Monday, October 03, 2005

A Sigh Of Relief, A Plea For Intensity

So we lost two of three, and still reign as AL East champs. Kinda screwy, considering common thought was that a playoff would be held today in that instance. But thanks to our friends in Cleveland and their choke-artistry, both New York and Boston were on planes last night to their respective destinations, Anaheim and Chicago.

I just have one comment on yesterday’s game before I move on. Torre said that winning that game was still important, as it would give the Yankees home field in the Division Series. Accordingly, he put out his normal starting lineup in hopes that they could pummel Boston in a manner similar to Saturday. There were just two flaws in that logic.

First, he put J-Wright out on the mound, a sure sign of not caring about the game. Seriously, when would you EVER want J-Wright on the mound when it counts? If I’m short on words later on, I may elaborate on this a bit.

Second, the Yanks weren’t exactly in prime form to be giving it their all. After 161 grueling games, through the anguish, the losing, the criticism, the injuries, the negative press, the threatening of jobs, were the Yanks really expected to go out with the same intensity that they showed up with for the last three weeks? Especially after a champagne bath the day before in the enemy’s locker room.

The Yankees deserved every drop of the Dom Perignon that soaked their mint 2005 AL East Champs t-shirts. But it’s easy to become complacent after winning the division after a season of such intensity. If the Yankees wear that complacency on their sleeves for even one game out in Anaheim, their season may come to an end before they get to the much-anticipated rematch with Boston.

Somehow, I don’t think the Yanks will fall into that rut. Sure, there are plenty of guys in the clubhouse who have tasted the only champagne that matters – World Series Champagne – but there are enough vets to keep everyone in perspective. I don’t think Torre, Jeter, Bernie, Posada, and Tino will let this team lose focus. Everyone who has been around for the Steinbrenner era knows that falling short of a World Series title is to fail.

Well, if anything can be said about this Yankees team, it’s that they don’t accept failure well. When they dropped to 11-19, they rattled off ten straight wins. When they entered the All-Star break two and a half back of Boston, they bushwhacked them three out of four to pull within a half game, then overtook them the next day, if only for that one day.

When they were down in the eighth two days in a row to those Angels they face this week, they rallied back and took both.

When they took the field on Sunday September 11th desperately needing a win against Boston to even consider a run at the postseason, they got a gem out of Randy Johnson and prevailed 1-0 to pull within three games.

When they realized that three games was a difficult margin to surmount against those Red Sox in a mere twenty games, they didn’t relent. And when they saw that their first opponent during the final stretch was Tampa Bay, those blasted Devil Rays, they didn’t revert to their old ways. They didn’t succumb to the mediocrity of Doug Waechter and Mark Hendrickson the way they did earlier in the year.

Three games back, and they kept gaining on the Sox. Then on Wednesday, September 21st, Randy Johnson pitched another gem, and the Sox lost, putting the Yanks up a half game. A Mike Mussina return the next night would put the Yanks up a full game, and they had finally reached the apex. True, they wouldn’t remain there alone for long, Boston tying things up over the weekend, but the Yanks still didn’t relent.

They battled the O’s with intensity, even though the O’s had given up. They battled their own pitching during a 17-9 rout, but bounced back with another solid performance from Shawn Chacon and from Mr. 10-0, Aaron Small, in what may have been the finest deed he performed all year.

And finally, they bounced back from a 5-3 loss to Boston that they should have won at 18 different points of the game. For one night, they looked like the April/May Yanks, unable to come up big in clutch situations, unable to hunker down on defense and make the big play.

But the very next day, they proved that an aberration. Proving these Yanks can, in fact, come up with situational hits, John Flaherty and Derek Jeter had back to back sac flies to plate two crucial runs in the Yanks 8-4 victory that clinched the AL East.

I can only imagine the feeling in the clubhouse after that game, because I realized the sense of relief the fans felt after hearing “The 2005 American League East Division Champion New York Yankees.” Eight straight years we’ve heard that uttered, and after this one I don’t think anyone will take that for granted ever again.