Despite winning an American League-best 97 games, the 2006 Yankees ended their season on a sour note, losing rather meekly to the Wild Card Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. Of particular note was the figurative disappearance of their best player Alex Rodriguez, who went 1-for-14 in the series and had many of us wondering how he got the “one” given how he was swinging the bat. It wouldn’t be noteworthy for the overwhelming majority of players to bat eighth in the order on a team with that much firepower, but when manager Joe Torre penciled A-Rod into the eight-hole in Game 4, it was both an eyebrow-raising and embarrassing situation, to be sure.
It’s hard to fathom that a player like Rodriguez, who at age 30 was a 10-time All-Star who’d already hit 464 home runs, produced 85 bWAR, and won an MVP with the Yankees would have something to prove, but in the mind of many fans, he did. With chip firmly planted on shoulder, that is how Alex Rodriguez began the 2007 season for the Yankees.
On April 18, 2007, Rodriguez belted his ninth dinger of the season, leading the Yankees to a 9-2 win over Cleveland. After only 13 team games, in addition to the 9 long balls, A-Rod had driven in 23 in only 62 plate appearances, including a walk-off grand slam on April 7th. Despite the torrid start from A-Rod and the rest of the lineup, the Yankees were only 7-6 entering action on April 19th (as I noted here, the ’07 Yankees may have been the best offensive team in franchise history, but their pitching fell somewhat short of excellence). Regardless, the games were rarely boring, and Game 14 on the slate that year took “absurd” to new heights.
Date of Game: April 19, 2007
Final Score: Yankees 8, Cleveland 6
Game MVP: Alex Rodriguez/Bobby Abreu
With Yankees pitching legend Darrell Rasner on the hill, the Yanks took the lead in the bottom of the third inning on a Bobby Abreu RBI single, his second hit of the afternoon already. David Dellucci would tie the game for Cleveland in the top of the fourth with a solo home run, but with Rasner opposing Cleveland starter Roberto Hernández* (with a career 5.81 ERA at the start of the day’s action), play continued to go off script with those being the only runs through five and a half innings.
*Hernández went by the name Fausto Carmona through 2011.
Then, with the game tied at one, with one out and nobody on base in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees’ Jason Giambi went deep giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Although unbeknownst to everyone at the time, Giambi’s fourth homer of the season would come into play in a rather big way later in the game. Heading into the final third of the game, the Yankees turned to Luis Vizcaíno to hold the one-run lead. Spoiler alert: He did not.
After allowing a leadoff walk and double, Vizcaíno got a grounder from the Yankees’ nemesis, Dellucci, but a run scored to tie the game. With first base now open, the Yankees decided to intentionally walk Travis Hafner to allow Vizcaíno to face the double play prone Victor Martinez with a runner on first. Martinez, unfortunately for the Yankees made it impossible to get any outs as he sent Vizcaíno’s 3-1 pitch over the right center field wall for a three-run home run.
The score would remain 5-2 in favor of Cleveland heading into the ninth inning. Down three runs in the ninth isn’t an enviable situation of course, but with the offense, the Yankees had in ’07, it certainly wasn’t cause to figuratively throw in the towel. That said, a 6-2 deficit would put the Yankees’ win probability at two percent, and that’s exactly where the Yankees found themselves after an A-Rod error allowed a run to score, expanding Cleveland’s lead to four runs. The Yankees were faced with a four-run deficit, with only three outs left to score those runs.
Cleveland closer Joe Borowski came in and immediately dampened the spirits of Yankees fans even further by getting a ground out from Robinson Canó and a flyout from Melky Cabrera to leave the Yankees with one out left. At this time, the Yankees’ win expectancy sat at less than one percent. Yet platoon first baseman Josh Phelps kept hope alive with a home run — one of only two he’d hit in his Yankee tenure — but the Yanks still trailed 6-3.
Although that 2007 lineup is most likely remembered for the power bats, it was absolutely relentless in grinding pitchers out (light hitting Doug Mientkiewicz posted a .349 OBP on the season, only good for ninth-best among Yankees’ regulars), and that was about to come to fruition. Jorge Posada singled up the middle on Borowski’s fifth pitch of the at-bat, and what was already Borowski’s 17th pitch of the inning. After taking second base on defensive indifference, Johnny Damon worked a full-count walk to bring the tying run to the plate in Derek Jeter.
After getting ahead in the count, Jeter lined a single into left-center, scoring Posada and moving Damon to second. Abreu stepped in, representing the winning run, with Jeter representing the tying run on first base. Abreu responded again, this time poking a 1-2 Borowski pitch into left field for a single plating Damon and moving Jeter to second base. It was Abreu’s fourth hit of the day, easily leading the team. Wearing the burden of both the nightmare ending to ’06 and the blistering start to ’07, Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate with the chance to complete this improbable comeback.
No great baseball game comes without some key managerial situations, and this game was no different. Borowski’s first pitch to A-Rod went to the backstop, allowing Jeter and Abreu to advance, which also left first base open. With his struggling closer having thrown 29 pitches already, facing an all-time great player in the middle of an all-time great start to a season, an intentional walk crossed Cleveland manager Eric Wedge’s mind. Wedge would later say that with Giambi (who homered both the day before and earlier in the game) on deck, it was a “pick your poison” situation, and he chose Borowski versus Rodriguez.
Reading that last sentence took longer than it took for A-Rod to end the suspense, as he clotheslined the next pitch over the center-field wall, giving the Yankees an incredible 8-6, comeback win.
*Author’s note: I did verify if you were curious as well, that the film was not sped up - the ball did in fact leave the park that quickly.
Rodriguez would continue to have a record-shattering month, the start of his best regular season in pinstripes. That home run was his 10th in 14 team games, breaking the 59-year-old AL record of Ken Keltner for the fewest number of games to reach double digits. The next day he’d hit two off Boston’s Curt Schilling to really start winning some good favor back with Yankees fans and he’d end up with 14 for the month, tying Albert Pujols’ MLB record for April dingers. By the end of the year, A-Rod had a new Yankees single-season record for homers by a right-handed hitter: a remarkable 54 in a 9.4-rWAR campaign.
Despite the historic season from A-Rod and the all-time great offense, the Yankees could only muster a Wild Card spot and another disappointing loss in the ALDS in ‘07, this time to Cleveland (who they of course beat on this April day). Yet as I said, it was rarely boring with Rodríguez and that offense who gave us an all-time great thrill and crazy comeback to remember.