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Yankees Magazine: Split Personality

For five successful seasons, Masahiro Tanaka has balanced impeccable command and a fiery competitiveness on the field with a playful, positive attitude off it
Yankees Magazine

On the days he starts, Masahiro Tanaka leans back in his chair in the spacious Yankees clubhouse. His legs are tilted straight up at an angle to the floor, feet perched flat against the glass partition that separates one locker from the next. Or, in Tanaka's case, the glass offering privacy from the open doorway that leads out of the clubhouse toward manager Aaron Boone's office and that of equipment manager Rob Cucuzza.

While the pitcher often has headphones on while he lounges during the hours prior to game time, today he is enjoying (or more likely ignoring) the rap mix Aaron Judge has blasting in the locker room. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is fixated on his iPad with the No. 19 displayed upside-down on the back cover. It's unclear if the few intermittent yawns are because he's tired, bored or just so focused on what he's doing that it is draining him. Regardless, there's no worry that he'll have a narcoleptic episode while on the Yankee Stadium mound tonight. Out there, this laid-back, chilled-out Tanaka transforms into something entirely different.

On the days he starts, Masahiro Tanaka leans back in his chair in the spacious Yankees clubhouse. His legs are tilted straight up at an angle to the floor, feet perched flat against the glass partition that separates one locker from the next. Or, in Tanaka's case, the glass offering privacy from the open doorway that leads out of the clubhouse toward manager Aaron Boone's office and that of equipment manager Rob Cucuzza.

While the pitcher often has headphones on while he lounges during the hours prior to game time, today he is enjoying (or more likely ignoring) the rap mix Aaron Judge has blasting in the locker room. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is fixated on his iPad with the No. 19 displayed upside-down on the back cover. It's unclear if the few intermittent yawns are because he's tired, bored or just so focused on what he's doing that it is draining him. Regardless, there's no worry that he'll have a narcoleptic episode while on the Yankee Stadium mound tonight. Out there, this laid-back, chilled-out Tanaka transforms into something entirely different.

"Masa in the clubhouse is quiet, goes about his business," says catcher Austin Romine. "He'll be loose and joke around a little bit, but he's just quiet. When he gets on the mound, it's a complete flip. He's locked in. Every movement he has is for a reason. He's animated at times, and he expects a lot. I think that flows over into the game."

"On the mound, he's serious," Luis Severino adds. "He's thinking about his job; he's focused. Sometimes when he's coming off the mound, I'll try to look in his eyes, but he's so focused he can't even see me. He's two different people."

That focus was clearly on display Aug. 27. While this particular contest didn't have quite as much riding on it as some of the others Tanaka has pitched (his 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of the 2017 American League Division Series comes to mind), his determination on the mound never wavers.

In the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless game against the White Sox, Tanaka had loaded the bases with nobody out. The Yankees -- looking to notch their fifth straight win despite a depleted lineup missing the names Judge, Sanchez and Gregorius -- had managed just one hit against Chicago's emerging ace, Carlos Rodon. Tanaka knew he had to at least limit the damage in this inning, or his team would be in a tough spot.

"I think No. 1 is just going batter by batter and then pitch by pitch," Tanaka says, assisted by Major League interpreter Shingo Horie. "You can't let your mind get caught up in, 'Bases loaded, no outs, oh my God!' You've got to look at it small and basically look at it one pitch at a time and try to execute that pitch. That's obviously an important thing. The other important thing really comes down to the strong burning desire to want to get out of that inning. You really have to want that result."

Tanaka struck out the next two batters, then induced a ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off his glove and right to Gleyber Torres, who fired the ball to first to end the inning. Tanaka roared as he walked off the mound. In the bottom of the frame, after a Miguel Andujar walk and a Luke Voit flyout, Torres crushed his 20th home run of the season to straightaway center field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Although three errors would contribute to an eventual 6-2 loss, that fourth-inning execution was quintessential Tanaka. He is calm and soft-spoken off the mound and disarmingly witty. On the hill, he is an intense competitor with a burning desire to be perfect and an arsenal unlike many others in Major League Baseball. And it's been his honor to put both sides of himself on display for Yankees fans these last five years.

***

Heading into 2014, CC Sabathia was coming off a down season; his years as an ace seemed behind him. The Yankees were in the market for a young arm to anchor their pitching staff, and the seven-year, $155 million pact to which they signed 25-year-old Tanaka implied that he was just the man for the job.

When Tanaka made the decision to leave stardom in Japan for an uncertain future in America, he brought with him a 24-0 record and championship ring from his last season as a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle. Along with those achievements, though, came huge expectations that likely incurred some baggage fees on the flight over to the States.

Five years into the deal, Tanaka has mostly lived up to those expectations. The pitcher made the All-Star team in 2014 and finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has started three Opening Days for the Yankees and has racked up double-digit wins every year.

The control specialist has been a stabilizing force in a rotation that has seen 27 pitchers (including Tanaka) take the mound to start for the Yankees since 2014. Sabathia is the only other holdover from that first year. Despite trips to the disabled list in 2014, '15, '17 and '18, Tanaka has made at least 20 starts every season. In his lone year without a DL stint, the right-hander went 14-4 and placed seventh in the 2016 American League Cy Young Award voting.

Through the beginning of September this year, Tanaka was 62-33 lifetime with a 3.60 ERA and 773 strikeouts in 128 regular season games. And while the numbers are impressive, where Tanaka has truly thrived has been in the biggest moments. Whether it's a marquee matchup with an entire country watching (such as his outing against countryman Yu Darvish last year) or a postseason tilt with the Yankees' season on the line, Tanaka seems to rise to the occasion when it matters most.

"Being able to have that on/off switch is important to me," Tanaka says. "But I think it's something that happens naturally."

That natural propensity to get to another level has produced enviable results in the most important of circumstances. In Tanaka's mind, when that switch is turned on to "compete mode," the spotlight is squarely on him -- a feeling that endures whenever he's on the mound.

"I think he treats every situation like a big game so when that situation comes around, it's nothing he's not used to," Romine says. "He treats every pitch like it's the biggest pitch of the game, and I think that's why he has success. I think that's why he's so good at locating. His focus is there on every pitch, and when you practice that over and over like he does, when the moments come where it's actually like that, I don't think he knows anything other than, 'I'm just trying to make this pitch.' I think that fact that he treats every pitch like a high-leverage situation, when those high-leverage situations come, he's good to go."

It's in those situations that Tanaka comes alive, and the fierce competitor explodes from his body. His devastating splitter/slider combination -- part of a repertoire he has spent his entire life perfecting and learning to execute with precision -- becomes almost unfair to opposing batters.

"He's almost surgical in the way he works," Romine says. "He has pinpoint control at times. His slider and his splitter, when they're both on, can be pretty devastating. He knows what he's trying to do, he knows where he's trying to throw the ball, and he commands it. He expects a lot of himself, and you'll see him get frustrated on the mound because he expects to be perfect every time he goes out. He's one of the more fun guys to catch on this team just because he can put it where he wants, and he can move it the way he wants."

When both pitches are working -- along with a two-seam fastball, sinker and the occasional curve -- watching Tanaka outsmart hitters is like witnessing the most intricate ballet at The Met.

The pitcher moves easily yet methodically on the mound. In the batter's box, hitters watch helplessly as a pitch that looks straight as an arrow for 55 feet suddenly disappears, leaving them swinging wildly and pirouetting back to the dugout as Tanaka racks up another strikeout.

"I'm approaching my 30s, and on top of that, you look around the league and you see all these huge guys, and I can't compete with them when it comes to the velocity of the pitches or the velocity of the fastball," Tanaka says. "It has to be somewhere else where I approach the game, and for me that is to command the ball well. I think the most important aspect of being able to command the ball well really comes down to the mechanics; being able to repeat the exact mechanics is when you get good results on the pitches. That's obviously the key to it, but it's that hard part of doing it on the other hand. But just to be able to work on the mechanics, knowing where the flaws are at times, and being able to adjust that helps me in being a better command pitcher consistently."

Last year, Tanaka had batters swinging at 37.8 percent of his pitches outside the strike zone, the highest rate in the Majors. Through Sept. 21 of this year, batters were chasing his pitches just as frequently, and Tanaka was relying on his slider and splitter more than ever before. According to Brooks Baseball, he opted for the slider 33.7 percent of the time and the split 30.7 percent. He induced swings on 47.5 percent of the sliders and 63.5 percent of splitters, with a 15.2 and 22.6 whiff percentage, respectively.

"Everything comes out the same, so it's hard to pick up, especially for a right-handed hitter," says first baseman Luke Voit. "A right-handed splitter or change-up can be very effective because you think it's a fastball, and then it flops off the table."

Far from blowing people away, Tanaka is fooling them with movement and control in a way rarely seen in today's game, which is becoming more and more reliant on speed and power.

Video: DET@NYY: Tanaka fans 6 over 7 innings of 1-run ball

"I think the difference is all about how you grow up when you're playing," Severino explains. "In Japan, it's about mechanics and how you're moving the ball. In the Dominican, you just throw the ball -- throw it down the middle as hard as you can. I think Tanaka is one of the greatest and smartest pitchers in baseball. When his stuff is on, when he's got the good stuff, his split-finger, his sinker, he'll throw like 25 pitches -- all sinkers and sliders and splits -- wherever he wants. He can go right or left, and that's something you don't see that often -- a guy who can throw the pitch exactly when and how they want to. It's unbelievable."

"I think it's a God-given talent," Romine says. "If everybody could do it, there would be more guys doing that. But he was born with the ability to throw the ball and do what he wants with it. I couldn't tell you why."

Tanaka will tell you there is no miracle happening; it is a game of constant adjustment and toying with the minutiae of finger pressure, arm slot, focus and confidence. But more than anything, the pitcher says it's about knowing exactly who you want to be on the mound, then doing whatever you need to do in order to become that person.

"In between starts, you're thinking about this ideal pitch form or mechanics," he says. "You have it in your mind, and you're visualizing it and trying to get to that leading up to the start. Once you get to the start, it's not necessarily there. There might be some aspect of it that might be off, so it's more trying to be able to adjust to be able to control the ball and just looking at trying to locate it where the glove is more than anything. So, the first part, the in-between starts part of it, is about going for the ideal mechanics. And the second part, the in-game part, is just making the adjustments you need to in order to get through that game."

***

If it seems like Tanaka has lived two lifetimes, it's because he kind of has. Between playing seven seasons professionally in Japan and five years in the Majors, Tanaka has made more than 300 career starts, winning better than 70 percent of them, and has eclipsed 2,000 strikeouts. He has succeeded, and he has failed. He has gained knowledge and doled some out, too. "He's young, but he's one of the veterans here," Severino says.

Tanaka has pitched in the Olympics, the Japan Series and under the October lights in Yankee Stadium. He has come through in each situation.

But the man who was on the mound then is nothing like the one at his locker right now. It's two days after his last start, 48 hours before his next, and he smiles as he leans against the glass partition. Tanaka has just walked off the field, past the Yankees' batting cages and into the clubhouse. He stealthily approaches a member of the Japanese press corps from behind and, very gently, bends his knee into the back of the reporter's knee, causing the scribe to lurch forward. Tanaka, the reporter and the staffers nearby all laugh.

But the switch is about to be flipped, if only for a moment.

Tanaka is reminded of last year's playoff run, of how close his team came to World Series glory and how, shortly thereafter, he chose to decline an opt-out clause in his contract in order to remain with the Yankees and continue his pursuit of a championship in pinstripes. The pitcher is asked to think about what it all means to him, and to visualize what it would feel like to blend the two careers and the two personalities into one Tanaka who achieves the ultimate success.

"Experiencing what we experienced last year, going through those playoff games and really soaking in what really happened and being a part of that, you feel like you want to go there again," he says. "I feel fortunate to be on this team because of all the players and all the staff I've been fortunate enough to be able to work with. I feel good about the decision to stay here, and if we're able to, number one go to the World Series and number two win the World Series, it will obviously be one of the highlights of my baseball career."

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees Magazine: A Man With a Plan

A revelation since arriving in the Bronx this summer, J.A. Happ has fortified the Yankees' rotation with a style all his own
Yankees Magazine

His Yankees debut on July 29 -- a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals -- could best be described as a workmanlike performance for J.A. Happ. The southpaw didn't quite dominate. He competed and won, allowing one run over six innings with Salvador Perez's solo home run accounting for the only blemish on his afternoon.

Happ effortlessly located his four-seam fastball -- down and away to righties, up in the zone, in on both lefties and right-handed batters -- and got ahead of hitters. Again, nothing flashy. A 12-year veteran, Happ isn't a must-see attraction on the mound the way some other hurlers are. He doesn't hit triple-digits on the radar gun like Luis Severino. He's not Masahiro Tanaka, a wizard moonlighting as a starting pitcher who can make the baseball dip, dive and bend at will. And he doesn't carry the prestige and pedigree that CC Sabathia brings to the hill each time out. J.A. Happ is a capital-P Professional. Assured. A man with a plan.

His Yankees debut on July 29 -- a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals -- could best be described as a workmanlike performance for J.A. Happ. The southpaw didn't quite dominate. He competed and won, allowing one run over six innings with Salvador Perez's solo home run accounting for the only blemish on his afternoon.

Happ effortlessly located his four-seam fastball -- down and away to righties, up in the zone, in on both lefties and right-handed batters -- and got ahead of hitters. Again, nothing flashy. A 12-year veteran, Happ isn't a must-see attraction on the mound the way some other hurlers are. He doesn't hit triple-digits on the radar gun like Luis Severino. He's not Masahiro Tanaka, a wizard moonlighting as a starting pitcher who can make the baseball dip, dive and bend at will. And he doesn't carry the prestige and pedigree that CC Sabathia brings to the hill each time out. J.A. Happ is a capital-P Professional. Assured. A man with a plan.

"The thing about him is that he knows what he wants to do and is very confident in how he wants to do it," says Neil Walker, Happ's teammate with the Pirates in 2015 and now again in the Bronx following the July 26 deal that brought the left-hander to New York in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney.

A word about Happ's confidence: After arriving a day late in New York due to a delayed flight out of Chicago, Happ met with catcher Austin Romine and pitching coach Larry Rothschild on the morning of his debut. To prepare for the meeting, Romine watched video from Happ's final start with the Blue Jays. He also looked back at his own at-bats against Happ; Romine had gone 2-for-9 with one strikeout against the Peru, Illinois, native.

Romine prefers getting to know his pitchers before working together. He likes learning about their mindset. "Who they are and how they like to pitch and what they like to do," the catcher says. "A lot of times, you have to figure out how they think so you can call a game to their strengths." The CliffsNotes version of his scouting report would read: pinpoint control and "sneaky" fast with a 93-94 mph fastball that plays like 95-96 due to a smooth delivery. But when it came time to devise a game plan, Romine didn't offer much input. He just listened to his new batterymate.

Happ remembers the meeting as such: "We sat down in the conference room, and I just briefly said, 'Hey, this is how I like to do things and what I'd like you to trust in.'"

Like Walker said, J.A. Happ knows what he wants to do and is very confident in how he wants to do it.

