Jorge Rafael Posada was born on August 17, 1971, in Santruce, Puerto Rico. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.)Located on the island’s west coast, Jorge's hometown was a baseball hotbed. Jorge was a huge fan. Like all Peurto Ricans, he deified the late Roberto Clemente, who perished while flying relief supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua when Jorge was a toddler.
Jorge's first baseball hero, however, was Thurman Munson, the All-Star catcher for the New York Yankees. Ironically, Munson died in a plane crash, too.
Needless to say, baseball was part of Jorge’s life starting in infancy. As soon as he could walk, he was handed a bat and ball by his dad, Jorge Sr. Though the youngster was a natural righty, he was taught to hit as a lefthander in the hopes that he would become a switch-hitter. Jorge batted exclusively from the left side until his 13th birthday. Then one day with a southpaw on the hill, his father told him to take his swings righthanded. Jorge did as instructed and began stinging the ball.
By this point Jorge had developed into a talented shortstop. He patterned his game after Tony Fernandez and Barry Larkin. The teen tried to mimic Fernandez’s smooth fielding style, and marveled at Larkin’s athleticism. He also tried to emulate hard-nosed players like Don Mattingly, Andy Van Slyke and George Brett.
Jorge learned much of his passion and appreciation for baseball from his father as well as his uncle Leo. Back in the late-1950s, they were two of the top young players in Puerto Rico. Jorge’s dad played for several years in the minors, while Leo made it all the way to the majors. He was the everyday right fielder for the Kansas City A’s in 1961.
Thanks in part to his family connections, Jorge was a well-known prospect by the time he was eligible to be drafted. The Yankees made a run at him, selecting him in 1989. But Jorge Sr. felt his son needed more polishing before he was ready to turn pro. He also wanted Jorge to get a formal education in case his big-league aspirations fizzled. The 17-year-old, however, hadn’t scored high enough on his college entrance exams to attend a four-year school. He was not yet comfortable with English, which cost him dearly on standardized tests.
Fortunately, Jorge’s reputation as a power-hitting shortstop preceded him. Fred Frickie, the baseball coach at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, had received glowing reports on him. He offered a scholarship sight-unseen to Jorge, who accepted and then headed north for the school’s campus.
Adjusting to life in a small southern town was a dramatic transition. Jorge spoke broken English, and teammates and opponents knew him only as the Puerto Rican kid drafted by the Yankees. Homesick and lonely, he got into fights on a weekly basis. By Jorge’s sophomore season at Calhoun, things had settled down. Though he didn’t fit the mold of a classic Latino shortstop—he was a better hitter than fielder—his instincts were excellent. Jorge understood what was called for in every situation and always seemed to deliver in the clutch.
Jorge’s feel for the game didn’t go unnoticed. Leon Wurth, a scout for the Yankees, watched him in the spring of 1990 in a game against Volunteer State, a junior college in Tennessee. Wurth was impressed with Jorge’s bat and arm, but what really caught his eye was the sophomore’s enthusiasm on the field. Wurth convinced New York to take another shot at Jorge, and the team tabbed him in the 24th round of the spring draft. Undecided about signing, Jorge joined a summer-league team in Alabama, where Wurth monitored him closely.
Wurth knew Jorge would probably not make it to the majors as a shortstop and questioned whether he had the skills to play second base. The teenager had the brains, but not the quickness. Before one game, Wurth talked Jorge into trying his hand at catching. The 19-year-old made plenty of mistakes, but never backed down from the challenge. Wurth was certain he had uncovered a gem.
On their scout’s advice, the Yankees reopened negotiations with Jorge, who was just beginning his third year at Calhoun. Named co-captain, he enjoyed an excellent season and was voted all-conference as an infielder. After Jorge’s final game he signed with the Yankees, who shelled out $30,000 in bonus money and promised Jorge‘s father they would give him three years to prove himself.
ON THE RISE
Jorge spent his first year in pinstripes playing for the Oneonta Yankees in the Class-A New York-Penn League. Playing mostly in the infield, he hit .235 with four homers and 33 RBIs. Most notable about Jorge’s offensive performance was the patience he showed at the plate. In 71 games, he walked 51 times, demonstrating an ability to work pitchers deep into the count. On defense, Jorge led all NYPL second basemen with 42 double plays.
