The New York Yankees are back to the playoffs and Joe Girardi has likely saved his job as manager of his club. By beating their true arch-nemesis (sorry Boston) the Anaheim Angels 6-5 on Tuesday New York secured at least the wild card in the American League. In doing so the team took an important step towards establishing the new Yankee dynasty whose construction and philosophical implementation began in earnest last season with the changing of the guard at the manager position and the re-focusing on the youth elements of the franchise as apposed to the spend-and-fill techniques used to patchwork the dysfunctional teams that floundered in the postseason after the collapse of the Torre-led dynasty from the 90s.
In fitting fashion, Yankee farm system product Brett Gardner scored the tie-breaking run Tuesday night on an Alex Rodriguez line drive. Jorge Posada also homered, and Mariano Rivera closed a game that featured a lineage of Yankee-bred talent connecting the Torre and Girardi era in much the same way the manager himself does, once as a championship player and now as the skipper with championship aspirations. The connection is clear in the dualistic identities and styles of the teams Girardi played for and the one he now manages.
The greatest embodiment of that connection, Yankees captain (and fellow farm system product) Derek Jeter collected his 200th hit of the season for the 7th time in his career, making him the oldest Yankee and the oldest regular shortstop ever to post that total in a season. In fact, Jeter's latest milestone gains him access to the ultra-exclusive group of Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Paul Warner, Pete Rose, and Tony Gwynn as the only players to post 200 hits in a season before the age of 25 and again after the age of 34.
In a season that has seen Derek Jeter achieve a plethora of milestones and accomplishments (including passing Lou Gehrig as the all-time Yankees hit leader) he now finds himself honing in on another, only one season behind Gehrig for the most 200 hit seasons as a Yankee. All of these marks tend to show the age of an accomplished player that is now the stalwart veteran, the future Hall of Famer, for sports' greatest franchise. But to remind people that he's far from feeling the effects of his "progressing age," Jeter promptly stole second base after slashing the single that was his 200th hit to right field, in classic Jeter-like fashion.
While ownership and most Yankee fans alike will not be satisfied with a mere playoff appearance after such a promising season (and a large investment on ownership's part), the fact that a team that faced so many questions at the beginning of the season has played at such an elite and cohesive level is an accomplishment in itself.
Obviously Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixiera were expected to produce; and they have. But a 35 year old Hideki Matsui with crumbling knees was not expected to hit 28 home runs (more than any other DH in Yankee history), 88 RBIs, and post a .901 OPS.
And while no one will mistake Nick Swisher for Paul O'Neill, his .251 average is a big improvement over the .219 he put up for the White Sox last year and his 27 home runs are the second highest total of his career. Throw in his .368 OBP, 89 walks (he literally burns pitchers out with his at bats) his versatility in the field (he's played every outfield position and first base), and the fact that his switch hitting causes matchup hell for opponent's bullpens (the Yankees regularly start four switch hitters) and Swisher was a brilliant low-profile signing for the Yankees.
Even Melky Cabrera — a player who out of spring training lost his starting job to the aforementioned Gardner — has contributed to the Yankees in a big way, coming through constantly in the clutch, providing outstanding defense, and posting solid all-around offensive statistics. Three players either viewed as weaknesses in the preseason or overlooked altogether by most experts, have been integral components in the Yankees success this season.
This has also been true on the pitching end. Once again it has been two home-grown Yankee products that have solidified a bullpen that was sited as a possibly fatal deficiency for the team before the season began. Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves have been dominant in relief, securing well-pitched games by the Yankees' rotation and salvaging many games to allow the now seemingly common Yankee late game or walk-off win.