The Yankees ended the 2008 season with a doubleheader at Fenway after Saturday's rainout. In the early game, Mike Mussina finally bagged his 20th win in a season, capping a campaign that would have been worthy of the Comeback Player of the Year award, in any season where Cliff Lee's body wasn't possessed by aliens. The late game was a little more like the Yankees' season as a whole: a desperate struggle to beat a Boston team that hardly seemed to be trying to win, marked by a tough time scoring runs and some bad pitching by Darrell Rasner. A win, and a season-ending sweep of a Red Sox team that was clearly in tune-up mode for the final series, would have allowed the Pinstripers to finish their season with 90 wins and given us a small psychological boost going into a long, hard winter. But this wasn't really a season for feel-good endings, so the Red Sox nabbed with a walk-off tenth inning victory, the immortal Jonathan Van Every knocking in Alex Cora for the win.
For the first time since 1993, the Yankees season ended with the Yanks on the outside looking in at the postseason. In 1993 I'd just graduated college, a cell phone you could barely fit in a coat pocket was a cutting-edge luxury, and next to nobody had heard of the Internet. It's been a long wild ride for the Bronx faithful, and I'm grateful that it lasted this long. Looking, ahead, 2009 promises big changes. Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Bobby Abreu are free agents, Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano will be free agents if their options aren't picked up. In different ways, the Italian connection of Mussina, Giambi and Pavano have each been emblematic of the 21st Century Yanks. Mussina (like the Yanks) has been good but not great over the past eight years. Giambi has been simultaneously frustrating and underrated; despite all the steroid drama, there were only two real bad years out of the Giambino's seven in the Bronx. Pavano--well, he's been the symbol of how far the Yankees have fallen from the late 90s peak, an overpriced player whose name itself became a punchline.
We'll have October to watch everyone else play for the World Series title (can I hear a "Lets go Rays"? OK, maybe not...) and some months after to see how this particular Humpty Dumpty tries to put itself back together again. Will the Yanks stick with their homegrown players, despite a season that presented significant setbacks for each and every one of them? Should veteran warhorses like Mussina and Pettitte and Abreu return next season? Will CC Sabathia get fitted for a set of XXL pinstripes, and if so, will it be a mistake of Pavanoriffic proportions? Time will reveal all things, and we'll have time to discuss it, starting with September in Review tomorrow, and season reviews to follow.
Some odds and ends:
Schadenfreude is such a lonely word: For all the Lupica talk about how New York is now the Mets' town again, they finished with the exact same record as the Yankees, and they're now just as likely to win the World Series. I wasn't exactly rooting against the Flushing warriors, but given the way that Mets fans stunk up the joint during this year's Subway Series, I'm not exactly sad that the Phillies overtook them for the division title, again, and that the Brewers snuck past them to grab that Wild Card.
Joe vs. Joe: First of all, congratulations to Joe Torre, as well as his pinstripe alumni coaches--Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, and Mariano Duncan--for making it to the playoffs in his first year managing the Dodgers. This is the type of news that's bound to set off all sorts of recriminations about how the Yankees would have been so much better if Torre, not Joe Girardi, had been at the helm for Yankee Stadium's final season. There's no way to tell, but let's get some perspective here, in the current Yankee manager's defense. First of all, the Dodgers won the weakest division in baseball, with a record five wins worse than the Yankees. Second, both managers had to deal with injuries--each lost his staff ace about 100 innings into the season--but the Dodgers got a historic second-half push from an extremely motivated Manny Ramirez, who hit almost .400 over the last two months of the season. Xavier Nady was nice, but not that nice. Third, Torre gave Juan Pierre 400 plate appearances, which is kind of as bad as giving Melky Cabrera 450 PA, just without the excuses of youth and defense. I wish Torre the best, and missed him (and Donnie Baseball) during the Stadium's swan song, but it really doesn't pay to look backwards.
Brief Political Digression: Friday's presidential debate looked like a draw from here--each candidate seemed to do best in the areas they were expected to have trouble. McCain managed to dominate the conversation during the section of the debate that was on the economy, dragging the discussion to comfortable terrain where he could talk more about earmarks and spending than market regulation. Obama didn't back down during the foreign policy section of the debate, despite McCain's constant digs at his lack of experience and supposed naivete. The absolute worst line of the entire debate, from McCain: "I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict." So the key to victory is avoiding failure? Thanks for the tip...