Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cowardly HBP pulls Yankees closer together

The New York Yankees have been playing really well as a team so far in 2011, but after the year is over, we may look back on the ninth inning on April 23 as the moment when they really came together as a team.

Russell Martin has played beautifully and quickly become popular both in the Yankees clubhouse and with the tough New York fans. So the Yankees were livid after he got plunked by a pitch that was way too close to his head and neck, just because he had the gall to hit two home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. Rather than starting a benches-clearing brawl, Martin calmly walked to first. But his light-hitting teammate Brett Gardner got the best revenge for the cowardly hit by pitch when he slammed a home run off the offending pitcher Josh Rupe, much to the jubilant reaction of his manager Joe Girardi.

The Orioles hitters were fortunate CC Sabathia was already out of the game or one of them would have definitely gotten drilled. CC has made it clear that he will not tolerate his hitters being thrown at and has retaliated on more than one occasion, notably against the Boston Red Sox.

I loved the reaction from the Yankees bench. Mark Teixeira has been thrown at several times after hitting home runs so his anger toward Rupe was to be expected. But the fierceness of AJ Burnett’s reaction was both surprising and telling. Coming from a pitcher who might be inclined to give a fellow hurler the benefit of the doubt, it proved to me that the pitch was intentional. If Martin had charged the mound, his teammates would have been seconds behind him to get his back. He wisely chose not to risk a suspension or an unfortunate injury to himself or one of his teammates, but the Yankees didn’t need to get into a fistfight to prove they had his back.

What matters the most is that it was the first moment the 2011 Yankees were truly tested as a team and they passed with flying colors. Oftentimes after a baseball season is over, fans will reflect on the team’s performance and character. We may look back on that night in Baltimore as the time the 2011 Yankees truly jelled as a team.

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