I simply don't have time for a proper tribute now or any time in the next week. I even have to give up my tickets to the Stadium tonight and tomorrow night thanks to work. But a few things strike me:
First, as Rob Parker points out, Girardi and his coaches did a spectacular job managing a team with
- A weak starting rotation. They came in with only 2.5 starters that anyone could predict were ready for a full season in the AL East and that was being generous to AJ Burnett and counting on Hughes to have a full and very strong season. The rotation only got weaker when Hughes started horribly, dropped off the face of the planet for months, and never returned with any consistency. Burnett was so bad that only he and John Lackey appear to be in the same league – and it's not the majors.
- A slew of serious injuries to key players. Joba was supposed to be their 7th or 8th-inning man. A-Rod – their clean-up hitter – missed almost half the season and when he did play he produced the worst stats of his career pretty much across the board. In addition to Hughes and A-Rod, Jeter and Soriano hit the DL.
- The delicate and dicey reality of players' pride. How do you handle Jeter through a horrid first half of the season? How do you handle a very angry Posada and a clubhouse-morale-threatening public leak of that situation when Jorge inadvisably pulled himself from the lineup in a fit of anger and pride gone amok? How do you handle a kid like Ivan Nova who had to feel slighted not once but twice when he drew the short end of the 6-man-rotation stick despite delivering consistently exceptional results on the field? How do you handle your ostensible # 2 starter being among the worst 3 or 4 starters in the entire league without allowing him to either sink your ship or giving up on him too fast? In hindsight, it appears Girardi handled them all perfectly. Yes, primary credit should go to the players for how they ultimately performed (except AJ, who never came close to what was expected of him but who still somehow did not keep this team from clinching more than a week before the end of the season). But in the non-stop media scrutiny that is New York, Girardi's job was pretty tough this year on all these fronts, and he did about as good a job as you can both shielding his players, and taking the steps required to keep them focused on the goal.
Second, Cashman has to get credit for landing Russell Martin, picking Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon out of the scrap-heap, and ensuring enough depth on this team to weather injuries, age, and slumps. Eric Chavez played exceptionally well in the field and held his own at the plate during A-Rod's prolonged absences, despite the fact that a broken bone in his foot also landed him on the DL. Guys like Nunez, Dickerson, Andruw Jones, and yes – even Cervelli – contributed at key times throughout the season. And through it all, the Yankees may have found a legit top-3 starter from within their own system in Ivan Nova.
Third, the standouts have to be called out and acknowledged: Curtis Granderson carried this team offensively for months while contributing great defense and baserunning. David Roberston is arguably the best set-up man in baseball right now, leading the league in strikeouts for relievers and staving off so many late-inning potential disasters that I honestly believe this team is scuffling for the wild card at best right now without him. Derek Jeter went from thrilling his destractors through to the beginning of July to shutting them up with a second half of baseball that you can put up against any shortstop in the game. CC and Mo were their usual excellent selves. Nova upped his game and forced everyone to take notice of him. Russell Martin filled a critical hole for this team with very solid defense and a competent bat (a hole incidentally that he is filling without much of a safely net now that Cervelli went down). And perhaps most critically, Colon and Garcia turned what most expected to be temporary fill-in roles that would likely end in injury or embarassment into the biggest pleasant surprises of the season for this team.
Fourth, Yankee fans could hardly have been treated to a better mixture of milestone achievements by beloved veterans that are really once-in-a-lifetime for fans of any team – if that – (Jeter's 5-for-5 day crowned by a HR on his 3,000th hit – give me a break; Mariano's record-setting save; and even Jorge's winning 2-RBI single last night to remind us all of the many clutch hits he has had throughout his career) and exciting young talent (with Nova and Montero leading the way but even Nunez providing some real excitement).
Again, no time to go in depth here or to dig up the stats to back-up some of the statements above – perhaps others can – but suffice it to say this team has squeezed pretty much every ounce of potential that they had in the regular season. We Yankee fans have simply been treated to a great show.