Once traded for Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano is combining with his controversial teammate to lead the geezers of the American League East, the New York Yankees, on an unlikely dash for the playoffs as baseball heads into the September stretch.
Soriano, 37, returning to the Yankees in career twilight, is one of eight players on the roster aged between 36-year-old first baseman Lyle Overbay and 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera. By bringing in 34-year-old Vernon Wells as a ringer, they would fit seamlessly into a men's recreational softball league as a full squad.
The Yankees picked up Soriano from the Chicago Cubs on July 26, and Rodriguez made his season debut on August 5. The combination has addressed a crippling weakness, the lack of right-handed punch in the batting order.
With 12 wins in 17 games prior to Wednesday's 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays, they had closed to 4-1/2 games behind in the wild-card race and 7-1/2 games behind Boston in the American League East. One stats service pinned their chances of making the playoffs at 9.0 per cent.
Since being obtained from Chicago, Soriano (11) and Rodriguez (four) have combined for 15 home runs, with Soriano driving in 33 runs and Rodriguez nine. When they went cold Wednesday, a combined 1-for-7 with six strikeouts, the Yankees looked punchless in a 7-2 loss.
Soriano has otherwise been en feugo since rejoining his original team. Earlier this month he became the sixth player ever to drive in 18 runs in a span of four games, including five homers. Boston manager John Farrell described his impact on the American League playoff race as "enormous."
"There's baseball left in this guy," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
With two homers against J.A. Happ in consecutive at-bats on Tuesday, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder became the sixth player ever – and the first born-and-raised Dominican – with 400 home runs, 2,000 hits and 250 stolen bases. He joined Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield and A-Rod in the elite club.
"I never think I'm going to hit 400 homers in the big leagues with my size, but I work hard and try to get better every day," he said, after that game.
Saying he has something to prove, Soriano is thrilled to be back in a Yankees uniform, following seven seasons with the wait-till-next-year Cubs. "I just want to win and go to the playoffs," he said, prior to Wednesday's loss. "I had a great time in Chicago. I learned a lot. I have a lot of respect for the organization. But they are rebuilding. That team is not ready to win games."
In his pregame chat with the massive New York media pack, Girardi offered a theory for Soriano being in a comfort zone.
"He gets to be around people his own age," he joked.
In 2002 and 2003, Soriano's first two full seasons with the Yankees, he produced prodigious offensive numbers – a combined 87 doubles and 77 home runs, 84 stolen bases and 193 RBIs.
"The first time with this team, it was all about talent," Soriano said. "Now, it is talent and experience together."
The Yankees dealt him to Texas prior to spring training in 2004 to obtain Rodriguez. Soriano would be traded to Washington before signing an eight-year, $133-million contract with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent, prior to the 2007 season. The Cubs paid $16.8-million of this year's $18-million salary and will pick up $13-million of the $18-million in the last year of the deal, 2014.
In the aftermath of a swath of injuries, Girardi says the Yankees are "whole" for the first time this season. That they're in position at all, is due primarily to their season-long success against the Blue Jays.
Against 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda (11-10), the Jays scored four runs in the first inning after 39-year-old shortstop Derek Jeter – who returned from the disabled list on Monday – made a diving play to deprive Edwin Encarnacion of a hit. Brett Lawrie delivered a two-run double and two more scored when J.P. Arencibia took a called third strike. As the ball eluded catcher Chris Stewart, Arencibia sprinted to first base and Stewart's throw glanced off his back, down the line.
Goins, hitting .455 with hits in all six games since his promotion from Buffalo last week, singled in the second and crossed on Encarnacion's 34 homer, his 997 career hit. In the field, the rookie second baseman took a relay from centre fielder Anthony Gose in the fourth inning and cut down Alex Rodriguez at the plate, trying to score from first on a double.
Todd Redmond (2-2) and three relievers combined to hold the Yankees to five hits.