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Yankees find a way to persevere

'Grind it' mentality got veteran team to the next level
10/04/2012 3:12 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Alex Rodriguez, seen celebrating with fans, is one Yankee who must up his game this month.(AP)
Towards the end of the New York Yankees’ 14-2 blasting of the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday – the final game of Bobby Valentine’s one-season managerial tenure in the Back Bay – Yankees radio play-by-play commentator John Sterling reflected on the trials of a team that finished the 2012 season 95-67. Trials and 95 wins is an oxymoron at first glance, but those who closely followed this year’s Yankees know better.

Sterling, who’s called every game since 1989, correctly acknowledged this was the most grueling 95-win season he’s ever seen. Think about it. Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Andy Pettitte were either lost for the season or for big chunks. The Yankees endured a two-month stretch during which they went 24-29. A 10-game lead on July 18 vanished completely on September 4, with both team and manager feeling the pressure of not slipping into a sudden-death wild card game – if not missing the playoffs all together. The starting rotation went hot and cold. The failure to deliver with runners in scoring position was close to becoming the 2012 Yankees’ epitaph.

Suddenly, in the middle of September, the Yankees reeled off seven straight wins, topped off when they rallied from four runs down in the 13th inning before defeating the Oakland A’s in 14 on September 22. Instead of buckling under the intense heat of a potential collapse – which would have been the biggest in franchise history – the Yankees won 16 of their final 21 games to win the AL East division and clinch home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

This was shades of 2005, the year Jorge Posada created the “Grind It” rallying cry. This Yankees team is older and was fighting fatigue, but in the end, the players found a way and enter the postseason on a tear.

“I think this team has been pushed to the max,” said Alex Rodriguez. “This is the hardest we’ve been pushed since I’ve been here. I told the New York media in Tampa that I thought it was going to be a blessing in disguise, and I think it was. I think we were forced to do things the right way, and we did.”

All that remains for title No. 28 is 11 wins out of a maximum of 19 games, and which players make the cut for the first round that begins on Sunday is projected by SBNation New York. As always, storylines are plentiful with the Yankees’ annual October run. Here are a few that stand out:

Robbie The Great
Outrageous. Amazing. Spectacular. Scintillating. Logic defying. Ruthian.

Just a few words to describe how Robinson Cano finished the season. Cano was the Babe and Roy Hobbs rolled into one, going 4-for-4 with six RBIs in the season finale to end the campaign on a 24-for-39 tear – that’s a .615 batting average, folks – and nine straight multi-hit games. On September 24, Cano was batting .293. He finished at .313 with 33 home runs and 94 RBIs.

“That’s unbelievable,” said Russell Martin. “He’s showing what type of talent he is. Right now it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the best hitter in the league.”

In 2009, the year the Yankees won World Series No. 27, a 26-year-old Cano batted .172 that postseason. His subsequent clips were .357 and .318. This year is Cano’s time. Expectations are at their peak and it’s his chance to carry an entire team on his back to take his step into immortality. Overdramatic? Not after seeing how Cano ended the regular season.

Raf The Replacement
Rafael Soriano took over for the irreplaceable Rivera and was fantastic (2-1, 2.26 ERA, 42 saves). However, Soriano finished the season giving up two home runs over his final two outings. The playoffs are a totally different animal. In 2010, the season Soriano saved 45 games for the Tampa Bay Rays, he was lit up for a 9.00 ERA in three ALDS appearances against the Texas Rangers. Rivera was a virtual guarantee this time of year and this is uncharted territory for the replacement.

Slumping Sluggers
Alex Rodriguez (.272-18-57) has gone 68 at-bats without a home run and his double on Wednesday was his first extra-base hit since September 6. Mark Teixeira finished 1-for-3 playing in just three games since getting over a strained calf that sidelined him for most of September. His career postseason average is .207. These guys have to deliver. The same goes for …

… Swisher’s Final Opportunity?
A pending free agent, Nick Swisher is batting .169 in his postseason career. The stigma on Swishalicious is an inability to come through in big spots. A big postseason and he’ll have leverage during the winter. Another flame out and the Yankees will find it easier to let him walk.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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