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Vazquez returns to Yankees as seasoned vet

5) Javier Vazquez The Yankees found their elusive

5) Javier Vazquez

The Yankees found their elusive ace last season in CC Sabathia and backed him with Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett. The acquisition of Javier Vazquez, who came from Atlanta in return for Melky Cabrera, only adds to their rotation depth.

Vazquez will begin his second tour of duty with the Yankees. Although some fans dwell on his poor second half in 2004, his first half of that year was stellar, and he's gone 64-61 with a 4.09 ERA in more than 1,000 innings in the five years since leaving the team.

Last season with the Braves, he was 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and nearly 10 strikeouts per 9 innings. If Vazquez can pitch to that level, the Yankees can add another ace to their deck. Credit: Getty Images

The news didn't reach the suburban Seattle home until about 2:30 Pacific time, some five hours after it became public. Yet when Mel Stottlemyre heard that the Yankees had brought back Javier Vazquez, the old Yankees ace felt happy for his former charge.

"There shouldn't be any lingering effects from his returning to New York," Stottlemyre, Vazquez's pitching coach for the 2004 Yankees, told Newsday in a telephone interview. "In fact, I bet he's glad to be coming back, to show people what he's all about."

Yes, the Yankees threw us a slight curveball Tuesday. Forever, they've been reacquiring old pals from glorious times; even new designated hitter Nick Johnson played for the 2003 pennant winners.

But giving another shot to Vazquez? The man who surrendered one of the most painful home runs in team history, then went to Arizona for Randy Johnson?

Yes. Of course. Because these new Yankees routinely blow off karma in favor of cold, hard reality. And the cold, hard reality, in that case, is that the Yankees did well to get themselves one of baseball's most reliable, durable starting pitchers. "Anybody that can make 33, 34, 35 starts, go out and give you 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, there is real value to that," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told Newsday, also on the phone.

If Vazquez serves as a face of the forgettable 2004 Yankees, then he represents them poorly. He didn't arrive via a George Steinbrenner whim (Kenny Lofton), or because the Yankees were the only team willing to take on his salary (Kevin Brown), or as part of a Minaya-esque strategy to shore up a weakness by overstocking (Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill).

Yet history will remember Vazquez as the young man, fresh out of low-wattage Montreal, who couldn't handle the pressure of the Bronx. And who, yes, relieved Brown in the second inning of ALCS Game 7 and served up a first-pitch grand slam to Boston's Johnny Damon, sealing The Collapse.

Fast-forward four years, travel one time zone west, and you saw White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen questioning Vazquez's toughness, saying, "He hasn't been [a big-game pitcher], that's the bottom line. What you see is what you get."

Vazquez, always calm and polite, found himself going over the 2004 season repeatedly on a conference call. Yes, his arm hurt some, he conceded, and that contributed to his poor second half. As for Guillen's words, after saying, "I'm not part of the White Sox anymore," Vazquez added, "I'll hopefully be part of another postseason. I'm glad I'm getting the opportunity [with the Yankees] again."

He posted a 6.92 ERA in the second half of '04, and followed it up with that awful October, prompting Joe Torre to describe the downfall as "ridiculous" in "The Yankee Years." Stottlemyre Tuesday said: "I think it really hurt him that he wasn't able to put together the second half that he would've liked to. His confidence did go downhill."

While professing respect for his boss Guillen, Cooper said, "If you pitch for [13] years, there's got to be some big games along the line. Or good matchups against some big teams."

There will plenty more now for Vazquez. "Hopefully, I can erase those memories," he said.

We'll watch this sequel with extra anticipation.

New York Sports