The plan began to take shape nearly a year ago. Once the 2008 Yankees’ record slipped down far enough to where both the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox were going to finish ahead of them, the team’s hierarchy knew that drastic changes were needed.
The Bombers had made the postseason 12 consecutive years under the tutelage of Joe Torre and staying home in October just isn’t acceptable. Joe Girardi was the successor of the throne and was given a pass in a way, Bronx style. The manager knew that if he didn’t produce a playoff berth now he would have been looking for a new job this fall.
Taking no chances, the front office went out during the winter and basically put together a fantasy team. Adding to an already talented roster, bringing in the likes of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixiera basically cemented the division.
On Wednesday, the Yankees became the first team in the league to clinch a playoff berth, albeit it as a result of a Texas Rangers loss. It was a moot point as the Yanks went out that same night and won their game in Anaheim.
“It’s good to be in,” third baseman Alex Rodriguez said to reporters. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. There’s no question the intensity level was very high.”
Girardi echoed a similar emotion. “That’s the expectation here every year, and that’s obviously very pleasing,” the skipper told reporters. ”We’re going to be playing in October, but there are still some things we want to accomplish before the season ends.”
Just making the playoffs is not suffice in Yankee land. That may be okay for the Rays or Tigers, but winning their 27th World Series title is the only barometer of a productive season. Owning a league-best 96-55 seems to be something to build on towards reaching the ultimate goal. They are six games up on the Angels for home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs.
By wrapping up a spot this early, the members of the Yankees can’t help but look ahead to possible opponents, regardless if they admit it or toe the company line. If the season ended today, the Yankees would face the winner of the AL Central. “You hope you play them – that means we’re there,” Derek Jeter commented to reporters. “But it’s still too early to think about match-ups. It’s important for us to play well against good teams.”
And that is exactly what is going to happen in the ‘second season.’ Since the Red Sox appear to be the clear-cut wild card entrant, the Yankees will face off against the winner of the AL Central in the Division Series. At press time, the Detroit Tigers were leading the Minnesota Twins by two and a half games.
That means that Anaheim and Boston will face one another in the other series and the survivors will square off in the American League Championship Series. Does the road to the World Series go through Yankee Stadium? (The AL has home field advantage in the Fall Classic thanks to a win in the All-Star Game.) Anything less and the season will be considered a failure.
Such is life when perfection is not only expected, but also demanded.