Recent Yankee lineups have been packed with big names as tightly as a sardine can.
Whether intimidating or intimidated, it appeared that the name on the front of their baseball card was the driving force of the Bronx’s game plan.
During late-game situations, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi were unable to remove struggling stars from the lineup in favor of Miguel Cairo and Wilson Betemit.
The restrictions that the lineup provided caused the Yankees to lose many, if not most, of the chess matches between managers at the end of games.
Teams of the dynasty years were balanced offensively, and possessed consistency on the pitching staff that simply cannot be overvalued.
The lineup’s flexibility, however, was an integral part of the Yankees October successes.
Yankee benches of the past featured former superstars such as Darryl Strawberry and Cecil Fielder. It also included clutch role players like Luis Sojo, Chad Curtis, and Shane Spencer.
In 1996, even Hall of Fame 3B Wade Boggs came off the bench during a miraculous playoff run. The season of course ended with Boggs riding (a horse) off into the sunset with his first World Series ring.
The ability to mix and match a lineup to counteract an opposing manager’s pitching changes is vital in determining the outcome of a must-win game.
If Homer Bush and Red Sox OF Dave Roberts have taught us anything, it is that a pinch runner can help crown a victor as easily as a man wielding a bat.
During the 2004 ALCS, Roberts stole second base when everyone in the stadium knew he would try.
A line drive up the middle off of Mariano Rivera shifted the momentum of a lost series, and essentially sealed the fate of New York’s historic postseason collapse.
After years of bench players ending games with clean uniforms, it appears the Yankees have finally received the memo.
By adding skilled and versatile athletes into the equation, New York has given Girardi the tools necessary to utilize his National League pedigree.
Though part of a convincing loss at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day, Nick Swisher pinch-hit for Cody Ransom with a one-run eighth inning deficit.
Within seconds, he was standing of second base with a ground rule double.
His relentless energy can provide an emotional lift down the road, and his power can help to throw a wrench in an opposing manager’s strategy.
Girardi can pinch-hit for Ransom at any point during the game as a result of another member of the bench’s contingent.
Backup infielder Ramiro Pena is without a doubt the most talented defensive player on the roster. While Ransom is an athletic and skilled 3B, Pena will ensure that defensive liability is of no concern after a lineup change is performed.
The same flexibility holds true in the event that Brett Gardner is removed in favor of a power option. On any given day, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Xavier Nady, or Swisher could be available off of the bench.
If Gardner is replaced, the Yankees still have CF Melky Cabrera waiting in their back pocket for defensive purposes. His superior arm will force 3B coaches to be more conservative on shallow fly balls.
On the other side of the coin, Gardner can pinch-run in the event that he is given a day off against a left-handed pitcher.
His electric speed can change the game in ways the Bronx has not seen since Rickey Henderson was patrolling the outfield.
In no way am I comparing Gardner’s offensive skill set to that of Henderson’s, but his pure foot speed can wreak havoc on the basepaths.
Much talk has been made about New York’s wealthy starting rotation and star-studded lineup. Their astronomical paychecks make them worthy obsessions.
However, the Yankees bench and newly discovered lineup flexibility should provide a useful dynamic in returning the team to the top of the American League.
Do not sleep on the Yankee role players…because they just might haunt your dreams.