By Jason Keidel
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There are certain, vulgar verities in life that cannot be avoided, even beyond death and taxes.
In sports, for instance, we deny and then ignore the end of dynasties and dynastic players.
I was called all manner of moron for predicting the Yankees would not make the playoffs — and I will still be an idiot when they don’t — and for suggesting that Derek Jeter retire.
Fans are inherently jaded, nearly incapable of objectivity or civility, which makes my job jousting with them a most colorful dialogue. As a native New Yorker, the verbal violence is as natural to me as having a cab whiz by and splash mud on my pants.
But no matter our divergent declarations, daily games of “Gotcha!” and calls for my demise, death or resignation, I have been a Yankees fan since 1977.
Which raises a uniquely New York paradox. Can the Yankees miss the playoffs and still be a success? Can you wear your Jeter Snuggie through a fall and winter wasteland of hot-stove chatter?
The Yankees, despite a dearth of decent pitching, a lineup that often resembled a casting call for “Bull Durham” and A-Rod’s public Jihad against MLB, have shown more guts and grit than any team since Joe Torre had his mail forwarded to the World Series.
WFAN’s Sweeny Murti wrote as much in his column on Monday, stating that the Yankees, absent their normal conga line of .300 hitters and customary army of strong arms, have relied on a more malleable muscle: heart.
And that these Yankees have in abundance. They are still the only team in a pennant chase with a negative run differential. Their ace, CC Sabathia, has been an odd bust. Their de facto ace, Hiroki Kuroda, has stumbled since July, and their white knight, Ivan Nova, has crashed like a meteor on the mound.
His PR nightmare aside, A-Rod has missed the majority of the season. His presumed replacement, Kevin Youkilis, has missed the entire season. Mark Teixeira followed him into darkness. And the ancient captain, Jeter, has had a nightmare of a season (his words).
Keeping the sliver of playoff hopes alive are the Rays and Rangers, who have decided they’d rather not win another series before next season. Cleveland, who has a pillow-soft schedule, lost on Monday night, thus creating a crunch at the top that trumps Port Authority at 5 p.m.
Despite the walking triage the Yankees have been since spring, Joe Girardi has handled his shell-game personnel masterfully. But even his wizardry has waned with an emaciated bullpen and a starting staff that seems to anoint a new ace every week.
Brett Gardner, the scrappy flag-bearer, caught the last wave of the injury bug. Jeter has been put to rest for the rest of the season. And A-Rod can’t even run to first without pulling one of his swollen muscles.
And yet, until they were unceremoniously swept from Boston last weekend, the Yankees were gobbling up wins like Pac-Man. But even aura and mystique abandoned the Bronx Bombers, who need a ladder to see a Wild Card spot, despite being just 2 1/2 games out.
How have they done it? Pick a game. Pick a twilight in Boston, Baltimore or the Bronx, down two runs with a lineup of no-names and a freckling of fans in the stands. It starts with a single, a stolen base and a frenzy of fouled-off pitches. Before you know it, the baton is passed from major leaguer to minor leaguer, and the Yanks rally and somehow hand the ball to the immortal Mariano Rivera, who, despite not being his pristine, perfect self, has managed to breach 40 saves yet again.
If there is a forlorn feeling to it all, it’s the notion that Mo will not end his career where it began — in October, when the chill grows long sleeves, brown leaves and his customary high deeds. He deserves a better sendoff.
But to call the Yankees a failure is hardly fair. They made the season relevant, which is more than the Mets can say, and perhaps the Jets and Giants can say. And it’s always better than the Knicks can say.
The Yanks can’t win, even when they do. If they reach the Fall Classic, they bribed the baseball gods with their pyramids of cash and their cachet. When they lose, they’re paying a karmic tax for Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright and the beleaguered third baseman, appropriately branded No. 13.
There is some merit to each argument. But this team was neither anointed nor entitled. The 2013 Yankees earned what they got, which was plenty — even if it wasn’t quite enough.
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