The last time the season ended on such an unsettled note was 2003. The warhorses of the Yankee starting rotation--Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, David Wells--were heading for the door, leaving only Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera to anchor the pitching staff.
Those were uncertain times. But they were nothing like this. At least in 2003, the Yanks made it to the World Series, got one last memorable smackdown in against the Sox before their World Series drought finally ended. This time, the accomplishment is nowhere near as much--squeaking into the playoffs as the Wild Card, then losing, badly, to a team we thumped like a rented pinball machine during the regular season. And the potential losses to the roster cut much deeper: Mariano. Hip hip Jorge. Joe Torre. Alex the MV friggin' P. And, as an afterthought, Clemens and possibly Pettitte all over again.
The first three names are the very heart of your team. The fourth, for all the complaining we do (and in this series and particularly last night's game, the complaining wasn't out of line) is the team's muscle. And the last two are old, perhaps unreliable arms--but they're the old, unreliable arms that got us to the playoffs in the first place.
We'll come back to this, in a moment. First, let's talk about the game.
It wasn't an old, unreliable arm that killed the Yankees last night, it was a young, suddenly-unreliable one. Last night's game followed the pattern of every decisive playoff game since the 2004 ALCS: shaky starter takes the mound, digs a quick hole, gets the early hook in favor of another iffy starter, then the slow, painful march proceeds toward elimination.
It's a tried and true formula. You could just about say that it works every time.
The scary part about this is that it was Wang--the rock of the rotation, winner of six of his last eight in the regular season--who crumbled like a day-old cookie against the Tribe. The vaunted (by me) home-field advantage didn't avail him worth a damn. Sure, there was a spate of lousy calls against the Yanks in this game, but that's just excuses. The truth is, the Indians teed off on Wang like they knew every single pitch that was coming. Sure, it didn't help that Wang started violently overthrowing all his pitches, but the fact is, he got hit early and often, and the Yanks never really got into either of the games he started. I wonder if a 19.02 ERA is the worst ERA by a major Yankee player, ever.
At the same time, much like in Game 1, the Yanks had early chances when they could have used to turn the momentum in their favor, but they never materialized. To put it another way, Alex Rodriguez never made them material. Alex struck out twice on six pitches against Paul "86 MPH fastball" Byrd. Byrd blew that weak-ass cheese past Alex with two men on in the first. I defend the guy up and down the block, but he just killed me in those early innings. By the time that he and Cano did their solo shots, it was too damn late. Even with Joe Borowski on the mound in the ninth--a bad idea for the Indians, I don't care how many saves he had this year--I couldn't get excited. The team had rolled over and died already, and as Abreu went yard and Posada drove one long and foul, I just felt like I was getting jerked around.
And then the season was finally over.
I'm proud of this team. Honest, I am. They were dead on June 1, and came back to life, put a scare in a few people. Alex, so damn vulnerable once the short series start, put on the show of my lifetime at Yankee Stadium this season. We got to chant for Joba, I got to cheer Rocket's return, and Phil Hughes did have that beautiful moment in Sunday's game. Robbie Cano socked more homers than anyone ever figured for him, and Jorge Posada probably had his best season overall. Good surprises like Ian Kennedy and Shelly Duncan were just a little more memorable than the Kei Igawas and Brian Bruneys.
Along the way, I think we forgot what this Yankee team was: underdogs. And while many regard it as romantic to be the underdog (to the point of the inventing underdogs even where they don't really exist) usually it just means you get beat by a superior team. Which is what happened here.
What happens from here? We have all winter to talk about it now, but my first impression is: I think Torre goes, for sure, and Clemens retires. Part of me would like to think that what happens with Posada, Rivera, and Pettitte had something to do with the fates of Torre and Clemens--as free agents, both Rivera and Posada could make their loyalty to the Yankee skipper a negotiation issue--but I think all three will be back. What Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras will do is anybody's guess. Nothing would surprise me: not a ten-year extension with a cut of the new Stadium's concessions, nor Alex going to Anaheim and Tom Hicks kicking back to Boras a cut of the $30 million the Texas Rangers would save if Alex opts out.
Here's hoping that Colorado beats Cleveland in the World Series!