Barely 24 hours pass since the New York Yankees were nudged out of the postseason, and at least one Yankee muckety-muck pronounces the season a failure.
“We are the Yankees,” team president Randy Levine told ESPN New York this morning. “That is the way The Boss set it up. When you don’t win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year.”
Apparently, the thought that the Yankees were probably very lucky to get into the postseason at all wasn’t programmed into Levine’s software. If it hadn’t been put there at last after the Detroit Tigers hung in just strong enough to nudge the Yankees out with a squeaker of a 3-2 win in Game Five of their American League division series, perhaps it never will be put there.
Yankee fans may have the kind of sense of entitlement that makes them targets of derision in places that don’t worship at the shrine of the south Bronx, which is to say just about anywhere else in baseball including half their own home city. But when the Yankee brass exhibits the same sense, it makes one thankful enough that even his martinet sons, whose mouths runneth over once in awhile in a passable if not quite complete impression of their late father, don’t quite have George Steinbrenner’s periodic and legendary impatience.
Like it or not, in baseball and in any professional sport there’s a rule that somebody has to lose. Like it or not, there is no law in baseball that says the Yankees are entitled to win all the hardware every season. Like it or not, the Tigers know it, too. And, like it or not, when push came to absolute shove—or dive, if you factor former Tiger Curtis Granderson’s Game Four acrobatics that put the Tigers into position to nudge the Empire Emeritus out of the way in the first place—the Tigers, who don’t operate with any sense of entitlement, exposed the Yankees’ wounding 2011 flaws in profound and sometimes dramatic fashion.
Levine and his fellows in the front office probably don’t want to hear that there was nothing anyone, not even solid rookie Ivan Nova, could do to keep Don Kelly and Delmon Young from back-to-back fence clearings in the top of the first Thursday. Nova might well have gone forward to hold the Tigers at bay but for the forearm stiffness that forced him out of the game an inning later.
Nor might they want to hear that the Yankees’ season-long offencive inconsistency came to fruition Thursday when they went 0-for-4 with the bases loaded, 2-for-9 with men in scoring position at all, and third base coach Rob Thomson inexplicably held Alex Rodriguez at third on Jorge Posada’s fourth-inning, two-on single, leaving Tiger wunderkind Doug Fister—amazing how the Yankees and Boston Red Sox found no viable starting pitching help at the non-waiver trade deadline but the Tigers found a diamond in the Seattle rough—to lure Russell Martin and Brett Gardner into infield pops that popped that threat.
Don’t ask first baseman Mark Teixiera. “Anything less than a championship is a lost year,” said the Yankee first baseman who spent the division series hitting .167 without driving in a single run other than on a bases-loaded walk. “None of us were ready to go home.”
But you might want to ask manager Joe Girardi. There were reasons why he managed just about the entire series as though every game were a one-run game just one pitch away from either unwarranted triumph or unfathomable disaster. They’re reasons Levine didn’t seem to factor when he offered his Steinbrennerian postmortem. These Yankees just weren’t quite the kind of Yankees whose postseason should have been a thresh through the other guys.
He spent the season and now the division series maneuvering faltering, dubious, or incomplete parts to survive, even as his Yankees finished the season leading baseball in bombs and pulling up second Show-wide in runs scored and slugging percentage, not to mention with the best won-lost record in the game in spite of themselves. He was forced to turn to CC Sabathia for relief work in Game Five, perhaps knowing only too well that Sabathia’s second half of the regular season was no great shakes compared to his first half, and that Sabathia had been manhandled (on Sabathian terms, anyway) by the Tigers in Game Three. He was forced to rely on Boone Logan, a lefthanded specialist who hasn’t exactly been performing his specialty with any noticeable virtuosity. He spelled the injured Nova with Phil Hughes, a starter by trade who was pulled from the rotation in September. He had no more rabbits to pull out of any hat, and he knew it.
“Our guys played hard. I can’t ask for anything more from them over the course of the season,” Girardi said after Jose Valverde—he who got under enough Yankee skins with his victory prediction early in the set—blew a 1-2 fastball past Alex Rodriguez, who’d manhandled him on the regular season but whose postseason falterings are only too well on the record as well, to secure the Tigers’ advance. But how hard can they be playing when the best they can get with the bases loaded and one out, as they had in the fourth Thursday, was Teixiera forcing a run home by drawing ball four—in the middle of a strikeout sandwich involving A-Rod and Nick Swisher?
How hard can they be playing when they square off against Valverde, the man who said the series wouldn’t even get back to the Bronx, and Robinson Cano (he of the 118 regular-season RBIs, he who would be the Yankee leader in ALDS OPS and drive in nine runs on the set) lines out sharply to center field but Granderson (he of the 41 regular-season bombs and MVP candidacy) goes down on a meatball of a fly out to left and Rodriguez swings through a fastball as though his bat were suddenly hollowed out right through the barrel?
How hard can they be playing when, with the way they were playing and the Tigers were outplaying them, The Mariano got to throw only eight pitches in the series—the lowest in any postseason set of his Hall of Fame-in-waiting career?
These Tigers—they with only one man (Miguel Cabrera) finding the seats 30 or more times; only one man (Cabrera again) driving in 100+ runs; only two other men (Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta) driving in 80+; only two men (Avila and Cabrera) with on-base percentages higher than .350; only one starting pitcher with a WHIP 1.00 or better (Justin Verlander)—threw everything they had against a Yankee team that was flawed but somewhat superior, if only on paper and in image, and they took a thriller of a five-game set from the Empire Emeritus.
And they barely had to use Justin Verlander. He was the hard-luck Game One starter who was pushed back to Game Three after working an inning and a third with a 1-1 tie when the rain suspended Game One. He outpitched Sabathia in Game Three despite surrendering four runs (RBI triple, RBI groundout in the first; two-run double in the seventh), and manager Jim Leyland—some said daringly—didn’t even consider him a bullpen topic for Game Five. Unfortunately for the Texas Rangers, whom the Tigers meet for the pennant, Verlander is very much a topic for the League Championship Series. Game One, for openers. No wonder the Rangers let slip that if they had their choice they’d rather be squaring off against the Yankees.
Maybe Leyland knew his aggregation would find a way to creep past a Yankee aggregation flawed enough to leave anyone this side of the Red Sox with a fighting chance. Verlander swears Leyland was singing in the dugout as the game began in earnest. Maybe someone in the Yankee dugout should have considered doing likewise.
“We felt good going into that ninth inning,” said Derek Jeter, the aging captain whose dramatic day reaching his 3,00oth hit (and it was a whale of a home run in the bargain) was probably one of the two biggest highlights of the Yankee season, in hand with The Mariano’s quietly efficient 602nd save, breaking Trevor Hoffman’s short-enough-lived record. ”(Cano, Granderson, and A-Rod) are the guys you want coming to the plate. We still feel good. I mean, you just want to get somebody on base and you never know what’s going to happen.”
That, too, doesn’t seem to have been programmed into Levine’s software. Girardi knows better. ”Obviously, this is a terrible day for us,” the manager who did his best with what he had lamented. “But some days you just get beat.” Some days, some series.