***

Doing it his way has worked out just fine for Happ, who turns 36 this month. As of mid-September, he was 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in eight starts since arriving in New York and 16-6 with a 3.75 overall on the season. During a time when injuries and inconsistencies plagued the Yankees' pitching staff, Happ emerged as the team's most effective starter even as he navigated his way around a strange clubhouse and a big, unfamiliar city. Then again, midseason moves are nothing new for Happ; 2018 was the fourth time in nine seasons that he was traded at or near the deadline.

It's the off-the-field stuff, Happ says, that makes relocating difficult. He's a husband and a dad now. Family takes precedent. "Gotta worry about them," he says. "If they are going to be comfortable where we live, how they are going to get to and from the game, stuff like that. Those are the stressful parts of it."

Happ didn't take it so well the first time he was traded. The Phillies drafted Happ in 2004 and he rose through the ranks of the organization, making his big league debut on June 30, 2007, at Citizens Bank Park in an 8-3 loss to the Mets. Paul Lo Duca and David Wright took him deep in the top of the first. A Carlos Beltran home run ended Happ's day in the fifth inning as he departed to an ugly line: five earned runs in four innings. Welcome to The Show, rook. He wouldn't throw another inning for the Phillies that season.

But Happ would contribute to the Phillies' 2008 World Series title run and was a member of the vaunted rotation that carried the team back to the Fall Classic in 2009, when the Phillies fell to the Yankees in six games. Philadelphia had become his home, and so it hurt when he was traded to the Houston Astros on July 29, 2010, the main chip in a package that netted Roy Oswalt, a three-time All-Star who finished in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting five times.

"It was emotional," Happ says of leaving Philadelphia. "That's all I had known. I had gone to two World Series with them. That's where I wanted to be. That was emotional, but with each subsequent [trade] you start to understand the business part of it. You just kind of move on, and now it's a little bit easier to handle."

From Houston, he was shipped to Toronto near the 2012 Trade Deadline, and then on to Seattle following the 2014 season. A midseason trade to the Pirates in 2015 would turn his career around. With Pittsburgh, he focused on two pitches: the fastball down and away to righties and the breaking ball to lefties. He also eliminated the arch from his delivery, simplifying it in order to consistently repeat the same motion.

Happ was Pittsburgh's best pitcher down the stretch, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts and leading the Pirates to the NL Wild Card Game, which they lost to the Cubs. "He was huge for us," Walker says. "He came in and took the proverbial bull by the horns and gave us a chance every single time he went out there. Obviously, his numbers showed that. It's just a shame we weren't able to go farther [in the postseason] because it would have been a lot of fun seeing him go."

After signing with Toronto following the 2015 season, Happ flourished north of the border. He helped lead the Blue Jays to the ALCS in 2016, going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA and finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting. In 2018, he was named to the American League All-Star team, a first time All-Star at the age of 35. But with Toronto struggling this season -- and Happ's impending free agency -- the southpaw was the subject of trade rumors throughout the spring. Happ's performance suffered as the scuttlebutt grew, and he posted a 6.03 ERA in his final six starts with Toronto. In the Blue Jays' 8-5 loss to the Yankees on July 7, Happ allowed six earned runs in 22⁄3 innings.

"He pitched against us up there, and I was just like, man, that's hard when you know you are going to be traded and you're waiting for it to happen," Sabathia says. "That weighs on you more than anything. It's hard to pitch like that. I wasn't worried about him coming here with his numbers struggling before."

Video: TEX@NYY: Happ strikes out 9 to earn his 12th win

Happ, however, insists that the trade rumors didn't affect him. "I don't really know how to pinpoint it," Happ says. "Sometimes you are just the victim of circumstances in a game -- and that's not to deflect any results. I own the results. But crazy stuff happens in this game. I don't feel it was indicative of the way I was throwing."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the front office agreed and traded for the impending free agent in hopes he would stabilize their rotation. He did that, and more.

***

With the trade, Happ stepped into a familiar atmosphere: the heat of a pennant race. And when he took the mound for the Yankees on July 29 against the Royals, he felt the difference. "It's fun to have that little extra bit," he says. "We are prepared and ready regardless. It's still our job. It's fun and we love doing it, but when you have that little bit of extra energy from the Stadium, from the crowd, just the reality of what these games mean, that's stuff that can lift you up a bit."

Happ officially earned his pinstripes after the 6-3 win when Didi Gregorius used a personalized emoji to refer to Happ in his postgame victory tweet. Gregorius selected the bull's-eye for Happ. "I like it," Happ says, stroking his chin upon learning of the emblem. "I didn't know that, but I like it."

And if you listen to the people who know best, the emoji is, well, on target.

"Oh, he throws the ball wherever he wants," Sabathia says.

"Catching him, I was pleasantly surprised with how well he locates the ball," Romine says. "I figured out a lot that first game. I figured out how he liked to pitch, where his misses are, what he likes to do late in counts, stuff like that. He's an easy pitcher [to catch]. He knows how to pitch. He knows where to put the ball. He knows how to get guys out."

A bout with hand, foot and mouth disease, a children's virus characterized by sores around the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet, then landed Happ on the 10-day disabled list. Highly contagious, he was quarantined from the club and his family, confined to a hotel room in Manhattan. "It was boring," Happ says. "A lot of room service and bumming around during the afternoon."

But he showed no ill-effects from the virus upon rejoining the club. Happ went six strong innings for the win in his return from the disabled list and would go on to become the first Yankees pitcher to start and win his first five appearances with the team since "Bullet" Bob Turley in 1955.

With the Yankees closing in on an American League Wild Card berth, Happ turned his eye toward October once again. He got his first taste of postseason baseball as a rookie in Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS, pitching three innings in relief and allowing one run in the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Dodgers. Philadelphia would eliminate Los Angeles in five games and then defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, although Happ did not pitch in the Fall Classic. He allowed one earned run in two relief appearances against the Yankees the following year, a lasting experience even in defeat.

"I was so lucky to go to two World Series during my first two years," Happ says. In 10 postseason appearances, including three starts, Happ is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA. "All the veterans on the team were like, 'You need to realize how rare this is and how special this is. People go their whole career without making it to a playoff game.' Ever since then, I've realized how hard this is. Having the opportunity to be in the hunt is exciting."

And so, as the Yankees enter the stretch run, Happ will take the ball and give his team a chance to win. He will compete, turning each at-bat into a one-on-one clash with personal stakes attached to it. And in the midst of battle, he will throw that sneaky fast four-seamer either chest high, low-and-away or up and in, wherever he darn well pleases. More often than not, it will hit the bull's-eye.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

Yankees Magazine: The Take And The Give

CC Sabathia's big league success is hard-earned, but he is still cognizant of the debts he owes to those who made it all possible
Yankees Magazine

We begin where we'll finish, on the grounds of Vallejo High School on June 2, 1998. It's just two years since the naval shipyard in town closed down, burying the city under a strain of unemployment, boarded-up windows and crime. So much crime. The shuttered Mare Island is just one example of years of downward neglect, as a hard place kept getting harder. And Vallejo, California -- never exactly a Garden of Eden in the Golden State -- fell. Hard.

Today is the day, though. A favorite son will get his spin on life's wheel of fortune as 30 Major League teams take turns picking their futures. They'll make millionaires out of high schoolers, seeking out Hall of Famers while they try their best to avoid tomorrow's no-names. It's a calculated crapshoot, but such is life.

We begin where we'll finish, on the grounds of Vallejo High School on June 2, 1998. It's just two years since the naval shipyard in town closed down, burying the city under a strain of unemployment, boarded-up windows and crime. So much crime. The shuttered Mare Island is just one example of years of downward neglect, as a hard place kept getting harder. And Vallejo, California -- never exactly a Garden of Eden in the Golden State -- fell. Hard.

Today is the day, though. A favorite son will get his spin on life's wheel of fortune as 30 Major League teams take turns picking their futures. They'll make millionaires out of high schoolers, seeking out Hall of Famers while they try their best to avoid tomorrow's no-names. It's a calculated crapshoot, but such is life.

No one would have minded if CC Sabathia had spent the day at home, nestled in the swell of his family and friends' loving support. This is the biggest day of CC's young life, the day that he's going to get out, at least symbolically, of a place that has chewed up and swallowed a lot of kids who don't have his gifts.

"He said he couldn't take it," his mother, Margie Sabathia-Lanier, recalls. "He said, 'I'll just wait for your phone call. I can't sit at home, Mom.'"

So he went to school, and while he was there, the call did come, of course, a life- altering conversation that somehow managed not to change CC Sabathia at all. Now, 20 years later -- a generation for laymen, a lifetime-plus for athletes -- he has shown few signs that he's planning to retire, and he has proven that he can fight off the precariousness of aging. But there is a clock ticking, and Sabathia is not immune.

So, he engages in the give and the take that has defined his entire life, the generational link between two special days at Vallejo High School. Sabathia can't go back to that day 20 years ago, not emotionally or physically, but he can and does give back on its account. This year, for the third time in his career, he was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors philanthropy as well as on-field excellence. Even at 38, the two are in balance for Sabathia. It's about how he was raised, and, yes, where he was raised. But it's also who he is, a decorated and celebrated superstar who attributes everything to the love he got, and the love he has to give.

***

About 25 miles south of Vallejo High School sits Oakland- Alameda County Coliseum, and that's where Sabathia finds himself laboring on Labor Day 2018. It's a bad start, one that drops the pitcher's record to 7-6 on the year. But Sabathia is six weeks past his 38th birthday, and there were always going to be some bad starts this year. And besides, "I'm actually used to losing here," the pitcher says over breakfast the next morning in San Francisco, alluding to his 5-8 record and 5.38 ERA in 17 career starts at the Coliseum.

It's a famous story, but one that bears repeating here. Dave Stewart won 20 games in four straight seasons for the A's beginning in 1987, and he spoke at the Vallejo Boys and Girls Club when Sabathia was 9 years old. Stewart, himself an East Bay native, had come through the club as a young child, and he felt a need to return and speak with the next generation. "My only motivation was to just hope to touch somebody," Stewart says.

Chatting in the home clubhouse at the Coliseum nearly 30 years later, Stewart recalls his own youth. "I can't say that my childhood life was unhappy because it wasn't. I had my sisters and my brothers. I had a good foundation. My parents. But there was a lot around me that was going on." Stewart lists all the sports leagues and organizations that he participated in as a way of staying out of trouble. "If I didn't have any of those things, I think that my outcome could have been drastically different." That was the message he remembers passing on to kids such as Sabathia. "That my beginnings and my growth was similar to theirs," Stewart says. "And that good things had happened for me, and they could happen for them."

These chance encounters form the upward rise of Sabathia's arc. The pitcher had strong role models -- his mother, his coaches, even his peers. So, he vowed to become one. In the first decade of this century, and a bit beyond, too, Sabathia repaid those who had taken chances on him with wins. When he retires, he'll have more strikeouts than all but two left-handers in baseball history: Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. The payback in 2018 is different, though. His primary currency is his wisdom. His experience. The heart of a man who actually does care.

But that passion is what Paul Cogan saw right from the start, when he was a Cleveland Indians area scout based in Northern California. "There were times when I felt like, 'What are we looking at?'" the scout, now with the Dodgers, recalls. "It happens every so often in a career, and not to say people didn't think CC was good. But why he was even a consideration outside the first round just baffled me. It really did. So, you end up questioning yourself a little bit. And in this case, I didn't. I swear, I didn't even care in this case. Throws hard. Got a breaking ball. And he's a friggin' off-the-charts competitor. It's in front of our face." But Cogan was also wowed by the structure around the massive pitcher -- the loving mother, who sometimes acted more like his sister; the father who wasn't around much, but who managed, before he passed away too young, to make sure his son knew how much he loved him; the friends and teachers and even the strangers who saw potential in young CC.

"I guess I grew up bad, but I didn't think so," Sabathia says, echoing Stewart's similar self-assessment. "People grew up in way worse situations than I did. I had love. I had a loving family. I had support. … I feel like I had a good upbringing, man. I was in a difficult situation a lot of times, and I grew up in a bad neighborhood, but I had the love of my family and support, so I always felt like I was in a little bubble."

The bubble analogy is astute and self-aware. Sabathia was always getting pulled out, lifted up, pushed forward. There are the examples that every young baseball player has, the stories of Ellis Burks buying him suits as a rookie, the same way that Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd had done for Burks. But there is also the history more personal to Sabathia, a boy from notoriously tough waters that somehow parted for him. Sabathia grew up in Vallejo's Country Club Crest neighborhood, which was where the bad stuff happened in town, sometimes right under the young pitcher's nose. "There's guys that are incarcerated, there's guys that are dead," Abe Hobbs, Sabathia's high school baseball coach, says somberly. "There's times when there was a murder in front of his house, and he couldn't come to school because they had it taped up. The things that were going on in his neighborhood, it's pretty easy for somebody to steer you in the wrong direction. But there were not just adults, there were some peers that went out of their way to look out for him many times. If something was getting a little funky, they got him out of there."

When Cogan emphatically reported back to his bosses, practically screaming about this kid throwing 92 to 95, it struck a chord with the Indians' front office. "I think it was Paul's conviction about CC's character, and how special Margie was, in concert with his talent and athleticism," says Mark Shapiro, now the Toronto Blue Jays' president, but in 1998 the Indians' assistant GM. The 20th pick in the first round, while valuable, is no sure thing. Shapiro says that you're expecting a big league regular in that slot. An average Major Leaguer, which is no dig. In Sabathia, the team got so much more. A leader. A winner. His Cy Young season in 2007 also saw the team reach the brink of the World Series. Sabathia recognizes that the years that followed represent life as a cashed-in golden ticket -- a midseason trade the next season, then a record- setting free-agent contract to come to New York, where he threw the first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium and celebrated a World Series win in his first year. "When I got drafted, I didn't have mechanics or anything -- I was just raw," he says. "I think it was the best-case scenario for everyone. For the Indians, who drafted me and were able to get me for six, seven, eight years, however long it was. For me, to be able to come to New York. For me, my family, my life, it's been the best-case scenario for everybody. I couldn't even have dreamt this."

Cogan saw the whole board, reading Sabathia's future as he watched the kid pitch. Did he see nearly 250 big league wins? Almost 3,000 strikeouts? Of course not; that type of decoder ring doesn't exist. But although he was scouting a boy, he saw a man. "I think he felt a responsibility to his mother, to his community, to his teammates," Cogan says. "And I think he took it and put that weight on his shoulder. He was going to do whatever it took."

***

Sitting in the dugout of Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Florida, Charlie Manuel saw a tough conversation looming. It was March 2001, and Sabathia had just Houdini'd his way out of danger in a Spring Training game, loading the bases and then striking out the next three hitters. The Indians' manager was convinced. This kid didn't need to go to Triple-A. He was ready. And Manuel was going to fight for him.

"At the time, Dick Pole was my pitching coach," Manuel says, "and they told Dick and me at the meetings, 'OK, you're accountable for this.' Because they thought he hadn't pitched enough."

Seventeen years later, Shapiro mostly shrugs. "I'm a player-development guy," the executive says. "I'm always trying to fight for more time to develop and build a strong foundation. That's just my nature." But in pushing for a chance to pull the young pitcher out of the Minors a year early, Manuel just continued the trend of spotting the greatness in Sabathia's nature -- and taking a stand on his behalf. Sabathia, who turned 21 that July, responded by going 17-5.

