The road to the Yankees’ 2009 World Series championship was paved with walk-off wins. Fifteen of their 103 regular season wins came via walk-off, and they added two more in the playoffs for good measure. You may or may not see another of those 15 from the ‘09 season on this “25 Best Games” list tomorrow.
The heroic nature of the ‘09 Yankees’ walk-off exploits began in earnest in the so-called “Walk-off Weekend” in May against the Twins, which all kicked off with a Friday night ninth-inning comeback.
Date of Game: May 15, 2009
Final Score: Yankees 5, Twins 4
Game MVP: Brett Gardner
Despite the big offseason acquisitions of the likes of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and the eventual World Series win, the Yankees didn’t get off to the best of starts in 2009. Through May 14th, the Yankees were exactly .500 at 17-17, sitting in third place, 4.5 games out of first. It wasn’t really the expected outcome of the big offseason spending spree.
On May 15th though, they welcomed the Twins to Yankee Stadium, and, as they have been many times over the years, Minnesota was there when the Yankees needed them most.
However, with Phil Hughes on the mound, things didn’t actually start off that rosy. Justin Morneau clubbed a pair of solo home runs off him, one in the second inning and one in the fifth:
Those blasts along with a sacrifice fly by Nick Punto had the Twins up 3-0 through five innings. Hughes ended up departing after the fifth inning, having allowed six hits and four walks.
Meanwhile, in their first four attempts at the plate, the Yankees had only managed two hits, and seemingly suffered a big loss in the third inning. After being rung up on a called third strike, Johnny Damon began arguing with the home plate umpire, and was thrown out of the game. When the Yankees took the field for the top of the fourth, Brett Gardner was in left field, with Melky Cabrera moving over to center from left. Who knows what Damon would’ve done had he not gotten thrown out, but it seemed like on that day, the ejection ended up being a blessing in disguise.
The Yankees’ offense finally got a little something going in the bottom of the fifth when Derek Jeter hit a solo home run:
A couple innings later in the seventh though, eventual AL MVP Joe Mauer answered that with a solo shot of his own to dead-center:
(Thanks as always to Phil Coke on pointing directly where the ball went.)
Despite getting two on via walk in the sixth, the Yankees failed to capitalize. It looked like they were going to go down meekly again in the seventh when Gardner stepped to the plate with the team still trailing by three.
Down to their last strike of the inning, Gardner managed to drop a hit into shallow left field. The ball then took a fortuitous bounce past Twins left fielder Denard Span, and this happened:
That kicked off a rally that then saw the Yankees load the bases thanks to a Teixeira double and a couple walks. However, Nick Swisher popped up to end the inning, and it looked like the Yankees had blown a golden opportunity to at the very least tie the game.
Edwar Ramírez got the Yankees out of a bit of a jam in the eighth, but not before things got a little testy. With nobody out and a runner on first, Carlos Gómez laid down a bunt and was just barely out on the play at first base. On the play at the bag, Gómez collided with Teixeira’s glove hand just after it had made it had caught the throw. Teixeira, apparently not pleased at where exactly Gómez was running down the line, exchanged words with him, causing managers Joe Girardi and Ron Gardenhire to also get in each others’ faces.
After things settled down and the inning ended, the Yankees couldn’t capitalize on a Cabrera single in the bottom half of the frame. Down 4-2 going into the ninth, the Yankees’ Win Probability sat at just eight percent.
Ramírez and José Veras combined for a scoreless top of the ninth, meaning that the Yankees still sat just two runs behind the Twins, who were bringing in closer Joe Nathan.
Nathan was currently in the midst of his fourth All-Star season of a career that would finish with six. The year prior, he had been one of the best closers in baseball, putting up 1.33 ERA and a sub-one WHIP in 67.2 innings. This would not be his day, and it would also do a little foreshadowing for another Yankee Stadium matchup between these two teams, one that happened in October.
Leading off the inning was Gardner, who recorded his third hit since coming in by tripling to get the inning off to the perfect start. Teixeira then plated him with a single, and the Yankees were within a run. Alex Rodriguez, who was playing his first home game of the season after offseason hip surgery, walked, putting the potential winning run on base. Nathan bounced back after that, retiring the next two batters, getting the Twins one out away from a win. However, one of the outs was a grounder that moved both runners up a base, meaning the potential winning run was now in scoring position. At that point, Ramiro Peña was sent in to pinch-run for A-Rod.
The Twins then opted to pitch around Robinson Canó, intentionally walking him. That brought Cabrera to the plate. On the very first pitch of the at bat, Melky dropped a single right in between the left and center fielders. Two runs scored, and after all that, the Yankees had won 5-4.
Gardner finished the day 3-for-3 with and RBI and two runs scored. Cabrera’s game-winning single was his second hit of the day (and second walk-off of the young season already), making it a big day for the two people who were most affected by the Damon ejection.
The Yankees followed that over the next two days with two more walk-off wins, those coming from game-ending home runs by A-Rod and Damon. After going into the series against the Twins at exactly .500, the Yankees were eight games above it by the end of May. Over the rest of the campaign, their winning percentage was over .670, and they were off to the races in a championship-winning season.