It’s official. With today’s loss against the visiting Orioles, the AL East Division Champions, the Yankees are officially eliminated from the Wild Card race, which means there is no chance at October baseball. As if the looming clouds and progressively darkening skies over the Bronx weren’t enough of a sign of such things to come for the pinstriped players today.
Before I recap, be aware that the Yankees’ game tomorrow evening (and its national broadcast) is currently under threat of being delayed because of the storm system that is making its way into the Tri-State area as I write this post. (Hence the looming clouds and darkening skies.) So if you’ll be watching Jeter’s last game in the Bronx, just know you may have to stay up rather late. They won’t call a make-up game because we’re down to wire, and there are no extra days to make anything up. There will be a game tomorrow night, with MLB HQ itself monitoring the skies. Perhaps there is a slight advantage to those weather watchers as the HQ is just a few miles south of Yankee Stadium in Midtown Manhattan.
And of course, there was a matinée game today in the Bronx, though there was some chatter online regarding an afternoon midweek game so late in the season. The consensus seemed to be to honor the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which begins at sundown tonight. (A “Happy New Year” to my Jewish readers!)
Actually, the Yankees jumped out first offensively, getting successive runs in the first 3 innings. With 2 outs in the 1st, Chase Headley singled and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double. In the 2nd, Stephen Drew led off with a solo home run. And then in the 3rd, with 2 outs, Headley got his own solo home run. The Yankees led 3-0 going into the 4th inning. And that’s where the trouble started.
Shane Greene got the start for today’s game, and despite the final line score, he actually did a really good job for the majority of his outing. He threw 73 pitches over his 3.2 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, striking out 5 Baltimore batters. A good portion of those allowed stats happened in his 4th inning. It wasn’t pretty. He loaded the bases with 1 out before a double scored 2 of those runners. He got another out (a strikeout). Then Greene crumbled: a single that scored 2 runs, a triple that scored 1 more, and another single to score the 6th run of the inning for the Orioles.
David Huff was brought on in relief as Greene wasn’t coming back from this. He got the final out of the inning on the 11th batter the Orioles sent up in that inning alone. Huff stayed on through the 5th and into the 6th inning before Chase Whitley was brought on for the final out of the 6th inning.
Whitley’s 7th inning continued keeping the Orioles at just those 6 runs, but he ran into troubles of his own coming out for the 8th inning when he gave up 2 back-t0-back singles to lead off the inning. The Yankees opted for David Phelps to work his way out of this jam, but even Phelps struggled to keep the Orioles from doing damage. With 1 out, he loaded the bases with an intentional walk, allowed 1 runner to score on a sacrifice fly and then 2 more on back-to-back RBI singles. Damage done. 9-3 Orioles going into the bottom of the 8th.
So the Yankees did what they always do when they’re deep in a hole — they try their hardest to claw their way out of said hole as much as possible. Because if they’re going down, they’re going down swinging with everything they got. And since the Yankees love their history, they opted to repeat something that worked so well in the 1st inning of the game — down two outs, Headley singled and then scored on Teixeira’s hit, though this time he decided to shake things up and hit a home run (that bounced off the yellow foul pole, an automatic home run).
This made the score 9-5. And despite Claiborne’s great 11-pitch 9th inning, the Yankees were too deep in the hole due to that regrettable 4th inning mess. It wasn’t going to happen today. And their magic number of 1 to make it to postseason dwindled to zero. Eliminated for the second consecutive year from October baseball (the first time since the 1992-1993 seasons). Of course, if history is bent on repeating itself, that means we’re in for a 20 year march of a new dynasty and 5 World Series Championships. I’m okay with that.
Four games left — one in New York and three in Boston. And then it’s a long winter of staring out the window until Spring Training, to paraphrase Rogers Hornsby. People keep talking about what it will be like without Derek Jeter on the Yankees. My response? A lot like watching the Yankees without someone wearing a #2 jersey on the field and at shortstop. I like Jeter’s response to similar questions (and I’m paraphrasing here): baseball and the Yankees existed long before he started playing (or was even born) and they’ll continue long after he hangs up his cleats. It’s how it has to be, I suppose, but it’s also how it should be. Baseball is a sport of champions (and championship teams), and Jeter (and thus the Yankees) are just one of many.
And I guess that gives me hope for what is potentially around the corner. I mean, who knows what new kid will be shocking everyone with his work ethic and determination and stellar athletic ability? Maybe that kid is on a roster in one of the 30 clubs or maybe he’s not even born yet. But that’s the fun of the game… you just never know…