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Saturday, December 20, 2014

So long, Preston Claiborne: Go forth and grow your freedom beard

In May of 2013, the plucky, irrepressible Yankees were the surprise team of the AL East, and yet - amazingly - some naysayers remained. The pitching staff was reeling from injuries. We were beyond Cesar Cabral and entering Vidal Nuno. If not for the power hitting duo of Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, all would be lost. That's when the Yankee brain trust turned to a name that, frankly, most of us had never contemplated. With that, the amazing Preston Claiborne came our way.

In his first seven games out of the pen, Claiborne gave up no runs. Nada. Through his first 16, his ERA stood at 0.86. Incredible.

Plus, Claiborne represented a new found hope: That the Yankee farm system wasn't as dead as advertised. Here was a guy who never made the Baseball America prospect lists - but he threw hard and put up zeros. In that regard, he would be the forerunner to the Chase Whitleys and Shane Greenes of 2014. He was a living reminder that, with young players, you just never know.

On Claiborne's 17th outing, against the Dodgers, he got cuffed around: two runs. His ERA jumped to 1.69. Still, more than respectable.

On game 22, against Minnesota, he got smacked around. Two more runs. ERA: 2.05. Still more than respectable.

Game 23: Two more runs. ERA: 2.65. Still respectable.

Game 33: Four runs. ERA: 3.00. Respectable, but only in a Joba-like way.

Then came the late September series against Boston: Outings number 39, 40 and 41. The Redsocks were soaring, but the Yankees - behind the power duo of the newly returned A-Rod and Grandy Man - were making their move. That weekend, Preston Claiborne - and there is no nicer way to say this - crapped the water bed. In 1 and 2/3 innings - spread over three games - he gave up 8 runs, all earned. When it was done, the fans were booing, the Yankees were dead, and Claiborne's ERA stood at 4.15. Not respectable. And never would he be again.

I've often wondered why Joe Girardi kept bringing the guy back. Three games - three unbelievably brutal outings. I always end up with one answer: We had nobody else. When Girardi called the bullpen, Claiborne must have picked up the phone. If he simply had called in sick that weekend, he could have finished his rookie season with an ERA under 3.00. Oh, well...

Yesterday, the Yankees cut ties with Claiborne. He's now a Met. He's still young, 26, and who knows? But being a baseball fan is to perpetually watch young players come and go - rise and fall, swing and miss, and break your heart. The world furnishes a relentless stream of Preston Claibornes. I prefer to remember the one we saw in May, not the September version. And I wish him all the best. He was a Yankee once. He goes to heaven.

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