September 13 – Happy Birthday Denny Neagle
This 2012 Yankee season reminds me a bit of the team’s 2000 campaign. That year was the only year a Joe Torre Yankee-managed team failed to win 90 games in a regular season. They were well on their way to doing so. On September 13th of that season they were in first place in the AL East with a nine game lead and an 84-59 record. That July, New York had made two acquisitions they hoped would help fuel the team’s second-half drive. First they got David Justice from Cleveland and two weeks later they sent a package of four “good” minor league prospects, which included Drew Henson and pitcher Ed Yarnall, to Cincinnati for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, the southpaw Denny Neagle.
After making his big league debut with the Twins in 1991, Neagle had spent the next eight seasons pitching in the National League for Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the Reds. He had won 20-games for the Braves in 1997 and made two NL All Star teams and at the time of the deal, was just a few months short of becoming a free agent.
Both these new Yankees paid immediate dividends to their new team. Justice went on a tear at the plate and literally put the Yankee offense on his back and carried it to the postseason. Neagle won his first two starts in pinstripes in impressive fashion to bring his cumulative 2000 season record to 10-2.
I remember after those first couple of starts, everyone, including me was thinking that New York would be signing Neagle to a long term deal at any minute. Even after the six foot four inch native of Gambrills, Maryland lost his next three starts, I still thought ESPN would soon be announcing his Yankee contract extension, especially after he righted himself and won five of his next six decisions. But his September 12th victory over Toronto would prove to be his final win ever in pinstripes. He got hammered in his next three starts and finished his half-season as a Yankee with a 7-7 record. From September 13th until the end of the year, the Yankees went 3-15, crawling to the AL East Pennant by two-and-a-half-games over second place Boston. Even then, most Big Apple Yankee pundits thought it was a better than even-money bet that Neagle would end up with a new Yankee contract.
He most likely blew that deal with his shaky performance in the 2000 postseason. He lost both his starts against the Mariners and Torre coldly pulled him with two-outs in the fifth inning in his Game-4 World Series start against the Mets. In that contest, Neagle had let the Mets close a three-run Yankee lead to a single digit in the third inning when he surrendered a two-run home run to the Mets’ Mike Piazza. With Piazza about to hit again two innings later, Torre decided he was not going to risk history repeating itself. When a manager doesn’t give his starting pitcher the opportunity to get one more out so that he can qualify for a World Series win, you surmise there might be a lack of trust in their relationship. Torre would later tell the press that when he told Neagle he was through for the night he could see the look of shock in his pitcher’s eyes. Neagle was not only shocked, he was bitterly disappointed. That December, he ended up signing with Colorado, where he would close out his 13-season big-league career with three horrible seasons. His final big league record was 124-92.