Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Eulogy

It’s over. Not another inning of Yankee baseball until 2006. Same fate as the Red Sox, just three days later. I could write forever about Game Five, but the cynicism might tear through the page and strangle some innocent reader. For the masochists among you, I’ll post those thoughts at the end, below the purpose for today, the eulogy for 2005.

It was a nerve-wracking season, to say the least. From the sub par play of April and May, to the flat-lining in June, to the resurgent July, and all the way through the do-or-die September. This season was more than just six months of baseball; it was a story to remember for the ages. Though it won’t, because of the abrupt end in the ALDS.

Who could forget opening the season against the Red Sox, and taking two of three, despite the subplot of Rivera blowing two saves? An early low in the season, 11-19, immediately followed by a 10-game winning streak, asterisked with Tino’s eight ding-dongs over that stretch.

And then a new low, 30-32, after a game against the Cardinals that should have been won – also, the decline of Sturtze begins. Into the All-Star break we went, winners of seven of eight, and the only thing I see is the ESPN ticker claiming that Chien-Ming Wang is possibly out for the season with a rotator cuff injury.

Wang gone? Well, Pavano wasn’t ready to go yet, and Wright had been out since April. Henn had been rocked against the lowly D-Rays (who we would learn weren’t so lowly after all), and Darrell May, the quickie from San Diego in exchange for Paul Quantrill, had surrendered that lone loss over the last eight games. And through all this, we needed not one but two starters for the upcoming series against the Red Sox.

The fist solution obvious: the other end of the Quantrill deal, Tim Redding, a guy who had a dream to pitch for the Yankees. The other we would eventually learn, was Al Leiter, recently released from the Marlins because of his 3-7 record and 6.64 ERA. But hell, we needed a pitcher, and he was by far the best option.

So after witnessing the 17-1 drubbing the Sox put on Redding, they got an adequate performance by the Big Unit, and a stellar job from Leiter to take three of four from Boston, and making this a season again. And even though they had a mediocre finish to July (7-6 after Boston), and lost the first two in August, the secret weapons had yet to be revealed.

If these two men were called secret weapons before the turn of September 1st, the baseball world would have been imitating a Dane Cook crowd. To imitate Bill Simmons: there’s comedy, there’s high comedy, and there’s the thought that your season can be salvaged by Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon.

But it was. Not that a few comeback wins by Jaret Wright didn’t help. Or Randy Johnson being Randy Johnson just for a few weeks, shutting down the Red Sox twice in September in crucial spots. How about the whole team coming together to go 14-3 entering the last series of the year against those damn Red Sox?

I don’t think those seventeen games can be put into proper words. At least not without a novel deal. To be short, it was a team of individuals who put their egos aside for the sake of winning. And for the last part of the month of September, it worked.

But October would not be friendly to the Yankees Faithful. It would tear out our innards, and cut the aorta before the ALCS could happen. It wasn’t supposed to end like this, not with the way they played down the home stretch.

Then again, it wasn’t supposed to even get to this, judging by the team’s dismal start. So many people counted them out so early. Dan Graziano of the Newark Star Ledger wrote their eulogy in June. I believe the words he used were, “The Yankees are no good.” Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe announced his position in July, declaring that the Red Sox were going to run away with this one, and making some reference to Secretariat.

The 2005 Yankees overcame disappointing performances from big names, enough egos to fill a 4 train, and injuries that had you wondering if there was really some existential force working against them. And all they have to show for it is the hope that next season, with a few intelligent off-season moves, maybe things will work out better. Maybe they can learn something from this season and carry it over, only with more apt personnel.

It really pains me to say “next season” at this point.


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And now to more cynical matters. Game Five may have been the most frustrating game I’ve ever witnessed. At the very least, it rivals Games Four and Five of last year’s ALCS and the entire ’01 World Series. There’s a reason for that.

The Yanks looked so good so early. Ervin Santana looked vulnerable, and the carnivorous Yankees dug their teeth in deep, Sure, the inning was marred by Cano’s caught stealing and A-Rod’s big K to end the threat, but we had gotten to the young pup, and there was no relenting.

Except they relented. After a homer to Garrett Anderson (solo job – it’s only one run – worse things can happen), Moose was Moose, putting a few guys on before putting away the inning. But then disaster struck when Crosby and Sheffield couldn’t decide who would catch Adam Kennedy’s deep fly. Three – two, and I felt like we were toast. I didn’t think we were toast, per se, and certainly didn’t let that feeling on. But another two runs as the result of the umpteenth blunder of the postseason was not a good omen in my book.

But it was only 3-2, and with plenty of time to go. Then Mussina comes out for the third, looking like he’s got a hot date after the game and has to make good time. Cabrera, Guerrero, Anderson and Molina all worked well with what Mussina gave them, which was very hittable pitches. Funny how guys tend to capitalize when you throw them stuff they can handle.

Thankfully, Randy and Flash shut the door the rest of the way. I would be more thankful for this if anyone stepped up and actually put us a position to win with the bats. And my apologies to Jeter, who did all he could do as the game wound down: homered to lead off the seventh, singled to lead off the ninth.

This is where I get to my gripes, but I think they’re all shared between the Yankees Masses. A-Rod is now May-Rod, as he just can’t get the job done in the postseason. Two years now, and still nothing. Maybe he should be scheduling extra sessions with his therapist in the offseason so he can figure out how to not choke in the clutch.

And how about Matsui, who entered the series as the guy most Yankees fans would want up in a big spot. He effectively left the series as the guy most Yankees fans would want up should we need a dinky pop out. All I have to say about Matsui is that he actually made his re-signing half an issue.

An A for effort, but B for performance to Sheffield, Giambi, and Cano. Bubba would get near a B if he had enough appearances to qualify for a grade. Have to hand Posada a C+, which would have been lower had he not drawn more than his share of walks. Bernie with a C-, followed by A-Rod and Matsui with big fat Fs.

The pitching is pretty self-explanatory for the series. Moose gets a C- because he sucked that much last night. Randy gets a B for his rebound last night. Leiter gets a B-, which could have been much better had it not been for Game Three. Chacon with an A, Wang with a B.

That’s how you know it’s the end of the season, when you’re giving out grades to your favorite players.

But it’s not the end of the column until I bitch about the umps. Seriously, could Joe West be more anti-Yankees? The Cano neighborhood call in Game Three. The Figgins pick-off in Game Four. The vastly narrower strike zone in Game Five, not to mention the completely outrageous out of the baseline call on the Cano strikeout.

Eff you, Joe West. Eff you because you have the second greatest job in the world, and you can’t even perform it well.

There. I said my piece. Onto dreams of ::sob:: next season.