The Improvisation of the 2012 New York Yankees

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

It was the year the New York Yankees were supposed to crumble. It was the year that everything was supposed to collapse and the Yankees would be overthrown by every single team in the AL East. It was all supposed to end badly.

Instead, it was the year of improvisation.

This past weekend I watched an indie dramedy called, Liberal Arts, with the guy from “How I Met Your Mother” and the Olsen Twins younger, much more talented sister. It was a totally okay movie that probably won’t resonate very long in my brain, but there was a quote in it that I thought was very good. Now, I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like: “Life is an improvisation. Every day you improvise your way through everything you do.”

I can totally see how many people will view this quote as a completely balmy and over-thought statement, but I liked it, because I sort of agree with it.

So where am I going with this extraneous review of some mediocre movie? Well, I think the aforementioned quote can be applied directly to the Yankees 2012 season. Many things that were thought to be all-set in March fell apart rather quickly by April. Michael Pineda’s arm fell off. Brett Gardner contracted leprosy or whatever and just couldn’t get healthy. Joba Chamberlain almost lost his foot jumping on a trampoline. If you think back to the spring, it really was a crazy series of events that unfolded leading up to Opening Day. The golf claps surrounding GM Brian Cashman’s acquisition of Pineda and free agent signing of Hiroki Kuroda back in January were replaced with angry cries for Cashman’s job once Pineda was declared damaged goods and Jesus Montero started off hot for the Seattle Mariners. Then AJ Burnett started throwing gems like he was the Second Coming of Bob Gibson and everyone wanted to burn down Yankee Stadium. It was a strange time for Yankees fans.

Oh, and then a month into the season, Mariano Rivera tears his ACL shagging fly balls during batting practice. So yeah, things were a little frustrating.

But the Yankees were able to improvise. And their improvisations saved their season.

Even though the rotation was somewhat influx all year, there was some semblance to it. When Pineda went down and was thought to be out for only a month or so, the Yankees had Andy Pettitte hitting the comeback circuit. When Freddy Garcia bombed his way out of the rotation, the Yanks called up the unheralded David Phelps. When CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Andy Pettitte struggled with injuries, Sweaty Freddy somehow managed to string together some decent spot-starts and keep the Yankees in games. It was all a shuffle that mostly worked all season.

Same goes for the bullpen. Losing Joba was a huge blow. He was pitching well before blowing out his elbow in 2011, and was on track to return to form in 2012 after Tommy John surgery. Then, Joba was suddenly gone indefinitely, and soon after, Mariano Rivera followed him onto the DL with another freak injury. Suddenly the Yankees were without two of their three best relief pitchers. In steps Rafael Soriano, who didn’t really win any fans over last season as he lollygagged his way through the 2011. But instead of adding insult to injury, literally, he steps up and dominates. Then the submariner twins, Cody Epply and Clay Rapada, combine to form a dynamic specialist duo from opposite sides of the mound. Even Cory Wade had a 2.63 ERA midway through June. Joe Girardi’s mixology was working perfectly, and those critics of his binder flipping micro-manageming (me), were suddenly in awe of how well it was working.

A broken rotation, I believe, is more fixable than a broken lineup. The 2004-2007 rotations were a complete mess—constant flux, only one or two pitchers throwing 200+ innings, a revolving door at the back end. But what saved them was their lineup was strong, and their everyday players carried them to the postseason each time. This year, the Yankees had to compensate for injuries to Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira by compiling a strong bench. Eric Chavez, Dewayne Wise, and Jayson Nix saw plenty of playing time and subsequently performed adequately. Even backup catcher Chris Stewart, a late-spring addition panned by almost everyone (me t00), had a very good season for a second-string backstop. After Montero was shipped to Seattle, the DH position was a huge question mark, but Raul Ibanez (more so) and Andruw Jones (less so) did an acceptable job, combining for 33 home runs and 96 RBI’s. It seemed like whenever something bad happened to a position player and the Yankees were supposed to miss a beat, instead they were able to adapt and march on.

Then came the All-Star break, and things started to come undone.

But after a bad July and a subpar August, with the help of a resurgence deadline addition Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees grinded out a 17-11 record in September and won the AL East. All of the keys were in place for implosion. Instead they were able to adjust when it was most needed.

Improvisation–it worked. And it no doubt will continue into the playoffs, starting Sunday.

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