The Importance Of Being Melky | Baseball Digest
It’s not uncommon these days for baseball fans to “fall in love” with minor league prospects. You can obtain updates on their progress just as easily as you can with Major League players. That was not always the case until recently, specifically this wasn’t the case when Melky Cabrera was a New York Yankees farmhand. I followed his career from the early days and saw the potential he showed as he progressed through the Yankees system.
His initial call up to the Majors was an embarrassment- a little fish in a big pond. He couldn’t hit big league pitching and even worse, he looked like an ant trying to cover Yankee Stadium’s spacious centerfield and the adjacent gaps. He eventually worked his way up to a regular position, but performed miserably in 2008 and was sent to the minors. But Cabrera came into the 2009 season with a different attitude and eventually overtook Brett Gardner as the starting centerfielder. It was then that the Melkman began to deliver.
The Yankees had a number of new players and a new tradition, including pie ala A.J. Burnett in the face of any walk-off winning run producer. It began early in the season, April 22nd against Oakland*- a 14-inning affair was decided when Cabrera hit his second home run of the game for a 9-7 victory. On May 24, the Yankees rallied in the 9th against the Philadelphia Phillies and closer Brad Lidge. Down 4-2 entering the inning, the Yankees tied things up and had the winning run on second base. That’s when Cabrera singled to bring home his best buddy, Robinson Cano, with the winner.
Cabrera wasn’t just a walk-off wizard with the eventual champion Yankees, he excelled at the plate when the innings grew late. There was an 8th inning game-winning home run against Texas in June and an RBI single in the same frame to top the Angels in the first game in May. In late and close games, he hit .304 with 19 RBI and a .754 OPS. Though he wasn’t credited with a walk-off salutation, it was his 13th inning grounder in Game 2 of the ALCS that Maicer Izturis threw away to give the Yankees the win.
But the Yankees were not completely happy with Cabrera, most likely because of his relationship/influence on Cano, as well as his tendency to carry too much weight on his six-foot frame. Cabrera was jettisoned to Atlanta after the season and his offense plummeted. His OPS dropped to .671 and he drove in just 42 runs in 509 plate appearances. But the Melkman still had some late inning deliveries in him. An August 2-run single in the 9th inning toppled the Dodgers at Turner Field. In May, Cabrera’s infield single combined with a David Wright error gave the Braves a last inning 3-2 win over the New York Mets.
Cabrera moved on again for the 2011 season after Atlanta released him in October. This season is on average about 20 games old, but Kansas City has quickly learned the lore of “late inning Melky”. Cabrera provided the game winning, 12th inning hit on April 5th to push the Royals’ record to 4-1. Two weeks later, Cabrera threw out the Indians’ Carlos Santana at the plate in the 8th inning to hold the Royals deficit at two. Then in the 9th, he capped off a three run rally with the game winning single. The Melkman had left his calling card once again.
Though he has had an up and down career with the bat, Cabrera has maintained his late inning heroics. His nine walk-off winners since 2006 are the third highest total in Major League baseball (only Andre Ethier (11), and Ryan Zimmerman (10) have more). He may not have a Hall of Fame career, he may be relegated to the bench at some point, but when the game is on the line, fans know that Melky Cabrera can be counted on to set off a celebration.