At Least the 2013 Yankees Went the Distance

It’s only fitting that J.R. Murphy struck out to end the season on Sunday. And it’s only fitting that Mark Reynolds provided the Yankees’ only run with a solo home run. And it’s only fitting that it was Zoilo Almonte’s baserunning error that cost the Yankees in the seventh inning. It’s only fitting that a 22-year-old catching prospect, the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day designated hitter and the Yankees’ replacement outfielder’s replacement helped decide a must-win game for the 2013 Yankees.

I eliminated the Yankees back on Aug. 8 when I wrote “The Yankees’ Nightmare Season Is Over.” I wrote that column out of frustration following the three-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox, but I still believed they would find a way to reach the postseason even if it were as the lousy second wild card. They had Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson back in the lineup, Alfonso Soriano back in the Bronx and Derek Jeter on his way back and 49 games left to make up the ground they lost on the 2-6 road trip to Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago.

Since blowing leads in the ninth and 12th to the White Sox on Aug. 8, the Yankees have gone 25-18, which is actually quite impressive given their health status, but not enough to play in Bud Selig’s One-Game Playoff. They were forced into a must-win nine-game stretch to finish the season against the Giants, Rays and Astros to have somewhat of a chance at Bud Selig’s One-Game Playoff, but they failed to meet that goal in just Game 3 of 9 on Sunday, scoring one run against the Giants, who last saw .500 on June 24 (three months ago today). And the season was finally lost when last season’s World Series champion closer Sergio Romo got the 22-year-old Murphy to chase the same slider he got the Reds, Cardinals and Tigers to chase last October, but really the season was lost long before Murphy’s 13th career plate appearance.

I still don’t understand the people that refer to early-season baseball as “meaningless April and May games” or say things like, “It isn’t even the All-Star break yet.” These are probably the same people that think Bud Selig’s replay system, which will put more value on innings seven through nine than innings one through six, is a good idea. But it’s these people that are calling for Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman’s jobs on sports radio these days (their jobs aren’t on the line, but if they were, they should be called into question for reasons other than not making the playoffs this season) and flooding Twitter with rage about the Yankees not beating the Giants on Sunday or being swept by the Red Sox last weekend. But because baseball doesn’t “count” until Game 50, or Memorial Day or the All-Star break or any other made-up checkpoint or arbitrary date, I guess neither did any of the Yankees’ losses before then either.

The Yankees lost a lot of winnable games throughout the season and games that their full roster and previous Yankees teams would have won, but two series stick out the most: the four-game sweep by the Mets and the three-game sweep by the White Sox. I don’t think I need to tell you where they would be if they had won just three of those seven games or where they would be if they could have won four of the seven. Or where they would be if they had done just a little better than 1-6 in their last seven games against the Red Sox. Even with their incredible record in one-run games, the Yankees had plenty of chances to play in Bud Selig’s One-Game Playoff (thanks in large part to Toronto) and every other team vying to play in Bud Selig’s One-Game Playoff — Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Texas, Kansas City and Baltimore — all did their part in trying to help the Yankees reach the postseason for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons. The Yankees didn’t meet them half way over the last two months and now they have run out of schedule.

I don’t think the Yankees are looking at an upcoming season or seasons of embarrassment like the Red Sox endured in 2010 and 2012 (and would have continued to endure if the Dodgers didn’t bail them out) or the Mets have been enduring since their September collapses. Bud Selig’s One-Game Playoff has made sure that barely-above-average teams like the 2013 Yankees will be in contention for a postseason berth as long as they can tread water slightly above .500.

The Yankees are four games out of a playoff spot and still alive in Game 157 when they barely had a recognizable roster for the first 113 games and saw every would-be Opening Day position player miss significant time except for Robinson Cano and Ichiro Suzuki. Derek Jeter played 17 games, Mark Teixeira played 15, Alex Rodriguez 42 (so far), Kevin Youkilis 28, Curtis Granderson 55 (so far), Francisco Cervelli 17 and Travis Hafner (81). (Brett Gardner played in 145 games, but injured his oblique and would have been available in a limited role, if at all, in the playoffs.) Here are the Yankees’ current leaders by games played for each position:

C – Chris Stewart
1B – Lyle Overbay
2B – Robinson Cano
3B – Eduardo Nunez
SS – Jayson Nix
LF – Vernon Wells
CF – Brett Gardner
RF – Ichiro Suzuki
DH – Travis Hafner

Aside from the previously mentioned Murphy and Almonte, the Yankees called on David Adams, Luis Cruz, Brennan Boesch, Reid Brignac, Brendan Ryan, Chris Nelson, Brent Lillibridge, Alberto Gonzalez, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, Corban Joseph and the legendary Travis Ishikawa to replace first-ballot Hall of Famers, All-Stars and everyday major leaguers.

As for the rotation, CC Sabathia was shut down with a hamstring injury over the weekend, Andy Pettitte was placed on the DL in late May, David Phelps has thrown 23 pitches in September, but before then hadn’t pitched since July 4 and Michael Pineda still hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Yankees since becoming a Yankee. And even worse than any injury or terrible replacement was Phil Hughes, who might as well have been injured, with his 13 losses and 5.07 ERA on the season with still a start to go. I’m sure A.J. Burnett is wondering why I let Hughes off easy and spent hundreds of thousands of words each season on Burnett. But don’t worry, A.J.! The offseason is extra long this year and there are plenty of words to be written.

And because of the extra long offseason with no baseball in October, there will be plenty of time to look back on the 2013 season as a whole and not just how Phil Hughes did his part to ruin it. But with the Yankees four games out with six games to play and Number 42 and Number 46 making their final appearances, I thought it was necessary to look at the 2013 Yankees for taking the possibility of the postseason farther than I thought they would when they opened the season 1-4 and farther than I thought they would with the double blown save against the White Sox on Aug. 8.

Now it’s time to ask my friends who are Red Sox fans and Met fans what I’m supposed to do in October.