Above was the last we saw of Javier Vazquez, when he served up a pitch that was the final dagger in the hearts of the 2004 team’s chances to return to the World Series. Worse yet, it was facing our hated rival the Boston Red Sox, and we could only sit back and watch as they coasted to a World Series win, ending their ‘curse’ of 86 years. It was the on-field nadir of every Yankee fan’s existence. Charlie Brown finally kicked the Football, and Vazquez was the placeholder.
It’s the kind of moment that should be a chance for redemption, but Javier would never get that opportunity the following year. It was 2004, George Steinbrenner was still in charge, and his take was that Vazquez was ‘gutless’ and he sent Vazquez packing in exchange for a pitcher he had long coveted in Randy Johnson. A more sober assessment would have been it was just one bad pitch, and Javy was unfamiliar with working out of the bullpen. George would have been wise to have been more skeptical of Johnson as well, as he was unlikely to repeat his stellar 2003 numbers pitching in the AL east at age 41. But ‘sober’ and ‘wise’ were adjectives not often applied to George Steinbrenner. He ran the team the way many fans would like to see it run, and the reality was it was only following his two suspensions (1974-76 and 1990-93) that the team enjoyed its greatest success under his stewardship. Bringing Vazquez back is something of a statement by Brian Cashman. The days of judging pitchers on tiny samples is over, and that he was never on board with shipping him out the first time. It was no secret that Brian was not on board with bringing in Randy Johnson at the time.
Vazquez was also unhappy with the trade, having just signed a 4 year extension with the Yanks he envisioned himself setting up roots in New York. That trade was another step on the road of his nomadic Baseball existence, spending the 2005 season with the Diamondbacks, then three years with the White Sox and one season in Atlanta. He had mixed results as he bounced around, pitching poorly in the National League with the D-Backs. But something seemed to change in 07 with the White Sox. He put up a stellar 15-8 season with a 3.74 ERA and 1.140 WHIP on a terrible ChiSox team (72-90) in a hitter’s ballpark. He followed that up with another outstanding season in 2009 with the Braves (finishing 4th in Cy Young voting) once again in a ballpark that has always been a hitter’s haven. Javier credits his recent success to maturing, and learning how to mix up his pitches more, and manager Joe Girardi says he also keeps himself in better shape now to avoid running out of gas down the stretch. Here’s some quotes from Brian Hoch of MLB.com:
Since he last pitched for New York, Vazquez spent the 2005 season with the D-backs, three years with the White Sox and then one campaign in Atlanta. Girardi complimented Vazquez’s planning on attacking hitters, as well as knowing what his body needs to physically compile high innings counts.
“I guess I’ve learned how to pitch a little bit more,” Vazquez said. “Obviously, I should. I have six more years in. I feel good, I feel like I’m throwing a couple of more pitches that I’ve thrown before, so that’s helped me.”
He offers the Yankees a durable fit, having recorded at least 10 wins and 150 strikeouts in the past 10 seasons, owning nine seasons of at least 200 innings and never going on the disabled list.
“I’m excited,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “I think he’s right now at his peak of his career. I think we’ve got a guy here that takes a lot of pride in how he pitches. He’s been throwing 200 innings for a long time. The last time he was here, obviously, he wanted to do too much toward the end.”
Color me excited. In a contract year, with a pitcher who gives you innings and misses bats, I’m expecting big things from Javier this year. Given AJ’s inconsistencies and Andy’s age, I can easily see him being our #2 Starter heading into the playoffs. With the type of run support the Yankee lineup should provide him, and an improved outfield defense for a flyball pitcher like Javy, it could be an ideal marriage. If he just picks up where he left off last year with the Braves, he could win 20 games. If there was a confluence of events that swept him out of here in 04, then we may be looking at a perfect storm for Javy this year.
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