One more year down brings us another great 12 months of New York sports. Here are the top 10 Big Apple sports moments of 2017 with the young and exciting Yankees leading the way.
This is the third year in a row I’ve written this article and for the third year in a row, it must begin in an identical fashion despite overwhelming eagerness to identify a certain level of uniqueness.
New York sports were a mixed bag in 2017.
The New York Yankees returned to relevance in a big way, riding their Baby Bombers all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS. The Mets, however, struggled with injuries all season and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
The Knicks limped to the finish line last season and eventually fired much-maligned President of Basketball Operations, Phil Jackson, as well as traded star forward Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City. However, despite a strong start to the season, this is a team featuring Kristaps Porzingis and little else. Speaking of little else, the Nets are still years away from contending.
Football was a disaster. The Giants started the year by ending the regular season at 11-5, but were ignominiously thrashed at Lambeau Field by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. This season, they have gone 2-10, and gone through turmoil regarding their general manager, head coach, quarterback and pretty much everything in between. The Jets have exceeded expectations, but are still far from a playoff team.
Both New York City Football Club and the Red Bulls fell in the conference semifinals (again), as each team looks to shake their playoff demons.
The hockey Rangers have now fully shaken a slow start, but still appear to be a piece or two short of contention. The Devils have been terrific to start the season off while the Islanders continue to peddle a little above mediocrity with a league-best-type offense.
Overall, New York Sports haven’t won a title since the Giants in 2012 and only a handful of the teams currently playing have a legit shot at the moment (the Yankees, both soccer teams, and maybe the Devils?).
Regardless of these struggles, New York Sports has showcased fine moments this season. Let’s take a look at the top 10.
Aaron Judge Wins the Home Run Derby
Anyone who watched Aaron Judge hit a baseball during the first half of the 2017 season viewed him as the prohibitive favorite to win the 2017 Home Run Derby during his rookie season, and he did just that. Judge overcame a strong opening round by Justin Bour, hitting 23 home runs to Bour’s 22, before dispatching fellow rookie phenom Cody Bellinger in the semifinals and Miguel Sano in the finals.
Judge put on a show, hitting mammoth home runs with relative ease en route to what shouldn’t be the first Derby win of his career. Also, a key storyline on that night: Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez outdueled the hometown kid (and future Yankee teammate) Giancarlo Stanton in the first round before falling to Sano in the semifinals.
Carmelo Anthony Traded to Oklahoma City
After six-and-a-half tumultuous years in New York, Carmelo Anthony was finally dealt away, specifically to the Oklahoma City Thunder as training camp opened in September. Anthony, who led the Knicks to three playoff appearances and one series victory during his tenure with the Knicks, ultimately left amid frustration with both the franchise and recently departed Head of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson.
While Anthony was unable to win a title in New York as he dreamed (and let’s be honest, he never came close), Knicks fans should certainly appreciate all he did for the franchise. He was an NBA All-Star in every season, poured in 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2014, and led the league in scoring in 2012-13 with 28.7 points per game.
While Melo fell short of his ultimate goals, he did provide the Knicks a bonafide star and go-to scorer every night–something that the franchise had sorely lacked in the years prior to his arrival.
Regardless of feelings, this was the right move. Anthony was flipped for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott on Sept. 25, 2017.
Yankees trade for Giancarlo Stanton
Yankees fans went to sleep on Dec. 8, 2017, with the knowledge that New York was actively pursuing Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. They awoke on Dec. 9, 2017, feeling like it was Christmas morning. Early morning reports suggested that a deal had been agreed upon between Brian Cashman, Derek Jeter and the powers that be.
The Yankees flipped second baseman Starlin Castro and two mid-tier prospects for the reigning NL MVP, coming off a 59-homer season. Stanton joins Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in a lineup that now appears nearly unstoppable while lifting the Yankees odds from fifth most likely to win the title to first.
Ah, the Evil Empire. It seems the Baby Bombers have morphed into the next Bronx Bombers dynasty, although it might be too early to tell. However, this was one of the most shocking and significant moments for New York Sports in 2017.
Jets draft Jamal Adams
After a horrid 2016 campaign, the Jets selected sixth in the 2017 NFL Draft and selected Jamal Adams, a safety out of LSU who many described as a hands-down, slam-dunk pick. Adams not only possesses incredible talent, but also is a born leader and someone who could anchor the Jets defense for the next decade.
Adams, according to pundits, has been “everything as advertised” and is a big reason why the Jets have exceeded expectations this season. Adams figures to be a legitimate cornerstone for the franchise moving forward.
Phil Jackson Fired
President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson was a trainwreck. After shipping out several fan favorites, tanking the team, publicly criticizing star forward Carmelo Anthony, sticking to an outdated basketball philosophy, and drafting an unknown French guard to fit that philosophy over established collegiate stars, Jackson was eventually fired on Jun. 28, 2017, after openly admitting that Kristaps Porzingis was on the trading block. Good riddance.