"And actually, in his first year, I felt like not only did we handle him right, but you could see that CC would be around for a long time," Manuel adds. Two All-Star Games followed in his next three years, and Sabathia fell in love with Cleveland, and the city with him. He had left Vallejo an untraveled 17-year-old, crying to his mother on the phone. "I was shell-shocked," he says. "I had never washed clothes. I was a sheltered kid. My mom, my grandmother, did everything for me." But in Cleveland, he began to grow up, learning the hard way about partying too hard, too ostentatiously. One night at a hotel downtown, the pitcher was robbed at gunpoint, losing nearly $45,000 in cash and jewelry. It was a hard lesson, and sad, too. Everyone wants to keep a piece of home with them when they move away, but there are parts of The Crest that were better left behind. "It's just growth as a man, as a young man," Sabathia says.

On the field, things were easy, but Sabathia kept messing with success in all the best ways. The fastball was a weapon; the slider, too. So, he worked with pitching coach Carl Willis to develop a change-up. He went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 2007, but saw the World Series slip away in Game 7 of the ALCS. The next year, he proved Cogan right. He was going to show that he would do anything in his power to go deeper.

At midseason, the Indians were out of contention, and they shipped the free agent-to-be to Milwaukee for the stretch run. Over the next three months, the pitcher was a man possessed. He made 17 starts for the Brewers, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA. He completed seven games, and with the Wild Card race going down to the season's last day, Sabathia made his last three starts on three days' rest. He won two of them, allowing just two earned runs in 211⁄3 innings as the Brewers clinched a postseason berth on the last day with Sabathia, naturally, going the full nine innings.

"I just felt like that was what everybody always expected me to do, from the time I was 9 years old," Sabathia says of his bulldog display. "I was always the pitcher. That was always my thing. Being able to be put in that spot and being able to succeed was awesome."

But as much as fans and even other players around the league fell hard for this guy who demanded the ball every day, the pitcher kept tooling. During his months in Milwaukee, pitching coach Mike Maddux taught Sabathia a two-seamer that quickly became a weapon to induce ground balls. That was the funny thing about Sabathia, even back then. People saw the huge frame, the huge fastball, the terrifying strikeout numbers. But he could still sneak things past them. Manuel recalls when his Phillies faced Sabathia in the 2008 National League Division Series. All of a sudden, he noticed that the pitcher was trying to establish his change-up more than the fastball, defying the scouting report. But Sabathia had been falling in love with the off-speed pitch for a while. "My change-up was really, really good back then," he says. "I don't think people really realized that. I think that was my second-best pitch, and I think a lot of people thought it was my slider. But honestly, from the year when I won the Cy Young, from '07 to 2012, my change-up was a huge key for me that people didn't really realize."

And it would matter in the years to follow, when Sabathia signed a then-record $161 million contract with the Yankees. This was financial security for generations to come. His first year in pinstripes ended with 19 wins and a World Series parade. The next year, he won a career-best 21, before adding 19 more the next year. But as the accolades piled up, so did the signs of aging. Sabathia had his first knee surgery in 2006, and barely a day goes by that he doesn't feel the effects, whether of that particular operation, or of the subsequent procedures in 2014 and '16.

But still, recall the best-case scenario Sabathia mentioned. Here he was, by the end of 2011. He had won a Cy Young. He had signed a borderline unimaginable contract. He had won a World Series, and even 20 games, joining an exclusive group of African-American pitchers to have done so, a club called the Black Aces that Sabathia honored with special cleats during Players' Weekend in August. Has he done it all? "I don't have a win in the World Series," Sabathia offers. "I need that."

Video: TEX@NYY: Sabathia dazzles with 6 1-hit innings

If that sounds like winning a huge poker pot but still wishing you'd had a better hand, then so be it. Nothing about Sabathia as he ends his first decade in pinstripes suggests complacency. The wins come harder now, but he adapts. Watch him on the mound today, and he's different, but the same. He has a less explosive drive down the mound, relying on a tighter motion that allows him to land easier and control the strike zone. "If your knee is bothering you," says Rob Friedman, a guru who breaks down pitching repertoires and evolutions on his popular @pitchingninja Twitter account, "not being able to use your lower half is definitely going to decrease your velocity, but it also means he can take advantage of pitching with more control and getting hitters to chase, and doing other things that people consider pitching instead of throwing." But Sabathia's arm slot remains consistent, allowing him to thrive on deception and location. And he has the mental game mastered.

"Facing somebody like him," says veteran teammate Neil Walker, "you know if you see five pitches in an at-bat, you're going to have maybe one that's a good pitch to hit. He's going to work his cutter back door and hit the edges, and he might mix in the change-up and a slider. It's not an easy at-bat anytime you face him. You have to hit pitches that are mistakes." Everything smarts more at 38 than it did at 18 or 28. So Sabathia fights it with smarts. He plays around with the strike zone. He sees a fastball sign and chooses on the fly whether it's going to be a four-seamer or a cutter. It's usually a cutter -- the straight stuff isn't what it used to be -- because the cutter is funky and weird. He loves that change-up, but at some point, he noticed that rather than diving glove-side, away from right-handers, the pitch was cutting over the plate like a batting practice pitch. So, he modified his grip, creating some sort of hybrid two-seamer/change-up. He also recalls a recent game when his cutter started betraying him. It had "too much action," Sabathia explains, "and I couldn't really control it, so I started throwing my four-seamer. And it was cutting like this. So, it was working just like my cutter."

"He's morphed into a different style of pitcher," says Yankees pitching coach Larry Rotshchild, who has been coaching Sabathia since 2011, "but the nature of his competitiveness is the same, and that's why he's been able to do what he's done. … It's not a huge difference delivery-wise, but pitch selection-wise, and what he can do with the baseball, it's changed."

***

The repertoire has changed, but so has the pitcher's identity. At 38 years old, the years of taking are, naturally, mostly over. Yet with CC Sabathia, the giving is hardly new. Over the years, Sabathia has had his share of rough outings, and he endured a public struggle with alcohol. But his successes -- on a baseball and a personal level -- have far outweighed the negatives.

Andrew McCutchen recalls when he made an all-star team in the low Minors, and he and his fellow stars were honored by the Pirates in a pregame ceremony in Pittsburgh. The team was playing the Indians that day, and McCutchen saw Sabathia in the dugout. "I believe he was starting that day," McCutchen says. "And I saw him in the dugout kind of sitting there, probably preparing, getting himself ready. We just spoke really quick. But I was like, 'Man, that's CC. That's the guy.' Now, years and years later -- I might have been 19 at that time -- 11 years later, I'm here, and we're teammates." You could fill an encyclopedia with similar stories. There are scores of players around the league (and certainly in the Minors) who have taken from the inspiration Sabathia has given.

Part of it, of course, is that the big big league pitcher has a lot of teddy bear to him. Sabathia is always laughing, he's always chatting. He sits with young lefty Jordan Montgomery during most games he doesn't pitch, offering advice and insight. He has taken Dellin Betances under his wing as a little brother. And notably, he might be the least precious starting pitcher in the league. He works like crazy to get his arm and knee game-ready, but on days he starts, Sabathia still holds court in the clubhouse, chatting with teammates and even occasionally reporters. "He was a guy that I would always ask teammates that played with him, 'How's CC?'" says recent import J.A. Happ. "I always kind of wondered. And everybody, across the board, was like, 'Great teammate, one of the best teammates I ever had.' So, I was like, 'OK …' Then I come over here, and I feel the same way already after just a couple weeks."

Teammates watch and admire the way a 38-year-old pitcher adapts and adjusts, taking inspiration for what their own end games might look like. But more than that, they just seem to feed off his example Rothschild insists that there are soft benefits to his presence; he says that the team simply plays worse when Sabathia is on the disabled list than it does when he's active -- even on the four days he doesn't pitch. And manager Aaron Boone -- who played with Sabathia for a short time in Cleveland and sometimes feels more like the pitcher's peer than his boss, is equally appreciative. "He's certainly one of the glue guys in that clubhouse," Boone says. "I think CC does as good a job as I've ever seen as a veteran player with the kind of stature that he has of kind of connecting with different people -- young, old, different backgrounds. He's just got a way about him that's approachable. I think he makes guys feel comfortable."

Sabathia doesn't shy away from the role -- or the perception. He knows that the work he does with the young players will pay off down the road, even after he's gone. It's a different kind of legacy that the 18-year veteran is after. Talk to him about the things he'll eventually miss in retirement, and he laughs off the question. He's mainly excited to be a bit lazier, and determined to avoid any type of livelihood that requires him to wear a collared shirt. His fear isn't being 40 and aimless; it's seeing all that he built come crashing down. "It'll bother me if I retired or played somewhere else and I heard that these guys were fighting in the clubhouse or stuff was going on," he says. Betraying his habit of swatting away talk of the Hall of Fame, on this morning he mentions that the thing he'd enjoy most about the honor -- more so than a bronze plaque -- would be the annual trip to Cooperstown to hang out with his peers. After all, he says, "I'm the ultimate get-together guy. I love to get people together. If I can get in that get-together, that would be fun." His wife, Amber, meanwhile, plays her part as the matriarch of two families, leading the players' wives and girlfriends in all manner of events and activities. She also puts the women to work; in late September, a collection of Yankees-in-law supported the Sabathia's PitCCh In Foundation by running the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile race, among them Rosmaly Severino, Elizabeth Torres and Morgan Happ.

The fact remains that Sabathia can't change who he is. He's still the goofy, misshapen ace, his hat askew and his smile charmingly gap-toothed. He's CC -- grinning from pole to pole when he's happy, throwing his glove in frustration when he's not. If he's sometimes embarrassed by the emotional displays on the mound, he's also comfortable enough in his skin to know that it's just who he is, and that he gets as much from the passionate explosions as he gives.

But he's also the guy island-hopping during the offseason, shuttling from place to place in a private jet. He lives in one of New Jersey's ritziest towns, and he somehow has to teach his four kids that this isn't how most people grow up -- it's certainly not how he and Amber did. "He's obviously become more sophisticated," says Coach Hobbs, who knew both of them as teenagers. "He's become more of a Renaissance man in terms of the finer things in life because of what his stature is now. But he's still pretty much the same guy."

***

And so we return to Vallejo High School, 20 years later and at least that much wiser. Amber noticed a quirk in the schedule this year, an off-day after a series in Oakland, and she pounced. Today is going to be about the PitCCh In Foundation. It's going to be about the pieces of their hearts that still consider Vallejo home. "That dude started talking to me at 13 years old and told me that he was going to make it, and he'll never forget where he was born and raised," CC's mother, Margie, says. "And that's amazing. He's doing it!"

For years, the PitCCh In Foundation has been working with kids in Vallejo and New York, refurbishing ballfields and providing backpacks filled with school supplies. Today will be the first event the foundation does for high school students, as all 1,700 kids at CC and Amber's alma mater pack into the football stadium for a unique assembly. The Sabathias look right at home here, and they should. The next field over, where Vallejo's baseball team plays, is named for CC, and Josh Ramos, the school's athletic director, says that the local hero's presence goes well beyond a sign on the scoreboard. You want proof? During the event, at which other prominent Vallejo natives such as former UFC fighter Mark Muñoz and the up-and-coming hip-hop quartet SOB x RBE chatted with and performed for the students, the city of Vallejo unveiled a proclamation declaring Sept. 6, 2018, as CC and Amber Sabathia Day.

"CC Sabathia is the one name at this high school that everybody knows," says Ramos. "It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior. This school's been around for 150 years. And he's the one name that everybody in the city of Vallejo knows."

So today is about giving, a familiar feeling for Vallejo's first couple. But it's also about showing up, about making sure that the kids in the stands get more than just a sweet Jordan Brand backpack. They need to see what it looks like to be active participants in the world. As Amber is fond of saying, anyone can write a check, and that's doubly true for CC, who has earned more than $250 million over his career. Time, though, is precious.

It's the connection that bonds Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd to Ellis Burks to CC Sabathia and beyond. Days earlier, upon hearing what the Sabathias had planned at the high school, Stewart beamed at the idea that he played a role in making it happen. Years ago, he had just wanted to inspire someone, and by association, he's impacting the lives of 1,700 high school kids he'll probably never meet. That's the give and take, though -- a positive, mutually beneficial arrangement. Amber looks at her husband, and of course she knows that she's looking at an extraordinary Major League pitcher. But that's not what grabs her attention. "I see a very confident man that knows what he wants to do and knows where he is in life," she says, and she smiles at the import, the memory of the high school boy that she and her friends kept out of trouble, in ways that the big man on campus never even realized. "The CC way back then probably wouldn't have done something like this because he didn't live the life to see what Vallejo did for him. It was such an impactful part of his life, but he didn't know that then. Now he does. Him coming back and being here, it means more than him going out there and pitching."

Back when he could get outs without even trying, he needed help getting out. These days, the outs come harder. But the off-field work, getting kids out of the situations that he defeated, that stuff comes easily. It's a cycle, ever continuing. Dave Stewart inspired him as a young kid? He devotes himself to doing the same. Charlie Manuel and Dick Pole and Mark Shapiro got him out of the Minors, and Ellis Burks made sure he kept his head above water, so he takes his youngest teammates, fresh off the buses, and shows them how to live like big leaguers.

And as for Amber, for Margie, for Coach Hobbs and all the people who helped him survive? CC takes them with him in his heart wherever he goes. Because of them, his life is a best-case scenario. And even as he has evolved, he's still totally recognizable as CC Sabathia, barely changed from two, even three decades ago. "If you see me [showing emotion] out on the field," he says, "just think, if you'd watched a Babe Ruth game or a Little League game, the whole game was like that -- everybody on the field was like that. I'd be out there screaming and yelling. It was good competition. We had some great players come out of that city. But it was a show. And the way I am, I represent that city. It's just in me.

"That's why when you asked me if I ever could have dreamt this about my career, no! I never would have thought that I'd be third under Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. That's crazy. I'm a kid from Vallejo. Only person to get out of there."

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, CC Sabathia

Yankees Magazine: Whoa, Nellie!

As the bridge to Mariano Rivera, Jeff Nelson locked down the late innings for the 1998 Yankees
Yankees Magazine

Jeff Nelson had a very specific role on the 1998 Yankees: Protect the lead until Mariano Rivera entered the game. A 6-foot-8 right-hander with a wipeout slider, the Maryland native was more than up for the job, and along with Mike Stanton, he formed a dynamic late-inning bridge to the greatest closer of all time for perhaps the greatest team of all time.

But the 1998 season was also a frustrating one for the reliever nicknamed Nellie. After initially pitching through a back injury, Nelson went on the disabled list from late June until early September. The Yankees had clinched a playoff berth by the time Nelson returned, but he did his part in September with nine consecutive scoreless appearances. For the season, he went 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 45 games.

Jeff Nelson had a very specific role on the 1998 Yankees: Protect the lead until Mariano Rivera entered the game. A 6-foot-8 right-hander with a wipeout slider, the Maryland native was more than up for the job, and along with Mike Stanton, he formed a dynamic late-inning bridge to the greatest closer of all time for perhaps the greatest team of all time.

