With the sting of the Yankees’ postseason exit still smarting, some uplifting content still feels appropriate. There will be ample time during the offseason to conduct a full postmortem on what went wrong where they go from here; for now, we’re still looking back on the moments — good and bad — that characterized the season. The campaign may have ended in disappointment, but the Yankees provided many memorable moments throughout the year. We all know who owns the top spot, but what about the other four?
5. Two ultimate grand slams in a month
It’s the moment that we all played out in the sandlots of our childhood, as Jason Giambi once demonstrated. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded down three, full count, and the spotlight is on you. An ultimate grand slam is defined as a walk-off grand slam while trailing by three — there have been 32 such occurrences in MLB history and the Yankees gave us two in the span of little over a month!
The first came on August 17th against the Rays. The Yankees were mired in their worst stretch of the season, dropping the first two games of the series and on the verge of losing their 12th game out of the previous 14. Aroldis Chapman surrendered three runs in the top of the 10th, putting the game seemingly out of reach. Gleyber Torres led off the bottom of the 10th with a single followed by an Anthony Rizzo walk to load the bases with no outs for Josh Donaldson. He jumped an elevated 0-1 Jalen Beeks fastball, sending it over the short porch for the game winner.
Just about five weeks later, it was Giancarlo Stanton’s turn to play hero. The Pirates hung a four-spot in the eighth inning, again appearing to put the dagger in the Yankees’ chances at victory. But when Aaron Judge launched his 60th home run to lead off the ninth and tie Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark, there was a feeling that more magic could be in the offing. Indeed, the Pirates would not record an out in the inning, with Rizzo doubling, Torres walking, and Donaldson singling to load the bases for Big G. On a 2-2 Wil Crowe changeup, Stanton drilled a classic Stantonian frozen rope to left to walk it off and send the Bronx crowd into pandemonium.
4. The kids look alright
Floundering in the nadir of poor second-half play, the Yankees needed a jolt of enthusiasm to spark their lifeless squad. They received their first when they promoted Oswaldo Cabrera for his big league debut on August 17th. He provided much more than a jolt, moving to the outfield as the injuries started to pile up. He may have been learning the position on the fly, but it sure didn’t look it, with Cabrera roaming the outfield grass in right and left, robbing home runs, making diving catches, and throwing runners out at home.
All told, Cabrera put up a win-and-a-half in his first 44 big league appearances, batting .247/.312/.429 with six home runs and a 111 wRC+. The other boost to the roster came with Oswald Peraza’s call-up on September 2nd. One of the pair of promising shortstop prospects alongside Anthony Volpe, Peraza was a large part of the team’s decision to forgo the historic class of free agent shortstops, instead opting for operation stopgap. And as said stopgap (Isiah Kiner-Falefa) floundered at the plate and in the field, it was time for a change if only to create a momentary spark. Peraza delivered in limited action, slashing .306/.404/.429 in 18 games with quality defense — good for a 146 wRC+ and half a win.
The future for the Yankees is uncertain but at least they have a pair of promising youngsters in the Wizards of Os.
3. 99 wins and an AL East division crown
We know that the Yankees’ pursuit of their ultimate goal ended in failure, but they accomplished their primary aim by winning the AL East for the first time since 2019 (and just the second time since 2012). It appeared that they were on course for much more than that, their 64-28 first half putting them on pace to challenge for the Mariners’ modern regular-season wins high-water mark of 116 set in 2001. Then came the abysmal second half, where they saw a 15.5-game division lead dwindle to just 3.5 games on September 9th. An 11-2 stretch at the end of September ensured them a comfortable division crown and rekindling hope for a deep postseason run — albeit one that ultimately failed to materialize.
2. Bombers come back to advance past Guardians
The Yankees’ season nearly ended in complete disaster as they stumbled their way to a 2-1 deficit against the Guardians in the ALDS. Gerrit Cole turned in an ace performance in the first game and it looked like the Yankees would cruise to another meeting with the Astros in the ALCS. However, baffling bullpen decisions by Aaron Boone and a Guardians walk-off in Game 3 put the Bombers on the brink of elimination.
Staring down such a humiliating conclusion to the season, Cole once again provided an ace outing in Game 4 to push the series to a clincher. There, the one man who has performed better than any other Yankees hitter in recent postseasons once again put the team on his back. Stanton crushed a first inning three-run bomb and the Yankees were rolling. Judge tacked on with a solo shot the following frame while Nestor Cortes, Jonathan Loáisiga, Clay Holmes, and Wandy Peralta pitched lights-out to send the Bombers to the ALCS.
1. Aaron Judge, your home run king
There was never any question that Aaron Judge breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old record for the most home-runs in a single season in AL history would take the top spot. It’s an achievement that perhaps many of us did not expect to see in our lifetimes, but if there was ever a player in today’s game who could do it, it was Judge. He made Yankees fans sweat, going eight games between his 60th and 61st home runs and a further six games to reach 62 on the penultimate day of the season. That just made the moment all the sweeter, and I’m certain the feat and his season as a whole will remain etched in our memories for as long as we live.