Yanks’ playoff streak comes to end
Boston’s victory knocks New York out of Wild Card contention
ORONTO — Joe Girardi had spoken optimistically of keeping his Yankees alive in the postseason discussion, even against long odds. His reasoning? There had not been an ‘X’ affixed to the club’s name in the American League standings. Those last hopes for a miracle were dashed on Tuesday, as the Red Sox defeated the Indians, 5-4, at Fenway Park. With the victory, the Red Sox secured a berth and officially ended New York’s string of 13 consecutive playoff appearances.
While Girardi and many players had hoped for a miracle, the mathematics of the situation were impossible to ignore. To keep Yankee Stadium open past Sunday, the Yankees were going to need an awful lot of help.
“This is when character shows up,” Girardi said on Sunday. “To me, this is when I like to watch people really work and see the character. You can evaluate a lot about people this time of year. For me, this is a very important week as we move forward and prepare for next year. Character means a lot and we’re going to find out over the next week.”
There had been a moral victory of sorts on Sunday, as the Yankees took the field for their final game at Yankee Stadium knowing that a loss would eliminate them from playoff contention.
A general stadium atmosphere mirroring the seventh game of the World Series was not coincidental. Not only did the Yankees intentionally plan to create an October-like setting for the Cathedral’s sendoff, but the club secured a 7-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, while quite literally fighting for its playoff existence.
“It almost felt like a playoff series that we had just won, as far as how emotionally tired I am right now, and physically,” Andy Pettitte said. “It’s really weird.”
The Yankees’ playoff dynasty has been well-chronicled, beginning with a Wild Card in 1995 and highlighted by four World Series titles over a five-year span from 1996-2000. The Yankees also appeared in the 2001 and 2003 Fall Classics, but had found it more difficult to advance in recent years.
New York lost a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the 2004 AL Championship Series and has not been able to move past the first round since. Last year, the Yankees were eliminated in a four-game AL Division Series by the Indians, a series remembered for a strange Game 2 incident when a swarm of Lake Erie midges unnerved rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain.
The Yankees entered the 2008 campaign with high hopes under new manager Girardi, who donned uniform No. 27 and made little secret of his intentions to bring home the elusive 27th World Series title.
But Girardi rarely had access to his Opening Day lineup due to a slew of injuries — at various times, Girardi was without catcher Jorge Posada, outfielder Hideki Matsui, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Chamberlain and No. 1 starter Chien-Ming Wang for extended periods. Wang did not pitch after June, and Posada was lost for the season after July.
Additionally, the club banked on major contributions from young players, who were not able to fulfill expectations. Rookies Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy both opened the season in the starting rotation and remain winless, having battled through injuries and time in the Minor Leagues.
Thirteen stellar summers
Second baseman Robinson Cano drew criticism for a perceived lack of hustle during a disappointing campaign, and Melky Cabrera regressed from being New York’s starting center fielder to a spare part. Chamberlain’s transition from the bullpen to the rotation ended with shoulder tendinitis in an Aug. 4 start and leaves his 2009 plans uncertain.
The season did have its bright moments. Mike Mussina — removed from the starting rotation last August — bounced back in a huge way and, at age 39, is one victory shy of his first 20-win season.
Derek Jeter surpassed Lou Gehrig for the hits record at Yankee Stadium with 1,274 — a mark that can never be broken — and Mariano Rivera had one of his most automatic seasons while pitching in save situations, converting 37 of 38 opportunities. New York’s victory over Baltimore on Sunday moved them to a season-high 14 games over .500.
“It’s been a good run,” Jeter said. “We have a new Yankee Stadium opening next year and attendance has been on the rise each year. It’s not something that is easy to do.”
In the end, though, it was not enough for the Yankees to avoid the prospect of a dark October in Yankee Stadium’s final season. Club co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said Sunday that discussions will begin in the next few weeks on a number of important decisions the team must make to shape their roster for a postseason run in 2009, when the Yankees will open their brand new $1.3 billion facility across 161st Street.
With the Yanks’ elimination, he teams that have the longest current run of consecutive postseason appearances are the Red Sox, Angels and Cubs, who will appear in their second straight this season.