First Place Isn’t Supposed to Feel This Way

I know that seasonal depression is a real thing because I’m pretty sure I have it. When I left Atlantic City on Sunday afternoon after a weekend with a group of guys that I see sparingly, including some I now see only once a year, it was on the train ride back when it really hit me: summer is over, and there’s no getting it back.

I spent the weekend drinking anything handed to me, inhaling second-hand smoke at the tables, sleeping in an overcrowded hotel room and trying to draft the perfect fantasy football team (which is the real reason we went to AC in the first place). But really what I was doing was attempting to be Billy Chapel in For Love of the Game and trying to “push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”

It seems like just yesterday I was in Nantucket for Figawi and Memorial Day weekend and in Boston for the Yankees-Red Sox series over Fourth of July weekend. Now it’s September 4, it’s getting cold at night and the Giants’ season begins on Wednesday night. Is this real life?

The end of summer is devastating, but it’s inevitable and because of that, it doesn’t come close to the level of devastation that the Yankees are putting me through as they are now one game away from erasing the 10-game lead they held on July 18. But when you combine the end of summer with the Yankees’ second-half slide, well I’m on the verge of spending the next six-plus months in my bed like Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys until Opening Day 2013.

How did we get here? The easy answer is injuries. Andy Pettitte broke his leg, CC Sabathia hit the disabled list twice, A-Rod missed over a month, Ivan Nova sucked before getting hurt, and Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and now maybe Robinson Cano have missed time due to various injuries. Injuries is the easy answer, but it’s not the real answer. The real answer is that the Yankees have played bad baseball since the All-Star break, and that’s the real answer because if I cite injuries as the reason for nine games of their 10-game lead being erased then I’m no better than John Henry or Larry Lucchino or Bobby Valentine. I’m not going to use injuries as an excuse because that’s irresponsible and would make me unaccountable as a Yankee fan. Every team has injuries and no one cares about who is injured. People care about who wins.

The 2008 Yankees were a train wreck and that had a lot to do with injuries. But no one felt bad for them and in the long run, people will remember the 2008 Yankees as the first Yankees team to miss the postseason since 1993 rather than the team that had Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson start 40 games combined or the team that had Jose Molina play in 100 games or the team that actually picked up Richie Sexson and played him because things got so bad. No, people will just remember the 2008 Yankees as the team that failed.

The same goes for the 2012 Yankees. No one will care that the 2012 Yankees lost Michael Pineda without ever throwing a pitch, lost Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner to season-ending injuries, only got nine starts out of Andy Pettitte until now or that a handful of other key guys missed significant time. All that matters is whether or not the Yankees make the postseason and what they do in the postseason.

With a one-game lead with 28 games to go (and a relatively easy schedule), the 2012 Yankees can become one of three things between now and the last out of Game 162.

1. They can hang on to win the the division and this column will have been a waste of my time writing and your time reading.

2. They can blow the division lead and play in Bud Selig’s one-game playoff, which will likely end with me being hooked up to a respirator.

3. They can blow the division lead and miss the one-game playoff, and I will take myself off the grid and go into hiding indefinitely.

After Monday’s loss, the Yankees were asked about whether or not they are panicking now that they are a loss and a Baltimore win on Tuesday away from not having sole possession of first place in the AL East anymore. Let’s take a look at what they had to say with my response to their explanation.

(Warning: Things said in this column might be irrational and unreasonable. That’s what happens when a 10-game lead becomes a one-game lead.)

“Who’s panicking? You? Are you panicking? How do you deal with panic? … I don’t panic. So I don’t have to deal with it. Everyone deals with it differently. But I’m not one to panic.” – Derek Jeter

Yes, I’m panicking. Yes, I also understand that Derek Jeter isn’t going to say that the sh-t has hit the fan and the Yankees are in trouble. This is the same guy who could lose his house and everything he owns in a hurricane and stand next to his destroyed home and tell you that everything is going to be fine. So while I want to believe Derek Jeter because I don’t know any other way, it’s really hard to believe him right now. I’m glad he doesn’t have to panic. I’m glad this is so easy for him.