After the season, the Yankees worked Jorge exclusively as a catcher in the Fall Instructional League, and the next two years saw him hone his craft behind the plate. While he played every so often at third and in the outfield, it was clear that he was being groomed as New York's backstop of the future.
At ease with his position switch, Jorge relaxed at the plate and began to pound the baseball. In 1992 with Greensboro of the South Atlantic League, he batted .277, racked up 38 extra-base hits and drove in 58 runs. The following season, after being bumped up to Prince William in the Carolina League, Jorge increased his power numbers (27 doubles, 17 HRs and 61 RBIs). For his efforts, he earned a late-season promotion to Albany of the Double-A Eastern League.
Jorge was not the only rising star on the Columbus roster. By season’s end, he was joined by shortstop Derek Jeter. Ironically, it was the 20-year-old’s quick ascension through the farm system that helped end Jorge’s career as an infielder. Also promoted to Columbus was Andy Pettitte, a lanky southpaw who had 35 wins under his belt in less than four minor-league seasons.
All that was holding Jorge back was his glove—he committed a league-high 11 errors in 1994. That total would have been higher had he not missed the last six weeks of the season. On a bang-bang play at the plate, Jorge was involved in a violent collision that broke his left leg and dislocated his left ankle. Though he recovered from the physical damage of the injury, the psychological imapact stayed with him for years. Never before shy about blocking the dish, he became hesitant to put himself in harm’s way with a runner bearing down the line.
Jorge logged a full season for Columbus in 1995. In 106 games, he batted .255 and drove in 55 runs. He also reduced his errors behind the plate to four and led IL catchers with seven double plays. Coming back from his messy injury, Jorge opened eyes in the organization and earned a September call-up to the Yankees.
Somewhat surprisingly, the team kept him on the 25-man roster for the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners. It was New York’s first trip to the postseason since 1981. In a thrilling five-game set, the Yanks fell to Seattle, losing the decider in extra innings on a double by Edgar Martinez that plated Ken Griffey Jr. Ironically, Jorge—notoriously supsect on the basepaths—was used once by manager Buck Showalter as a pinch-runner during the series.
Jorge was back in Columbus to start 1996 and watched as Jeter and Pettitte made their marks in the majors. The shortstop was voted AL Rookie of the Year, and the lefty went 21-8. Under new manager Joe Torre, the pair helped the Yankees advance to the World Series, where they beat the Atlanta Braves in six games.
The ’97 campaign was an uphill battle for the Bronx Bombers, who often had to rely on pitching and defense instead of power hitting. The Baltimore Orioles had a strong club, and the Yanks finished two games behind them with a 96-66 record. That was good enough to earn a Wild Card berth in the playoffs.
Pettitte and David Cone were the staff aces, newcomer David Wells gave New York a valuable third arm, and Mariano Rivera was promoted from setup man to closer. Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez were the heart and soul of the everyday lineup.
In the Division Series, New York faced off against the Cleveland Indians. Primed to defend their title, the Yanks were stunned in Game 4 when Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a game-winning home run off Rivera. The Tribe then took Game 5 to end New York’s year. Jorge, who pinch-hit twice against the Indians, was crushed by the defeat.
His disappointment was tempered in the offseason when he met a law student named Laura at a party in Puerto Rico. Smitten immediately, Jorge recognized her as the softball pitcher who had enticed him into umpiring years earlier. For the first time ever, Jorge spent the winter thinking about more than baseball.
Jorge and the Yankees entered the 1998 campaign with the memory of the Cleveland loss fresh in their minds. GM Brian Cashman bolstered the roster, bringing in second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, third baseman Scott Brosius, and DH Chili Davis. He also added two starting pitchers, Hideki Irabu and Orlando Hernandez. The rest of the team looked the same, with Jeter, Williams, O’Neill, Cone, Pettitte, Wells and Rivera forming a strong nucleus.
