When I say I’m going to miss Francisco Cervelli, it isn’t because I don’t think Jose Molina’s a fine backup catcher. And when I say I already miss Ramiro Pena, it isn’t that I don’t realize Cody Ransom has more pop in his bat than the rookie infielder.
I realize the Yankees have options on Cervelli and Pena that they don’t with the two guys they replaced for a while. I understand that their getting consistent playing time in the Minors is generally better than bench time in the majors.
I also agree with the unwritten rule that says a player shouldn’t lose his job to another guy because of injury — all things being equal, or fairly equal, in terms of their relative production.
Finally, I admire the modest, workmanlike professionalism of Molina, and think the Yankees had a real need for a lefty slugger and versatile utility guy like Eric Hinske, so I won’t raise a stink about Cervelli being sent down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre with the reactivation of Molina from the disabled list, just like I didn’t when Pena lost his spot on the active Major League roster with the trade acquisition of Hinske.
But because the Baseball Gods are fickle — and human understanding of how they work tenuous at best — I feel some trepidation now that Cervelli and Pena have exited the stage, at least until the big-club rosters expand in September.
Maybe it’s those traces of my 2006 playoff elimination hangover. I have overlapping playoff elimination hangovers, some of which go back quite a few years. There’s the 1995 horror in Seattle, of course. And then Cleveland in 1997; unlike Mariano Rivera, I can’t put the losses completely behind me. It’s one reason I appreciate his greatness – I don’t think I could be a closer for more than a week or so, even if I found myself in another life and could throw a pitch faster than 50 mph.
I’m too easily haunted by the past.
Again, my ’06 PEH being an example.
A brief refresher: The first half of the Yankees’ 2006 season was marked by a slow start and critical injuries. In late April, the power slugging Gary Sheffield crashed into Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Shea Hillenbrand while attempting to run out a groundball. Sheffield injured his leg and wrist, and the bum wrist would eventually require surgery to repair a torn tendon and ligament and sideline him for almost the entire season. Ouch.
That hurt in more ways than one. Especially from my perspective, because Hillenbrand was a former member of the Red Sox.
Just over a week after Sheffield went on the DL, the Yanks’ problems were gravely compounded when Hideki Matsui messed up his wrist trying to make a sliding catch in shallow left field. In his case, there were broken bones. Ouch-ouch. And yet again, incidentally, the whole thing was tied to the Red Sox, who the Yanks happened to be playing when their No. 2 batter, Mark Loretta, hit his miserable blooper out to left to end Godzilla’s monster 518-consecutive-game streak.
There were a number of other injuries that year. I won’t mention the starting pitcher with the bruised backside by name because saying, thinking or typing it still puts me in a surly mood. But even as things looked their bleakest, the team’s personality began taking on a kind of mojo-moxie magic. Robinson Cano had an incredible second season, Melky Cabrera a very good first full year in the Majors, and replacement/utility guys like Andy Phillips, Bubba Crosby, Miguel Cairo and a few others really fired up the team. Meanwhile, Bernie Williams, who was supposed to see very limited playing time from the bench, wound up in the outfield a whole lot more than anticipated, and did far better than the Yankee front office seemed to expect, being that they hadn’t asked for the opinion of Bernie fans beforehand.
Then came the midseason trade for Bobby Abreu and the late Cory Lidle, and Boston Massacre II, and the Yanks winning the AL East pennant to charge into the playoffs.
What also happened along the way was Matsui returning around mid-September, and Sheffield later in the month — in Sheffield’s case just in time for former Yankees manager Joe Torre to try and squeeze him into the postseason lineup.
In October, the Yanks hit a wall. Screech, crash. There were many contributing factors to their prompt division series elimination at the hands of the Detroit Tigers and their suddenly maniacal pitching ace Kenny Rogers. But I’ll always feel that some of the team’s do-or-die spark left when Melky moved aside to make room for Matsui, and Sheffield’s return pushed Phillips, who didn’t hit much but had a decent glove, out of the picture.
Now, I’m not comparing that baseball season to the current one or suggesting the Yanks’ recent player moves will have similar ramifications. It’s a whole different set of circumstances right now — apples and oranges, in a way, since we’re presently talking about utility players rather than starters.
But Pena is a vastly superior fielder to Ransom, and he’s quick as quicksilver, and had a penchant for timely hitting in his brief stint with the Yankees. And Cervelli was defensively not all that inferior to Molina, and could run, steal bases and had a determination, intelligence and special way working with pitchers that compensated for his lack of experience behind the plate.
And both those guys had that mojo-moxie-magic-do-or-die-spark thing going.
Now that they’re gone, I wish them well refining their skills, hope to see them in September, and believe the team will do fine in their absence.
Still, what can I tell you?
When you’re a PEH sufferer, you can’t help but worry.