Thursday, August 8, 2013

It Becomes Abundantly, Painfully Clear

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Only 1 will win the World Series in a given season. Only 2 will get into it. Only 10 will make the Playoffs.

Most teams' fans have to decide for themselves how to define "a successful season." There are stages:

1. Winning the World Series/Super Bowl/NBA Title/Stanley Cup. This is how most Yankee Fans define "success."

2. Making the Playoffs. This would be enough for most teams. Unless, of course, your exit from the postseason is shocking, as so often happens to teams like the Boston Red Sox, the Philadelphia Eagles, and, to my dismay, the New Jersey Devils.  (Sure, we've won 3 Stanley Cups, but when we've been eliminated, a few of those times, it's been mind-boggling.)

3. "Playing meaningful games in September." (Or December for your NFL team, or April for your NBA or NHL team, or October for your MLS team, or May for your European soccer team.) That was how Mets owner Fred Wilpon defined it for his team in 2010: Still being in the Pennant race (I really should say "Playoff race") when the final month of the season begins. They didn't.

4. Playing well enough to get the fans excited enough to consistently come out and give the team an additional lift. This is a good definition of success if your team has been bad for a few years.

5. Just not being really, really bad.  This would have been enough for the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins.

This season, which is now about two-thirds done, the Yankees have achieved 5 and 4. But it sure looks like 1 isn't going to happen, 2 is now in serious jeopardy, and 3 is even in question.

For teams that define success as 1, 2, or at least 3, there comes a time when it becomes abundantly, painfully clear that it's just not going to happen.

After last night's debacle (I love that word, but not when it applies to a Yankee game), the Yankees are just ONE game over .500, 11 1/2 out of first place, 7 out of the AL's 2nd Wild Card berth.

According to Cool Standings, the Yankees' chances of simply making the Playoffs are now 1.8 percent.

Even the Mets, 9 games under .500, 17 out of first, 9 out of the Wild Cards, aren't much further below, 1.4 percent.

Strange things have happened.  In 2011, the Red Sox went into September with a 99 percent chance of making the Playoffs, and didn't.

The Yankees will need strange things to happen to make the Playoffs this time.

*

Last night, strange things happened, and not in a good way.

The 3-game series against the Chicago White Sox concluded, and CC Sabathia took the hill for the Yankees.  He'd been awful lately, but, last night, for the first 6 innings, he was fantastic, allowing 1 run on just 3 hits and no walks.  But in the 7th, he allowed 2 runs on 2 hits.

The Yankees had gotten home runs from Alfonso Soriano (his 19th of the season, but only his 2nd as a Yankee) and, of all people, Eduardo Nunez (his 1st of the season).  But a 4-0 Yankee lead had already become 4-1, and now it was 4-3.

No matter, David Robertson would pitch the 8th and Mariano Rivera the 9th, and the Yankees would avoid the sweep.

Robertson pitched a scoreless 8th, and Mo took the mound for the 9th.  He got the first 2 outs, as you would expect.  But then Gordon Beckham doubled, and Adam Dunn singled him home to tie the game.

Blown save. You would think that, in the 9th, with 2 out, Mariano Rivera vs. Adam Dunn would result in a game-ending, game-winning strikeout. No. You would think that CC Sabathia being given a 4-run lead would be enough to win. No.

The game went to extra innings.  Austin Romine led off the top of the 11th with a walk.  Jayson Nix pinch-ran for him.  Brett Gardner popped into a force play, eliminating Nix but putting himself on 2nd.  Gardner stole 2nd, giving Ichiro Suzuki the chance to win the game with a base hit.  But Ichiro flied out.  And then, up came Alex Rodriguez, "the least clutch hitter who ever lived," and he grounded weakly to 3rd.

Top of the 12th.  Robinson Cano led off against ChiSox reliever Dylan Axelrod.  Not to be confused with David Axelrod, a Chicagoan and a campaign operative for President Obama.  And Cano drilled a pitch to -right-center.  Yankees 5, White Sox 4.

So this was our night, right? CC & Mo blow it, but we win anyway?

Wrong.  Bottom of the 12th.  Adam Warren, who'd pitched out of trouble in the 11th, got the first 2 outs.  The potential last batter was Tyler Flowers.  (No, I'd never heard of him, either.  Or the next 2 guys who came up.)

Flowers hit a grounder up the middle.  Easy play for Cano.  Except Warren tried to grab it himself  As John Sterling said on WCBS, you can't fault him for wanting to make the play.  But it deflected off his glove. Tying run on 1st, winning run at the plate.

Alexei Ramirez came up.  Soft line drive to center.  Tying run on 3rd.  Winning run on 1st.

Alejandro De Aza came up.  With Sterling's accent and the radio static, I thought he said, "Piazza." Now, I knew it wasn't Mike Piazza, who's now retired long enough to be eligible for the Hall of Fame.  But I'm thinking, "Who is this guy?"

Whoever he is, he smacked a drive to left-center, and Gardner, with all his speed, couldn't run it down.  The tying and winning runs scored.  White Sox 6, Yankees 5.

Sterling, for about the 5th time in the inning, said, "How do ya like that?" And I thought, "Sterling, I swear to God, if you say, 'You just can't predict baseball,' I'm gonna break your neck!"

It was an empty threat, of course.  Chicago is 800 miles from Central Jersey.  Besides, Sterling doesn't have much of a neck.

I don't actually want to hurt him.  But his comments didn't make this loss any easier to take.

*

If the Yankees couldn't win this game, which was gift-wrapped for them in the 12th inning, when they didn't really deserve it, then this is it.

All those people who predicted, before the start of the season, that all those injuries would mean the Yankees wouldn't even contend, have been proven, for all practical purposes, right.

The season didn't come to an end last night.  But most hopes for the postseason sure did.  The Yankees would pretty much have to gain one game every week just to make the Playoffs, and unless we can have a lineup with Jeter, A-Rod, Cano Granderson and Soriano in it every game, and all of them hitting well, it doesn't seem likely.

And so, on September 26, 2013, a Thursday night, presuming the Yankees can get a lead into the 9th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays -- who cannot become the Carolina Rays, the Utah Rays, the Portland Rays, or even the reborn Montreal Expos soon enough -- it is very likely that Mariano Rivera will come out of a Yankee Stadium bullpen for the last time.  Maybe any bullpen at all, since the Yankees will have 3 games left in the regular season, all in Houston against the Astros (and I still can't think of them as an American League team), and it would just be wrong for Mariano to finish his career on the road if it's not in the postseason -- especially in the moron State of Texas.

And when the regular season ended on September 29, that's going to be it for the Yankees.  No Playoffs. Ten other teams going for October glory.

It has become abundantly, painfully clear.  In the immortal words of Peanuts' Charlie Brown...

AUUUUUUUUGH!

Good grief!

My stomach hurts.

That's what happens when your team plays poorly enough to make you call them "You blockheads!"

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