And just like that, it’s over. The daily grind that started in Tampa back on Sunday, April 2 has ended.
Twenty-eight hours ago I was planning my trip to Los Angeles for the World Series for an event that I thought would never happen, let alone nearly happen this season: my Yankees against my girlfriend’s Dodgers.
Back then, all those 28 hours ago, it was win tonight OR tomorrow and the Yankees are headed to the World Series for the first time in eight years in the most improbable of ways by reaching the postseason as a projected 81-win team, by beating Minnesota in the wild-card game after falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first, by overcoming a 2-0 series deficit to top-seeded Cleveland after going off on Corey Kluber for the second time in five nights and by overcoming another 2-0 series deficit to the Astros after winning three straight at Yankee Stadium. But now, here I am, wondering how a dream so close to finally being realized ended with one run scored in 18 innings against an Astros team the Yankees had seemingly figured out for three straight days in the Bronx.
Saturday night’s Game 7 was the fifth time the Yankees played for their season in 19 nights, starting with the raucous night at the Stadium back on Oct. 3, before the wild Sunday night Game 3 against the Indians on Oct. 8, followed by the series-tying Game 4 against the Indians the next night on Oct. 9 and then the second batting practice in five days against Corey Kluber two nights later on Oct. 11. You could even count Games 3, 4 and 5 against the Astros as elimination games because if the Yankees had gone down 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2, their season would have been over as well. I didn’t think going back to Houston UP 3-2 would mean the same.
I’m not angry with the way the season ended. Not like I was after the 2010 ALCS when the failed trade for Cliff Lee was the sole reason the Yankees didn’t win the pennant (and likely didn’t win back-to-back World Series). And I’m not mad with the way the season ended. Not like I was after the 2012 ALCS when I had to watch Derek Jeter break his ankle in what would be his final postseason game, and really the end of his career, as the Yankees were swept by the Tigers.
Those two ALCS losses were different. The window of opportunity on those Yankees teams was closing … OK … slamming shut and those two series represented the last real chances for that group to add to their collection of five championships.
After 2012, with Jeter suffering a career-altering injury at age 38, and Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte entering their final season, half of the “Core Four” would be joining Jorge Posada in retirement following the 2013 season, and Jeter would follow after 2014. Aside from the Yankees who had been Yankees since elementary school for me, Alex Rodriguez was 37 and coming off a 3-for-25 in the postseason, in which he was pinch-hit for in the ALDS; Robinson Cano, coming off his own 3-for-41 in the postseason after hitting .313/.379/.550 with 33 home runs in the regular season was entering the final year of his contract in 2013; Curtis Granderson, who had hit 43 home runs in the regular season and 41 the year before, put together a nice 3-for-30 with 16 strikeouts in the postseason and was up for free agency; Nick Swisher, who made Brian Cashman look like a genius for acquiring him in exchange for Wilson Betemit, had hit 105 home runs in four regular seasons with the Yankees, but had been the worst postsesason player in history in those same four years, and played himself out of the team’s future plans as a free agent; Russell Martin had lessened the hurt of Jorge Posada retiring, but he was also up for free agency, and the Yankees’ catching depth (and by catching depth, at the time it was Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy, not Gary Sanchez) meant he was gone.
The retirements, injuries, free agents and uncertainty following 2012 led to this Opening Day lineup in 2013:
Brett Gardner, CF
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Robinson Cano, 2B
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Vernon Wells, LF
Ben Francisco, DH
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Jayson Nix, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
If that didn’t make you sick, here’s who played the most games at each position that season:
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
Still haven’t thrown up? The following players played for the 2013 Yankees:
David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, Brennan Boesch, Reid Brignac, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Travis Ishikawa, Corban Joseph, Brent Lillibridge, Melky Mesa and Thomas Neal.
Somehow the 2012 Yankees played for the AL pennant against the Tigers and the 2013 Yankees went into a time machine to the Stump Merrill era and featured a roster that might not have won the Independent League. (Somehow, they won 85 games in Joe Girardi’s greatest accomplishment as a manager). The most highly-touted position player prospect to play for the Yankees in 2013 was David Adams, who will always be remembered as the player whose ankle nixed the Cliff Lee deal. The 26-year-old rookie hit .193/.252/.286 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 152 plate appearances.
That’s why I’m not angry or mad or frustrated or disappointed or upset at the way this season. I’m sad that baseball is over. I’m sad that the young Yankees weren’t able to do the unthinkable and win it all well ahead of schedule. I’m sad that I won’t be going to the world in New York or Los Angeles. I’m sad that there isn’t a meaningful baseball game for me until March 27. But what I’m not sad about is that the dark days of 2013-2016 are over.
Gary Sanchez and his 53 career home runs in 175 games will be 25 in December. AL Rookie of the Year and possibly AL MVP Aaron Judge will turn 26 in April. Top 3 AL starting pitcher with the hardest fastball velocity for a starter in the majors Luis Severino will be 24 in February. Healthy Greg Bird, who hit three postseason home runs to go along with a .426 on-base percentage, will be 25 in November. Jordan Montgomery, who pitched to a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts as a rookie, will be 25 in December. Old man Didi Gregorius, who set the Yankees’ franchise record for home runs in season by a shortstop and saved the Yankees’ season in the wild-card game and again in Game 5 against Cleveland, will turn 28 in February.
There’s no more fake prospect hype and a long list of bad contracts. There are real homegrown stars, superstars even, on this team and when you figure that Chase Headley only has one year at $13 million left, the only real bad contract left on the team is Jacoby Ellsbury’s $63.4 million over the next three years and then the $5 million to buy him out of the 2021 season. One bad contract! That’s it! A-Rod’s $21 million to not actually play is over. There’s only $5.5 million left to pay Brian McCann to get big hits against the Yankees. Matt Holliday’s $13 million has cleared. CC Sabathia will return, but he won’t be making $25 million per season. And again, there’s just one more year of Chase Headley at $13 million. One. More. Year.
The future isn’t just bright for the Yankees, it’s you-have-to-buy-those-special-glasses-like-you-did-for-the-total-eclipse bright. The next core of the franchise is already in place and that’s before Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier find their full-time place on the team with others like Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield to follow. And if needed, that whole part about tens of millions of dollars coming off the books between this year and next will happen just in time for the 2018 free-agent class, which includes Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who will both be 26 on Opening Day 2019.
All of this helped me as Justin Verlander pitched like Curt Schilling in Game 6 on Friday night, and it comforted me after Evan Gattis’ solo home run in the third inning in Game 7 on Saturday as I watched the outs go by knowing the inevitable: the 2017 Yankees would fall one win short of the World Series.
But this is just the beginning, the way the heartbreak of 1995 was the beginning for those Yankees. These Yankees won’t ever be the underdog again. The young, fresh faces in the Bronx soon won’t be likeable or easy to root for by the rest of the baseball world as they will enter 2018 as the favorite to win the AL East and will be picked by many to get the win they weren’t able to get on Friday or Saturday to win the AL pennant.
I’m sad the season is over, but I’m happy the Yankees are the Yankees once again.