Jorge started the campaign expecting to spend another year as catching apprentice. But when he slammed home runs to key the team’s first two victories of the year, Torre reconsidered his strategy. Jorge gradually assumed the starting role from Girardi, and New York rolled with him behind the plate. The Yankees opened an insurmountable lead in the AL East, and then kept on winning. After clinching the division in early September, they finished at 114-48.
Despite his strong stats, Jorge watched a good portion of the playoffs from the dugout. Preferring defense and experience behind the plate, Torre turned to Girardi and used Jorge most often as a potent bat off the bench. Jorge handled the change well. He homered once in the ALCS, and then hit .333 in the World Series. The Yankees cruised to the championship, obliterating the Texas Rangers, Indians and San Diego Padres in the process.
AL pitchers caught up with Jorge in 1999, and he struggled at times. He swung from the heels too often, fell behind in counts and failed to find any consistency. His numbers dropped in virtually every offensive category, which eventually forced New York to reacquire Leyritz to provide more depth behind the plate. The rest of the lineup, however, was solid. Knoblauch and Jeter terrorized opponents at the top of the order—the All-Star shortstop being particularly effective with a .349 batting average and 102 RBIs. Williams had his best year to date, while O’Neill and Martinez were reliable as usual.
The pitching, meanwhile, was just good enough to win the AL East. A spring-training deal swapped Wells and a few spare parts for Roger Clemens, but the Rocket's 14-10 record and 4.60 ERA were not the numbers the team was expecting. Pettitte and Cone were only marginally better. Rivera and El Duque were great, however, helping the club win 98 games.
In the playoffs, the Bronx Bombers flipped the switch and kicked it into high gear. After a sweep of the Rangers, they easily handled the Boston Red Sox to advance to their second straight World Series. In a rematch with the Braves, New York disposed of Atlanta in a workmanlike four games. Jorge split time with Girardi in the postseason once again. Of note, however, was Torre’s decision to start Jorge at catcher in the World Series clincher. His choice seemed to signify a changing of the guard behind the plate for the Yanks. Jorge collected two hits and an RBI in the 4-1 victory.
MAKING HIS MARK
Buoyed by his postseason success, Jorge worked out with Ivan Rodriguez all winter long. Pudge talked to him about the mental part of catching, while Jorge observed how meticulously his counterpart approached his physical conditioning.
In January of 2000, Jorge learned from Torre that the starting job was his. A week or so later, he and Laura tied the knot, and then welcomed their first child, Jorge Jr. With the boy’s arrival came troubling news—he was born with craniosynostosis, a medical condition that occurs when the bones in a baby's skull fuse together before the brain has stopped growing. Doctors told Jorge and Laura that their son would probably need multiple surgeries.
Still processing this
news, Jorge joined the Yankee for spring training. The team was essentially
the same from the previous year. Brosius, Jeter, Knoblauch and Martinez
rounded out the infield, while Williams and O’Neill assumed their
regular positions in center and right. Torre hoped that Ricky Ledee would
settle into the third outfield spot. The pitching staff was anchored by
Pettitte, Cone, Clemens, Hernandez and Rivera.
The Yankees sprinted
to a comfortable lead in the AL East, and by July, they were way ahead of the Red
Sox. In addition to Jorge’s offensive breakthrough, the team benefitted
from a trade that sent Ledee to the Indians for David Justice. The slugger
provided more balance to the batting order, not to mention plenty of postseason
experience. As New York headed into September, the team was on cruise
control. Then a late-season slump turned the stretch run into a gut check.
The Yanks limped home at 87-74, the worst record of any division winner
New York faced the Oakland A’s in the postseason's first round and were pushed to the brink of elimination. After dropping Game 4 in Yankee Stadium, the team jetted back to the west coast for the decider. There, the Bronx Bombers exploded for six first-inning runs, and then held on for a 7-5 victory. For the series, Jorge hit just .235 and drove home only one run.
His problems at the plate continued in the ALCS against the Mariners. Swinging a tired bat, he went two for his first 16 at-bat, before delivering with the bases-loaded in the fourth inning of Game 6. His two-run double sparked the Yanks to a 9-7 win and sent them back to the World Series. Though not producing the way he hoped, Jorge was still contributing defensively. New York’s starting pitching shut down the Mariners in the series—including a one-hit masterpiece by Clemens in Game 4 —and they credited Jorge for his efforts.
