Regular season bookended with losses, but biggest games still to be played
The new Yankee Stadium (or Greatness's New Home, as Michael Kay calls it; GNH, as I call it) didn't have an easy charge. You think about how people can never imagine getting into another relationship after a break-up, and it's easy to see why Yankee fans would be slow off the block to race into a new relationship with the new and improved version.
(Especially when the last one ended on a bitter of a sour note.)
The first game of GNH's inaugural season didn't do anything to curry favor with us fans, and more significantly, it ignited an issue that would billow and flame for months to come: the new architecture's seeming facilitation of the long ball. Months and months of the Yankees shaky and less than thrilling play ran parallel to legions of theories on why so many homeruns were hit there and whether the Yanks were going to have to restructure the stadium midseason.
All of that seems so long ago now.
Last night was the last regular season game in GNH, and while the outcome was the same as its first game, the outlook couldn't have been more different.
We opened the season worrying about CC Sabathia and oh my God how did he let the Indians tee off on him like that?? What if our off-season binge shopping was a waste? And that haters were actually right, that morbidity obesity prevents any kind of success?
Yankee fans are a lot of things, and alarmist is one of them.
That was around the time I had to pin up my printout of page 17 from "The Old Man and the Sea."
Now 159 games, the New York Yankees are the best team in baseball.
And last night's 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals may have represented the least bothersome defeat fans have absorbed since Spring Training.
It looked like it was going to be a textbook come-from-behind win to satisfyingly close out the season. After KC scored in the first off third-string catcher Brayan Pena's RBI single, Derek Jeter responded in the bottom of the inning with a solo blast. For the rest of the game, it was the Pena, Mark Teahen, Billy Butler, and John Buck circus act of run-manufacturing. The best the Yanks could do was a 2-run shot from Swish to tie it at 3. (I really thought we had the game won after that).
With game tied at 3-3 and when it was later 4-3, I realized that with each Yankee batter stepping up, I thought every single one of them had a good chance to win the game for us. I remember days of the confidence peaks and troughs, but right now? The words "bottom of the order" mean nothing.
Which is not to say there were no egregious holes evidenced in the game. I can think of one canyon-sized chasm right in the heart of it.
I've been panned left, right, and center for outright dismissing him for the better part of the seasons.
The Yankees are about to enter the most important period of the season, and the argument can be made that with the unquestionably best team in baseball, this is the most critical opportunity they've had in since 2001 to make something happen. That said, is there a Yankee fan on the face of the planet who is comfortable with Joba starting in the playoffs?
In his last 10 starts, he's 1-4 with a 7.75 , giving up 56 hits in 40 2/3 innings.
According to Joba, this the result of a combination of factors: poor fastball command (that's a start...) and "the first cooler days of the fall." (Well, sure. I mean the bitter 55 degree arctic climate of Manhattan is gong to dramatically impact any young midwestern transplant who still tightly clings to many childhood memories of balmy Nebraskan winters.) Rule #76, buddy...
While Joba is absolutely a much better pitcher than Sergio Mitre, both inspire the same level of confidence in me. And both have the same chance of either dealing or bombing. It's a fun little game of Russian Roulette with every Joba start. Are we gonna see the guy who seamlessly made quick work of the Sox last week, cruising through 6 innings on 86 pitches? Or are we gonna see last night's Joba, who lasted 3 2/3 innings, and who needed 91 pitches to walk 4, give up 3 runs on 7 hits, with only a little over half of his first pitches being called for strikes?
Maybe he turns into David Cone come the playoffs. Anything's possible. But what makes this risk more rational than say, batting Brett Gardner in clean up? As far as I can tell, there's about the same chance of our little firecracker slugging in heaps of RBIs...as there is of Joba waking up, giving the old "Shelled or Excelled" wheel of fortune a spin, and getting a positive reading.
Well, my mom always says that everything happens for a reason, and everything works out for the best. So maybe tonight's loss was a good thing? Maybe we needed a loss to spotlight the liability with this pseudo-starter?
(Ah, I"m feeling a little nostalgic...my last regular season Joba rant! We've had some "good" times...)
So ends the regular season at GNH. It was like it was a freshman boy who was being hazed miserably during his fraternity pledgeship. It was dealt brutal losses, constant scrutiny, aggravatingly substandard showings from its home team. And it endured (probably because it's a building and didn't have much choice in the matter, but semantics.) And for the second half of the season, it got to reap the benefits of fans slowly but surely giving GNH the critical fan's vote of approval.
When I finished watching last night's game, and I started to leave the bar to head home, a couple of Sox fans did that whole passive-aggressive-shot-at-your-team-while-you're-walking-by move.
"Hey, the Yankees lost, by the way."
Really, Second Place Sox Fans? Are you really going down this route?
Words actually failed me.
"Just wait til October," one continued. "You're only as good as the last game you played."
(To be clear, the Red Sox lost last night for the 6th consecutive game. 12-0.)
So, okay, I guess it's safe to say that Sox fans have officially removed reason and sense from the table.
The postseason nears. So let's savor these last 3 games before our own levelheadedness gets taken out of the picture, as well.