By Jason Keidel
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Not even Captain Kirk could find life in the Yankee Universe.
Not after the latest bomb to drop on the Bronx. Masahiro Tanaka – stud, savior, the best thing to happen to the Yanks in years – joins his jilted pitching brothers on the disabled list.
Over his first 16 starts, Tanaka had a svelte 2.10 ERA. Over his last two starts, his ERA ballooned to 2.51, which, of course, means there’s something awry with his divine right arm, which has been the sole reason the Yankees were watchable this season.
So for the next few days, we get to sweat over the most tender and treasured elbow in the five boroughs. And, frankly, we wonder if it’s time to prepare the postmortem on the 2014 season.
For even the most pinstriped Pollyanna, a lengthy absence for Masahiro – who may as well change his name to Masa-Hero – and the season is over. Done. Toast. Squashed. Sayonara. Stuff the Yanks in a wrap and serve them to the baseball gods, who have pounded the Bombers into submission.
That leaves 80 percent of the starting rotation in a sling. Not even a team with that Bronx bankroll can overcome that kind of inverted mojo. Cynics will assert that the Yankees are finally paying that karmic tax for all the years of gluttony, for buying their rosters from Aisle 5 of Free Agency.
Frankly, the overspending has bought them relevance, but not eminence. Ever since Larry Lucchino blasted the Bombers with that “Evil Empire” handle a decade ago, they have won just one World Series. And you can only mouth “just one” in New York, where we’ve become accustomed to a certain diamond lifestyle.
Sure, the Yanks are still two games over .500, just three games out of first place. Lord knows the Orioles and plunging Blue Jays don’t horrify anyone. But losing four of your five starters is as close to checkmate as it gets in July.
The New York Times summed it up with the clever title: In Stormy Year, Yanks Lose Anchor.
And there doesn’t seem to be any port in this stormy summer. Not even the Yankees’ brass can defeat the baseball gods. There had to be a drop off for their lack of fertility in their farm system, some colossal payment for all the Steinbrenner hubris, the certainty that they can just make it rain on the reigning Cy Young or MVP winner.
There’s been much morbid symbolism to this season. Derek Jeter is in the middle of his farewell tour, knowing he’s probably played his last playoff game, when he’s spent his entire career having his mail forwarded to October.
The Yankees had a sound starting staff, with one variable: Tanaka, whom Brian Cashman branded a third starter. Then he turns out to be the ace, pitching in an orbit so high we could barely share his air. Then Ivan Nova comes up lame. Then Michael Pineda returns to his ancestral home on the DL. Then CC Sabathia, one of the sturdiest pitchers in MLB history, falls off the map.
So we had Masahiro Tanaka, who morphed from unknown foreigner to fastball messiah. Durability wouldn’t be an issue, as the Japanese run their pitchers ragged. America is Club Med by comparison.
Then this. A twitch in the elbow in a season of tattered arms. Turns out that 2014 is a conveyer belt to Tommy John. If Tanaka goes, he takes what’s left of the season with him, leaving the Yankees a lucrative yet lonely franchise, with swaths of empty seats and fewer eyes on the YES Network.
And the feeling that Derek Jeter is not only retiring, but also taking aura and mystique with him. It’s normally chilly in October, but Yankee Stadium will be frozen and forlorn this fall, their fall from grace.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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