But the 1998 season was also a frustrating one for the reliever nicknamed Nellie. After initially pitching through a back injury, Nelson went on the disabled list from late June until early September. The Yankees had clinched a playoff berth by the time Nelson returned, but he did his part in September with nine consecutive scoreless appearances. For the season, he went 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 45 games.

Nellie then played an integral role during the Yankees' World Series run, appearing in eight of the team's 13 postseason contests. The most critical moment came in Game 4 of the Fall Classic against San Diego. With the Yankees staked to a 3-0 lead, Nelson struck out the dangerous Greg Vaughn with two on and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. He then handed the ball to Rivera. Four outs later, the Yankees were champions once again.

Nelson would go on to star for another prolific team, the 2001 Seattle Mariners. But while they won 116 regular season games, breaking the '98 Yankees' AL record, the Mariners lost the American League Championship Series in five games to the Yankees.

Last month, Nelson -- now an analyst for Marlins baseball on Fox Sports Florida -- spoke with Yankees Magazine associate editor Thomas Golianopoulos about the 1998 team.

Aside from the team's dominance, what other storylines from the 1998 season have stuck with you?

How we started the season. We went to the West Coast and started 1-4. I know Mr. Steinbrenner wasn't very happy with that, especially after getting knocked out the year before in the Division Series. Then all of a sudden you look back, and you won 114 games; it's pretty incredible.

How would you characterize the team's style of play?

As far as how we won, I don't think there was a way we didn't win. We weren't one-dimensional. We scored in multiple ways, whether it was stealing a base or hitting a home run. Then you had the starters, who would typically go deep in the game, and our shutdown bullpen. I think it was the most complete team I ever played on.

How about off the field? Was it a tight-knit group?

It was. Guys would go off in their own groups; like three or four guys would go out to dinner. But at the end of the night, 15 guys would all meet up.

Who was in your crew?

David Wells and David Cone. We had our bullpen catcher and bullpen guys like Graeme Lloyd. We would hang out, and then next thing you would have Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberry.

What was the dynamic like in the bullpen during the games?

For the first five innings, we would talk, do practical jokes, kept everything real light. Then after the fifth inning it was like, "OK." We would start looking at the scoreboard. But we did all kinds of crazy things, kept it as light as possible. I was one of the biggest practical jokers. We were so far away from anyone, it was almost like we were isolated. We had to make it fun. The game is so serious.

Let's discuss some of your teammates. Hideki Irabu seemed to have a rock-star aura about him. How did he fit into the clubhouse?

He was built up to be a rock star, the next Nolan Ryan. He was really quiet because he really didn't speak the language. It seemed like we were closer with his interpreter than we were with him. He was a quiet guy. He went about his business. When you don't succeed in New York it kind of gets to you, and maybe it got to him a little bit. There were teams he really dominated, though. He had a nasty splitter.

Then El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) joined the team in June.

Where he came from, nothing intimidated him. Once he got to New York, it was nothing. When you are coming from Cuba and how he got over here, you knew there wasn't a time, place or situation that he would be afraid of. He was fun to watch. He was so incredibly dominant out there, always wanted the ball and never wanted to come out of the game. His wind-up was so deceiving to hitters, it seemed like he was also making up pitches out there. We had great starters, but it seemed like when we had a big game and he was on the mound, he managed to come through. He was an incredible addition.

Who was an unsung hero on the '98 Yankees?

Chili Davis was one of the best teammates you could have. He was so smart. He was almost an extra hitting coach. In a lot of ways, he was like an extra pitching coach, too, because he had so much wisdom of the game.

While the Yankees were on this record pace, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire's home run chase garnered so much national attention. Did the team benefit from that?

I don't know. When you play in New York and you play for Mr. Steinbrenner, there is always pressure. It's not like, "Oh, hey, there is a distraction here." There was none of that. There was really only the distraction of winning. Winning the World Series was all that mattered in New York. We knew what we had to do. The pressure was still there.

You missed two months with a back injury. What was it like watching the team's historic run from the sidelines?

I hated it. I injured my back in that brawl with Baltimore. I threw it out and tried pitching through it. I went to Tampa, and Mr. Steinbrenner had me see the chiropractor. I had epidurals, you name it, to try to fix it. I could never get better. I tried pitching through it, but I couldn't bend over to tie my shoe. I started seeing this chiropractor and got better, and then I broke my toe walking in the damn hotel, and that put me behind a little bit. You hate it. You hate the idea that you're on the DL and had to watch. You watch the success, and you want to be a part of it.

The team had clinched a playoff berth by the time you returned on Sept. 4, but the Yankees went 16-11 that month, their worst stretch of the season. How did you feel about yourself and the team going into the postseason?

In New York and playing for Mr. Steinbrenner, you could never be complacent or satisfied with what you've done. As for me, I was back and ready for the playoff push. I wanted to win another World Series.

Moving on to the postseason, let's discuss Game 2 of the ALDS against the Rangers. Eighth inning. You're pitching with a 3-1 lead. You get two outs, but allow a single. Mark McLemore is up next -- good hitter, but not Pudge Rodriguez or Juan Gonzalez -- and Joe Torre goes to Rivera. Was that a quick hook? Were you annoyed?

You're handing it over to a Hall of Famer. You never want to come out of the game, but he's a guy who could get four outs. Stanton and I and Graeme Lloyd tried to eliminate as much as we could as far as him getting those four outs, but when you win 114 games, the expectations are you have to go to the World Series. Obviously, Torre is going to do everything he can to win. And he had done it in the past, so it wasn't anything we were surprised about.

It's this weird paradox. Mo was the ultimate safety net for the team, but did his presence put pressure on the set-up guys? You knew Torre would remove you if you allowed a baserunner.

You use it as motivation. We tried our best to eliminate as many outs for him, but Torre would often go to him for four outs. That's just the way it was. It wasn't something you would get mad at.

What did it feel like going into the ALCS against the Indians, who had eliminated the Yanks in '97?

A little redemption obviously. They were such a good team; look at that lineup! Weren't they ahead against us?

Yeah, up 2-games-to-1 until El Duque evened the series in Game 4.

When they had us down, a sense of urgency started to creep through the clubhouse, but Joe Torre was a guy who never panicked. It was like, "If our manager isn't showing panic, then why should we feel it?" Once we tied it up, we knew we were going to win, and I think the Indians thought the same thing.

You were on the mound for one of the strangest moments in Yankees postseason history -- when Chuck Knoblauch stopped playing to argue with an umpire and allowed the go-ahead run to score. What do you remember about the 12th inning of ALCS Game 2?

It was really bizarre. The ball is sitting there. I think I can remember Tino yelling at him, "Get the ball!" Knoblauch is sitting there yelling at the umpire while the ball is rolling. It's still a live ball, and those guys are running around [the bases]. It was just one of those things that you have to get over.

Did anyone confront Knoblauch about it afterward?

Maybe Torre might have said something to him like, "Hey, we can't worry about the umpire." None of the players ever said anything. It's one of those things. Players make mistakes all the time, and it's not one of those things like, "Oh, you lost the game."

On to the World Series against San Diego. You were warming up in the bullpen when Tino Martinez hit a grand slam off Mark Langston on a 3-2 pitch, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead in the seventh inning of Game 1. The 2-2 pitch, of course, looked like a strike. What did you see in the bullpen?

We didn't have a video board, so we didn't know until afterward. It's funny because I still see Langston every once in a while. He still talks about that pitch. Everyone in the world knew it was a strike, but it wasn't called, and Tino hits the next pitch into the upper deck. It always seems like something good happens in Yankee Stadium. It's almost like the monuments came alive and helped us out. It was one of those calls that kind of changed everything.

Video: WS1998 Gm1: Tino hits a grand slam in the seventh

What else stands out about that series? The Vaughn at-bat in Game 4?

I always wanted to pitch in every tight situation. I never wanted to be a spectator. I had really good numbers against right-handed hitters, and Torre used me all the time. I always wanted to pitch. We went out to San Diego, and even though interleague play started in '97, we knew nothing about them. There wasn't that much video back then. You just relied on your scouts. We went out to San Diego up 2-games-to-none and felt pretty confident that we were going to beat these guys.

How different was it clinching the Series 2,500 miles away as opposed to clinching it at home in '96?

It was a little disappointing because everything shut down at 1 in the morning. We win the World Series, then we go back to the hotel because Torre had something for everyone there, and that lasted till 12:45. Everyone wanted to continue celebrating, so we go out on the town. David Wells is from there, and we are getting all over him like, "Hey, what kind of town is this?" It wasn't like New York where everything is open until 5. Well, we made up for it once we got back. It was still special.

You played for the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games but lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. What were some similarities and differences between those two teams?

Similarities were, once we walked onto the field, we knew we were going to win. We had Lou Piniella as our manager and the expectations were through the roof, and you wanted to run through a wall for him. The chemistry on both teams was through the roof. In 2001, we had a lot of guys who had career years. You could probably name every starting pitcher on the '98 team. 2001 Mariners? If I hadn't played on the team, I probably couldn't do it. In 2001, just like '98, we won in every different way, and all 25 guys contributed. Differences? We didn't win the World Series. We barely got by Cleveland in the Division Series. I think we were a No. 1 or No. 2 starter away from beating the Yankees.

What about the mentality of the team? After the Yankees won the first two games at Safeco Field, did that Mariners team believe it could win the series?

When you are with New York, you always felt you could win. It never felt like we were out of any series. With the Mariners we were down 2-games-to-none, which was a shock. Lou took it really hard. Down 2-0 we felt like our backs were against the wall, but then we won Game 3. Game 4 was 0-0, and I pitched the seventh inning. Next thing you know, [Bret] Boone hits a home run in the top of the eighth and we're winning 1-0. Then [Arthur] Rhodes gives up a home run to Bernie Williams and [Kazuhiro] Sasaki gives up a home run in the ninth, and we lose the game, 3-1, and are down 3-games-to-1 [in the series]. From being on the other side, I knew it was only going one more game. I stayed out till the sun came up.

I walked around that city, maybe hit up a couple of establishments, and at about 6 in the morning I finally made it back to the hotel. We had a great year, but I had been on the other side, and when the Yankees had a chance to close out a series, they were closing it out. I sat in the bullpen the next night, propped my feet up on the cement wall, and I watched Aaron Sele and us lose. I knew it was going to happen.

The '98 Yankees are mentioned as one of the greatest teams ever. What's it like knowing you were an integral part of such a special team?

It's pretty special because you always have bragging rights, whether it's the Oakland A's who won three in a row or the Big Red Machine. If anyone says they were the best team, it's like, "No, no, no, no, no. We won 125 games that year and had to go through an extra playoff series."

So, best team ever?

Oh yeah, absolutely!

This interview is part of a season- long series of Q&A's with the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.

Thomas Golianopoulos is the associate editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: End Game

By acquiring Zach Britton at the deadline, the Yankees are playing their part in a bullpen revolution
Yankees Magazine

This is a bullpen story, and we're going to talk about bullpens, so just bear with us. But let's spend a minute or two with the 2018 Yankees' batting order, the one that simply could not be stopped during the first half of the season. Opposing pitchers were hopeless. If the Yankees gave up five runs, they would score six. Rookies? No problem! Miguel Andujar showed up and became an extra-base-hit machine. Gleyber Torres came to town and seemed to find a way to hit three-run bombs even with the bases empty.

The point is, offensive might doesn't just show itself in what individual batters do; it registers in the cumulative, as well. Each successive dominant offensive player Aaron Boone could write into the lineup meant less of a breather for the opposing pitcher, which in turn made each hitter more effective. From one through nine, it didn't matter if any individual Yankees hitter slumped, or if another was on some sort of downswing. Compared to the other 14 AL teams, the Yankees were hitting 5.2 more homers per batting spot, including nearly doubling the average for both the two- and nine-holes.

This is a bullpen story, and we're going to talk about bullpens, so just bear with us. But let's spend a minute or two with the 2018 Yankees' batting order, the one that simply could not be stopped during the first half of the season. Opposing pitchers were hopeless. If the Yankees gave up five runs, they would score six. Rookies? No problem! Miguel Andujar showed up and became an extra-base-hit machine. Gleyber Torres came to town and seemed to find a way to hit three-run bombs even with the bases empty.

The point is, offensive might doesn't just show itself in what individual batters do; it registers in the cumulative, as well. Each successive dominant offensive player Aaron Boone could write into the lineup meant less of a breather for the opposing pitcher, which in turn made each hitter more effective. From one through nine, it didn't matter if any individual Yankees hitter slumped, or if another was on some sort of downswing. Compared to the other 14 AL teams, the Yankees were hitting 5.2 more homers per batting spot, including nearly doubling the average for both the two- and nine-holes.

It calls to mind the old joke about making entire planes out of the indestructible black box material. What if you could build a whole team that same way, a never-ending, relentless leviathan? In particular, what if the majority of the bullpen stopped being a destination for filler pitchers, arms not good enough to start or close?

You don't have to wonder. In Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees have a dominant closer, the hardest-throwing pitcher in Major League history. In Dellin Betances, they have a dominant closer, who uses his 6-foot-8 frame and wipeout slurve to attack all comers. In David Robertson, they have a dominant closer, whose cutter-curveball-change-up repertoire and Houdini-like escape artistry vexes batters and has helped him accumulate 134 saves over 11 solid seasons. "We get to the fourth, fifth inning and we've got a lead -- in my head, it's game over," Aaron Judge says. "I know once we get to that bullpen, with the type of arms we have, there's really no shot, you know?"

Baseball is changing; it always has, and it always will. Fielders shift on seemingly every pitch, there are fewer balls in play than ever before and pitching staffs are reconfiguring themselves right before our eyes. So at this year's trading deadline, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman went out and acquired Zach Britton to fill an obvious need for an always-evolving game: a fourth dominant closer.

***

Adding elite relievers on top of elite relievers isn't a totally new thing for the Yankees. In 2011, despite having Mariano Rivera -- the greatest closer in baseball history -- the Yankees went out and signed Rafael Soriano as a free agent. Then before the 2015 season, after Betances had put together an All-Star campaign as Robertson's set-up man (before Robertson departed for the White Sox), Cashman nonetheless added Andrew Miller as a free agent. The next year, even the combination of Miller and Betances wasn't enough; the Reds were offering Chapman for pennies on the dollar, and Cashman pounced.

It's not hard to understand why any team would want to add a pitcher of Britton's caliber. We're just two years removed from a campaign in which the left-hander converted all 47 of his save chances for the Orioles, allowing just four earned runs over 67 innings. His ERA for the season was 0.54, the best figure ever posted by a pitcher who threw at least 50 innings.

"He's obviously had an amazing career, great ability, a lot of success, and that's combined with what I understand is a great work ethic, great teammate," Cashman said after acquiring the 30-year-old reliever. The Orioles drafted Britton in 2006, then moved him to the bullpen in 2014. Britton became an elite closer, one who -- like Rivera -- relied almost entirely on a single, unhittable pitch to dominate. The pitcher had been toying with a sinker since around 2007, but once he moved to the 'pen and could rely on a less-robust arsenal, the pitch really took off.

"It was really good when I was a starter, but I didn't use it the same way," Britton says. "I knew I had a good one in the Minors, it was just a matter of going to the bullpen and realizing that I could dominate with just the one pitch. That was the first time I've had that experience because I used other pitches when I was a starter."

