Redemption weekend for Yankees and Jets
It was a crazy week in the New York sports world that began with the hoopla over the New York Giants’ season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, a game that the defending Super Bowl champions ended up losing, 24-17. And by the weekend, a local tabloid had painted the Jets as a bunch of clowns and the Yankees were victims of one of the most atrociously blown calls by an umpire in the history of baseball.
But by Sunday night, the Jets had erased the preseason panic over not scoring a touchdown in their first three tilts and the Yankees were back in sole possession of first place. The power of redemption helped the Jets manhandle the Buffalo Bills, 48-28, and the Yankees tell Jerry Meals, Saturday’s guilty man in blue, and their doubters to stick it by smashing the Orioles, 13-3. Rex Ryan passed on a message that could have easily been shared by the Yankees, the popular validation of “We told you so,” but even the chatty Jets head coach knew that actions were a sound of thunder to any words’ whisper of a teapot.
“Vindication, chip on our shoulder, maybe that's not the right things,” Ryan said. “We were just excited to play.”
Sanchez, the Jets’ embattled fourth-year quarterback who many believe will eventually be displaced by Tim Tebow, became one of redemption’s poster boys by leading Gang Green to a franchise record for most points in a season opener. He threw three touchdown passes, two to rookie Stephen Hill, and put up a phenomenal passer rating of 123.4. Watching Sanchez perform quickly changed the perception; Tebow was booed when he entered the game in Wildcat situations, and Sanchez played with his message of this is my job and nobody is taking it away.
“He definitely turned it on today,” said Jeremy Kerley, the receiver of Sanchez’s first scoring strike. “I think there's always a big target on Mark's back and I think he likes it. He's a guy we trust and know what he's capable each week, and he showed it today.”
For most of his nearly three seasons in New York, Curtis Granderson has been wholly capable. Last season he slugged 41 home runs and finished fourth in AL MVP voting, and was on his way to putting up better numbers in 2012. Then came the second half, and in particular the dreaded month of August. Between August 9 and September 8, Granderson batted .163 and was twice benched during a critical series against the Orioles. Once Joe Girardi found a matchup he liked, he summoned Granderson to pinch-hit and was rewarded with a home run.
Like Sanchez, Granderson is Joe Cool during times of adversity. Sanchez endured the non-stop Tebow chatter, Granderson a prolonged slump that had many wondering if he’d end up as trade bait. Neither suffered from extreme perspiration while working under tremendous pressure.
“Don’t know exactly what it is (that’s caused the struggles),” Granderson, always affable, told reporters. “Physically everything felt fine. Mechanically everything looked right, whether it be from video or from Kevin Long’s perspective. It just felt like, for whatever reason, balls that I was going ahead and attacking, which were strikes, (the swings were) just a tick off for whatever reason.”
Granderson’s struggles, combined with injuries to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, left a serious void in the middle of the Yankees batting order. A-Rod returned September 3 and has since gone 8-for-26 (.308) with two home runs and six RBIs). Granderson’s bat coming to life will in turn give life to the starting nine that’s had to put up with Nick Swisher’s 0-for-27 and Ichiro Suzuki’s 1-for-11 drought before his current 8-for-14 run in his last four games.
“If everything is clicking right, we can (carry the team offensively),” Granderson said. “As baseball is, it’s very hard to go out there and have everybody come up with good at bats and everybody get hits and everybody get on base and kind of do the things that you need to over the course of the game. But if we are able to do those things, this offense definitely has the potential to carry us to victories day in and day out.”
And not a moment too soon for the Yankees, who ended their season series with the Orioles tied at 9-9. That means if the teams finish the regular season tied atop the AL East, the tiebreaker that determines home field in a one-game playoff is broken by division record. The Orioles are 32-24 and the Yankees 29-27, which means the latter has to get on a big run down the stretch to render any tiebreaker – and Meals’ terrible call at first base to end Saturday’s game – null and void. At one game in front, the Yankees rode Amtrak to Boston with the knowledge that the O’s (and Rays) aren’t going away and statement wins are an absolute necessity.
“You’ve got to do it more than just one or two games,” said Derek Jeter. “You’ve got to continue it.”
Redemption is satisfying – if you’re hungry for more. The Jets have miles to go before they prove more people wrong. The Yankees have a precious 22 games to do the same while saving their season to compete in what’s a requirement around these parts, October baseball.
“We’re going to have to pitch better down the stretch, there’s no doubt about it,” Girardi said. “Sometimes the hitters have got to pick them up, though, because there have been times we’ve lost games 1-0, 2-1, 3-1. When you don’t score a lot of runs, you hope you shut them down. It’s kind of putting the puzzle together at the right time.”
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC