New crop of stars takes charge for Yanks
Granderson, Berkman key sweep; Teixeira forgets '09 struggles
NEW YORK -- Last October, local printing presses devoted much ink, local radios much sound, local websites much space to the fact that the Yankees had rustled yet another title out of their four-player core, that which first helped them win one 13 years earlier. Such longevity is exceedingly rare.
And what Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera accomplished last season was indeed remarkable, a feat that no similar group of teammates may match again. But just as those four won their first title last decade with significant help from players such as Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams, they scored their most recent World Series victory with major contributions from Alex Rodriguez, David Robertson and Hideki Matsui.
Every roster spot matters. The Yankees know that. And any one playoff game can immortalize a previously anonymous player.
There's no telling who, or when, or how.
So if the Yankees make it to the World Series again this year -- they're four wins away now after capping a three-game American League Division Series sweep of the Twins with Saturday's 6-1 win -- they will need to find new complements for Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte in their quest for title No. 28.
The ALDS offered up some candidates.
Consider Curtis Granderson Exhibit A. Along with his critical two-run triple in Game 1, a game he nearly did not start due to his struggles against left-handers, the outfielder rapped out three hits, knocked in a run and scored in Game 2 before walking, singling and scoring again in the series finale. In his first season with the Yankees -- a disappointing one by most estimations -- Granderson wasted no time becoming a cog in the New York playoff machine.
"Of course you go through your ups and downs," Granderson said. "There are going to be some slumps and there are going to be some lumps, and you're going to get hot and you're going to go ahead and feel great. That's part of baseball. You've got to go ahead and fight through it as best you can."
Then there was Lance Berkman, the lifetime Astro who joined the Yankees in July -- just in time for their inauspicious stretch run. Berkman, too, struggled throughout his first few weeks in pinstripes, before slamming a key home run and an RBI double in Game 2.
Part of Berkman's role was to prove that they come from all angles, these postseason contributors, sharing precious few common threads. There was Phil Hughes, for example, pitching on Saturday and saving one of the finest games of his career for his first playoff start. Relegated to a bullpen role last postseason due to a strict innings limit, Hughes proceeded to struggle mightily in October. But that was then; this is now.
"He was chill," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "Cool as can be."
Similarly chill was Robinson Cano, freshly minted as an elite player and proving he can play that role in the postseason, too. In addition to tripling, singling and scoring twice in Game 3, Cano provided ample protection for Rodriguez in the lineup and consistently stellar defense in the field. There was no understating the importance of either.
And there was no understating the importance of Mark Teixeira or Swisher, both of whom also struggled for the Yankees last October. Like Hughes, that wasn't their time; apparently this is. In three ALDS games this year, the first baseman and right fielder batted a combined .320 with two home runs, five runs scored and four RBIs.
"I couldn't really care less about my numbers," Swisher said. "Nobody checks to see how Nick Swisher did. They check to see how the New York Yankees did. And I want to be part of that."
Now, he is. So are Granderson, Berkman, Hughes, Cano and Teixeira.
And because of that bunch, the AL Championship Series -- with its own cast of to-be-determined heroes -- awaits.