Ironically (and perhaps fittingly for a member of the bullpen Rivera led for so long), Britton never set out to dominate with a sinker, which, as the name implies, goes 50-plus feet in a straight line, then dives as it approaches the plate. The team had actually been trying to teach him a cut fastball. "It kind of just did the opposite of what they wanted it to do, and I just stuck with it," he says, laughing. The pitch, when it's working, is a magic trick, 95 to 97 mph of heavy and deceptive terror. Even when batters expect it (and they always expect it), there's just not much they can do; at best, if they make contact, they're probably going to smash the ball straight down. But most of the time, they're swinging at air. David Ortiz, Britton recalls, once mentioned that he couldn't make sense of the pitch. "Your ball starts here, and then it's gone," the slugger told him.

Britton ruptured his right Achilles during a winter workout, an injury that required surgery and forced him to miss much of this season's first half. By the time he was back, Baltimore was fully in sell-off mode, and despite having very little time to show that he was still the All-Star pitcher he had been in 2015 and '16, the Yankees' GM saw enough to make his play. The Yankees seemed in desperate need of a starting pitcher, but when the market wouldn't come to Cashman, Cashman went to the market.

"It's just another dominant guy," first baseman Greg Bird says of the newest toy in the bullpen, the southpaw who struck out the left-handed Bird in both of their meetings. "It's not an average guy. He's dominant. So just add one more dominant guy to the list." Also, add one more example of a sport that's determined to keep evolving -- and a team more than willing to help push it along.

***

On April 25, 1876, a few months shy of America's centennial, Joe Borden stepped on the hill for the Boston Red Caps, today's Atlanta Braves. Three days earlier, he had pitched all nine innings, winning the first game in National League history. Facing the New York Mutuals, Borden surrendered five runs in the first four-plus innings, leading manager Harry Wright to call for Jack Manning to assume pitching duties. It was the first time in NL history (and, as such, Major League history) that a relief pitcher -- then known as a "change pitcher" was used.

That season, pitchers completed 472 of the league's 520 games; the eight teams combined to use just 34 pitchers all season. So you could say that times have changed, even if the process was slow. Just 74 years after Wright summoned Manning to step in and pitch a game he hadn't started, Philadelphia's Jim Konstanty threw 152 innings in relief, twice going nine frames in extras. He would win the 1950 National League MVP Award, then pitch 15 innings in a World Series that his Phillies lost to the Yankees. Nineteen years later, the league officially adopted a version of the save rule that The Sporting News' Jerome Holtzman had been using in his baseball stories, and about two decades after that, Tony La Russa introduced fans to the thrilling delight of constant mid-inning pitching changes. The game, and all too often managers who preferred to follow accepted wisdom, began to fetishize routine and regularity. There were mop-up pitchers, LOOGYs (lefty one-out guys), set-up men and closers. Pitchers made millions of dollars throwing to one batter every other game or so. Everyone had a defined role.

And realistically, it's not like that has totally changed. There are still roles and routines, even in the 2018 Yankees' bullpen. But it's easy to point to the 2016 postseason as an inflection point that began to turn heads and change minds. Andrew Miller -- traded to the Indians at midseason -- pitched Cleveland to the World Series by defying all contemporary convention. The tall lefty appeared in 10 postseason games that year, a throwback performance in which he averaged just under two innings per outing. He entered in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, never throwing less than an inning and a third. Along the way, he allowed just three runs and earned ALCS MVP honors, the first time the award had ever gone to a non-closing reliever.

To be clear, there's nothing totally revolutionary about managers deploying elite relievers differently in October than they would in the previous six months. Rivera, who recorded more than three outs in 21 percent of his 1,105 career regular season relief appearances, saw that figure rise to 60 percent in his 96 postseason appearances. But in Cleveland, manager Terry Francona and Miller showed a mutual willingness to step away from the norms of treating the ninth inning as the be all and end all. Cody Allen -- the Indians' closer at the time of the Miller trade -- maintained his role, but when the highest-leverage moments arose in the middle innings, Francona didn't hesitate to call for his best weapon, and Miller was up to the occasion. "When I was in Baltimore and we acquired Andrew Miller," Britton says of the 2014 trade that brought Miller to the Orioles at midseason, "he really opened up some guys' eyes to how dominant a reliever could be in certain situations -- you know, extended periods of time."

Video: NYY@TB: Boone, Betances on Britton's value in bullpen

And Britton had, in that same 2016 postseason, seen the other side of that coin. In the AL Wild Card Game, the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays in 11 innings. Britton, coming off his remarkable season, warmed up, but never entered the game. The Orioles lost with their best pitcher sitting in the bullpen because the mores of reliever management meant that you didn't bring your closer into a tie game on the road.

The Yankees were 29 games over .500 when they sent three pitching prospects -- Dillon Tate, Josh Rogers and Cody Carroll -- to Baltimore for a closer who wouldn't close in New York. Cashman's team certainly looked the part of a playoff contender. But the general manager, even with a bullpen stocked three deep in elite closers, saw an investment opportunity. When elimination looms and the temperature on the mound starts getting hotter, top-flight bullpen arms can make all the difference. "You saw what happened in last year's Wild Card game," the GM says.

Let's talk about that 2017 Wild Card Game -- or actually, both Wild Card Games. The Yankees, facing Minnesota in the AL Wild Card Game, sent their ace, Luis Severino, to the mound to get things started. He wouldn't even last an inning. The Yankees needed to rely on their bullpen for 82⁄3 frames in the eventual win, including 31⁄3 from Robertson, who had been closing games on the South Side of Chicago just three months earlier. Across the diamond, the Twins got just two innings from their starter, Ervin Santana. And over in the National League, the Rockies and Diamondbacks got just five innings combined from starters Jon Gray and Zack Greinke. Four outstanding starting pitchers on the biggest stage, and their contributions to their teams' most crucial game of the season to that point added up to just 71⁄3 innings.

"I think it really changed with Miller, how he got used in the playoffs," says Yankees reliever Chad Green, who helped put out Severino's fire in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game, throwing two strong innings. "Everybody was watching that and how they were using him, and I kind of was watching that and was like, 'Man, more teams are gonna try to get a guy like that.' Because it's really important. Sometimes the games are won and lost in the fifth and sixth inning."

***

Chapman ranks fourth on the active career saves list. Britton checks in at No. 12, followed by Robertson at 13. Meanwhile, Betances has already been to four All-Star Games in his career, and while he didn't earn a trip to Washington for this year's Midsummer Classic, he went on an unfathomable run beginning on May 12, allowing just two earned runs and nine hits over his next 331⁄3 innings.

"Nothing like it," Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey says of his 2018 staff, unable to compare it to anything he has seen in his two-plus decades coaching pitchers. "The way this bullpen has been constructed, I think it's where bullpens are going these days. With starters going less deep in games, it's probably going to be a necessity."

It's not just anecdotal. MLB starting pitchers were on pace to throw about 61 percent of teams' innings in 2018, down from 68 percent in 1998, the last time the league expanded, and starters' innings are on the decline for a fifth straight year. Managers, seeing clear data about the drop in reliability for pitchers when they face a lineup for a third time around, are becoming ever-less hesitant to call for relief. "I think the game is relying a lot on back-end guys that can close down games in any situation," Betances says.

Fans may begrudge the lack of complete games and a supposed over-reliance on pitch counts, but facts are facts. "Our preference would be to have a strong starting rotation that pitches deep into games, and then you can turn it over to a fresh, usable, high-ceiling, high-leverage caliber type bullpen," Cashman says. "That would be the perfect recipe, but I know it doesn't play out that way. It's hard to keep everybody healthy, it's hard to acquire and secure and maintain that type of perfect equilibrium between your rotation and your bullpen. We have strength in the rotation, and we have strengths obviously in the bullpen. Right now our bullpen is really strong, and I trust Aaron Boone and Larry Rothschild and Mike Harkey will utilize that to their advantage when necessary."

The natural question, though, is how to identify that advantage. Harkey insists that the ninth inning is a special, unique beast, that the last three outs are the hardest to get (especially in Boston). Other pitchers and analysts aren't so sure. But what's undoubtable is that, at least in the present, the game elevates those who occupy that closer role, both in prestige and also in money. Britton is excited about his new role on the Yankees, ready to do whatever is asked of him. He even says that he considers it to be a valuable piece of the pitch that he'll make as a free agent this coming offseason, when he can show potential suitors that he handled different roles well. And yet despite all that, and despite what he saw from Miller both in Baltimore and then when he watched Cleveland in the World Series, Britton is, unsurprisingly, expecting to eventually sign with a team that will slot him into the ninth inning.

The pitcher is philosophical about what lies ahead of him, not brash. "I have the American League record for consecutive saves," he says somewhat sheepishly, trying to explain why the ninth inning is his preferred destination, even at the end of a conversation during which he pointed out all the high-leverage moments that come earlier in games. "It's just something that I'm good at." Even still, many people involved with the Yankees expect the philosophies -- and the financial incentives -- to keep evolving in the years to come.

"You've already started to see non-closers making as much as fourth and fifth starters," Harkey says. "And I think it's probably only going to change more. You're going to find that bullpens' salaries are higher than starters' salaries. That's just the way it's going to be. When you're able to pitch the best pitcher on your team three to four days a week, as opposed to once a week, when you think about it, you're doing pretty good. So these guys are going to continue to demand more and more."

***

The thing about the Yankees bullpen's strength, though, is that each individual power arm benefits the rest of the group. Forget about the fact that on most teams, any of Robertson or Britton or Betances would certainly be closing. Boone is also able to call for arms such as Green, Jonathan Holder or any other rostered reliever as he wishes, knowing that most teams would see pitchers of that quality locked into specific late-game roles. And if a Chapman or a Green isn't available on any given night? No problem at all. "I think one of the things about our bullpen, and now adding Zach to the mix, they really protect each other, hopefully," Boone says. "Especially in the regular season, there'll be nights when we feel like we want to stay away from a guy or rest a guy, and obviously we're going to have really good options elsewhere on that given night." And as for October, Boone adds, "the team that wins the championship, a lot of times you look back and it's a result of having a bullpen that you can really hang your hat on."

Harkey believes that the younger Yankees relievers also stand to benefit from being able to pitch under a slightly dimmer spotlight. On a lot of teams, he says, a pitcher such as Green would constantly be auditioning for a closer role. A few blown saves in a row, and fans and writers would start wondering when Green would get the chance. On this roster, though? It's just not part of the conversation. And Harkey expects Green, Holder and other young relievers to benefit in the same way that he says Robertson did from developing under Rivera. "He had those years of time to sit behind Mo, to learn from Mo, and be able to take that into games," Harkey says. "And I think, within the organization, the fact that we have three or four guys that can close at any time, it gives us time to develop the Holders, the Greens; time to get their confidence going and work on repeating deliveries in high-leverage situations."

Video: Chapman, Green lead Yanks to Bullpen of Week honors

And the trickle down is no different from what the team saw from the batting order in the first half. Adding a great arm to a collection of great arms means that you never have to summon a middling reliever. Philosophically, it's quite a play if you're able to make it.

Yankees relievers struck out 653 batters in 2017; it was the first time the bullpen had ever broken 600, and its 10.92 strikeouts per nine innings set a new big league record. Through Aug. 12 of this year, the bullpen was on pace to strike out more than 740 hitters, a figure that barely even accounts for Britton's arrival. That's not a small jump. Meanwhile, the relievers were allowing the third-fewest runs per game in the AL, more than a half-run better than the league average.

When Cashman added Giancarlo Stanton to an already-awesome lineup, it didn't just impact Stanton's own at-bats. He makes every hitter around him better by making pitchers work harder, by being on base, by lurking in the on-deck circle. "He was brought in to fit into what was already a great clubhouse with a lot of high-quality and highly capable, talented players in their own right," Cashman says. "And I think the benefit of all that, when you have that many people with that type of representation in terms of ability … it gives each other cover."

And as for the relievers? "I've been a GM now for 21 years, and so the evolution of how this 'pen looks now is a lot deeper and stronger than it's ever been. I do every now and then wonder what it's going to look like in a few years because you can't maintain something to this level. It's performed so well for us, and the job is kind of to constantly have that fierce system coming and pushing it and adding to it. But this is a pretty impressive crew that we have had to deploy over the last number of years, and we're thankful for their clear contributions to that win column. We're hoping that we can keep relying on that type of performance as we move forward because it is obviously a major strength."

Britton didn't have a Spring Training this year, and there are some who surmise that the Orioles might have strategically and understandably accelerated his rehab so they could boost his trade value. But as the pitcher works to regain his once-otherworldly form, he's surrounded by an astounding collection of talent for which his mere presence will do a world of good. "We're looking forward to him joining this band of merry men and seeing where it takes us," Cashman says.

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: The Ultimate Comeback

After 9/11, sports played a huge role in helping the country heal
Yankees Magazine

No, the Yankees did not win the World Series in 2001. There were no world championship celebrations or parades up the Canyon of Heroes. And yet it's hard to come up with a more memorable postseason run, not just for Yankees fans, but also the country as a whole.

In part it's because of the epic comebacks and the walk-off outcomes, up to and including the heartbreaking Game 7 breakdown that lifted the Diamondbacks to the mountaintop by just the slimmest of margins. But the 2001 Yankees also remain embedded in our memory because of what was going on in the United States at that time.

No, the Yankees did not win the World Series in 2001. There were no world championship celebrations or parades up the Canyon of Heroes. And yet it's hard to come up with a more memorable postseason run, not just for Yankees fans, but also the country as a whole.

In part it's because of the epic comebacks and the walk-off outcomes, up to and including the heartbreaking Game 7 breakdown that lifted the Diamondbacks to the mountaintop by just the slimmest of margins. But the 2001 Yankees also remain embedded in our memory because of what was going on in the United States at that time.

The devastation and tragedy at Ground Zero was still raw as the World Series got underway, the scars of 9/11 still visible in the smoldering wreckage of the Twin Towers. When two hijacked airplanes hit the skyscrapers, killing thousands of innocent people, the world stopped. Every part of it -- including sports -- ground to a halt. Nearly every game, match, practice and event was canceled or postponed in the immediate aftermath. America was busy trying to put itself back together, and the games would have to wait.

Eventually, though, play resumed. Football players put their pads back on, and baseball players ran back onto the field. In those moments, the nation began to heal. When Major League umpires instructed the teams to play ball, for just a few hours, fans were given permission to breathe normally, albeit briefly. It felt good to smile.

It's easy to say that sports are just games, but in the days and weeks after the tragedy of Sept. 11, sports offered a safe space for an entire population to come together, to grieve and to celebrate simultaneously. Spontaneous moments of unity emerged amid the smoke and ash. Minutiae such as flag-emblazoned hats and ceremonial first pitches became poignant symbols of national pride and resilience.

After 9/11, the world changed. But sports stayed mostly the same. And that comfort and consistency was so crucial in a time of distress.

To commemorate the role sports played in helping the healing, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum created a special exhibition called "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11," which takes visitors through the timeline of events in the days and months after the attacks, shows how sports provided a way for people to connect, and illustrates how arenas and stadiums became places of healing. The exhibit also tells a bigger story about the role sports have always played in the history of the country.

