As a Yankee fan, I was disappointed when the team turned in a lifeless outing in the A.L.C.S. and the Rangers advanced to the World Series in six games to take on the San Fransisco Giants. But I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. The Yanks struggled badly from mid-August through the end of the regular season, eventually missing out on the American League East, as the Rays won it the last weekend of the year, and the Yanks had to settle for a wild card berth. The pitching was erratic, the offense only seemed to show up every other game, and manager Joe Jirardi made some very curious decisions about when to rest star players. When the Yanks completely dominated the Twins in the A.L.D.S., sweeping them in three games even without the benefit of home field advantage, I was pleasantly surprised. Phil Hughes and Andy Pettite both turned in stellar pitching performances, and the offense seemed to wake up. As for the Twins, you have to assume the intimidation factor played a part. The Yankees have eliminated them in the first round now four times in the past decade. Twins manager Ron Gardenheyer must have nightmares about pinstriped monsters hiding in the closet. But then the Yanks went up against the Rangers, a team comprised of both savvy veterans like the free-swinging Vlad Guerrero and hungry young guns like the former crack-addict turned league M.V.P. Josh Hamilton, who I’m still kicking myself the Reds got rid of. This was not to mention a pretty good starting rotation, fronted by Cliff Lee, a postseason juggernaut who should give the Rangers a huge boost when they take on the Giants in the World Series starting tonight. He’ll be the star of the offseason, with the Yanks, Rangers, and others frantically trying to sign him to a long term contract.
The Yanks were, frankly, dominated. They were lucky to take two games. The Rangers made them look old and slow; Yankee pitching was ineffectual, with Sabathia not his usual self, Pettite unable to be propped up by a shaky bullpen, and Phil Hughes simply terrible. When the Yanks started A.J. Burnett for Game 4, they might as well have said “we forfeit this one, okay everybody?” A-Rod fell asleep at the plate, batting barely .200 in the postseason with no home runs. Jeter did little, Nick Swisher didn’t show up, Mark Texeira was ineffective and then got injured…it was just a monumental cock-up, while the Rangers’ bats feasted on Yankee pitching, embarrassing them both in the Bronx and in Arlington. Again, as a fan, tough to watch, and the Yankees will have to make a lot of changes this offseason and ask some serious questions about their personnel.
But while I freely admit to the Yankee failings, I also have to say, this proves a point I’ve made on the site before. The number one reason for the irrational Yankee hatred so rampant in the baseball community is that “they buy their championships.” With a huge payroll they buy the best players, and that’s why they have more championships than any other team in baseball, or sports, history. But I’ve argued against that, for precisely the reason that the Yankees lost this October. Just because you have the biggest payroll, that’s no guarantee your players are going to play better than players purchased for half the price, and I mean that literally. The payrolls of the Giants and the Rangers combined, the two teams that will play the World Series this year, still don’t equal that of the Yankees! The Yankee payroll doesn’t guarantee victories and championships, as this postseason has shown. And even though the Yankees lost and it’s disheartening, I’m glad of one thing. These past couple of weeks have shown that in any postseason, any team can get hot and beat any other. The same is true in the National League. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Phillies would be National League Champions for the third straight time, but that didn’t happen either. Due to great pitching and timely hitting, the unlikely Giants beat the Phillies, and now we have a World Series no one was expecting. That’s what’s so great about baseball: it really is unpredictable. No one would have said Giants/Rangers at the start of the 2010 season, but that’s what has happened, and I think it’s great. Even my Cincinnati Reds won the National League Central for the first time in 15 years, and I never would have predicted that either.
The bottom line is this: when the World Series is done, the Giants will have their first Championship since 1952, or the Rangers will have their first ever. This series might not draw the numbers of a Yanks/Phillies rematch, but in terms of purity of the game, it proves the point that any team can go all the way, any year, yes, even the Cubs, if you can believe it. You just never know. Will the Yanks make it to the postseason every year? The odds say yes. But as much as people say it, it’s not because of the payroll. It’s because each and every member of that team plays their ass off every year, and they earn a postseason spot. It’s not just handed to them any more than a World Championship is. They need to perform in the postseason too, and they didn’t do it this year. The results are what they are: disappointing to me as a fan, but proving my point. That the purity and timeless traditions of baseball, my favorite sport, are alive and well. I’ll be counting the days till next April,when it all begins again.