Thirty one years after the Beatles first landed in the United States, another famous quartet touched down for the first time in the summer of 1995. That year under manager Buck Showalter the Yankees won the inaugural American League wild card and the core four all first put on their pinstripes.
In the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1981 Showalter carried youngsters Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada on the roster, but left off a 21-year old Derek Jeter. He did however make sure that the top prospect watched from the dugout as an inactive.
Led for the final time by Don Mattingly, the team won the first two games in the Bronx, but went on to lose the next three in Seattle. Consequently the tenth Captain in team history retired, Showalter was fired, and the rest is history.
Since then the Yankees have won 13 division titles and made the postseason every single season except for 2008. Along the way the longtime teammates won five World Championships together, and established a winning culture second to none. However the group is aging and Father Time remains unbeaten.
Last season, as Pettitte watched from his ranch in Texas, the ‘Key Three’ chased a sixth Championship together, but were ousted in five games by the Detroit Tigers. The three longtime teammates played in a North American record 17 consecutive seasons together. But nothing lasts forever and Posada walked away in January after hitting .429 that series, leaving Jeter and Rivera as the remaining remnants of the dynastic years of so long ago.
Despite going out on a high note the longtime backstops final season in the Bronx was a trying one. After having caught the third most games in team history behind Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, he was stripped of his duties and relegated to designated hitter. In May, while hitting .165 the proud Yankee was dropped to 9th in the order by manager Joe Girardi, and he asked out of the lineup.
The turn of events led to a firestorm, and but he picked it up hitting .382 in June. He continued to struggle though, and in August he was removed from the everyday lineup. However, he bounced back once again going 3 for 5 with a grand slam and 6 RBI in his first start after the benching.
Unlike his longtime teammates he wasn’t guaranteed a life-time contract, and despite wanting to continue playing there was simply no room. His departure was emotional and especially tough for Jeter. “It is awkward, just because you are so used to seeing someone,” he said shortly after his best friend retired. “With Andy, he was the dumb one of the group who left and went to Houston for a few years. We sort of got used to him not being here. “
In March however Pettitte helped lessen the loss of ‘Georgey’, after he ended his one year hiatus. When he was working his way back to the bigs, the greatest closer of all-time crumpled on the warning track of Kauffman stadium while shagging fly balls, tearing his ACL and leaving his career in doubt.
The injury left Jeter as the lone member of the group playing until the southpaw made his return to the mound in May. But after just nine starts his foot was shattered by a line-drive off the bat of Casey Kotchman, and the Captain once again carried the burden himself.
Nearly three months later Pettitte returned just in time to help steer the Yankees back to the playoffs, and avoid the biggest collapse in the team’s storied history. Ironically this October he and Jeter had to get past their first skipper en route to the clubs tenth Championship series since 1996.
The opening round against his Orioles marked the 33rd playoff series for the Yankees since the run began under him eighteen years ago, but it was the first with only two members of the legendary core on the active roster.
Rivera was there for all the previous wars, Jeter was only left out in 1995, Posada was excluded in 1996, and Pettitte missed out during his three years in Houston, and season in retirement.
In game 2 of the series a 40-year old Pettitte took the mound for the Yankees 6,214 days after Showalter sent him out for the first of his playoff record 16 game two starts; a game in which Rivera got the win, and Posada scored the tying run as a pinch-runner.
A game so long ago that President Bill Clinton was in his first term as President, gas was $1.15 a gallon, and the most popular show on television was Seinfeld. Despite being a bit grayer these days, the warhorse delivered 7 solid innings, but was outdueled by Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen.
The series shifted to the Bronx for Game 3 where an injured Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch, making him the third member of the group to already do so, as Posada did so on opening day this year, and Pettitte got the honors before Game 2 of last season’s divisional series.
After squeaking pasts Showalters pesky bunch, the Yankees head to Detroit down 2-0 with strangely Pettitte as the lone member of the group playing. It seems weird enough with Posada watching from home and Rivera from the sidelines, but things only changed more late Saturday night.
After Raul Ibanez continued to stir up memories of the golden years with his game tying shot in the 9th to cap a 4-run rally, the unthinkable happened. In the 12th inning the 38-year old Captain’s gimpy left ankle finally snapped, as he helplessly laid on the infield dirt unable to get up.
The ankle is fractured and Sunday marked the first postseason game for the Yankees without Jeter since Oct. 8 1995. That was Game 5 of the divisional series under Showalter, and it was the last time that somebody other than Jeter started at shortstop for the Yankees in the postseason, as Tony Fernandez got the nod.
Jeter has played in a Major League record 158 games in the postseason, and Game 2 was amazingly the first Yankee playoff game since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series that he and Rivera were both absent from the Yankee roster.
Without their Captain the team’s chances of advancing have all but faded, as they seem physically and emotionally drained after losing the first two games at home. The way they’ve been playing it’s amazing that they are even guaranteed at least two more games, and it appears as though they will once again fall short of their goal of winning a 28th Championship.
The reality becomes that the Yankees have only brought home one World Series banner in the last twelve seasons, and the glory years are a fading memory. Even though the mystique of those years lives on through Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte, things have drastically changed.
They no longer play in the House that Ruth built, rather in the one they helped build across the street. The ‘Boss’ George Steinbrenner, and longtime PA announcer Bob Sheppard have passed away. Joe Torre is the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, and his catcher on three of those Championship teams is now in charge.
The likes of Bernie, Tino, O’Neil, Cone, Brosius, Knoblauch, Stanton, Mendoza, Spencer, Nelson and others are long gone. Roger Clemens is now 50 years old and recently pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters. The 7th inning no longer consists of Cotton Eye Joe, or Ronan Tynan reciting God Bless America, and the stadium can’t even sell out a playoff game.
Sooner rather than later the only chance for fans to see the core four will be at Old Timer’s Day and by 2014 Jeter will most likely be the last one standing. Seeing Jayson Nix at shortstop and Rafael Soriano in the ninth is extremely strange, but it’s just a taste of what it’s going to be like in the near future, and it’s not pretty, or familiar.
It’s been a rough few months for the group, and this Yankee team will have to dig deep if they want to deliver them a sixth ring this season. Luckily, the three remaining icons plan on having a final rodeo next season, and hopefully this time next October they are back in battle fighting for one last Championship together.