The Knicks future may not be as bright as other teams, but it sure is brighter when centered around Porzingis, and not an out of touch coach trying (and failing) his hand at being a front office executive. Jackson’s tenure in New York can only be described as a failure, and his departure was one of the few positives that owner James Dolan has ever achieved. Hopefully, Dolan will join Jackson as an MSG exile, but only time will tell if that dream will also become a reality.
10. Devils’ Torrid Start to the New Season
The New Jersey Devils, who held the first pick in this summer’s draft, are 22-10-6, second in the NHL’s toughest division, the Metropolitan. Most impressively, perhaps, is the fact that they have a better road record than home record, despite playing three more games away from the Prudential Center.
New Jersey, a franchise that has been largely in flux since their Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2012, started the year 8-2, coming out blazing. While they have tapered off a little, they appear destined for at least a postseason berth and appear to be returning back to their former glory for the first time since Martin Brodeur’s retirement.
9. Yankees Insane Comeback against Baltimore
The Yankees were being thoroughly beaten at the Stadium on Apr. 28. Down 9-1 in the sixth inning, it appeared to be another loss for New York, but boy, there was magic in the air that night.
Aaron Judge started the rally with a two-run home run to make it 9-4. Baltimore responded with two more runs. At 11-4, however, Jacoby Ellsbury slapped his first career grand slam to right, making it an 11-8 game. After tacking on a run to make it 11-9, Starlin Castro launched a one out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 11. The comeback was completed in the bottom of the 10th when Matt Holliday dispatched the first pitch he saw to right center, a three-run shot that gave the Yankees an incredible, walk off, come from behind, 14-11 victory.
8. New York is Blue
On Aug. 6, 2017, (a day that also happened to be my 20th birthday), the Hudson River Derby took place at Yankee Stadium. Both NYCFC and the Red Bulls were active in the playoff picture, and three points would be vital at that late stage of the season.
Two of the best forwards in MLS, David Villa and Bradley Wright-Phillips, put together incredible individual displays. Villa opened the scoring for NYCFC before Wright-Phillips scored twice to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.
However, deep in the second half, Villa scored twice in three minutes, the decisive goal coming from the penalty spot, to give NYCFC a Derby win and complete his hat-trick. NYCFC held on for victory in what was one of the best MLS games all season.
7. Kristaps Porzingis Outstanding Start to the Season
With Carmelo Anthony gone, Knicks fans figured it was now or never for Kristaps Porzingis to step up and lead the team offensively. But nobody expected KP to play as well as he did. Porzingis averaged nearly 30 points over the first few weeks of the season, putting up a career-high in scoring nearly every night.
Porzingis’ offensive arsenal appeared unstoppable–deep three’s, turnaround jumpers, thunderous dunks, you name it. While he (and the Knicks) have come down to earth recently, Porzingis does look like a legitimate franchise cornerstone, and it appears that the Knicks future is brighter with the 7-foot-3 Latvian than with Carmelo Anthony.
I guess you can now see why Phil Jackson shopping the former first rounder was ultimately the last straw in his tumultuous Knicks tenure.
6. Greg Bird’s Home Run in Game 3
The Yankees, facing elimination in Game 3, were largely stifled by Carlos Carrasco. Luckily for them, Masahiro Tanaka was also lights out. The game was scoreless heading into the bottom of the seventh when former Yankee Andrew Miller faced first baseman Greg Bird.
Bird, who struggled mightily with injuries all year, had a triumphant postseason, filled with big hits. None were bigger than in Game 3 when he took a 1-1 pitch off of Andrew Miller and slapped an upper deck solo home run to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The game would finish 1-0, as the Yankees held the Indians to no runs on five hits to extend the series to Game 4. They would eventually win the series in 5, a comeback that may not have happene,d if not for Bird’s heroics.
It was only the second home run given up to a lefty by Miller all season. That’s baseball for you.
Bye, bye Birdie.
5. Rangers advance to the Second Round
After a dramatic Game 5 victory (which we will address later), the Rangers hosted the Canadiens at the Garden with a chance to clinch the series.
Alexei Emelin opened the scoring for Montreal before Mats Zuccarello scored twice to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. As Montreal desperately scrapped for an equalizer in the final moments, Derek Stepan scored an empty-netter to clinch the series.
The Rangers won 3-1 and completed a series comeback. After trailing 2-1, they won the final three games to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they fell to Ottawa in six.
4. Rangers dramatic OT win in Game 5
Down 1-0 and 2-1 in a pivotal game 5 in Montreal, the Rangers clawed their way back twice, before Mika Zibanejad scored an overtime winner to send the Rangers back to the Garden with a 3-2 series lead.
Arturri Lehkonen opened the scoring for Montreal before Jesper Fast’s shorthanded goal tied the game at 1. However, Brendan Gallagher responded instantly (on the same Power Play) to restore Montreal’s lead.
Brady Skjei equalized for the Rangers, however, setting the stage for Zibanejad to score in an overtime period largely dominated by the Rangers, who outshot the hosts 10-3 in the extra time.
