Monday, September 29, 2008

A Bright Spot at the End

Mike Mussina, pitching what could be his last game ever, earned his 20th win of the season for the first time in his career, making him the oldest player to hit 20 for the first time. Moose was in control from the start and pitched like the ace he’d become. In a season marked by disappointment, it was nice to see something uplifting on the last day. Moose hasn’t decided definitively whether or not he’ll return but most people think that it’s 50/50 at best with Mussina leaning toward retirement.

Joe Girardi pulled out all the stops late in the game and ripped through his bullpen to keep the game in hand and the Yankee offense stepped up and delivered a series of runs to ensure a victory.

The Pinstripers weren’t so fortunate in the final game of the doubleheader and ended up with an 89 win season, missing the playoffs for the first time in years. Here’s my take on the key points since the last season.

Final Season at Yankee Stadium – Unfortunately things didn’t end quite the way we wanted, and the final season was one we’d like to forget. There was a nice closing ceremony, but the man who brought the most recent World Series titles to NY was conspicuously absent. We missed you Joe.

Joe Torre essentially fired – Unlike Yankee ownership, Joe Torre was and is a class act. He knew how to handle big salary and big ego players and was arguably the best guy at handling the New York sports media. The contract he was offered was insulting and quite frankly baffling. The guy put the Yankees back on the map and is a big reason why they were able to get the funding for the new stadium. Joe held his head high throughout the entire affair and quickly landed a job in Los Angeles, where he has led the ragtag Dodgers into the playoffs. The Steinbrenners will have plenty of time this October to watch the man they let go coach in the post season.

Joe Girardi hired as manager over Don Mattingly – Quite a few people think Mattingly will make a great head coach. I have no idea but I do know he is a Yankee icon who would have been extremely well received. Joe Girardi on the other hand was a known quantity with an impressive but short managerial resume. Joe Girardi’s rookie season will be remembered for two things: missing the playoffs for the first time in years, and getting hammered for repeatedly lying to the media. Personally I’ll remember him for making several poor in-game decisions and being completely unable to motivate the team when he needed to. Joe will be back for another year but he won’t last too long in the Big Apple.

Yankees try rely heavily on 3 young pitchers – This was the biggest disaster and a valuable lesson learned for the Yankees. Joba Chamberlain was the only pitcher who amounted to anything and he predictably had injury problems late in the season. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were total busts and essentially crippled the team early on. A baseball team can handle one fifth starter who is shaky from time to time. A decent bullpen can bail out the young guy from time to time and can step in when some of the others are having an off day. Two consistently bad pitchers, combined with veterans still having their share of struggles, absolutely depleted the bullpen, frequently put the team behind big early on and generally torpedoed the team’s morale. The situation was greatly compounded by the ineptitude of Girardi, who for some reason never bothered calling up a long reliever early on, despite having at least two decent options available.

Lack of Offensive Consistency – Every once in a while the sleeping juggernaut would awaken and have a big game but the runs seldom came when they were needed. Injuries played a role but the team always had enough guys around who were capable of big numbers that should have been able to pick up the slack. Jason Giambi, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Wilson Betemit, Melky Cabrera to name a few. These guys didn’t live up to expectations in one way or the other. Giambi had a quite a streak later in the season but helped get the Yankees in a big hole early on. Cano had issues all season long that were apparent to everyone watching the game yet Girardi failed to do anything about it. All in all the offense was a disaster.

So there you have some of my early thoughts on the season. I’ll post a few more as time goes by.

Feel free to chime in with what you think were the biggest stories of this year!

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