“It’s not a good feeling. You lose some games, and you just want to win games. You don’t want to put your head down. Just got to turn the page. Just be ready for tomorrow. … It’s a little bit hard, but you don’t want to send negative messages to your brain. You’ve got to be positive and just mentally prepare for tomorrow.” – Robinson Cano

It’s Robbie Cano … sports psychologist … don’t ya know! I could get on Robinson Cano’s recent lack of hustling, but I won’t because that’s who Robinson Cano is. Instead let’s just go with who Robinson Cano isn’t: On July 18, the Yankees had a 10-game lead. On July 19, they lost the first game of a four-game sweep at the hands of the A’s. Since July 19, Cano is hitting .265/.335/.457 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in 42 games. When exactly is “tomorrow” coming?

“See, I look at the positives, you know what I’m saying? Like I said before we even got into this month, we play everyone. So we’ve got to win games. That’s it. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that. … We beat some teams early on, right? Baseball’s a funny game, a funny sport. Sometimes you struggle a bit, and then all of a sudden, things seem to change and you roll off a lot of wins.” – Derek Jeter

The Yankees play the Rays the next two days and then they play the Orioles in a four-game series at Camden Yards. I want to think they will win all six games and go on the kind of run Derek Jeter thinks they can go on and this will all be a minor blip on the 2012 season. But if I can easily believe that then I should also believe that the money left under my pillow in exchange for a lost tooth came from someone other than my parents when I was younger.

“We all gotta’ do what we do. The way you come out of things like this is by doing the little things and if we focus on doing the little things and become master at those we don’t have to worry about big things. And hopefully we’re on our way. I think nobody’s panicking. We’ve done this for a long time.” – Alex Rodriguez

If the Yankees can master the little things then they won’t have to worry about big things? What the eff? How does no one follow this answer up with a question asking what any of this means?

“It’s baseball. We’ve got to go out and keep playing. It’s a tough game but we still have a lead. It’s all up to us and hopefully we can turn it around. … We’ve had some injuries. We’ve got some guys coming back. Hopefully that could give us a shot in the arm to be able to take off and start playing well. … Like I said, it’s up to us to go out and play well and I didn’t help us out today.” – CC Sabathia

Hey, it’s CC Sabathia making excuses! Don’t you just love the “We’ve had some injuries” thrown into the middle of his answer? At least he made up for it by finishing with “I didn’t help us out today” so he isn’t completely delusional like Ivan Nova at times this season and Ian Kennedy back in 2009.

I got scared when CC started this answer by saying “It’s baseball” and thought he might go off on a Tom Glavine 2007 rant about how baseball doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of life and that there are more important things to worry and care about. But CC Sabathia will make $23 million this season, so I’m glad he isn’t as stupid as Glavine was to go down that road.

It’s rare, very rare, that I recklessly throw out a “Ladies and gentlemen, CC Sabathia!” but I did it on Monday afternoon and I felt good after I did it. A lot of people went into Monday saying, “This is why the Yankees signed CC and re-signed him for all that money … to win games like this.” Well, he lost. He lost for the second time in as many starts since coming off the DL for the second time. Last Wednesday he blew two leads to the lowly Blue Jays and on Monday he blew a one-run lead to the Rays after just one shutdown inning following the Yankees taking a lead. We are CC Sabathia losing his next start away from me talking about how much money he makes per start the way I used to have to with A.J. Burnett.

“I thought the team played with some energy. Today was just a classic game of two great pitchers going at each other and we came up on the short end. But I feel if we play with that type of intensity it’s going to be a fun month of September.” – Alex Rodriguez

A “classic game” huh? I don’t even know what to say about that. And if the Yankees play the way they did on Monday, a game in which they lost, then how is September going to be fun at all?

“I’m always positive. That’s my personality. I’ve said it all along; these guys have found a way to get it done all year long through a lot of adversity, through a lot of injuries, through a lot of different things that we’ve been through. I believe they’re going to do it. That’s who they are and I believe in them.” – Joe Girardi

Joe Girardi lies a lot. We all know that. But this might be the biggest lie of them all. How have the Yankees handled adversity and their injuries well? They have all but erased their division lead, and as another part of adversity, they have won zero games when trailing after eight innings. The Yankees are supposed to be built on the notion that they are never out of a game and they will fight until the last out. But what good is fighting until the last out, if you never win the fight?

A wise man once said, “When you win the division, you don’t really care what you win by.” That wise man was Joe Girardi on Monday after the Yankees 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, which cut their AL East lead to one game. You remember that lead, right? It was 10 games back on July 18. On Tuesday night it could be zero. I miss that 10-game lead and I miss summer.