"Comeback Season" opened to the public on June 27 and is just the second temporary exhibition to be housed at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. It took a year to arrange and construct, and it is expected to remain open until at least summer 2019. Filled with artifacts, photographs and archival video, the exhibit takes visitors through the full timeline of sports-related events surrounding 9/11. It moves from the moment the planes hit the towers, to the ESPN coverage about how the sports world -- as well as the rest of the country -- would be taking some time off to process what had happened and try to figure out the best way forward, to telling the story of how New York City played host to the World Series and a marathon just weeks after the attacks.

There are displays remembering "A Prayer for America," the memorial service that took place at Yankee Stadium. Another commemorates the first game played in New York City after the attacks -- a Mets contest against the Braves at Shea Stadium in which Mike Piazza homered -- and a remembrance of how the Rangers started their season on the ice by paying tribute to the FDNY and NYPD.

"There's another part to the story," says Alice M. Greenwald, the president & CEO of the museum, "which is how we literally came together in the aftermath of this whole event and began to support each other in ways that were remarkable and palpable and surprising. Sports was one of the places -- and probably the most visible place in the society -- where people felt they could come together safely.

"The arena literally became the place where we expressed gratitude to the first responders and expressed commemorative recollections of those who had died and honored their families."

Video: BAL@NYY: Yankees unveil September 11 monument in 2002

The Yankees obviously play a role in the exhibit, too, with displays about the 2001 World Series, President George W. Bush's ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium prior to Game 3, and a case containing a glove Derek Jeter gifted to the daughter of one of the pilots who died when his plane crashed into the South Tower.

Brielle Saracini was only 10 years old when she wrote to Jeter three days after losing her father. In her grief, she reached out to her favorite baseball player for comfort:

"As you have heard, there was a horrible accident that involved the Twin Towers, there was a hijacking on a plane. Terrible people are in this world, but you and I both know that! Out of respect I would love it if you would pay me a visit because that horrible hijacking happened to be my father. My father was the pilot, Captain Victor J. Saracini. My family is experiencing pain that comes and goes … My dad was a great father to me and he would want me to concur [sic] my dream, meeting you…"

Jeter received the letter and acted almost immediately. He invited the Saracini family to Yankee Stadium and spent the day with Brielle and her sister.

"That was really kind of an eye-opener because it gave us an insight into how athletes responded," says Clifford Chanin, executive vice president and deputy director for museum programs. "It's how people who have been bereaved in those first moments thinking about what would make them feel better -- it was to reach out to an athlete, and then the athlete was touched by the story and responds. It's a microcosm of the whole thing."

"The story itself is so heartwarming," Greenwald says. "It's that idea of whatever you do in your profession, whatever you do in life, you can put a hand out to somebody in need and make a difference."

In terms of difference-makers, none mattered more than the first responders. Search and rescue missions that began in the moments after the disaster occurred were ongoing weeks later. Every day, firemen and police officers were working at Ground Zero with a singular focus: Find anyone still missing.

"I remember the trip we all took over to the first responders at Ground Zero; they were so diligently working, trying to find and save lives," says former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, who was on hand at the opening of the exhibit. "They hadn't even thought about what they were doing until we showed up and they stopped and they talked, and a couple of the guys would break down and start crying. It was amazing how they hadn't processed what they were doing."

The Giants were far from the only organization to take time out to visit the site. Each New York team found itself at Ground Zero to lend a hand, offer a hug or bring supplies, including the Yankees.

"I remember thinking, 'We're just baseball players, and this is the game of life,'" Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager at the time, said while attending an event at the 9/11 Museum & Memorial in 2016. He remembered being presented with photos of lost Yankees fans by their grieving families, and it was then that he realized that there was something he and his players could offer in return. "There was something for us to do, and that was to try to distract them.

"The 'NY' on your hats represents more than just the Yankees," Torre told his players. "It represents the city of New York."

At the exhibit, the Yankees' famous interlocking "NY" is everywhere, from the video boards displaying a rotation of hand-painted signs fans brought to the Stadium, to the frying pan mounted on a piece of wood carried by legendary Yankees fan Freddy "Sez" Schuman. Its message: "N.Y. Yankees and America We're With You!"

It was a statement with meaning -- they all were. Every moment mattered. Every athlete, coach and fan played a role in helping the county heal.

Rivalries persisted on the field. Folks in the stands were encouraged to root for their teams and their guys. A World Series was on the line in the Bronx, and Yankees fans were as caught up in that battle as they were with anything else. But what came through in those moments and throughout every game -- and indeed throughout the exhibit -- was that behind all those on-field battles was something more.

"I think that authentic sense of, 'We're in this together, we are one, this is one team. Yes, we play games against each other, but what really matters is the fabric of our society and who we are,'" Greenwald says. "Sports does that better than anything else in our society. It just does it in ways that everybody can relate to."

Walking through the museum now is an emotional experience. As a whole, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum does an excellent job of paying tribute to the tremendous loss suffered that day. With "Comeback Season," a brief respite is provided. Just like sports did at the time, the exhibit allows museum visitors an opportunity to breathe -- to remember the unity, relive the touching moments and truly believe that things get better. The world moves on.

Healing is a slow and painful process. And no one will ever forget. But we will persist.

In sports and in life, at Yankee Stadium and in Lower Manhattan and all around the world, folks continue to lace up their cleats and shoes and just try to do their jobs. In the wake of 9/11, those guys in cleats and on skates and in basketball sneakers had a little bit more added to their job descriptions, though. They became healers in their own way, and they did it with grace.

The Yankees didn't win the 2001 World Series. But seeing them take the field and battle back from the brink over and over was a metaphor for how America could do the same thing. The country fared better than the guys in pinstripes -- but truthfully, we all came out on top.

To learn more about "Comeback Season," the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, or to purchase tickets, visit www.911memorial.org.

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Fun is Good

The Charleston RiverDogs know how to have a good time. They've been doing it for 175 seasons (in dog years)
Yankees Magazine

No one truly knows if reincarnation exists. But in baseball, rebirth is happening all the time. Every year there's roster turnover, front office shake-ups and reshuffling of priorities. Those are the more common forms of change. But every once in a while something much bigger occurs -- one organization becomes something entirely new, and the whole personality of the group begins to change.

In 1994, the Charleston Rainbows had reached the end of their path. The Padres had rebranded the club the Rainbows when they took ownership in 1985, and Texas held onto the name when the team changed hands in 1993. But something different was on the horizon. The club was headed in a unique direction.

No one truly knows if reincarnation exists. But in baseball, rebirth is happening all the time. Every year there's roster turnover, front office shake-ups and reshuffling of priorities. Those are the more common forms of change. But every once in a while something much bigger occurs -- one organization becomes something entirely new, and the whole personality of the group begins to change.

In 1994, the Charleston Rainbows had reached the end of their path. The Padres had rebranded the club the Rainbows when they took ownership in 1985, and Texas held onto the name when the team changed hands in 1993. But something different was on the horizon. The club was headed in a unique direction.

After a naming contest, the rebranded Charleston RiverDogs played their inaugural season in 1994. In the years since, the team has become part of the city's identity. Much of the reason for that was the new ownership group that took over when the 'Bows became the 'Dogs. The Goldklang Group, led by Marv and Jeff Goldklang, along with Mike Veeck and Bill Murray, among others, established an entirely new mindset when it comes to baseball in the Holy City: Fun is good.

It's an ethos that runs through every single thing the RiverDogs have done for 25 seasons -- and they take that credo very seriously.

***

In the Minor Leagues, the game on the field is often secondary to the spectacle off of it. The between-innings games, the mascots and the promotions are all designed, or maybe overdesigned, with the sole purpose of getting fans into (and sometimes up out of) their seats.

As much as baseball is America's pastime, the truth remains that a ticket to see Low-A players learn to play professional ball in pursuit of a dream just isn't as hot as the Taylor Swift concert or the food festival going on downtown. So the staffs of Minor League clubs have to be a little creative when it comes to drawing fans to the ballpark. And few, if any, are better at that than the RiverDogs, who won the 2017 Bob Freitas Award from Baseball America for their promotional efforts.

"Not to pat ourselves on the back, but it's just embracing the idea of, 'Let's have some fun with it, and it can turn into something great,'" says Nate Kurant, the RiverDogs' director of promotions. "We could give away T-shirts. We could give away hats, and it would be fine. But every team can do that. What I think we do a really good job of here is, we try to put the spectacle into the hands of the people. You can show them fireworks, and that's great. But if you give them the moment and they are the show -- you're not watching the show, you are the show -- that's where I think we've been fortunate as an organization because we're allowed to try things."

The 'Dogs will try just about anything. From "Nobody Night" -- a 2002 promotion during which the club set the record for lowest attendance by locking fans out of the park until the fifth inning, at which point the official attendance was counted in the books -- to the world's biggest Silly String fight on String Night, to Joseph P. Riley and the Amazing Technicolor Ballpark, during which fans at "The Joe" were given bags of colored powder that they tossed up in unison during the seventh-inning stretch to form a massive color display over the stadium -- nothing is ever off the table.

"It's all about somebody just saying 'Sure,' instead of 'That's stupid,' or 'That'll never work,'" Kurant says. "Of course it won't work. Nothing will ever work until you try it. Just try stuff. And so we try stuff, and we're really good at failing, but because of that we get to succeed a lot, too. My thing is I want to be a failer, not a failure. So keep trying and failing, but eventually you'll find success."

That method works for the entire front office, too, including president and general manager Dave Echols who, now in his 14th year in the position, has made it his job to encourage all of his employees to take as many risks as possible.

"I want Nate to think that way because if he's afraid to fail, then we don't have a Silly String night -- he'll be too afraid to do it," Echols says. "The RiverDogs operate under a 'Fun is Good' philosophy, and it's something we as a staff try to push through and have as an underlying message in how we make decisions. And the Goldklang group, they are our owners and we take directives from them, and they want us to infuse fun into the success and brand that we have."

During this past offseason's organizational meetings, the history of the brand was naturally brought to the table when discussing how to commemorate the RiverDogs' 25th season. Obviously the club was going to celebrate; the question was how? The team could easily have gone with a commemorative patch on its sleeve in 2018, but these are the RiverDogs. To have a run-of-the-mill 25th season patch would be boring.

"You take 25 years of being the RiverDogs, well that's 175 in dog years," Echols says with a chuckle. "It was really a no-brainer when we were sitting around discussing things."

So the 'Dogs ran with it and created a logo that celebrates 175 canine years rather than their actual 25.

"We could have put a 25 on our patch just like every other team would have done, and not one person would have batted an eye," Kurant says. "But when we did it in dog years people were like, 'Yeah, that's a fun team, they do fun stuff.' Fans were calling it the logo of the year."

The commemorative logo was just the beginning. There was still more in store to celebrate all those years as 'Dogs.

Charleston is big on history -- the National Parks Service lists 38 National Historic Landmarks in the city alone, which doesn't even touch the state- designated historical sites and the areas of local legend. The RiverDogs have become very much a part of that heritage. They also like to have some fun with it.

Around The Joe this season, fans will find placards similar to those that you stumble upon around every corner in Charleston proper that commemorate a historical site or event. But the ones in the park are specific to the RiverDogs both in a historical sense and through their sardonic playfulness. From the placard commemorating Mitch Hilligoss's South Atlantic League record 38-game hitting streak to the one remembering when a fan named Sue dropped her nachos and got a free replacement plate, the 'Dogs always find a way to bring a smile to the faces of their guests.

"There are so many historical markers around the city, so we thought it might be fun to play with that idea by tongue-in-cheek saying we're the youngest historical site," Kurant says. "Whether it's accurate or not is up for grabs, but that's some of the small stuff we've been doing here around the ballpark."

Other 25th year touches include photos of well-known former RiverDogs lining the walls of The Joe. And some of the former Lowcountry greats such as Hilligoss have returned to the park to help celebrate their shared history with the club. Every Wednesday the 'Dogs wear throwback uniforms from their very first year -- a horrendous teal jersey that for some reason was all the rage in the '90s and can now be rebranded as "retro."

The pièce de résistance, though, is the Silver Anniversary Dog, the most outlandish of the 12 new concessions items the team introduced for 2018. For just $25, fans can chow down on this silver-garnished, all-beef, wagyu hot dog topped with pan-seared pork belly, butter-poached lobster and a white truffle champagne aioli.

"It was silly enough where it was like, 'Yeah, let's try it,'" Kurant says, laughing. "We were thinking no one is going to do that. Nobody is going to buy a $25 hot dog. Until they bought a $25 hot dog."

Needless to say the Silver Anniversary Dog isn't the best-selling item at the park, but that's not the point. For the crew in Charleston, it all goes back to that idea of bringing as much fun as possible to the fans -- and having them connect that fun to the team on the field. Because when they suddenly realize that they're not only having a great time but that they're seeing the Yankees of the future, it makes for a top-notch experience all around.

"Having the Yankees as your calling card is nice by nature," Kurant says. "It is tremendous to have that as the backbone of where we are because the Yankees have that presence, and being connected to that is a huge positive."

Seeing Aaron Judge and Luis Severino and Miguel Andujar -- all of whom came up through Charleston -- shine in the big leagues gives the RiverDogs a bit of cachet. But the only way to make fans aware is to get them through the gates in the first place. And in doing so, a chain reaction occurs that reaches all the way onto the field and up the Minor League ladder.

"Whether it's $1 beer night or Color Night or they're dropping bouncy balls from the air, all that makes people want to come out and have fun, and it makes the players want to play well," says pitcher JP Sears. "And that leads to you wanting to do well here and then higher and higher. So it's a ripple effect. I like it, I think it's fun."

"I think they do a good job with the fans, which makes the baseball staff happy because when the fans come and support us, it gives us a little edge," says RiverDogs manager Julio Mosquera. "It makes you want to do more, and every day do a little something better to show the fans that the players care about them, too."

***

When the Rainbows became the RiverDogs, no one knew exactly what to expect. Now, 25 years later or, fine, 175, that's still true. Except fans know to expect the unexpected -- and to anticipate having a great time at The Joe.

"It's a lot of fun, it's a family atmosphere," says Bubba Lloyd, who has been a RiverDogs season ticket holder for 15 years. "My wife and I love to participate in all the promotional nights. It makes you feel like you never grow up. It means a lot that the club prioritizes fun because it allows everybody to get involved. I always know I'm going to have a good time because it's just a fun place to be, it really is."

Lloyd is not alone in his assessment. The 'Dogs have become ingrained in the Charleston community, which shows its love by showing up. In 2017, the club eclipsed the 300,000-attendance mark for the first time.

"We're just trying to find ways to truly connect and let the community know we care and we want to be a part of what they're experiencing," Echols says. "But we also want to be an outlet for them -- a place where you can come and you don't have to be a baseball fan, you don't have to care if we win or lose, but there are a lot of opportunities to come and enjoy this ballpark. It could be a cheap date night out, some good food, or you can just come and catch the breeze off the river. There's a lot of reasons we've been able to give the community a chance to come out, and I think that's the main thing with Charleston, and we're happy to do that."

