By Steve Silverman
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The wheezing has stopped.
The Yankees are living and breathing again. If you listen closely, you may be starting to feel the rumble of giant steps as they close out the regular season.
The pounding of a team that looked failure straight in the eye and fired a 1-2 combination.
With the Baltimore Orioles pushing hard and breathing down their necks, the Yankees appeared to be in prime position to pull a classic El Foldo, just like the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves did last year and the Mets have done too many times to count.
But that did not happen. They Yankees have won seven games in a row. Baltimore has not cooled at all, but barring the worst of circumstances the Yankees will find themselves in the playoffs.
Winning doubleheaders as the Yankees did earlier this week against the Toronto Blue Jays and coming back from a four-run deficit in the 13th inning as they did yesterday against the Oakland A’s is indicative of a team that is not ready to give it up.
The Yankees may mirror the team that represented the American League in a World Series nearly 50 years ago.
In 1964, the end of the Yankees dynasty was on the horizon. Mickey Mantle had his last good year with 35 homers and 111 RBI. Whitey Ford was 17-6 and pitched like the Chairman of the Board. Mel Stottlemyre was a rookie phenom. Roger Maris wasn’t busting home run records, but he still hit 26 homers. Elston Howard was the star catcher with a .313 batting average, 15 homers and 84 RBI.
But that would be it for the Yankees. The team was getting old. Mantle was 32 years old, but his knees had too much wear and tear and he had a nightlife that distracted him. Ford would never be the pitcher he was after that season.
But the Yankees were the Yankees and they held off a young and rampaging Baltimore Orioles team that had Brooks Robinson – he won the MVP that year – and a boatload of young pitching. The Orioles would have their time, but it wouldn’t come for a couple of years.
Those Yankees also had a manager named Yogi Berra leading them. Yogi, of course, was always a nice guy. But he also knew how to hold his ground. When he felt challenged by benchwarmer Phil Linz, the affable Hall of Famer asserted himself and the Yankees righted the ship.
As far as we know, there has been no Berra-Linz moment with these Yankees, but when you have a captain like Derek Jeter performing well, it’s easy for his teammates to follow his lead.
Jeter recently passed Willie Mays on the all-time hits list, and events like that resonate throughout baseball and the Yankees lockerroom. There’s still life on this team and they may emulate a pennant run like the old ’64 team.
It didn’t end perfectly for that team, as the Yankees were beaten in seven games by the St. Louis Cardinals. That series marked the emergence of Bob Gibson as perhaps the best pitcher on the planet. (Sandy Koufax fans may argue, but it’s a fair debate.)
Life changed for the Yankees the following year, as they finished in sixth place in the 10-team American league. The 1966 season would be even worse, as they finished in dead last.
That’s not necessarily going to be the case for these Yankees, but they are old and have many of the injury problems that impact older teams.
But they are in position for an autumn run that could prove quite memorable.
Do the Yankees have the advantage by having experience old timers to ask for advice during a pennant race? Let us know in the comments section below.