28th World Series title, seeing him back on the mound in pinstripes gave me all the hope that I need for 2022.