Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Not so fast on that October wipeout for the Yankees.
Hear us out: Yes, they face extinction after their manager blew Game 2, the same game they led by five runs before their touted bullpen sputtered. Yes, their starting pitcher against the Indians in Game 3 of the AL Division Series Sunday night had nine - NINE! - starts this season where he gave up at least five earned runs. And, finally, yes, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius, three vital lineup cogs, have combined to go 0-for-24 in the series.
But, by virtue of all that and coupled with the reality of how good the Indians are, no one now expects anything from the Yankees except defeat. They'll be finished Sunday night, right? And we'll head right into Speculation Season, when Joe Girardi's job will be debated endlessly, mercilessly. He doesn't have a contract for next year yet, after all.
Here's our twist: Maybe this lack of expectation is just what the Yankees need. In the carefree days at the beginning of this baseball season, no one thought they'd get here. Their fans were more welcoming of a rebuild than at any time in recent memory.
Sweet times. Everyone could dream about what Judge's potential and marvel at the prospect of a full season with Gary Sanchez. Look at the digits Luis Severino was lighting up on the radar gun. The Yanks were young, loose and fun.
Hey, if a few vets thrived, maybe these upstarts could hang around the pennant race, but this was supposed to be all about the kids, right?
But the Yankees seemed to seize upon everyone else's doubt. They played wonderful baseball, despite flaws, and the contender they hoped to build arrived much earlier than anyone thought, a rebuild gone into hyperdrive. They even bought at the trade deadline and challenged the Red Sox in the division race.
Suddenly, it was easy to pontificate that no team would want to face the Yankees in October, not with that bullpen, not with that power, not with the amazing Judge.
When they played poorly in the playoffs, angst settled over Yankeeland like a winter frost. Did you see the strain etched on Girardi's face Saturday as he issued his mea culpa for not challenging the Lonnie Chisenhall hit-by-pitch Friday night?
"I feel horrible about it," Girardi told reporters during a press conference at Yankee Stadium on Saturday's off-day. He added: "I screwed up. It's a hard day for me."
With the regret out of the way, maybe the manager should use the idea that no one believes anymore. At Saturday's presser, someone asked him about having a "backs-to-the-wall" outlook.
Said Girardi: "I think sometimes that can be a good mentality to have. So we will preach to them, just win one game. Win one game (Sunday) and let's see where we're at and we'll go from there."
Will it work? We'll see Sunday night. The Yankees have come back in the past - they trailed Oakland in the 2001 ALDS, 2-0, and rallied. They're also the franchise with the worst-ever baseball collapse on their permanent record, when the Red Sox beat them in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS after trailing, 3 games to none.
"Don't let us win tonight," was Boston's Kevin Millar-led rallying cry before Game 4. Maybe it applies here against the same team that blew a 3-1 lead over the Cubs in last year's World Series.
Or maybe Girardi must face the other thunderheads gathering on the pinstriped horizon. For instance: He'd better be right about choosing the inconsistent Masahiro Tanaka over Severino to start Game 3.
Severino shrank in his big moment in the Wild Card Game and Tanaka had 15 strikeouts in a superlative start in his final start of the regular season. But going into negotiations for a new contract with Yankee brass won't be helped if the Yanks lose this series without their best pitcher ever touching the ball.
And Girardi also spent a few minutes Saturday answering questions about whether he has much trust in Sanchez, the catcher who tried to convince Girardi to challenge that Chisenhall was hit Friday night.
"It has nothing to do with trust," Girardi said, indicating that he didn't believe the Yankees had a conclusive replay that showed the play would certainly be overturned. Still, the manager acknowledged, "Now, I wish I would've challenged it."
This might be a whole different series, not just an end-of-season watch. No one is guaranteeing they would've won the series, or that they will if they steal Game 3.
But there are no expectations now for the Yankees, no good ones, anyway. Maybe that's just what they need to at least make this competitive.