After failing to make the playoffs by finishing a disappointing third in the A.L. East in 2008, New York opened up its vault during the subsequent off-season, signing three of the top free agents available to long-term contracts.  Wisely choosing to address their pitching staff first, the Yankees began their free-agent frenzy by inking right-hander A.J. Burnett to a multi-year deal.  Although frequently injured throughout his career, Burnett possessed an exceptional arsenal of pitches.  He had arguably his best season for the Blue Jays in 2008, compiling a record of 18-10 and a league-leading 231 strikeouts.  The Yankees then got the man they made their number one priority during the off-season, signing C.C. Sabathia to an even more lucrative contract than the one they offered Burnett.  The massive left-hander previously won A.L. Cy Young honors with Cleveland in 2007, when he finished 19-7, with a 3.21 ERA and a league-leading 241 innings pitched.  Sabathia may well have pitched even better in 2008, though, when he compiled a record of 17-10, a 2.70 ERA, 251 strikeouts, and 10 complete games, while splitting his time between the Indians and Brewers. 

The Yankees also addressed their offense, signing Mark Teixeira, the top slugger on the free-agent market.  The switch-hitting first baseman surpassed 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in each of the previous five seasons, which he split between the Rangers, Braves, and Angels.

Having secured the services of all three men, the Yankees arrived at Spring Training eagerly anticipating the start of the regular season – their first at the new Yankee Stadium.  However, news that Alex Rodriguez failed a steroids test administered to him back in 2003 temporarily took their attention away from the playing field.  The enthusiasm of the Yankee players was further tempered when they learned they had to begin the season without A-Rod, whose off-season hip surgery forced him to start the campaign on the disabled list.

Criticized at times during his first season as New York manager for his inflexible and extremely intense personality, a somewhat more relaxed Joe Girardi led his team up north for the long-awaited opening of the new Yankee Stadium.  After Derek Jeter recorded the Stadium’s first hit and Jorge Posada delivered the first home run, the Yankees ended up losing the ballpark’s inaugural contest to the Cleveland Indians by a score of 10-2.  Nevertheless, the fans in attendance had to be impressed with the new Stadium’s many modern amenities and luxury suites.  They also undoubtedly took note of the fact that the stadium retained some of the old charm and history that made the original “House That Ruth Built” a national treasure.

With A-Rod on the disabled list and Mark Teixeira struggling in his absence, the Yankees started off the season slowly.  Particularly embarrassing were their eight consecutive losses to the hated Red Sox during the first two months of the campaign.  Rodriguez returned to the team on May 8th, though, hitting a home run against the Baltimore Orioles on the first pitch he saw.  Although A-Rod subsequently struggled at the plate the next few weeks as he continued to round into shape, his presence in the cleanup spot in the batting order took some of the pressure off number three hitter, Teixeira, who evolved into the quintessential third-place hitter.  The two men helped lead the resurgent Yankees on an eight-game winning streak immediately after the All-Star break that gave them a lead in the A.L. East they refused to relinquish the remainder of the year.  As the Yankees continued to play exceptional baseball during the season’s second half, they drew particular satisfaction from winning nine of their final 10 meetings with Boston.  New York ended up posting a major league-best record of 103-59, en route to finishing eight games ahead of second-place Boston in the A.L. East.

Key to New York’s successful title-run was the performance of the team’s pitching staff.  After finishing eighth in the league in team ERA the previous season, Yankee pitchers posted the third-lowest mark in the junior circuit in 2009.  C.C. Sabathia led the league with 19 victories and placed among the leaders with a 3.37 ERA, 197 strikeouts, and 230 innings pitched, en route to earning a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young voting.  Although inconsistent at times, A.J. Burnett finished 13-9 and placed second to Sabathia on the team with 195 strikeouts and 207 innings pitched.  Andy Pettitte finished second on the club with 14 victories.  Mariano Rivera continued to perform brilliantly at age 39, earning A.L. All-Star honors by saving 44 games and compiling a 1.76 ERA.  Phil Hughes thrived as Rivera’s set-up man, going 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA, and striking out 96 batters in 86 innings of work.  Meanwhile, Alfredo Aceves provided excellent middle-inning relief, finishing the campaign with a record of 10-1.

Buoyed by the addition of Mark Teixeira and a return to full health by Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, New York’s offense finished first in the American League with 915 runs scored and 244 home runs.  After missing the entire second half of the previous season with a torn rotator cuff, Posada returned to hit 22 home runs, drive in 81 runs, and bat .285.  Matsui hit 28 homers and knocked in 90 runs.  Teixeira led the league with 39 home runs, 122 runs batted in, and 344 total bases, scored 103 runs, and batted .292, en route to earning his second All-Star selection and a second-place finish in the league MVP voting.  He also won a Gold Glove for his outstanding defense at first base. 

Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez also contributed significantly to the Yankee offense.  After being acquired from the Chicago White Sox during the off-season, the switch-hitting Swisher hit 29 homers and drove in 82 runs.  Damon hit 24 home runs, knocked in 82 runs, scored 107 others, and batted .282.  Cano rebounded from a sub-par 2008 campaign to hit 25 homers, drive in 85 runs, score 103 others, and place among the league-leaders with a .320 batting average, 204 hits, 48 doubles, and 331 total bases.  Jeter hit 18 homers, stole 30 bases, and finished near the top of the league rankings with 107 runs scored, 212 hits, and a .334 batting average.  He earned A.L. All-Star honors, a Gold Glove, and a third-place finish in the league MVP balloting.  Despite missing more than a month of the season, Rodriguez hit 30 home runs, knocked in 100 runs, and batted .286, en route to earning a 10th place finish in the MVP voting.

Led by the clutch hitting of Rodriguez, who clouted two late-inning, game-tying home runs, the Yankees subsequently swept the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS.  A-Rod continued his heroics in the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels, delivering a game-tying homer in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Two against Angels closer Brian Fuentes that eventually enabled the Yankees to take a 2-0 Series lead when they pushed across the winning run in the 13th inning.  C.C. Sabathia earned ALCS honors by winning Games One and Four, as New York eliminated Los Angeles in six games.    

Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee and Chase Utley subsequently proved to be New York’s primary obstacles to winning the World Series.  Lee handcuffed New York’s lineup in Games One and Five, while Utley slugged five home runs against Yankee pitching.  Nevertheless, the Yankees ended up defeating the Phillies in six games behind the solid pitching of Andy Pettitte and the powerful hitting of Hideki Matsui.  Pettite posted victories in the third and sixth contests, thereby becoming the first pitcher to record wins in the clinching game of the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series in the same year.  Meanwhile, Matsui earned World Series MVP honors by hitting three home runs, knocking in eight runs, and batting .615.

By Bob_Cohen
2009 ALCS, 2009 ALDS1, 2009 World Series, A.J. Burnett, Alex Rodriguez, Anaheim Angels, Andy Pettitte, C.C. Sabathia, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Joba Chamberlain, Joe Girardi, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixeira, Minnesota Twins, New Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees, Nick Swisher, Philadelphia Phillies, Philip Hughes, Robinson Cano


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