John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Yankees waited deep into the night after losing on Wednesday, hoping for a Rays' loss that didn't come, but for a team that had nothing handed to it all season, winning on Thursday night surely was a more appropriate way to clinch the AL East.
Indeed, if ever a ballclub deserved to celebrate a division title it was these 2019 Yankees, overcoming a record number of injuries to win 100 games, and counting, for the second straight season.
Yet the 9-1 win over the Angels sparked only a subdued reaction on the field, with handshakes and hugs but little excess emotion, no dog-piling on the mound, something that spoke to the expectations to win a championship.
It may be the Yankees' first division title since 2012, but it was hardly unexpected. In some ways, in fact, it was practically the definition of unremarkable for a star-studded team with huge expectations that was coming off two straight postseason appearances.
The way it all played out, however, wrapping up this division title with two weeks to go in the season could hardly have been any more remarkable.
For that matter, it seems unfathomable that any team, even the mighty Yankees, could set a Major League record for most players on the 10-day injured list in a season, with 30 different players going down, and still be pushing to finish with the best record in baseball.
It made for a feel-good storyline to the season, the kind you don't usually get from a team burdened with huge expectations, as the likes of Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, and others became overnight sensations filling in for the injured stars.
All of it allowed the Yankees to experience an underdog-like joy that wasn't necessarily part of the blueprint for 2019.
"It made winning sweeter," was the way Zack Britton put it, speaking to reporters Thursday night.
And yet while the Yankees wouldn't have been celebrating Thursday night without all those heroics from the next-man-up brigade, the front office for weeks, even months, has planned for a return of some of those injured stars to be ready for the post-season.
Most significantly, Brian Cashman decided prices for starting pitchers were too high at the July 31st trade deadline and passed at least partly because he was counting on Luis Severino making it back to be a factor in October.
That's a dangerous game, counting on players who have missed so much time, and, in truth, he probably would have added a reliever if he wasn't convinced Dellin Betances also would be back for the post-season.
In that case Cashman is 1-for-2, after Betances went down again Sunday with a partially torn Achilles tendon. And while Severino is much more important to the Yankees' hopes of winning a championship, Betances could have made the already-loaded bullpen that much deeper.
Even now, then, the injury-related uncertainty creates more intrigue heading into October:
Wil Severino can find the dominance the Yankees likely need from their starting rotation?
Will Giancarlo Stanton be an offensive force in the middle of the lineup?
Will Aaron Hicks make it back at all for the post-season?
And perhaps most importantly, can this team actually go a stretch of four or five weeks without incurring still more injuries.
I mean, you have to wonder after Betances finally makes it back and then tears his Achilles tendon the first time he pitches in big-league game.
And, now, suddenly the Yankees have a different kind of cloud hovering overhead, with Thursday's news that MLB has placed Domingo German on administrative leave as it investigates an alleged domestic violence incident.
Never mind German's importance in their dicey starting rotation; if MLB finds evidence the pitcher is guilty of the alleged incident, German will be suspended and the taint of domestic violence will be a reality as well for the 2019 Yankees.
Let's not confuse such a real-life crime with the types of adversity that players always talk about needing to overcome during a season, yet losing German via a suspension certainly could affect the Yankees' quest to win a championship.
None of that seemed to temper the champagne celebration Thursday night, however. And the Yankees were entitled to enjoy the moment, all the more so because all the injuries created an esprit de corps, if you will, that Aaron Judge summed up succinctly, speaking to reporters.
"It's a team that's hungry," Judge said. "We want to fight. The past two years we've been kicked out of the playoffs too soon. We've got a lot of guys who might not normally be here, because of all the injuries, and creates that a lot of that hunger.
"When you've got 25 guys that are hungry and ready to roll, you've got something special."
How special is yet to be determined.