As seen in Moment No. 5, the Rangers went on to clinch the series in six games.
3. Didi Gregorius Raises the Roof
The Yankees certainly had to exercise some playoff demons in the 2017 Wild Card Game. 2 years ago, the Yankees famously crashed out to the Astros despite having home-field advantage, courtesy of a gem by ace Dallas Keuchel.
However, the Yankees were confident. They had ace Luis Severino on the mound and were facing against a pitcher in Ervin Santana that certainly was not as dominant as Keuchel.
That didn’t go according to plan, however. Brian Dozier hit a leadoff home run off of Severino, and Eddie Rosario added a two-run blast. Severino was pulled after recording just one out, and the Yankee bullpen was called upon to get 26 outs.
Down 3-0 in the bottom of the first, the Yankees rallied immediately. Brett Gardner worked a leadoff walk, and an Aaron Judge single set the stage for Didi Gregorius, who represented the tying run at the plate. After working a full count, Gregorius rocked a 3-2 from Santana into the right-center field seats, erupting Yankee Stadium and tying the game at 3.
Brett Gardner hit a go-ahead home run in the second, and after the Twins tied the game at 4, Greg Bird delivered a go-ahead single to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. Judge added a two-run shot, and Chapman closed the door on a dominant performance from the Yankee bullpen, who gave up just one earned run in 8 2/3 innings. The Yankees advanced to the ALDS and made it all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS.
However, that magical run would not have happened if not for a stunning home run by Gregorius, a moment that has to be remembered as one of the best New York Sports moments of 2017.
2. Yankees Rally Caps a Wild ALCS Game 4
Game 4. ALCS. The Yankees, coming off an emphatic 8-1 victory over the Astros in Game 3, were looking to even the series at two games apiece. That didn’t go according to plan, however, for the first six and a half innings. A Yuli Gurriel three-run double gave the Astros a 3-0 lead, and an error by Starlin Castro extended the lead to 4-0. Meanwhile, Lance McCullers was slowly mowing down the Yankee lineup.
That all changed in the bottom of the seventh, as the Yankees put together what radio play-by-play announcer John Sterling described as “one of the greatest rallies I’ve ever seen.
It all started when Aaron Judge hit a mammoth solo home run off of McCullers to cut the lead to 4-1. The next batter, Didi Gregorius, hit a triple to left center, before being brought home by a Gary Sanchez sac fly. Going into the eighth, the score was 4-2, Astros.
The Yankees came out blazing in the bottom of the eighth. Todd Frazier hit a lead-off single, and Chase Headley followed with a double to left center. Headley tripped in between first and second, but still managed to beat the throw to second. After a Brett Gardner groundout made it 4-3, Judge tied the game with a double to left that just missed going over the fence.
After a Didi Gregorius walk, Gary Sanchez took a 2-0 pitch from Ken Giles and deposited it into the alley in right center, scoring both Judge and Gregorius to make it 6-4 Yankees.
Sanchez’s double was perhaps the most emphatic moment in New York sports in 2017. The stadium hadn’t rocked like that since 2009, when the Yankees won it all, as the Baby Bombers put together an electrifying rally to tie and eventually overtake the mighty Astros.
The Yankees went on to win Game 5, 5-0, before losing Games 6 and 7 in Houston. However, after that double by Sanchez, it felt as though the young, fearless Yankees could take on the entire world, and still emerge victoriously. What a moment.
Seriously, try and listen to Sterling’s call of Sanchez’s double without getting chills. Try and see the reaction of the crowd behind the Yankee dugout as Judge and Gregorius scored without getting chills. Incredible.
1. Didi, Gardner Kill off the Tribe in Game 5
The mighty Cleveland Indians, who won 22 straight games in August and September, were up 2-0 on the Yankees heading to Game 3 in the Bronx. A dramatic comeback Game 2 win, which put manager Joe Girardi’s future in doubt, cast a shadow over the Yankee season.
But the Baby Bombers rallied, winning Games 3 and 4 in New York (1-0 and 7-3, respectively) to force a winner take all game at Progressive Field.
Didi Gregorius, who ignited the Yankees playoff campaign with a game-tying home run in the Wild Card Game, came up biggest of all, hitting a solo home run in the first, and a two-run shot in the third to give the Yankees a shock 3-0 lead off of eventual Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
After the Indians got two runs off CC Sabathia to make it 3-2, the Yankees were threatening in the top of the ninth. Brett Gardner, one of two Yankees remaining from the 2009 title-winning team, put together a symbolic at-bat against Cody Allen. Gardner faced 12 pitches, fouling off six of them, including five with the runners going, before eventually lining a single to right field. Two runs scored (one off an Indians error) and Aroldis Chapman shut the door in the bottom of the ninth to send the Yankees to the ALCS, a massive upset.
Didi’s heroics and Gardner’s tremendous at-bat, both very much against the odds, sent the Yankees through, completing a terrific comeback against a historically good team. For that reason, Game 5 of the ALDS has to be the best New York Sports moment of 2017.