It’s been a magical ride this season for Yankee fans.
There were mild expectations going in but a terrific regular season, headlined by record setting performances from Aaron Judge and the Yankees’ young players, raised the bar and started to rekindle reminders of the team that won four out of five World Series Championships from 1996-2000.
This young team showed some grit and resiliency during a hectic run against the Red Sox for the American League East title that culminated with a return to the post season as a Wild Card entry.
Oh, it was so easy against the Twins in the Wild Card game. Get down 3-0 in the first, no problem. Didi ties the game with a three run homer and the Yanks are on their way to the American League Divisional Series. “Mystique and aura” was back in the Bronx.
However, something funny happened on the way to the World Series.
A jolt of reality hit the Yankees Friday night in the form of a gut wrenching, extra inning, post season loss to an Indians’ team that appears to be on a mission to get back and win the World Series.
In the first two ALDS games, Cleveland has played winning baseball in all aspects of the game. The Indians are clearly the more talented, more polished and better team. The Yankees are simply not there yet, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get there eventually. It just won’t happen this year.
The team that won four out of five had to endure the same kind of growing pains in 1995.
That Yankee team made a furious run down the stretch to secure the first ever American League Wild Card berth. Popular first-baseman Don Mattingly was getting his first (and his only) shot at playing post season baseball.
The Yankees won both of the first two games in the Bronx, including a 15-inning thriller in game two that ended on a Jim Leyritz, walk off, home run. The fans were excited as they left the building feeling confident that the Yanks would win one of the next three that were to be played in Seattle.
Like this year’s edition, something funny happened to that 1995 Yankee team on their way to the Fall Classic. The Kingdome was always a “house of horrors” for the Yankees so it was fitting that they lost the series in gut wrenching fashion. Edgar Martinez’ two run double scored the tying and winning runs as Ken Griffey Jr. slid across the plate in the bottom of the eleventh of the fifth and deciding game to end the Yankee season in stunning fashion. The rest is history, as they say.
This team has to navigate baseball’s version of a “minefield” as they attempt to pull off, what would be a miracle, and win the next three games.
Of course, if the Yankees do force a game five, they’ll once again have to try and score some runs off of Corey Kluber. Some have said that since the Yankees banged him around in game two, they’ll have the confidence they can do it again. You have to figure that a soon to be two time Cy Young winner would figure out what went wrong and would make the proper adjustments the next time around.
Game two has already become a “sword of damocles” for the Yankees and it will remain that way unless they can complete a near “Herculian” task to win the series.
There will be no shame in losing to an Indians team that appears to be headed for a record setting, first time showdown of two-100 win teams (the Astros are primed to eliminate Boston) in the ALCS.
If the Yankees’ season ends on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday (if there’s a rain out) or next Wednesday, it will be a “what if” festival during the off season.
The Yankees will learn from the experience and will be better off for it. The repercussions from the game two loss have yet to be felt. Someone will pay for that loss and it won’t be the manager. (see my colleague Wallace Matthews’ column )
There will be some pivotal decisions to be made like a potential move of catcher Gary Sanchez to another position; who will be dangled as trade bait to upgrade the roster and what young players (Glyber Torres) can or will make an impact on next year’s team.
Even if they go on to lose, the Yankees are a year ahead of schedule in their development. The ol’ cliché will definitely fit their mindset heading into next season. The Yankees will be looking to “take the next step” in 2018.