On Sunday Afternoon, the Yankees clinch the American League East a 4-2 victory over the Red Sox in the type of game the Bombers have thrived on winning all season long. Strong starting pitching, a clutch at bat late in the game that produces a run or two, and a shut down bullpen performance), the Yankees can close the door on objective #1 on their goals coming out of Spring training: Winning the American League East.
But as Yankees’ fans look back on a season where their team has been the most dominant in baseball since July 15th, it’s hard to imagine a time this season when the Yanks were struggling to hang with the Red Sox and stay above .500. As we wrap a bow around the 2009 season, I think it’s very possible to point to the Yankees major turn around beginning on Wednesday, June 24th, in the Top of the 6th inning against the Atlanta Braves.
The Yankees at that point were 39-32 and in the middle of a 3-game losing streak. They had lost five of their last six, including 2 to the lowly Nationals, in one of those series that made you question why you even bother watching sports. The night prior the team had been shut out by rookie Tommy Hanson and essentially had seen what was the last of Chien Ming Wang season, as he fell to 0-6 on that night. In addition to all this the Yanks were 5-games back to the Boston Red Sox with the sting of losing the first 8 games of the season against them still sharp as a steak knife in their minds.
Going into the top 6th on that humid night in Atlanta, the Yankees had not scored a run in 14-innings of baseball, and were down 0-1. And that was the moment the team turned it around.
A solo home run from the most unlikely of sources, catcher Francisco Cervilli, who had been hitting .211 or so in Double-A Trenton before his call up put the Yankees on the board. And then Alex Rodriguez, who had spent the weekend series sitting on the bench in Miami due to concerns about his surgically repaired hip, smacked a 2-run single, and suddenly the Yankees were up 3-1 on the Braves. Joba pitched a fantastic game that night, Swisher tacked on a line drive opposite field home run in the seventh, and from there on out the team never looked back, as the Yankees won 4-1, and the train had left the station…
(On a side note, just to highlight the a running theme here at No Whammies, that the baseball season is very very very long: Many readers will probably remember this game as the game where Mariano Rivera had to pick up the ole’ stick and swing it in the Top of the 9th).
Sure there was hick-ups and bumps in the road….well on second thought, there was barely any since late June. A 3-game sweep at the hands of the Angels right before the All-Star break and that’s just about all you can find.
The Yankees answered that sweep by coming out and winning eight in a row after the All-Star break. Perhaps you can mark losing three out of four to Chicago in late July as the last time the Yankees felt as if they were second to anyone in the baseball for the remainder of the season. But the performance that CC Sabathia had that Sunday to prevent a sweep verse a ‘at the time’ surging White Sox team was the perfect answer to if CC could be the type of stopper the Yankees had hoped he could be. CC never stopped winning after that point, as he has posted an 11-1 record since the All-Star break and leads the league with 19 wins.
A 55-23 record at home this season, 49-19 since the All-Star Break, 2-win streaks of 7 and 1 of eight, two-candidates for MVP, a candidate for Cy Young, the best 1-2 punch in baseball in the back-end of your bullpen, and more late inning heroics than I could count on my fingers and toes, suddenly the Yankees find themselves back in the front running position that they have been accustomed to being in for the past 12 or so seasons.
But allow me to break up the celebration before the Champagne baggies over the lockers can be taken down….
The cruel reality of this season is the same as any season when you’re the New York Yankees. If they Yankees performance in October is anything short of hoisting that World Series Championships over their heads, then the Yankees have failed. All the pies in the face, all the walk off home runs, all the Jeter hit records, all the late season dominance over the Red Sox, all the Nick Swisher love, all the Phil Hughes dominance, all the regular season MVP and CY Young talk…all of it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth when looking back on 2009 if the Yankees are anything short of being crowned World Champions in the next month.
It’s plain and simple and it’s not fair- but it’s the reality that the Yankees live in because the team has raised the bar that high in the Steinbrenner years. The Steinbrenner Doctrine is what it’s called in these parts- Anything short of a championship is a failure.
And now October is around the corner and it’s time for this Yankee Team to either perform at a level that will enshrine them as one of the great Yankees’ teams in the franchises’ rich history, or become yet another disappointing team that will be mixed up and confused with other Yankee disappointments of the past eight seasons.
For the Yankees the season begins on Wednesday…