Last night, a milestone Yankees season, and a brief but thrilling postseason bid, was brought to an end. To say that I am disappointed would be a tremendous understatement.
I am crushed. And all of the Bronx with me.
The game was not lost when Alex Rodriguez struck out to end a Yankees postseason for the second year in a row. Nor was it lost when CC Sabathia surrendered a run in his first career relief appearance, or any of the times the Yankees failed to drive in runs with the bases loaded. No, the game was lost when Derek Jeter stepped to the plate with Brett Gardner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, and drove a ball deep to right field. As the ball sailed up into the night sky a crowd of 50,000, and hundreds of thousands watching on television, stood and roared. With the Yankees down 3-2, and having squandered numerous scoring opportunities, it appeared the Captain was going to pull through once again. But the flight for glory fell back to earth far too soon, settling into the glove of Don Kelly mere inches from the wall. The onlookers stood stunned and silent. Jeter and Gardner retreated into the home dugout, the Tigers trotted relieved into theirs, and the camera focused on one dejected Yankees fan, head held in hands, slumped forward in his seat, eyes watering with a look of utter disbelief. One hundred and sixty-seven games in all, and yet one run short.
It could not end like this. It just could not.
Not after the regular season. Not after the Yankees, considered to be eclipsed by a far superior Red Sox team, instead actually outlasted their Boston rivals and seized the American League East title for themselves. Not after the cobbled together starting rotation had given the Yankees all they could have hoped for and more. Not after Curtis Granderson’s MVP-caliber year. Not after Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Not after Mariano Rivera’s 602nd save. Not after Ivan Nova’s stellar rookie season. Not after the lights out year the bullpen had in relief. Not after leading the major leagues in home runs. Not after Robinson Cano hit a grand slam in Game 1 of the Division Series. Not after Jorge Posada played his heart out in the series. And especially not after an incredible Game 4, with AJ Burnett’s silencing of the critics and Granderson’s remarkable season saving defensive plays. Not after, not after, not after…
But that is the beauty of baseball, is it not? And is not the beauty of loyally supporting a team in any sport through thick and thin best displayed, not in the victories, but in the losses? The only thing worse than never winning, is never losing. It is the agony of defeat that makes the victories all the sweeter. It is a glorious tragedy when the team you love and adore crashes and burns. You know these players. You know their quirks, their flaws, their skills. You have seen them stumble and fail, but you have also seen them rise and succeed. These players have given you more than just wins and losses: they have given you memories.
For this reason I do not fault the 2011 New York Yankees for failing to reach the World Series, though I am certainly heartbroken. After all, the Yankees did actually outscore the Tigers in the series 28-17. And can you really fault A-Rod for floundering at the plate? He had just come off of knee surgery, made several key sacrifice RBI’s and walks, and played a superb third base. Might it be Joe Girardi’s fault instead for putting a struggling player in the clean-up spot? And if Mark Teixeira had only hit that one long fly ball a shade to the right it would have been a home run, which would mean Game 5 would have been tied 3-3. And can you blame Nova for the sudden arm tightening? Phil Hughes certainly answered the call, as did Boone Logan, and Sabathia, despite giving up a run, fought admirably after being placed in uncharted territory by his skipper. Certainly it was not the Yankees at fault for the loss, but rather a cruel twist of fate.
Yes, this is the great joy of loyally supporting a team: even in defeat, it is never your team’s fault. It is always the uncontrollable factor, the unlucky move, the unforeseeable circumstance. After all, if Cano’s bat had not shattered, that line drive certainly would have been the game tying home run.
All in all, as bitterly disappointing as elimination is, there are always memories made, moments of glory and exultation made all the brighter thanks to their surrounding defeats. I know that Burnett’s performance in Game 4 will define his career, and will encourage me for years to come both on the field and off that one can never truly be counted out (and, I must admit, boost my confidence now whenever he is pitching). Granderson’s two catches were worthy of a much better fate than to merely force a heartbreaking loss in Yankee Stadium. And I will always remember a tearful Jorge Posada, alone at the top of the dugout steps, watching Rodriguez trudge dejectedly back from the plate as the Yankees fled into the clubhouse. In the days to come, sportscasters will marvel at the Yankees defeat, and fans everywhere will no doubt unfairly make Rodriguez a scapegoat and wail that these Yankees “just do not have it.” I however, will not be one of them. I will curse the defeat, but never curse my Yankees.
So, to you, 2011 New York Yankees, the team that could have but somehow did not, I say this: thanks for the memories, both painful and joyous, and for another wonderful season.
Just wait till next year…