By Jason Keidel
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It is the rare year, like this one, when the Yankees aren’t the talk and the chalk of baseball eminence.
The defiant fan base pretends that losing Lee and Pettitte is incidental. Nonsense. Instead of two borderline Hall of Famers (which Lee could be in a few years) in your rotation you’ve got Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia.
But this is good. Twisting Thomas Jefferson’s words into a baseball mantra, a little parity is good for the soul. And the Yankees are still formidable. They just couldn’t flex their checkbook and buy every lefty on the block, which has been the Yankees’ singular sense of baseball justice. For over a decade, there hasn’t been a problem that their bottomless bankroll can’t fix.
Not this year.
Perhaps yesterday’s win italicizes the new blueprint for the Bombers: get a solid six from your starter and end the game with a phalanx of fireball-hurling relief pitchers. Of course, it always sounds lovely and facile when it works. Then someone gets hurt and the formula changes. But if this is the new Yankee metric – slicing games into six-inning chunks – it could have an old feel to it, as in 1996, when they had a pretty decent setup-to-closer conga line.
If you’re under 30, baseball has been a festive, autumnal romp for you. Just slip on the pinstripes and win 95 every year and whine when they don’t win the World Series. I almost fell into that trap, myself. But then I remembered the time before the Core Four, a desolate decade called the 1980s: the meat of an 18-year gap between championships.
Those rosters were festooned with overpaid stars in pinstripes, zero world titles, and many missives from The Boss. (“Columbus, here I come!” was one of King George’s more humorous reactions to a poor start by Dennis Rasmussen.)
So this generation is spoiled. And considering the price you pay for a seat in that ornate edifice, you have a right to expect victory very often But it’s not assumed this year, which, to some of us, makes this season fun.
As with every year since 1997, there’s only one constant in the Yankee Universe.
No matter who starts, swings, or sets up the win, it’s nearly impossible – even for the most rabid Yankees detractor – not to marvel at Mariano Rivera. The Final 42, as I often call him, who got the save yesterday for nearly the 600th time in a career that has no peer.
Only a widening bald spot reveals that he’s human. Forgive me, as it becomes exponentially harder to watch or write about the Yankees without an homage to Rivera, who is the reason the Yankees have been the Yankees for the last 15 years. And matching his brilliance on the mound is the serenity with which he approaches his game and his fame.
Not one whisper of malfeasance. No juice, no HGH, no posse, no harem, no demands, and no problem for the Panamanian phenomenon. Only the ninth-inning monolith, whose deeds under any colored leaves render him a status we can’t fathom.
Beyond his pitching acumen, he provides insulation from the violent bias directed at the Yankees as Larry Lucchino’s Evil Empire – an amalgam of Gordon Gekkos whose maxim, “Greed is Good,” was perfected on River Ave. long before Michael Douglas tried it on Wall Street.
Near the end of yesterday’s game, the YES Network flashed an astonishing stat saying that Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada are the first trio in the history of team sports to play together on one team for 17 years. The core three now, with only one somehow still at his best. Not since Ruth has a Yankee worn the uniform as well as Rivera.
Even by the obscene standard the Yankees set over the last century, there is no one like Mo, Sui generis of any generation.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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