As I sat on the couch in Bri Rumble’s living room late Friday night after game three, feeling like I just got punched in the stomach by Kenny Rogers, I looked to my right and saw a stuffed animal sitting up against the wall. It was actually a stuffed “Big Bird” from Sesame Street. A pretty nice one; official and everything, with its elongated beak and familiar bright yellow hue. It belonged to Bri’s 8-month old daughter, Emma; a gift from her Uncle Mike. I picked it up and held it on my lap. I was not feeling good about having to come back the next day and face an elimination game on the road. “You know what?” I said to Mrs. Bri Rumble, “It really does make you feel better.” She giggled at the ridiculousness of a grown man holding Big Bird like a little kid. “You can borrow Big Bird if you want,” she said. “No thanks,” I said, “Emma won’t ever go near it again.” Bri, picking up on where I was going, finished my joke; “Yeah. It will smell like hate…”
I have no words to soothe anybody on this, by far my least favorite day of the whole year. I wish somebody had words to soothe me. I’ll do one more post after this to clean things up, and I’ll post the Wifflemania pictures like I promised. Then I’ll shut it down for a while and try and get some sleep, like the big boy is always telling me to.
By way of analysis, I don’t have a whole lot here. I really don’t have a good handle on what happened, exactly. Tony Sherry said it best today, as the game was going on. “I just don’t get it,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense. How is this offense that’s so good all of the sudden this bad. This is mind-boggling.” Tony was right. You can go two ways with it. The first way is to say that they just ran into an unbelievably hot team that absolutely brought everything together at exactly the right time. It’s tough to argue. I said at the start of this series that the biggest thing to watch out for was the pitching; that these guys had three exceptional starting pitchers, any one of whom had the ability to rip off a premier game at any time. They hadn’t really ever all put it together at the same time, but they had the talent. The fourth pitcher, by the way, was Kenny Rogers, who did not, in my opinion, have the ability to do anything well in the postseason. Well, this team put on a pitching display the likes of which I have absolutely never seen before. Not in ’01 with Johnson and Schilling. Not the ’03 Marlins, and certainly not the "big three” in Oakland in the late nineties. I have never seen any pitching staff do what those guys did to the Yankee lineup in this series. Not ever. I could cite any number of examples, but I’ll pick one that stuck out to the point where it was almost comical. Jeremy Bonderman, as he took a perfect game into the fifth inning, had only thrown 37 pitches. And of those, 30 were strikes and only 7 were balls. You almost have to laugh. Only seven balls through five full innings!
The other argument you could make is that Brian Cashman has put together a team built for speed in the regular season, which sputters when the stakes are high. I was never a big proponent of this one, but I’ll admit it warrants discussion. When your game is patience, bleeding pitchers, and waiting for your pitch, you also need to have a "plan B” for when the pitcher is throwing strikes. We thought we had that covered, as we have a lot of guys who will pound the ball and make you pay for throwing it down the middle. Well, maybe we didn’t have it covered. It’s tough to kill the Yankees for not hitting here, though, because the Tigers pitchers were all painting the corners and dropping balls right on the edge of the strike zone. They were truly phenomenal. Were the Yankees too aggressive? Did they swing too early in the count and not take their pound of flesh? I don’t know. I do know one thing. The Yankees didn’t pitch like they needed to. Wang is a reliable starter, and Moose is going to keep you in the game. But we don’t have anybody who is going to go out there and make you look silly for seven or eight innings. Our guys just aren’t going to do that. We need a few of those guys, so that when we run into a hot pitcher we don’t find ourselves down 5-0 in the fifth, getting too aggressive because we need to score runs in big bunches. Those games need to be 1-0 or 2-1 in the sixth, so that we can stay on our game. Do the current personnel have the fortitude to win in the playoffs? It’s tough to say, but I’m not exactly convinced they do, at this point. Was it any wonder that the only guys who had anything going today were Derek Jeter, who showed again why he deserves whatever accolades they shower him with, and Jorge Posada, who pulled out a sidearm and put one in Jamie Walker’s throat, just so he didn’t walk off the mound in the ninth feeling unscathed? And the closest we came to scoring runs on Friday was a ball off of Bernie’s bat, just inches foul. The old guard never stops fighting. I just wish some of the other guys were paying attention.
We returned to Bri Rumble’s house on Saturday to watch game 4, mostly because we felt that lightning wasn’t going to strike twice in the same spot. This time it was Bri Rumble, Mikey Rumble, Mikey Juice, Sean, Tony Sherry, and me. Sean made some great points as he waxed philosophical about Yankee-haters. This is the golden age of Yankee haters. They really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect few seasons. Aside from the fact that the Yankees have kept their teams from making the playoffs on a few occasions, these past few iterations of the Yankees have allowed for some of the most satisfying moments in Yankee-hating history. An excruciating bottom-of-the-ninth comeback loss in game seven of the World Series in 2001. How many times in history has that happened? One or two maybe. That’s about it. A blown 2-games-to-1 lead in the World Series against the ’03 Marlins, a team who most still believe didn’t belong on the same field with them. They became the only team in the great century of professional baseball to blow a 3-0 lead in a postseason series, against their archest of rivals. They have watched those same archrivals win a World Championship when they could not, and could very well watch another this year with the almost-as-archrival Mets. And in four of the last five years, they have been washed out of the playoffs by losing three (or more) games in a row. And finally, this year, with a lineup that was touted as one of “the best ever” (although that was certainly trumped up, due not in small part to Yankee-haters who knew that the bigger the hype, the more brilliant the crash), they were humiliated to the tune of zero runs in twenty straight innings of baseball.
The Yankees and their fans are never eliminated as an afterthought. They are always taken down in a public execution. They are led to the gallows to the raucous cheers of the gathered crowds. They are read the charges of high crimes and misdemeanors against them, and they are always the same. Their misdemeanor? Gluttony. Their high crime? Nobility. And then they are very publicly hanged while the throngs roar with approval. The masses will not be denied their opportunity to watch the mighty fall. And that’s okay. It’s part of what we Yankee fans sign up for. Some of us make a choice. Some of us are born into it. But all of us wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The crowd at Bri Rumble’s today was defeated early. It was clear before long that there was to be no celebration. By the late innings, when the game and the season were drawing their last few breaths, most of the boys had ceased watching the carnage. Bri and Sean were out by the barbeque pit in the backyard, smoking cigars and commiserating. Mikey Juice and Mike Rumble were in the kitchen with the girls, eating a fifth meal and playing with the babies. Tony Sherry had already started on his way back to Staten Island. But in the living room, still in front of the TV, sat exactly one lone figure, his secret hopes for a miracle dwindling moment by moment. He sat wearing his lucky hat and his Bernie Williams jersey, the one he was not yet ready to give up on. And cradled tightly in his arms was a stuffed bird, with an elongated beak and familiar bright yellow hue…