The pressure on Jorge and the Yanks reached new heights in the World Series against the Mets. In New York’s five boroughs, fans eagerly anticipated the first Subway Series in 44 years. The Yankees stole Game 1, tying the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth and then plating the winning run three innings later on a single by Jose Vizcaino.
Game 2 offered even more drama, as Clemens took the mound in his first appearance versus the Mets since leveling Mike Piazza with a fastball to the helmet earlier in the summer. The contest almost erupted in a bench-clearing brawl when Piazza’s bat shattered and Clemens hurled the broken piece of wood in the catcher’s direction. With the Rocket about to go ballistic, Jorge’s challenge was to re-focus his pitcher. Clemens went on to throw eight shutout innings, and the Yankees seized a 2-0 series advantage.
The Mets took Game 3, but the Yanks won the next two at Shea Stadium for the franchise’s 26th championship. Jeter, who hit .409 with a couple of homers, was voted MVP. Jorge batted only .222, but basked in the glow of the world title.
The Yankees made big news heading into the 2001 campaign by signing Mike Mussina, who combined with Pettitte, Clemens and Hernandez to give New York the league’s top starting staff. Despite some aging arms, the pen remained steady, thanks mostly to Rivera. The offense also got a lift from a new face, as second baseman Alfonso Soriano joined the starting lineup. Hitting ninth in the order, he energized the team with his speed and power. His contributions were all the more important with some of the club’s stalwarts showing their years—namely O’Neill, Martinez and Brosius. Again, Boston threatened New York in the division, but when Pedro Martinez went down with an injury, the Yanks wrapped up the division crown.
For the second year in a row, Jorge’s campaign was a tale of two seasons. In the first half, he was nothing short of sensational. Earning his second trip to the All-Star Game, he batted .304 with 13 home runs and 62 RBIs (including a .440 average with runners in scoring position). Jorge thoroughly enjoyed his return to the Mid-Summer Classic, bringing little Jorge with him. When the catcher’s name was announced during pre-game ceremonies, the 19-month-old raced onto the field, all decked out in Yankee pinstripes.
Unfortunately, Jorge Jr. had to return to the hospital in August for another operation on his skull. With his son’s health weighing on his mind, Jorge couldn’t maintain his production. Once again, his workload behind the plate was also a contributing factor. Without a dependable backup, Torre had to play Jorge more often than he wanted. As the season wore on, the catcher's performance suffered. He finished the year with the most errors (11) among AL catchers, had 14 fewer extra-base hits than the year before, and struck out twice as much as he walked. Overall, his numbers were still good—.277, 22 HRs and 95 RBIs—but even Jorge rneeded rest.
That being said, he opened the postseason in a groove. Against the A’s, Jorgee collected eights hits in 19 at-bats, sparking the Yanks to hard-fought series win. New York lost the first two at home, as Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson twirled a pair of gems. Behind excellent efforts from Mussina and Hernandez, the Yankees drew even in Oakland. When they returned to the Bronx, the defending champs won 5-3.
In the ALCS, New York squared off against the Mariners, who had piled up a record 116 victories during the regular season. After splitting the first two in Seattle, the Yanks closed out the series with three victories back home. The key contest was Game 4, as the Yanks scored two late runs for a 2-1 victory. All series long, the Mariners pitched around Jorge, who walked six times in five games.
New York’s next stop was Arizona for the opening games of the 2001 World Series. Behind Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, the Diamondbacks came after every Yankee hitter. They couldn’t touch either ace and fell behind two games to none.
When the action shifted to the Bronx, the Yanks summoned their two favorite apparitions, mystique and destiny. Three times in succession, New York battled back from late-game deficits to notch improbable wins. Homers by Martinez and Jeter in Game 4 capped a thrilling 4-3 victory in 10 innings. The following night Brosius did the honors, tying the game with a two-run homer off Byung-Hyun Kim in the bottom of the ninth. In the 12th, Soriano singled in Knoblauch to send the series back to Arizona.
