Upon his return to the Bronx this season, Javier Vazquez was clearly a divisive figure among Yankee fans.

Some saw the potential in the one-time Yankee, thinking that the man who dominated for the Braves in 2009 after finishing fourth in National League Cy Young voting had learned enough since his uneven 2004 stint in pinstripes to be a solid back end of the rotation starter. After all, the rotation was much stronger this time around, lessening the pressure on Vazquez to be a front of the rotation type starter.

To others though, the lasting images of Vazquez entering to salvage Kevin Brown’s terrible outing in Game Seven of the fateful 2004 ALCS, but instead pouring gallons of fuel onto the fire, were enough to conjure nightmares for Yankee fans upon mere mention of his name.

While it’s not fair to blame the epic collapse of 2004 on one man, Vazquez did serve to hammer the proverbial nail into the coffin of Yankee ambitions that season. His entrance into the deciding game, allowing a game-deciding Johnny Damon grand slam on the first pitch he threw, was his final act in a tumultuous season as a Yankee. Two innings later, Damon’s second home run off Vazquez erased most hopes of a dramatic Yankee comeback to reclaim the series.

After making the 2004 American League All-Star team, Vazquez collapsed in the second half, barely resembling the pitcher he had been through mid-July. Down the stretch that year, he was shelled regularly, seeing his season ERA balloon a full run and a half from the All-Star break through the end of the year.

Culminating in a dreadful playoff performance, in which he did little more than provide copious amounts of run-scoring opportunities via 16 hits and nine walks over 11.1 innings, 2004 was largely a disappointment for Javier Vazquez. He then had the misfortune of timing, playing such a significant role in the final defeat the Yankees would suffer in 2004, as they etched their names into the record books in such undesirable fashion. Vazquez, with whom fans in the Bronx had yet to grow fully comfortable, provided many with an easy scapegoat for the travesty of ’04.

When the Yankees traded Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and Dioner Navarro to the Diamondbacks for future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson in January 2005, fans barely batted an eye. Of course, the Big Unit would have his own issues in the Bronx, but no one knew that at the time. For now, Javier Vazquez was gone and there were plenty who rejoiced.

Flash forward five years. Following four seasons of inconsistency with the D-Backs and White Sox, and one stellar season in Atlanta, Javier Vazquez would find opportunity for redemption in the Bronx. Returning to the Yankees in a trade for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Viscaino, Vazquez was stepping into a much different situation this time around.

In 2004, Vazquez was looked at as a potential breakout ace, after his early years of success in Montreal. The 2010 Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Series title, only needed him to solidify the fourth slot in their rotation. After his ace-like 2009 for the Braves, Vazquez certainly seemed capable of the task.

If given a choice in the matter, I’m fairly certain that Vazquez would have chosen differently than what occurred. 2010’s Yankee redemption began horribly for the pitcher, as he was shelled in his first five starts, immediately bringing back painful memories to Yankee fans of 2004. Many chimed in with the obligatory “I told you so’s,” when the gamble to bring Vazquez back to the Bronx started as awfully as it concluded in round one.

Over the course of five starts, Vazquez threw 23 innings, allowing 32 hits, 25 earned runs, walking 15, and serving eight home-runs. His 1-4 record with a 9.78 ERA had fans and eventually the team, questioning the wisdom of the transaction. Trade rumors Vazquez returning to the National League imminently, surfaced in early May.

Then the Yankees skipped his scheduled sixth start, opting to not have him face the Red Sox in Fenway.

Following his team-imposed break, Vazquez hurled a gem, in which he lost 2-0 to the Tigers, but the progress was noticed, as it was his first positive outing of 2010. Over the next 15 appearances, 14 of them starts, Javier Vazquez slowly pitched his way back to respectability as a Yankee.

Javy was now proving the doubters wrong; he could pitch in the more offensively dynamic American League. His critics claimed that he was simply another in a line of pitchers who have struggled in recent years with making the transition from the National League to the American League.

Or so it seemed.

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