Everyone has dates in history they recall for certain reasons. For the international scouting department of the Yankees, it is fair to say they might have memories of the following dates:
January 5, 2001, July 15, 2004 and July 2, 2006.
Those are random dates and perhaps even somebody you know has that as their birthday. Those dates also represent when Robinson Cano, Ivan Nova and Jesus Montero became part of the Yankee organization in the international signing market.
Cano was the first to sign, becoming a Yankee on the first day of 2001 as the Yankees were three-time defending champions. That day several other players signed as free agents, including Bobby Bonilla, who signed a deal with the Cardinals that lasted 93 games.
Nova was second to become a Yankee, signing on the first Thursday after the 2004 All-Star break. That day saw the Yankees with a 56-31 record and was the last day of Fred McGriff's career.
Montero was the last to sign when he agreed to become a Yankee on July 2, 2006. On the day, he signed, Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam off Alay Soler, whom the Mets signed as an international free agent about a month and a half after Nova. Rodriguez also hit a three-run home run off then unknown Heath Bell on a Sunday night that saw the Yankees four games out of first place.
Since Cano signed during the winter, he had an early advantage in the race to the majors. While second base was manned by Alfonso Soriano from 2001-2003, Cano was becoming the type of prospect that Montero eventually became even as Soriano nearly became a 40-40 man during 2002.
Though the average was low in the Gulf Coast League, his 113 games for Greensboro in the South Atlantic League were good with a .276, 14 home run and 66 RBI performance. That was enough to promote him to Tampa and eventually Trenton in 2003 and during 2004 where his .301 average earned a promotion to Columbus.
In 2005, Cano's .333 average at Triple-A and the combination of a floundering and flawed major league team made it an easy call to give him a look in the majors. That look became a full-time second baseman, who is seemingly making his case to be one of the best Yankee second baseman ever.
While Cano's major league career was starting to take shape with a .342 average in 2006, Nova's was starting. It began decently in the Gulf Coast League, but then hit some bumps during 2007 with Charleston of the South Atlantic League and again in 2008 with Tampa of the Florida State League.
During those two years, Nova was a combined 14-21 and allowed 289 hits in nearly 250 innings. It was hardly the stuff worth keeping and the Padres gave him a shot by taking him in the Rule 5 draft but an 8.31 spring training ERA led him back to the Yankees, offering a second what if?
The first what if is what if Texas picked Cano over Joaquin Arias when Alex Rodriguez was sent to the Yankees in Feb. 2004. The second is what if Nova pitched well in spring training for a San Diego team that had nearly lost 100 games.
Since Nova didn't pitch well for the Padres, he was returned to the Yankees and while Cano was putting together a .320 average, Nova was going 5-4 with a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts for Trenton. That was good enough to earn a promotion to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. It didn't go well at first but the combination of being 12-3 and Javier Vazquez being ineffective opened the door for Nova.
At first, he had the typical rookie struggles and that somewhat carried over into the first part of this year. Then a month in the minors seemed to turn on the lightbulb of thinking that "I never want to go back there again" because since returning, Nova has been insanely good.
How good? This good - He has won 11 straight decisions and 15 of 19 overall. He is 7-0 with a 3.45 ERA since returning and his last loss was June 3 in Anaheim where he actually pitched decently.
Montero was the last to enter the Yankee system and is the third what if? What if the Mariners accepted the trade that included Montero for Cliff Lee instead of opting for Texas' offer?
Since the Mariners did not, Montero's path that began with a .280 average in the 2007 Gulf Coast League season could continue. The first glimpse of Montero was during 2008 when he batted .326 for Charleston and appeared in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium.
Had Montero been advanced past the South Atlantic League, the Yankees would have had a need for him even more, especially with Jose Molina doing the bulk of the catching until Ivan Rodriguez was acquired to replace the injured Jorge Posada.
Montero was even better in 2009, hitting .356 in Tampa and then .317 in Trenton before getting injured. It was good enough to be promoted to Scranton where he hit 39 home runs over the next two years before getting the call to join the Yankees last week.
Their three paths varied but wound up at the same destination - Labor Day weekend at Yankee Stadium in four straight Yankee victories that featured contributions from each one. This time, the order was different.
First, Nova pitched seven dominant innings in a one-run game. That made him the third-winningest Yankee rookie since 1950 behind Bob Grim and Stan Bahnsen. It also gave him the second-longest winning streak by a Yankee in the last 30 years with the other being Roger Clemens in 2001.
Second, Cano delivered a big two-run double Saturday. That made him a 100-RBI and a five-time 40 double and 100 RBI player, putting him in the same company as Bob Meusel and Lou Gehrig. Then two days later, he slugged his seventh grand slam (third of 2011).
The grand slam put him in a tie with Tony Lazzeri for the most among Yankee second baseman and gave him a .348 average in his last 27 games.
Finally, Montero hit two home runs and they weren't Yankee Stadium home runs. They were Alex Rodriguez locked in home runs, meaning from the right-handed hitter, they were long drives that landed well into the right field seats. That made Montero the first Yankee to hit his first two home runs in the same game since Shane Spencer 13 years ago Kansas City.
And if these events continue happening for several years, the international scouting department will raise a toast every year on those three dates.