After a blowout by
the Diamondbacks, Schilling and Clemens settled into a classic pitchers
duel in Game 7. Down 1-0 in the eighth inning, Soriano golfed a home
run to put the Yanks ahead. But in a ninth inning that still perplexes
New York fans, the D-backs squeaked across the tying and winning runs
against Rivera to win it all. The Yankee offense was terrible throughout
the series, and it was amazing that they took the D-backs the distance.
Jorge’s .174 average was better than four other Yankee regulars,
including the usually dependable Jeter.
New York was a decidedly different team from the year before. A significant portion of New York’s nucleus—Brosius, O’Neill, Knoblauch and Martinez—was gone,. In their place were Robin Ventura, Rondell White and Jason Giambi. George Steinbrenner also strengthened his pitching staff with the addition of former Yankee David Wells.
As usual, Jorge got off to a scorching start. In mid-May, he matched a career-high with four hits in a game against the Twins and finished the month with 17 extra-baggers (10 doubles and seven homers). He also sizzled in June and July, including a two-homer, five-RBI game against the Mets, a couple of grand slams, and his third All-Star appearance. About the only time he took himself out of the lineup was on July 15, when Laura went into labor and gave birth to their second child, a girl they named Paulina.
The Yankees, meanwhile, outdistanced Boston for first place in the AL East. Cashman fiddled with the roster before the trade deadline, acquiring Raul Mondesi from Toronto and Jeff Weaver from Detroit. Another big story was the rise of Soriano, who made a bid to join the 40-40 club.
New York met Anaheim in the first round of the postseason, a series that fans assumed would be a cakewalk. It was—for the pesky Angels. The Yanks’ real undoing came in California, where Mussina and Wells got hammered in back-to-back starts. Jorge tried to keep the club alive with a long, three-run homer in Game 3, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Another year without a World Series ring put Steinbrenner in a lousy mood. Ordered to explore ways to cut payroll, Cashman entertained offers for Jorge, whose contract didn’t include a no-trade clause. News of potential deals irked the All-Star. He was was extremely happy in New York and had no desire to play elsewhere. He finally relaxed when the calendar turned to 2003 and he was still in pinstripes.
A newconcern developed when doctors informed Jorge and Laura that their son would need his third major operation in four years. Thankfully, the 10-hour procedure was successful. It even led to speculation that the youngster might not need further surgery.
The Yankees entered the '03 season with the highest payroll in baseball. Japanese import Hideki Matsui helped push the team’s salary level far above $100 million, as did the multi-year deal signed by Cuban defector Jose Contreras. The pair was expected to put the club over the top in the postseason.
The year started unevenly for the Bronx Bombers. First, Jeter dislocated his left shoulder in Toronto, and then Williams went down next with a gimpy right knee. Meanwhile, Giambi was dealing with an assortment of minor injuries of his own. With Matsui trying to adjust to a new league and culture, everyone started looking to Jorge as the team’s primary power source. He responded well to the challenge. In May, he hit .280 with seven homers and 21 RBIs. His fine play kept the Yanks within striking distance of Boston, which was playing its best ball in years.
Jorge cooled off some in June and July, but Jeter and Matsui heated up. On the mound, Pettitte was the main man, with Wells and Clemens not too far behind. By the All-Star break, the Yankees and their fans found themselves in an old-fashioned pennant race with the Red Sox. The season took on a fresh sense of urgency—especially when Rivera blew a couple of saves. New York reacted with a series of moves to shore up the bullpen, and also traded for Aaron Boone to take over at third.
The drama of the divisional battle energized Jorge. Unlike past years, he got better as the season progressed. Over the campaign’s final three months, he batted .315 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs. Just as significant was his handling of the pitching staff. Catching starters as divergent as Clemens, Mussina, Wells and Pettitte was no easy chore. But Jorge learned what each hurler did best and how to get the most out of them. By mid-September, when the Yanks finally clinched the division title, Jeter and Torre were among those promoting Jorge as an MVP candidate.