"We don't take a night off," Kurant says. "We could put on the same show every night and most people wouldn't know, but that's not fun. So we're trying to put on the best show every night. We want to make sure the first time you're here or the hundredth time you're here that it's the best time you've ever had."

Fun is good. The RiverDogs have been proving it for 25 seasons. Here's to 175 more.

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Battle Ready

Miguel Andujar is finally thriving in the Majors, but he knows the work is just getting started
Yankees Magazine

As the winter months gave way to spring this past offseason, one of the Yankees' few outstanding questions was at third base. Would the team re-sign free agent Todd Frazier, a seasoned veteran who came to the Bronx for the home stretch of the 2017 season and made a positive impact in the clubhouse and on the field? Or would the team instead look to another free-agent option, maybe All-Star Mike Moustakas, who hit 38 home runs last season in Kansas City? Trading with the division-rival Baltimore Orioles for three-time All-Star Manny Machado, a soon-to-be-free agent, wasn't even out of the question.

But from the first workout in Tampa, Florida, Miguel Andujar, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was intent on competing for -- and claiming -- the job. Andujar, who signed with the organization as a teenager, hit the cover off the ball in March, impressing the team's brass just about every time he stepped on the field. But despite Andujar's efforts, when the team broke camp, it was Brandon Drury -- a young player who had proven himself over the last two-plus seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks before a February trade to New York -- who got the nod.

As the winter months gave way to spring this past offseason, one of the Yankees' few outstanding questions was at third base. Would the team re-sign free agent Todd Frazier, a seasoned veteran who came to the Bronx for the home stretch of the 2017 season and made a positive impact in the clubhouse and on the field? Or would the team instead look to another free-agent option, maybe All-Star Mike Moustakas, who hit 38 home runs last season in Kansas City? Trading with the division-rival Baltimore Orioles for three-time All-Star Manny Machado, a soon-to-be-free agent, wasn't even out of the question.

But from the first workout in Tampa, Florida, Miguel Andujar, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was intent on competing for -- and claiming -- the job. Andujar, who signed with the organization as a teenager, hit the cover off the ball in March, impressing the team's brass just about every time he stepped on the field. But despite Andujar's efforts, when the team broke camp, it was Brandon Drury -- a young player who had proven himself over the last two-plus seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks before a February trade to New York -- who got the nod.

Things changed just a few days into the regular season, though. Andujar was called up on April 1, and a few days later, Drury was sidelined with migraine headaches. The rookie struggled out of the gate, but since finding his swing, he has not looked back. As of mid-August, Andujar was batting .296 with 19 home runs, 59 RBI and 34 doubles, numbers that will undoubtedly earn him some consideration for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, along with fellow Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres and the Angels' Shohei Ohtani. Andujar's emergence at the plate made other third-base options expendable, and Drury was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays in a package that yielded the Yankees starting pitcher J.A. Happ.

Andujar sat down with Yankees Magazine editor-in-chief Alfred Santasiere III in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park in early August to discuss his first four months in the bigs (notwithstanding eight plate appearances in 2017). Marlon Abreu, the team's bilingual media relations coordinator, interpreted the interview from Andujar's native Spanish.

Thinking back on your first two seasons in the Yankees organization, what were the most challenging aspects about that time in rookie ball?

When you are just starting out, just looking at the journey to the big leagues, and how hard it can be, it's intimidating and challenging. When you're 18 years old and playing rookie ball, the dream of making it to the big leagues seems so far away. Just staying positive and believing in myself, especially when I struggled at that level, was the hardest thing for me to deal with back then.

From your first season in rookie ball to your second, you increased your batting average by almost 100 points. What do you feel contributed to being able to make such a big improvement?

I was obviously a very young ballplayer when I started, and it took me an entire season to get used to facing professional pitchers and to recognize the kinds of patterns they were using to pitch against me. But I enjoyed the challenge, and I set a bunch of goals for myself during those first two seasons. One of my goals was to make a big improvement as a hitter by my second season. It took me a little while to get going, and I certainly needed to get some experience, but eventually, I was able to be better.

In 2016, you played really well at the Double-A level. Was it then that you began to believe that making it to the Majors would become a reality for you?

By the time I was in Trenton, I had gained enough experience to feel like reaching my dream was close to happening. I felt like because I was playing good baseball, there was going to be an opportunity for me to get to the big leagues, but I knew that I had to keep developing and continue to get better every time I came up to the plate or took ground balls in the field. I was having fun, and I believed that my skills had developed more and more each year that I was in the Yankees organization. It was really just a matter of continuing to do what I had been doing. If I did that, I was confident that I would get a shot in the Major Leagues.

From the time you signed with the Yankees, your coaches have spoken highly of your work ethic. What has motivated you to work so hard every day?

Simply put, I want to improve every day. I understood at an early age that if you want to be a better player each year, you have to work really hard. You have to practice as hard as you play in games and, most importantly, you have to have a set routine to follow every day. I still have a routine that I follow. I know that I need to work as hard as I did for all of those years I was in the Minors. I'm actually working even harder now because of how good the competition is at this level. Every day is an opportunity to get better, and the way I see it is that if you follow the routine that got you to the big leagues, you're going to continue to get better.

What were the emotions you felt when you got called up last year and played in your first Major League game in Chicago against the White Sox?

It was an amazing experience for me. Putting the Yankees uniform on that night was a dream come true. I was a little nervous when I came up for that first at-bat, but after that, I felt normal. I was playing the game I had played my whole life, and things had always worked out well for me. I was confident that everything would work out that night, as well. I was happy that I had a really good game and that we won that night. The whole experience of going to Chicago and playing the game is something I will never forget.

You certainly did have a great game. What does it mean to you to be the first Yankees player to collect four RBI in your Major League debut?
What can I say? That's an amazing statistic and something I'm proud to be associated with. To be able to have that on my résumé means that I did something good for the team right away, and that means a lot to me. Hopefully, there are many more games like that for me.

Your numbers in Double-A and Triple-A last season were impressive, especially the 54 extra-base hits you collected between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Did you feel like you took the final step in 2017 toward becoming a big leaguer?

You can always get better, but I really felt like I did about as well as I could do last year, especially when I was in Scranton. I'm not sure if I was ready to be an everyday player midway through the season last year, but after playing the way I did in Scranton and Trenton, I felt ready to compete for a job in the Bronx. I was always mindful about how much better the pitching at the big league level is, but I had the belief that I could hit for power at this level the same way I did in the Minors last season.

What were your goals going into Spring Training this season?

I just wanted to play my absolute best day in and day out, and get an opportunity to play up here. I knew that there were no guarantees, regardless of how well I played, but I was determined to be at the top of my game.

Well, it seemed like with each day that passed during Spring Training, your chances of making the team increased. How would you describe that time in your life?

I was playing good baseball, and that was fun. I really like to play hard and practice hard, and that's what I did for almost two months in Tampa. And, of course, you understand that you're creating an opportunity for yourself because you're playing well in front of the manager and coaches and the general manager. The more I played well, the more they put me out there, and I just wanted to keep that going. I knew there was a chance I could make the team, but as a rookie, I didn't want to get ahead of myself. I knew that I had to wait for whatever the decision was.

How disappointing was it to be told that you were not going to be with the Major League club to start the regular season?

Of course you're disappointed, because you want to be here, but I was determined to keep working hard and get up here as soon as possible. Getting so much playing time in Spring Training was a good opportunity for me, and I was able to focus on the positive things I did in Spring Training. I was OK waiting for the call because, at that time, I believed it was close.

After getting called up on April 1, you got off to a rough start, collecting only three hits in your first 28 at-bats. Then, you hit safely in 15 of your next 29 at-bats. What contributed to such a dramatic turnaround?

It has to go back to the opportunity itself. The Yankees were giving me the opportunity to play third base every day. When that happened, it gave me a boost in confidence because they believed in me. The longer I stayed with the team, the more confident I became. I just reminded myself that I had gone through cold stretches before, and this was no different from those times. Also, being in the Majors gave me the opportunity to take advantage of all of the resources available. I was able to watch more video and spend more time working with the coaches. I was really able to prepare a plan before every game, one that I could take out there every time I stepped into the batter's box.

Video: TOR@NYY: Andujar crushes his 20th homer of the year

How did you feel when you stepped to the plate at Yankee Stadium on May 4 with two outs and runners on second and third in the ninth inning of a tie game against Cleveland?

I didn't change my approach. It doesn't matter where we were at in the game. I was looking for a good pitch to hit, and I was looking to hit it hard.

And how did you feel after you won the game with that thrilling base hit?

Excited and happy. Mostly, I was just happy that we won the game. That was a good game, and everybody contributed. Everybody was aggressive at the plate that night. It was another one of those moments that you never forget.

As we sit here today, you're putting up numbers that most veteran players would be very happy to have, let alone a rookie. Have you let yourself enjoy the fact that you've been able to establish yourself as a Major Leaguer this season?

You know, numbers like that, they definitely make you feel good. At the same time, the way I see it is you don't stop there. You keep working, and you keep producing. This is far from the end. I want it to be the beginning. If you stay consistent, you're going to be around for a long time, and that's what I want.

So much has been made of your hitting, but I know that you're constantly working on fielding your position. How much confidence do you have in your ability to be a quality third baseman?

Having Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman say nice things about the work I've done to get better at third base gives me confidence. When that happens, you can focus on the work and try to keep improving every day.

In only a few short months, you've become a fan favorite in the Big Apple. How does that make you feel?

Proud. When people are noticing that you're working hard and that you're consistent, it makes you feel great. It means that the hard work is paying off. So, it's good to hear that, but at the same time, it gives me motivation to keep working hard, to keep improving, and to keep on doing the things that I need to do in order to take my game to the next level.

What are your goals for the rest of the season and the rest of your career?

Well, this year, my goal is to win a championship. That's our goal as a team. It would mean the world to have the opportunity to win a World Series in my rookie season. Nothing is more important than that goal, this season or any season in the future. For me, in my career, I just want to stay healthy and keep working hard so I can keep putting up consistent numbers. I'm going to give this game my best, and hopefully that will allow me to follow in the footsteps of so many great baseball players that have played before me.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar

Yankees Magazine: Prelude to a Clout

Ever wonder what it feels like to obliterate a fastball? Let Giancarlo Stanton explain
Yankees Magazine

There is an extraordinary paradox at work whenever Giancarlo Stanton steps into the batter's box. He is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound specimen of an athlete, one who would look right at home catching passes across the middle on Sundays or perhaps even jumping off the top rope at SummerSlam. With muscles on top of muscles, he seems to fill every last inch of the 24 square feet to which he is entitled.

Stanton's ability to crush baseballs hard, high and far is the stuff of nightmares for most any pitcher on the planet. But look closely, and you'll see that underneath the terrifying raw power, there is a delicate choreography taking place. Stepping into the box, he gently taps his right foot into the dirt, finding a firm, comfortable position in which to plant it. His hands form a relaxed grip around his black G27 model Marucci bat, and he bends his knees ever so slightly as the pitcher sets.

There is an extraordinary paradox at work whenever Giancarlo Stanton steps into the batter's box. He is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound specimen of an athlete, one who would look right at home catching passes across the middle on Sundays or perhaps even jumping off the top rope at SummerSlam. With muscles on top of muscles, he seems to fill every last inch of the 24 square feet to which he is entitled.

Stanton's ability to crush baseballs hard, high and far is the stuff of nightmares for most any pitcher on the planet. But look closely, and you'll see that underneath the terrifying raw power, there is a delicate choreography taking place. Stepping into the box, he gently taps his right foot into the dirt, finding a firm, comfortable position in which to plant it. His hands form a relaxed grip around his black G27 model Marucci bat, and he bends his knees ever so slightly as the pitcher sets.

Then, like a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike, he barely moves a muscle as he awaits the pitch. There is no intimidating posturing to mess with the pitcher's head; no overtly obvious mechanisms to cue his timing. There's no exaggerated bat waggle, no high leg-kick. Just focus -- followed by firepower.

"I need to be quiet and soft, if that makes sense," Stanton says. "For everything to work right, I have to just simplify everything and just not try to hit it out, but put my body in the right position to be on time and get the barrel to it. It's not the harder you swing, the more you can hit homers. It's the more precise and balanced that you swing that they're going to come. And what it feels like …"

Stanton tries unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. This feeling he's trying to describe is one that 99.99999 percent of us can only dream about. Yet it's something Stanton knows better than almost anyone. And he plans to do a lot more of it before all is said and done.

***

Soon after slipping on the pinstripes for the first time last December, the 28-year-old Stanton, in response to a question from the YES Network's Jack Curry about joining Aaron Judge in the Yankees' lineup, quipped, "I feel sorry for the baseballs." This season, the slugger went out and showed why. Stanton's first season in New York came with the expected bumps in the road for a player who had spent his entire career in the National League. But when he squared up a baseball -- which was often -- it was a sight (and sound) to behold.

Yankees fans, accustomed to seeing Judge's magnificently powerful and graceful swing with its long follow-through, were immediately taken aback by the difference in Stanton's violently compact (yet equally powerful) swing. His first hack, on an 0-1 pitch from J.A. Happ at Toronto's Rogers Centre on Opening Day, resulted in a 426-foot rocket shot to right-center. While fans listening on the radio struggled to make sense of John Sterling's home run call for the newest Bronx Bomber ("Giancarlo, non si puo stoparlo!"), those watching on TV were just as flabbergasted by what they had witnessed.

It didn't always look this way. Like any batter who has been in the big leagues as long as Stanton, who made his debut on June 8, 2010, and hit 22 home runs in 100 games as a 20-year-old rookie with the then-Florida Marlins, he has tinkered with his stance over the years. His quest was ultimately to find something simple that worked for someone his size.

"It's developed over the years as just trying to be as soft and quick as possible, giving me the most time to see what pitch it is and strike with a powerful but comfortable swing," Stanton says. "Just years and years of watching film and seeing my best striking position, and trying to get there as quick and [with as little] movement as possible."

It wasn't always easy, either. Two weeks after Stanton's big league debut, the Marlins fired manager Fredi Gonzalez, along with bench coach Carlos Tosca and hitting coach Jim Presley. Stanton would eventually play for eight managers and eight hitting coaches in his eight seasons in Miami. The constant changes made it hard to find a rhythm from one season to the next, yet Stanton made the best of the challenging situation by absorbing whatever lessons he could from the array of coaches that came and went.

"I've had great coaches over the years, but the thing is, I had a new hitting coach every year. So it was tough to get like, 'This is what happened last year, let's do this and this,'" he says. "So, you have to be your own coach -- but with good guidance and support along the way from knowledgeable teammates and coaches."

That kind of turnover is unlikely in New York, where just three men have occupied the manager's office since 1996. But facing a challenge head-on and turning it into a positive is an experience that has already come in handy.

Despite all the turmoil in Miami, as long as Stanton was healthy enough to play, he knew he would be starting in right field. In New York, things are much different. Stanton was initially deemed to be the team's designated hitter, with the occasional corner outfield appearance to give Judge or Brett Gardner a respite here and there. But through mid-August, Stanton had played more games in the outfield (60) than at DH (58), and of those 60 games in the field, 31 of them had been in left -- a position he had never played in the Major Leagues prior to this season. So as he adjusted to a new home ballpark in a different league with unfamiliar pitchers, and while he was getting to know his new teammates and coaches and learn his way around a new city, Stanton also had to figure out a new routine that accounted for the fact that he could be playing a new outfield position -- or no position at all.

