They were the New York Yankees.
Once upon a time, they played hardball for six months, they pitched for six months, and then, for 13 consecutive seasons, they lined up and gave it a shot in October.
The Yankees toiled under massive expectations, some generated by a payroll they wore with pride and arrogance, the rest by the uniform they played in and the city they played for.
They were the Yankees, and they ran from none of the conditions of being Yankees. They won because they were supposed to win, and they played it that way. They lost and they examined their shortcomings. It was about them, always.
They lived in a time of Boston Red Sox revival, Los Angeles Angels escalation and, now, Tampa Bay Rays maturation. Six franchises have earned championships since the Yankees last won, the Red Sox twice. But the Yankees always had their say, too, even in recent seasons, by which time they’d become division series washouts.
But, these were the Yankees. They were eliminated from October on Tuesday night, with seven days left in September, confirming what had become inevitable for weeks, maybe months.
Alex Rodriguez called it “devastating.”
“Basically,” Derek Jeter said, “it boils down to we weren’t good enough.”
Hank Steinbrenner, however, took this moment to point out the Yankees are still better than the Los Angeles Dodgers, still better than Joe Torre.
In a Sporting News column this week, Steinbrenner writes:
“I’m happy for Joe, but you have to compare the divisions and the competition.”
So, he writes of the soft NL West:
“It isn’t fair. You see it this season, with plenty of people in the media pointing out that Joe Torre and the Dodgers are going to the playoffs while we’re not. … This is by no means a knock on Torre – let me make that clear – but look at the division they’re in. If L.A. were in the AL East, it wouldn’t be in the playoff discussion. The AL East is never weak.”
Once, the Yankees did not whine. Once, the Yankees carried their division, their league with honor. The standard was championships, and the scale was theirs alone. They looked out over the heads of 29 other teams, and concerned themselves with only themselves and what lay before them.
Steinbrenner ought to know that. He ought to know that fair is 162 chances to win, nothing more.
It’s one more thing for the Yankees to contemplate in October, now that they won’t have the distraction of baseball games.
Spoiler alert: The Arizona Diamondbacks are teetering again. And while the Dodgers get a shaky Shawn Estes and the shakier San Diego Padres on Wednesday night in L.A., the D'backs are on the road facing Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals. Recovered from a sprained finger, Wainwright has won his last five decisions and is 6-1 at Busch Stadium. Three weeks ago, he beat the Diamondbacks in Arizona, where he allowed three hits and struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings. Rookie Max Scherzer has great stuff – five walks, 28 strikeouts in three September starts – and is due for his first win, but he’s gotten very little run support, and doesn’t figure to get much tonight.
Mets bullpen moment of the day: It’s been at its worst in Johan Santana starts, which is probably why Santana threw eight innings and a career-high 125 pitches Tuesday night in a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs. After a lot of early-season talk about whether Santana had the stamina to be a so-called “horse,” he’s averaged 113 pitches in eight starts since Aug. 17 and the Mets have won all but one. September bullpen ERA: 3.99.
Everybody’s happy: Farewell to Todd Jones, who, after 319 saves and one really sore shoulder, retired Wednesday with the following perspective in the Sporting News: “If you’re a Tigers fan, I’ll never stress you out again. If you’re not a Tigers fan, you’ll never have me as your ace in the hole, convinced I’ll blow a lead against your team.”
Tonight: Time for the big fella to get after it. CC Sabathia, who has lost consecutive starts for the Milwaukee Brewers, will pitch on three days’ rest tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s his second start in a row on short rest, and just the third time in his career he’s pitched with fewer than four days between starts. Ben Sheets’ elbow and Jeff Suppan’s September (0-3, 10.47 ERA) have left interim manager Dale Sveum rummaging for starting candidates at a critical time.