New York’s playoff run was an emotional roller coaster. After disposing of the Twins in four games, the Yankees faced off against the Red Sox. Against Minnesota, Jorge started quietly, but grooved his swing as the Yanks closed out the series. He carried his hot bat into the ALCS. After the Yankees dropped Game 1 in the Bronx, they knotted the series with a 6-2 victory. Jorge came through with a two-run double to put the game on ice.
When the action shifted to Boston, all hell broke loose. In Game 3, after the Yanks knocked Martinez around in the early innings, he delivered a bean ball toward the head of Karim Garcia. The Red Sox ace further infuriated the Yanks by shouting at them and pointing to his right temple. Jorge screamed back at Martinez, and the fans and players began watching the Yankee battery very closely. When Clemens threw a high fastball to Manny Ramirez, he overreacted and touched off a bench-clearing brawl. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, as did New York, 4-3
The Red Sox fought back to win two of the next three, forcing a rematch between Clemens and Martinez in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. The Rocket had nothing, and Torre yanked him in the fourth. In first pro relief appearance, Mussina rsilenced the Boston bats. With Martinez in total control, however, the Bronx Bombers appeared dead in the water. But when manager Grady Little stuck with his starter too long, the Yankees broke through in the eighth. Williams followed a double by Jeter with a single of his own, then Matsui smoked one down the rightfield line. With the tying runs in scoring position, Jorge stepped to the plate and fisted a blooper into center to knot things up at 5-5. Rivera kept the Red Sox off the scoreboard in their next three at-bats, setting the scene for Boone, who blasted the first knuckler he saw from Tim Wakefield for the game-winning homer.
The Yanks next hosted the Florida Marlins in Game 1 of the World Series. Flat from their dramatic ALCS victory, they lost 3-2. New York won the next two, but then dropped three straight to lose the series. The Yankee hitters had their chances, but for once they failed to come through in the clutch. The Marlins shackled Jorge, who hit .158 and did not score a run.
To no one's surprise, the off-season brought lots of changes. The Yankees pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Rangers, sending Soriano to Texas for Alex Rodriguez, who slotted in at third base next to Jeter at short. Steinbrenner also opened his wallet for Gary Sheffield, who filled the need for an everyday right fielder. When Clemens retired and the New York owner allowed Pettitte to walk, the club acquired Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown to round out the starting rotation. The Yanks also bolstered the bullpen by signing Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill. In addition, they expected starter Jon Leiber, signed the year before, to return after nearly two years out of the big leagues.
For Jorge, the addition of so many new arms made his job behind the plate all the more important—and difficult. Early in the season, the pitching staff looked fantastic. Brown was on track to contend for the Cy Young, and Vazquez was named to the All-Star team. Gordon and Quantrill, meanwhile, were lights out in their innings setting up for Rivera.
Jorge was also getting it done with the bat. He was hitting over .300 heading into May, but his season took a painful turn when he broke his nose breaking up a double play against the Angels. Jorge missed only a few games, and initially he didn't seem bothered by the injury. But in June, he began to slump badly. His batting average dropped below .270 at mid-season and his home run production sagged terribly.
Thanks to their power-packed lineup, the Bronx Bombers were able to win without Jorge at his best. It didn't hurt that the Red Sox scuffled along far back in second in the division. But the campaign threatened to unravel in the second half. Brown went down with a bad back, joining staff ace Mussina on the DL, Vazquez and Quantrill began getting hammered on a regular basis, and Giambi was lost to a mysterious illness.
In need of a frontline hurler, rumors swirled that the Yankees were close to a deal for Randy Johnson. The centerpiece of the trade on the New York side was Jorge. He wanted to stay in the Bronx and handled the speculation like a pro, refusing to air his concerns in the press.
Jorge did most of his talking with his bat. He showed signs of snapping his cold streak in July, and when Boston mounted a late-season charge, Jorge was one of several Yankee veterans who responded in the clutch. In six September games against the Red Sox, he collected seven hits, including two homers and 12 RBIs. New York held on to the top spot in the AL East, securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Jorge finished with modest numbers by his standards (.272, 21 HRs and 81 RBIs), but overlooked by many was his continued good work handling the hobbled pitching staff. Leiber became one of the team's most reliable starters, Orlando Hernandez emerged miraculously over the final two months to win eight games, and Rivera posted a career-high 53 saves.
