Though it might have felt like it at various times, 2012 was certainly far from all bad for the Yankees. Yes, that should be self-evident for a team that won more games than anyone else in the American League and a playoff series on top of it, but let's face it: the lowest lows were awfully darn low for Yankee fans over the past year. But because we're ever the optimists around here, let's bid adieu to 2012 with a warm and fuzzy feeling as we remember the good times, and hope for even more in the coming new year.
10. A.L. East Champions! (October 3):
It might have officially gone down to the final day of the season, but the Yankees winning the A.L. East crown wasn't exactly the stuff of the final day of the 2011 season. The Yankees needed just a win or a Baltimore loss after the Orioles had been dominated by James Shields the previous night, and with the beating they put on the hapless Red Sox that was never really in doubt. The crown was officially clinched midgame with Baltimore's loss, and though there was still work to be done, the team's third division title in four years was absolutely a cause for celebration after the roller-coaster ride of a season we all lived through.
9. Russell muscles up the Mets (June 10):
2012 wasn't all great for Russell Martin, who spent most the season fighting to stay above the Mendoza line and ended the year in a different uniform, but he still managed to contribute through his power. The biggest of those home runs was probably the shot off of Jim Johnson that broke a ninth inning tie in Game One of the ALDS, but the Yankees piled on after that, making a bit anti-climactic. As far as sheer impact goes, however, it's hard to top the walk off shot Martin delivered against the Mets in the final installment of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium in early June. Rafael Soriano had blown a save opportunity in the top of the ninth, leaving the game tied at four runs apiece, until Martin's solo shot off of Jon Rauch with one out in the bottom of the inning sent the Yankee faithful home happy. The home run also finished off a sweep of the Mets and kept the Yankees' nascent winning streak in tact. What's more, this would be the final time all season that the Yankees would end the day out of first place.
Has there been a better free agent signing in recent memory than Hiroki Kuroda? I guess C.C. Sabathia, but that's almost too easy. Sabathia was one of the top pitchers in the game and a highly coveted free agent, whereas Kuroda was something of a mid-rotation 37 year old signed to a one year contract in January who went on to have one of the most awesome seasons a Yankee pitcher has had in the last few years. Not bad for a guy who was supposed to wilt in the oh-so-special American League East, and his finest hour probably came when it mattered most, in the postseason. Kuroda was solid in Game Three of the ALDS, though he did allow two home runs and stood to take the loss until one of our later entries happened, but it was his performance in Game Two that of the ALCS that really deserves our attention here. Pitching on just three days of rest for the first time in his career, Kuroda retired the first 15 Tigers he faced and didn't allow a run until the seventh inning, on a play that should have been an inning ending double play. The Yankees lost the game as the offense was shutout entirely, but that doesn't diminish the brilliance of Kuroda's performance one bit.
7. Extra innings mayhem (September 22):
The 14 inning affair between the Yankees and the Oakland A's on September 22nd ay well go down as one of the absolute craziest games I've ever seen. The teams battled to a 5-5 tie that lasted through 12 innings, and then things got absolutely nuts. Freddy Garcia allowed three runs on two home runs in the top of the 13th, and Justin Thomas promptly allowed a solo home run himself to give the A's a 9-5 lead and seemingly sink the Bombers. Amazingly, the Yankees rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the inning, punctuated with a home run by Raul Ibanez, and then wo1n the game in the next inning on a walk off error by Oakland. Oh yeah, Melky Mesa could have ended the game on an Alex Rodriguez single earlier in the inning, but he forgot to touch third base. Just pure craziness.
6. Kuroda's masterpiece (August 14):
It might not have had the importance of his two playoff starts, but the high mark for Hiroki Kuroda was this two-hit complete game shutout effort against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium. At the time the four game series looked like it would be a fight between the league's two best teams, and a night after Derek Lowe's four inning save in the opener, Kuroda's domination of one of the leagues best offenses was a sight to see, and extended their lead in the division to six games. That would be the biggest such margin that they would enjoy for the duration of the season.
5. Bye-Bye Beckett (August 19):
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lacked its usual punch this year, what with Boston being terrible and all, but they still manage to put two games on our "best of" list all the same. The first came on Sunday Night Baseball, in a game that arguably started Ichiro's tear through the end of the season and the postseason. Ichiro took Josh Beckett deep twice in support of Kuroda, and the Yankees went on to take the game 4-1. Even better, as he was subsequently traded to the Dodgers in the biggest salary dump of all-time, this currently stands as Beckett's final start in Yankee Stadium as a member of the Red Sox. A fitting send-off to be sure, I'd say.
4. C.C.'s had enough (October 12):
The Orioles pushed the Yankees as hard as they could have in 2012, staying within a game of the division lead for almost all of September, forcing them to wait until the season's final day to secure the division title, and then going all the way to Game Five of the ALDS with them. In the end, however, the Yankees simply had a trump card in one Carsten Charles Sabathia. Sabathia put the Yankees, and their struggling offense, on his shoulder with the season on the line, throwing 121 pitches in a complete game effort in the deciding game. Sabathia allowed just one run on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts, and the Yankees were on their way to the American League Championship Series. Unfortunately, this game also represents the Yankees final victory of 2012.
3. Comeback in Boston (April 21):
There was no shortage of bad times in Boston this past season, but I'd have to imagine this weekend was one of the worst. The Yankees spoiled Fenway Park's 100th birthday celebration the day before, an act they followed by delivering the most improbable of comebacks. Freddy Garcia left the Yankees in a 9-0 hole after five innings, but the offense roared back to score 15 runs from the sixth inning through the eigth, 14 of which came in the seventh and eighth innings, and off of Boston's relievers. All in all it was one of those games that you couldn't actually believed happened until it did, and I dare say that all of Red Sox Nation was relieved when the next night's game was rained out.
2. AN-DY PETT-ITTE! (May 13):
The Yankees have developed quite a reputation for keeping big developments quiet under Brian Cashman, so there was absolutely no warning whatsoever prior to the announcement in the middle of camp that Andy Pettite wanted to return to the Yankees after a year in retirement. A long road back through the minor leagues culminated on Mother's Day, when Pettitte did indeed take the mound at Yankee Stadium once again. It wasn't his best game by any means, as Andy allowed four runs and two home runs over 6.1 innings, and the Yankees lost the game 6-2, but all of that was secondary to the fact that Yankee fans got a chance to welcome one of the franchise's greatest pitchers to the mound once again.
The season certainly ended on a sour note with the sweep at the hands of the Tigers in the ALCS, but the Yankees still got their share of postseason heroics, mostly courtesy of Raul Ibanez. Ibanez actually started delivering the big hits in late September, but you couldn't have scripted a more dramatic moment than the one Ibanez delivered in the pivotal third game of the ALDS. After watching Miguel Gonzalez shut the Yankees' lineup down once again, and with Alex Rodriguez struggling to even make contact against right handed pitchers, Joe Girardi made the almost unthinkable decision to have Ibanez pinch hit for A-Rod in the bottom of the ninth inning, so of course Ibanez responded by hitting a game tying (and potentially season saving) home run off of Jim Johnson. Not done yet, Ibanez came up again against lefty Brian Matusz in the 12th inning, and deposited the first pitch he saw into the stands to end the game and put the Yankees in the driver's seat in the series. In a season full of clutch hits by Ibanez, these two at bats were definitely the biggest in context, and may go down as the defining moment in Ibanez's whole career. If nothing else, it's our pick for the single best moment of 2012.
Hopefully a World Series victory occupies this spot on next year's list.