First Pitch: The meeting that changed it all

Would you believe Rafael Soriano had something to say to his teammates in September? Tim Farrell/US Presswire

It was early September in Tampa and the Yankees were falling apart.

They had been alone in first place for 84 days. On July 18, their lead had been 10 games.

Six weeks later, they were tied with the Orioles. Infamy stared them in the face. If the trend continued, they would go down as the Yankees team with the largest blown lead in franchise history.

So, at a 20-minute meeting at Tropicana Field on Sept. 5, players you would expect to talk stood up and addressed their teammates, led by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Others who you might not think would speak up at such a meeting did as well, most interestingly Rafael Soriano.

They all, though, took their cue from the Captain.

A Yankee, who was in that road clubhouse on Sept. 5, told ESPNNewYork.com that Jeter's message was simple: "We have been here before. We know know we can do it. It is just time go out there and perform."

"Jete was the textbook leader that he is, keeping it simple, giving us confidence that we can do it," Russell Martin told us. "The thing about Jete is that he doesn't talk that much to the team, generally, throughout the year. He did it a couple of times this year, but when he does say something you open your ears and you listen to what he has to say because he probably has the best mentality in being a competitor and what it is all about. This guy is tremendous. There is a reason he has so many at-bats in a year because he never gives up any at-bats. He is the type of guy, no matter what the situation or what the score is, he is going to give you his best effort and, to me, that is remarkable."

The impact of such meetings is debatable. In hindsight, it is easy to point to team meetings when a club turns its play around following a get-together. From Sept. 5 on, the Yankees went 18-8 to finish with the best record in the American League. Martin confirmed that Jeter, Rodriguez and the unlikely veteran, Soriano, spoke.

"Jete talked, Al talked and Soriano talked," Martin said. "And the last thing I said was, 'Well, boys, I'm probably going to get a lot of hits in September because the numbers are not right, right now.'"

That night the Yankees beat the Rays and Martin had a huge game.

"It is funny because I think a I had a couple hits that day," Martin said. "I had a home run and a double. That kind of set the tone for me."

It set the tone for September. The Yankees were a team staring at infamy. Now, idle on the day of wild-card Friday, having accomplished all their goals for the regular season, they are well-positioned to have another meeting -- with the National League champs in the World Series.

UP NOW: As we will have every day throughout the Hunt for October, we have plenty to read, watch and listen to on ESPN New York.

• My column on who the Yankees would be better off facing. Within that column, there is video of Wallace Matthews and me going over the regular season and looking ahead to the playoffs.

• Wally's blog on who should be the Yankees' No. 2 playoff starter. Lots of chatter on that one so let your voice be heard.

• A podcast from Michael Kay's and Don La Greca's interview with Brian Cashman. Cashman says Brett Gardner likely will be on the playoff roster.

• My blog on the 25-man roster. In it, I say I think Andruw Jones will be on the playoff roster and Cody Eppley will not.

• A North Carolina reporter who tweeted that Robinson Cano failed a performance-enhancing drug test has apologized.

ON DECK: Wally has a column on the amazing season of one Derek Sanderson Jeter. Look for that early today. We will be live from the Yankees' workout, which begins at 7 p.m. Ian O'Connor, Wally and I will have columns, newsers and blogs all day long, then it is off to ... who knows.

IN THE HOLE: Well, actually we do know, sort of. We have reserved a flight to Texas that we can cancel or a train trip to Baltimore. The Yankees will face the winner of the Rangers and Orioles, beginning on the road Sunday. For complete coverage of that game click to our buddies at ESPN Dallas.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who would rather see in the first round?