Still, the Yankees were unsettled heading into playoffs. When the Twins beat them 2-0 in Game 1 of the ALDS, New York fans worried that another post-season of disappointment awaited them. But the Yanks rallied for an extra-inning victory the following day, and then took the next two in Minnesota. With Mussina, Leiber and Brown all logging effective innings, and A-Rod finally pulling his weight at the plate, there was new hope in the Bronx.
The club continued its fine play in the first three games of the ALCS, a heated rematch with Boston. The Yanks swept the first two at home, defeating Curt Schilling and Martinez. Jorge didn't contribute much offensively but got credit for the performances of Mussina and Leiber, both of whom were masterful. In Game 3 at Fenway, the New York bats exploded for 22 hits in a 19-8 rout.
With their backs against the wall, the Red Sox charged back in shocking fashion. They won Game 4, handing Rivera a rare blown save. Jorge recorded his second two-hit contest in a row, but the missed opportunity against Boston haunted him and his teammates. The Red Sox staged a repeat performance in Game 5, this time knocking around Gordon in the late innings. Their 5-4 victory sent the series back to New York.
In Game 6, Schilling was dominant, depsite a gimpy right ankle. The New York bats were silent, including an 0-for-4 from Jorge. Boston completed its unprecedented comeback the following night with a 10-3 laugher. Brown was awful to start the game, and Vazquez struggled in relief. For the first time in baseball history, a club rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series,
During the winter, the Yankees set their sights on the Big Unit. The player the Diamondbacks kept asking for was Jorge, but Yankee management refused to include him in a deal. New York eventually struck a deal without trading a starting player. Johnson's arrival, coupled with Martinez leaving Boston, made the Yankees the team to beat in the AL East in 2005.
The Yankees faced the pesky Angels in the ALDS. Pitching proved the difference, as Los Angeles prevailed in five games. The Yankees actually held a 2–0 lead in Game 5, but Mussina could not hold it.
In 2006, the Yankees cruised to the division crown with 97 victories. Once again, Jorge put up excellent offensive numbers, including 23 homers and 93 RBIs. He played a major role in the cultivation of Chien-Ming Wang, who won a league-high 19 games. Mussina, Johnson and Jaret Wright also pitched effectively for New York.
The team's luck held until it came up against the young Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. Jorge had a monster series, batting .500 with a homer and a double, but the other Yankee bats were sluggish in clutch situations. New York fell in the first round again.
The following year, Jorge had one of the greatest seasons of any Yankee catcher. It was all the more incredible considering that, at 36, he was at an age when most catchers split time and slow down. Jorge murdered the ball all year and seemed to get stronger as the season wore on. After a torrid September, he finished with an average of .338, with 20 homers and 90 RBIs. Jorge rapped out 42 doubles and 171 hits, both of which were career bests. He was amazingly consistent, going no more than 11 at-bats without a hit all season long. When MVP candidates were discussed, Jorge was right up there (though he didn't win it). He made the All-Star Game for the first time since 2003.
Jorge hoped to crown his season with a trip to the World Series, but it was not to be. The Yankees ran into hot pitching against the Indians and lost in the Division Series. Jorge had the honor of making the final out of the series. The turning point came in Cleveland when Joba Chamberlain lost his cool during an insect attack on the mound. Jorge drew some heat for not going out and helping the rookie, or demanding that time be called. So did Torre, who was let go after the season.
When the Yankees announced that Joe Girardi would be their new manager, the press began to write stories about Jorge, speculating that he would have a problem working for his old catching mate. Loyal to Torre but also to the team, Jorge stepped in front of the microphones and announced that he had no problem playing under a new Joe. He was rewarded a few days later with a four-year contract worth $52 million.
Girardi’s first season at the helm was a disappointing one, as the Yankees finished out of the postseason. A huge blow came right after the All-Star break, when Jorge tore up his right rotator cuff. Initially, the team thought he could rehab and come back as a DH or first baseman, but they acquired Xavier Nady in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates to fill that role. Jorge underwent season-ending surgery.
