(As we prepare to close the door on 2012 and ring in the new year let's use today to look back at the highlights, and lowlights, of the year that was. We'll start with the downers, and then go out on a high note.) On the surface, a season that culminates with a division championship and a trip to the ALCS is a positive one by any (reasonable) standard. Of course, any successful season has it's share of low points, and the 2012 Yankees certainly seemed to weather more than their fair share of them for a team that wound up winning more games than anyone else in the league. Here then, for therapeutic purposes, is a look back at the ten worst moments of 2012 as defined by us.
10. Jerry Meals (September 8):
The Yankees were already reeling when they opened this four game weekend series in Baltimore, having fallen into a first place tie with the Orioles earlier in the week, but after a solid victory the night before and with C.C. Sabathia on the mound, the Yankees found themselves with a golden opportunity to re-establish some control over the scoreboard. To make things even better, Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup after missing significant time with a calf injury. Everything was coming up Yankees, until the game started. The Yankees actually got out to a 2-0 lead after an inning and a half, but Sabathia allowed three home runs in the game, and the Yankees trailed 5-3 entering the top of the ninth. The Yankees refused to quit, however, starting the inning with three hits and plating a run with a fielder's choice, bringing Teixeira to the plate with the tying run on third. Tex, however, put one on the ground, and with his aching calf it didn't appear as though he'd even make it to first. Amazingly, he did manage to beat out the back end of the double play with a head first slide, or at least that's the way everyone not named Jerry Meals saw the play. The first base umpire called Tex out, and just like that the Yankees were back in a first place tie. To make things worse, Teixeira re-aggravated the calf injury on the play and would miss another couple of weeks of action, and then Joe Girardi blew up at Joel Sherman after the postgame interviews.
9. A-Rod breaks his wrist (July 24):
Before his horrific postseason performance and hip injury dominated the headlines, most of the season-in-A-Rod revolved around waiting for him to find his home run swing. Rodriguez wasn't totally unproductive by any means, but the power you expect to see from him just wasn't there, even though it would occasionally show up in flashes to tantalize us. One of those flashes came on July 23rd, when Alex helped lead the Yankees to a victory over the Mariners in Ichiro Suzuki's first game with the club by hitting a double and his 15th home run of the season. Once again everyone was talking about Alex finally busting out of his shell, but on the very next night an errant change-up from Felix Hernandez found its way in on A-Rod's hand, breaking his metacarpal, putting him on the disabled list, and effectively putting an end to any hope of A-Rod hitting like a middle of the order power hitter for the rest of the season.
8. Tied (September 4):
For the most part, our conception of the progression of a season is far too influenced by sequencing. Consider, for example, if instead of building a ten game lead over the summer that was subsequently whittled away the Yankees had never built up that big lead, had stayed relatively close to the pack in the A.L. East all season long, but had still finished with the best record in the American League. The outcome would have been the same, but our view of how things went down would be entirely different, which is worth keeping in mind as you remember the "collapse" of 2012. Of course, that's not how it happened, and the Yankees did blow a ten game lead, making it official on September 4th when they managed to score just two runs against Alex Cobb in support of Freddy Garcia in Tampa Bay.
7. Fly ball derby (July 9):
I think it's safe to say that the All-Star festivities could have gone a little bit better for Robinson Cano. The reigning Home Run Derby champion was already in hot water with the Kansas City faithful for "snubbing" home town hero Billy Butler from the event, and he answered the chorus of boos by going without even a single long ball in his turn at bat. Ouch.
6. Opening Day (April 6):
You think the baseball gods were trying to tell us something with the way the Yankees opened the season? C.C. Sabathia struggled but managed to grind out six innings in the start, Carlos Pena hit a grand slam after Joe Girardi called for an intentional walk of Sean Rodriguez in the first inning, Raul Ibanez carried the offense with four RBI, three of which came on a third inning home run, and Mariano Rivera blew a one run lead in the ninth inning to send the Rays home with a 7-6 win. It's always tough to lose on Opening Day, and when the Yankees hand a lead to Mo, so to combine the two was something of a gut punch for fans. Ultimately inconsequential, to be sure, but just a rotten way to open the season, especially since the Yankees went on to get swept in the series.
5. Pineda out (April 25):
It's hard to imagine someone having a worse year than Michael Pineda had in 2012. A lightening rod from the moment the Yankees traded away Jesus Montero to acquire him, he had to endure his new general manager openly musing about the trade being a failure, a never ending media obsession with his fastball velocity (and weight) from the word "go" in camp, and a bout of shoulder tendinitis that was discovered following his final Spring Training start. That was supposed to cause him to miss a month or so of the regular season, but during a rehab outing in Tampa he felt pain again, and an MRI revealed a torn labrum that required season ending surgery. Now not only has he missed all of 2012, but he doesn't figure to be ready until June or July of 2013, and there's no telling how well he'll be able to pitch when he returns. Even more depressing is the fact that this is just barely clinging to our top five.
4. Murphy's Law at Yankee Stadium (May 21):
Honestly, I'm not sure what to do with this moment. On the one hand, as one of just 67 losses on the season it's ultimately pretty inconsequential, but in context it was arguably rock bottom for the 2012 Yankees. The game itself was something of an all encompassing look at everything that could go wrong with this team: they couldn't score runs, couldn't hit with runners in scoring position, and they even got a lead off double to start the ninth inning that, in retrospect, seemed to serve no other purpose than to give them three more hitless at bats in those situations. Even Hiroki Kuroda had one of his rocky early season outings, pushing his ERA for the season up to an unsightly 4.56. Oh, and the Yankees fell into last place in the division on top of it.
3. Black Wednesday (June 27):
C.C. Sabathia landing on the disabled list for the first time in his four season tenure with the Yankees probably would have made this list on its own, but to have Andy Pettitte's ankle fractured by a comeback line drive just hours later? It's honestly a little bit frightening that there's two moments so much worse than this one that I didn't even consider this for the top spot.
2. Is it over yet? (October 13):
It was actually a Saturday, but you'll be forgiven if, after a few years, your memory convinces you that Game One of the 2012 ALCS happened on Friday the 13th. As far as individual games go, I'd say this was easily the worst, most soul crushing loss of the season, with just about everything the could go wrong doing exactly that. The offense didn't give Andy Pettitte any support in a strong starting effort, Joe Girardi let the Tigers tack on a couple of insurance runs by bringing in some of his lesser relievers in the middle innings, and a couple of two run home runs by Ichiro and Raul Ibanez to tie the game in the ninth went for naught as every Tiger pitcher not named Jose Valverde kept the Yankees off of the board over the course of 12 innings.
Worst of all, however, was Derek Jeter breaking his ankle attempting to field a ball late in the game, ending his season and even putting the beginning of 2013 in jeopardy as well. The Yankees may still have officially had life left in them at that point, but it certainly felt like the series was over, and indeed, the Yankees would not win another game all season. Again, it's hard to believe this isn't at the top of the list, but...
1. Say it ain't so, Mo! (May 3):
Was there any doubt? It may be for mostly emotional reasons, but without question the absolute worst moment of 2012 was Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL while shagging fly balls before a game in Kansas City. Of course, a big part of the dread that permeated Yankeedom at the time lifted when Mo confirmed that he would be coming back for one more season in 2013, meaning that the image of him writhing on the Kaufman Stadium warning track would not be our final image of the greatest reliever of all-time wearing pinstripes.