By Jason Keidel
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The slice of the Big Apple that bleeds blue and orange is smiling, along with the world west of the Hudson.
You were silly to expect the 2011 Yankees to win the World Series, but to win one series is rather reasonable. Brian Cashman is given a $200 million yearly allowance to build or buy the best ball club in baseball, yet he can’t find more than one stud for his starting staff. And when that Ace, CC Sabathia, pitches to a 6.23 ERA, you expect what you got last night. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were supposed to be the nouveau aces and faces of Yankee Pride. So, naturally, Cashman jettisoned Ian Kennedy, who only went 21-4 this year with a sublime 2.88 ERA.
When Jorge Posada, 40 going on 50, the streaks of gray growing by the day inside his comically wide ears, and the man who stained his sterling legacy by begging his way out of a game against the Red Sox, is your best hitter, then you expect what you got last night.
Forget Jeter whiffing twice with ducks on the pond in Game 3, or A-Rod (who hit .111 for the series) and Swisher (who hit .211) predictably gagging with the bases loaded last night. Forget that only the aging catcher and Cano hit over .300. Everyone from a general manager to a second grader knows that pitching owns postseason baseball. The Yankees have spent the bulk of the past decade learning that a dearth of dominant pitching pinches you in the rear this time of year. Yet, 2009 aside, nothing changes.
Cashman tweaked his titanic budget by signing Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia – two graybeards with unexpected gravitas in May – whose arms wilted with the fall foliage The playoffs are a pitching crucible where big bats are chopped and used to erect the next rung on the ladder to the World Series. We’re waiting for Brian to get the memo.
Joe Girardi masterfully stitched the sizeable chasm in his rotation. Ivan Nova, the rookie who pitched eons beyond his age this season, came up lame with tightness in his throwing arm, leaving his manager to trot to the mound seven times, using nearly every arm in his arsenal to keep the potent Tigers to just three runs.
You’re likely to lambaste the Yankees’ lineup – and it surely came up short – but you shouldn’t be surprised. Large lumber is often muted by masterful pitching. Why do you think the Phillies are the chalk to walk to the title this year? It’s not because of Jimmy Rollins.
The dynastic Yankees of the 1990s, whose names we’ve burned to eternal, loving memory, from Paul to Tino to Bernie, were built and burnished by a legion of elastic arms. Indeed, it was Key and Pettitte and Cone and Wells and El Duque and, of course, the immortal Mariano who won four Fall Classics in five years. The residue of that dominance fueled the team to two more World Series (2001 and 2003), but the run was over because the pitching perished, finalized by David Wells removing himself from a crucial game against the Marlins.
Of course, the Yankees didn’t just lose this ALDS; the Detroit Tigers beat them. And we give kudos to Jim Leyland, the avuncular baseball lifer who’s been caught on camera slithering into the tunnel to tug on a Marlboro between innings. Leyland makes every team he touches better, and is the last man to mold the moribund Pittsburgh Pirates into a winner.
Over in the other, losing locker, the Yankees will churn forward, pouring billions to look more pretty than gritty, charging you $2,500 for courtside seats. Yesterday, I was on a train to Penn Station, swarmed by a swath of college kids, clutching tickets daddy gave them while pounding their iPhones to find a way to – the new, and decidedly corporate –Yankee Stadium. I wanted to interrupt them and explain all the trains that would usher them to 161st Street, but I was too spellbound by the incongruity of it all. None of them could name five Yankees, and I suspect they’ve only heard of the Bronx because the Bombers play there. The tickets between their young fingers were more stamps of status than a portal to a sizzling baseball fight on a cool autumn night. “Bathroom, then beer, then the subway,” one gal said, with an eager octave applied to ale.
Yankee Stadium – that embellished martini bar built with limestone on the outside and lathered with expense accounts on the inside ($5 for water. Seriously?) – is too much hotel and not enough motel. I bet you that at least 50 percent of the poseurs perched on those padded blue seats haven’t heard of Charlie Hayes. “Is he running for President?” would be as logical a response as any.
As a Yankees fan I’m less bitter about losing a series than losing an identity, like the one I fell in love with in 1977 and once again in 1996. Like most of you, I too stuck around for that loathsome, 18-year buffer between titles. (I would never think to ask those painfully trendy, cologne and perfume-pungent adolescents to tell me about Butch Wynegar, Dale Berra or Bobby Meacham.) Great teams have a blueprint and then a fingerprint, a persona, a battle cry demanding big deeds under brown leaves Since then, the Yankees have been little more than an amalgam of All-Stars who can smack the seams off the ball, but few who can throw it.
All season I sardonically branded the Yanks, “CC and the Three Variables.” I was way off. There was only CC and an electric bullpen. Sabathia was worked harder than Juan Valdez’s donkey. None of this falls on him. Someone needs to have CC’s broad back. Until then, the Yankees needn’t print too many postseason tickets in advance.
As if to prove and punctuate the century-old maxim, Alex Rodriguez, whose numbers almost always shrink like the shortening hours of October daylight, meekly missed a pitch thrown right down the middle – ending the game, the series, and the notion that the Yankees are feared anymore, by anyone.
Aura, Mystique, and Destiny are indeed dancing at your local nightclub, soon to be joined, yet again, by the New York Yankees.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
What’s your biggest criticism of the 2011 Yankees? Let Keidel know in the comments below…