Jorge was fully recovered for Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009. He christened the ballpark with its first home run, off Cliff Lee of the Indians. As the year progressed, Jorge saw his workload reduced, and he battled some nagging injuries. Francisco Cervelli and Jose Molina did a good job filling in, and Molina eventually became AJ Burnett’s “personal” catcher.
At age 38, Jorge spent an even 100 games behind the plate and played 11 more as a DH and first baseman. With more fuel in his tank, he had a bang-up season, launching 22 homers and driving in 81 runs with a .285 average. The Yankees cruised to the division title.
As the playoffs approached, the team was loose and playing great baseball. The only “controversy” was whether Girardi would stick with the Burnett–Molina combo, or play Jorge every day. Molina’s sported a .217 average with just one home run.
Against the Twins in the ALDS, Molina started Game 2. Jorge wasn’t happy riding pine and said so publicly. But he voiced his displeasure in a respectful way. Not one of his teammates—nor Girardi—had a problem with Jorge’s stance. They knew he was a gamer. He wanted to be in the lineup.
As it turned out, Jorge pinch hit after Burnett exited against Minnesota and went 1-for-3. In Game 3, he broke a 1–1 tie with an opposite-field home run. The Yankees went on to win 4–1.
In the ALCS, the Angels often pitched around Jorge. Still, he launched a dramatic, game-tying homer in the eighth inning of Game 3. New York won the pennant in six games.
The Molina vs. Posada debate reignited in the World Series after New York dropped Game 1 to the Philadelphia Phillies. With Burnett was slated to start Game 2, Girardi went with Molina again. The Yankees wound up getting the best of both worlds. Burnett pitched seven superb innings, and Jorge singled in an insurance run as a pinch-hitter for Molina. The Yankees won 3–1.
Jorge provided two more important RBIs one night later with a long single off Brad Lidge in the ninth inning of a 7–4 win. His double off Ryan Madson in the ninth inning of Game 5 nearly triggered another New York comeback, but the Bronx Bombers fell short.
Game 6 featured the classic Yankee battery of Pettitte and Posada. They first met while Jorge was a second baseman playing behind Pettitte at Oneonta in the NY-Penn League. "Big Game" Andy wasn't at his best on three days rest, but Jorge helped nurse him into the sixth. New York built a comfortable early lead and cruised to its 27th World Series title. Jorge batted .263 against the Phils and drove in five runs.
Even the staunchest Yankee fans will admit that Jorge has flown under the radar since he joined the club in the mid-1990s. He has performed admirably, toiling in the shadow of a parade of superstars and future Hall of Famers. But as his career approaches its golden years, the question will undoubtedly arise: Is Jorge Posada a Hall of Famer himself?
In an era devoid of great catchers, Jorge has put in a solid decade as a ultra-durable, top hitting backstop. And although he has never been hailed as a Gold Glover, base runners have always respected his arm, and pitchers have respected his pitch-calling. With a handful of World Series rings and more than 100 postseason games behind the plate, who among the AL’s top backstops could honestly say he’s had a better career?
Of course, Jorge is used to deaing with conjecture and uncertainty. Whenever the going gets tough, all he has to do is think of Jorge Jr. His little boy is doing great, and that knowledge alone makes every challenge a little easier to meet.
JORGE THE PLAYER
Defense was long considered Jorge’s primary weakness, but he has worked very hard to improve his catching skills. Jorge has always had the brain and arm for the position. His footwork and hands were the problems. That’s not the case anymore. While Jorge occasionally slips into old habits, he has become more than adequate defensively. A refresher course with coach Tony Pena in 2006 was very helpful.
The worst part of Jorge’s game is baserunning. Never fleet of foot, he moves at catcher’s speed. And for all his baseball instincts, knowing when to take the extra base isn’t among them.
On a team with Derek Jeter, it’s easy to overlook Jorge’s leadership skills. But make no mistake, he has the respect of everyone in the locker room. Many Yankees take their cue from him. Jorge can be highly emotional. His competitive spirit rubs off on teammates—a crucial factor on a team full of level-headed professionals like the Yankees.
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