"That was another new challenge, but that one's the most fun," Stanton says. "Because wherever I'm at, it's to help the team. It's not so much, 'You're better here or there.' It's to give other outfielders a blow, or it's to get my bat in the lineup [as the] DH. So, it's been fun trying to master left field and still stay sharp in right and learn a new routine at DH."

At first, he says, he made the mistake of trying to tackle all of his new responsibilities at the same time. But Stanton soon realized that he was better off handling his duties one day at a time, while still mentally preparing for the next day.

"It seems obvious, but I had a lot to catch up on in left," he says. "And sometimes if I was playing right, I'd be like, 'All right, well I still need to get better in left. Let's try to get it all better.' But that's been my best routine -- knowing what I'm going to be playing tomorrow, handle what I'm playing that day, and then be prepared for my routine tomorrow, also."

Stanton settled in nicely to his new reality. Through Aug. 15, he had played 282 error-free innings in left and had made just one error in right. And at the plate? He has settled in there pretty nicely, too.

***

Baseball is a game of adjustments. A pitcher owns a certain hitter, until that hitter figures out the pitcher's approach and formulates a different plan of attack. In Stanton's case, a hitter figures out how to dominate an entire league, then gets traded to the other circuit.

He'd always been good at ramping himself up to speed quickly, dating back to his days as a three-sport star at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California. While his basketball teammates were practicing and playing scrimmages in preparation for the season, he was starring as a defensive back and wide receiver for the Knights' football team. Some folks wanted him to quit basketball and focus on baseball, but Stanton wasn't trying to hear that. He'd play out the season, then trade his sneakers for cleats and hop right into game action.

"I didn't have this in my head then, but now I'm really glad that I had the mindset of playing it all because I can never play competitive football or basketball -- other than shooting around with my friends, I'll never be able to play two sports that I loved," he says. "So, I got to play until I was as old as possible, roughly, and have memories that I'll enjoy for the rest of my life by doing that."

By missing out on preseason training sessions, it forced Stanton to figure out a way to be successful in a hurry. So when his 2018 Opening Day heroics -- he homered again in the ninth at Toronto, finishing with three hits, three runs and four RBI in his Yankees debut -- gave way to some struggles in April and early May, Stanton once again met the challenge head-on, turning a negative into a positive. His mantra has always been to get the most out of himself, so he thought about all the work he had put in to establish himself as not just a big leaguer, but one of the game's best, the 2017 NL MVP. He trusted that his efforts in the weight room, the batting cage and the video room would soon yield favorable results. And he remembered one very important thing about baseball that can get lost during tough times: It's a game.

"There's years of figuring yourself out as a ballplayer -- understanding what type of player you are, how you can best fit into a big league team," Stanton says. "And then, you've just got to trust your work, trust all the years you've put into this and start enjoying it, trying to have fun even with all the outside noise, whether it's positive or negative. For me, I feel I've worked my whole life to be here, as have all the guys around me, and we should enjoy the process -- struggles and positives."

Becoming a true professional, Stanton says, is about coming to grips with the fact that failure is a huge part of this game. And while it's never easy to deal with failure, it's a lot more manageable when you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say, "Today wasn't my day. Tomorrow will be."

"You're not going to get it done always, but if you prepare the best you can and put yourself in the best opportunity [to succeed], then I can be OK with the results."

Stanton's first homestand in pinstripes was memorable, and not in a good way: 3-for-28 (.107) with 16 strikeouts and more than a few boos. His next homestand was markedly better: 9-for-38 (.237) with 10 runs scored. Then, a 10-for-31 (.323) homestand with more RBI (seven) than strikeouts (six).

Yet the first one -- specifically, the way he handled it -- may resonate longest with Yankees fans. There were no excuses from Stanton -- not even about the weather, which was abysmal even by New York's early April standards. He stood at his locker night after night and vowed to do better.

On the last official day of spring, June 20, Stanton seemed to tell the weather gods, the baseball gods and everyone else that it was time for summer. The Yankees, clinging to a one-game lead in the AL East, were losing to the Mariners, 5-0, in the fifth inning. They chipped away: two runs in the bottom of the fifth, one in the seventh, then a two-run homer by Gary Sanchez tied it in the eighth.

"We have been waiting for his signature Yankee moment," YES announcer Michael Kay said as Stanton came up with two outs and a runner on first the following inning. Seattle right-hander Ryan Cook quickly got ahead, 0-2. Stanton calmly stepped halfway out of the box, keeping his right foot where it had been planted. He gave a little tug on the brim of his helmet, looked up, took a deep breath, shimmied his hips slightly, and stepped back into the batter's box to await the next pitch.

Then, he pounced.

The beautiful, destructive symphony that Stanton has conducted nearly 300 times in his career set off bedlam in the Bronx. Cook bent at the waist and cursed at the ground long before the ball reached its final resting place beyond the outfield wall in left-center. Stanton had delivered a signature moment -- his first walk-off in pinstripes. And that feeling? The one that the vast majority of us will never know? Pure bliss.

"It's just like everything's in sync," he says. "Sometimes if you swing and don't make contact, or you swing and you hit a ground ball, you might lean over to the side and not be completely balanced. But usually when you hit a home run, everything is completely in sync, and you don't feel much on the bat. You just see the trajectory of the ball. I think you get the second-best view -- the catcher gets the best view."

American League backstops and batterymates: This is your warning. Giancarlo Stanton's transition period has just about ended. And the crescendo is building toward his next big bang.

Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Yankees Magazine: The Daily Grinder

Brett Gardner has never been the superstar, but he is the super glue that has held the Yankees together for more than a decade
Yankees Magazine

In a city such as New York, it's hard to find success of any sort, let alone on one of the biggest stages the city has to offer. And sustained success? Fuhgeddaboudit. There are always new shows hitting Broadway and "must-see" attractions cropping up. The "place to be" or the "it" socialite or celebrity will cause a stir one night and disappear from the zeitgeist the next.

Outsiders see these things and chase them. But true New Yorkers know what's up. They know that their favorite bodega around the corner will offer them a better sandwich than the chic new spot downtown with the line out the door. A real Manhattanite knows that the local hole-in-the-wall tavern is usually way more fun than "being seen" at the buzziest new club in the Meatpacking District.

In a city such as New York, it's hard to find success of any sort, let alone on one of the biggest stages the city has to offer. And sustained success? Fuhgeddaboudit. There are always new shows hitting Broadway and "must-see" attractions cropping up. The "place to be" or the "it" socialite or celebrity will cause a stir one night and disappear from the zeitgeist the next.

Outsiders see these things and chase them. But true New Yorkers know what's up. They know that their favorite bodega around the corner will offer them a better sandwich than the chic new spot downtown with the line out the door. A real Manhattanite knows that the local hole-in-the-wall tavern is usually way more fun than "being seen" at the buzziest new club in the Meatpacking District.

Trends come and go in a New York minute, but what will always remain are the standards that have never failed.

The same holds true in the Bronx, where big names are always rolling through the Yankees' clubhouse, stirring up beat reporters and fans, and eating up the spotlight. There's nothing wrong with that. But just like New York City doesn't run only on what's hot, the Yankees don't win just with the biggest stars garnering all the back-page headlines.

For more than a decade, Brett Gardner has been the glue that has held the Yankees together. Since debuting in June of 2008 -- stepping into a clubhouse that included Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and others -- to winning the World Series in 2009, to watching the Core Four members make their exits, to welcoming in the Baby Bombers, Gardner has operated in the background, grinding out at-bats, playing hurt and setting the table.

He has laid low for the most part. But as Gardner goes, so go the Yankees. Even though he's not making waves, the Yankees still ebb and flow with him.

From his perch in the lineup --- usually right at the top -- and from his corner stall in the home clubhouse, a prime spot reserved for the most respected Yankees, Gardner, reliable and trustworthy as ever, guides the team in the right direction.

***

There is a lot of talk about intangibles in sports, particularly baseball. A player who possesses these hard-to-define traits is seen as an asset to the team. But what exactly does that player do?

Look no further than Brett Gardner, who may as well be listed in the dictionary next to the word "intangibles."

"He is just a total baseball player," says Zach Britton. "When you think of a baseball player, you think of him."

Gritty. A grinder. Always hustling. Plays hurt. Scrappy. A leader. These are the words teammates, coaches and even opponents use to describe Gardner. He is everything you can't quantify.

"First time I met him, I thought he was a good player and scrappy," says CC Sabathia, who has been a teammate of Gardner's since 2009. "He works hard, runs hard and is always going to give you everything he's got. It hasn't changed at all. He's always the same. He's a jokester on the team; he can get the energy going among the guys. But really, as far as his effort on the field, he never changes.

"I think the way he always plays hard on the field is a good example for guys to follow, and that naturally makes him a leader."

The veteran left-hander is right. There may be young players with more pure talent than Gardner, but they'd be foolish not to follow his lead when it comes to playing the game hard. And although Gardner will never toot his own horn, he recognizes how vital his experience is to leading the team.

"It's obviously a very important role and something that I don't take lightly," he says. "I don't want to say it was something that was thrust upon me or thrown at me because the longer you're here, eventually you kind of move into that role. Obviously, we've had a lot of turnover on our roster the last few years, and it doesn't really seem to me or feel to me that I've been here as long as I have, but when I sit down and think about it, I guess I have been here quite a little while.

"I've always just tried to play hard. And it sounds kind of simple, but I've always tried to do my best and take my job as seriously as possible. I think it can be a long season. And being mentally tough enough to be able to grind through it when times aren't good, being able to keep going and knowing that the best is yet to come and good things are around the corner, I think sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of that. I think it's about keeping things in perspective, compartmentalizing things … I feel like I've been able to do a pretty good job of that, and I think that's what's allowed me to still be here."

None of that is to say that his play on the field isn't superb. Between the white lines, Gardner's output speaks for itself. Although he is small in stature compared to many teammates, the 5-foot-11 Gardner has an enormous presence in the batter's box. His ability to make pitchers work not only puts pressure on the opposition, but it also puts everyone behind him in the lineup in a better position to succeed.

Through the beginning of August, Gardner was one of the best in the league at lengthening at-bats. His 4.18 pitches per plate appearance placed him among the top 25 batters in all of Major League Baseball. Leading off a game, long at-bats are especially important, giving his teammates ample opportunity to see what the pitcher is working with that day. And considering that the Yankees had scored 72 first-inning runs through the end of July -- only in the fifth frame had they scored more -- Gardner's efforts often made an immediate impact.

"It's always a challenge," Britton says of facing Gardner, which he did 14 times to mixed results as a member of the Orioles. "He's going to make you throw a lot of pitches, he's going to make you throw strikes, and then there's the chance that he puts the ball in play -- and he's fast. … And then when he's on base, he's a threat to steal. So, he's the total package. He's definitely a guy that, when I was on the opposing team, he was a guy you know you always had to keep your eye on."

For Gardner, grinding out at-bats is definitely part of his strategy, one that helps his teammates out in a way no scouting report can.

"I think everybody kind of knows what kind of stuff a pitcher has coming into the game and knows what to expect," Gardner says. "But it's nice to see him and what he has because not every day and not every start does a pitcher have all of his pitches. Maybe their slider is not working that great that day, and they're going to lean more on their curveball or their change-up or the cutter. So, I think that the more pitches you get a guy to throw and the more you get to look at them, the more of an advantage we have as an offense."

"He works the count like nobody else," says Didi Gregorius, who usually occupies the third or fourth spot in the lineup. "We'll see all [the opposing pitcher's] pitches because he'll probably have to go to his secondary or third pitch in the first at-bat. That's so big when you're leading off a game."

Video: NYY@CLE: Gardner belts 2 home runs in Yanks' win

More than anything, though, it's about getting on base, which Gardner does in myriad ways. His .342 on-base percentage, 88 hits and 64 runs scored through Aug. 1 were all on par with the big guys in the Yankees' lineup, and his 49 walks were third only to Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks, who had 68 and 51, respectively. And, as Britton mentioned, once Gardner gets on base, he can create even more opportunities with his speed. Gardner had stolen 10 bases as of Aug. 1 this year, and the 251 he had racked up in his career put him in a tie with Willie Randolph for third on the Yankees' all-time leaderboard. Plus, Gardner's 29.1 feet-per-second sprint speed is the best on the roster and tied for the 13th-fastest time in the bigs.

"For me, the main goal is to get on base and be on base for those main guys in the lineup; it's that simple," Gardner says. "But I do like to see my fair share of pitches and make the pitcher work and let him know that it's going to be a long day for him, hopefully."

Some of Gardner's most epic at-bats have seen him outlast pitchers that he forced to throw 10 and 12 pitches. With the Yankees on the brink of elimination in Game 5 of the 2017 American League Division Series in Cleveland, the left-handed Gardner had two 12-pitch at-bats, one against southpaw Andrew Miller and another against righty Cody Allen. Although Gardner struck out against Miller, facing Allen in the top of the ninth and the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead, the outfielder laced a two-run single to right field to give his team the breathing room it needed to win the game and the series.

"Every team in baseball could use a Brett Gardner," Allen said after the loss.

***

The 2017 postseason was thrilling for everyone in the Yankees' clubhouse, young and old. It marked a return to October for Gardner, who, other than an 0-for-4 night in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, hadn't tasted a playoff run since 2012. The left fielder was lucky enough to reach the mountaintop in 2009 -- his first full year with the Yankees. But the dry spell since then helped put things into perspective for the South Carolina native, who turned 35 last month.

"That first year, I don't want to say you take it for granted, and I don't want to say you assume, but maybe you just figure and hope that this is what's going to come around every year," Gardner says. "But the longer you play, you realize how hard it is to get to that point and how much work goes in to get to that point just to have a chance to play for that championship. Last year, we got so close."

Gardner says winning now would mean even more than that first year because of all he's been through in his career, and he relishes the chance to anoint a new group of would-be champions who are champing at the bit for success and glory.

"We've got a pretty young team, especially for the Yankees," he says. "It's been a lot of fun to watch them continue to grow and watch them come into their own at the big-league level.

"As a young guy, you're wanting to get your career started and wanting to make a little bit of money and wanting to maybe get a contract," he continues with a smile. "But I think the longer that you play, the more a championship is what you're playing for. I know that's something CC and I have talked about a little bit. That's why we're here. We want to win, and we want to win badly. We've got a great team this year, and we've obviously still got a lot of work to do, but I really like our team and like our chances."

Should the Yankees summit the mountain, leading the ascent will be Gardner. He has been there before. He has seen it all. The bright October lights don't distract him any more than the ones in Times Square distract the Midtown local hustling to work with her head down.

New York hardens you. Only the strongest make it, and never without scars. The city leaves its mark. The special ones leave a mark right back. Gardner is still plowing through in the Bronx, leading the charge the only way he knows how -- hustling and with his head down day after day.

"When we come to the field and get to work, we're trying to get a win -- that's the only thing that's going to get us to where we want to be," he says. "Every day is a new day, but every day the goal is to win a game, get some rest and then do it again tomorrow."

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner