The pain figures to linger for a while.
Mostly because the New York Yankees had a fantastic season, overcoming a record number of injuries — and plenty of adversity — along the way in their quest to capture World Series title No. 28.
And most of all because of the way that fantastic season ended — on Saturday night in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series — with their flame-throwing closer (Aroldis Chapman) hanging his second-best pitch (a slider) to the best hitter on the Houston Astros (Jose Altuve) with a depth outfielder (Jake Marisnick) in the on-deck circle.
Altuve’s two-run, walk-off shot against Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning allowed the Astros to move on to their second World Series in three seasons while sending the Yankees home with a 6-4 loss at Minute Maid Park.
The savages were beaten by the biggest savage of all. He just so happens to be 5 feet, 6 inches tall.
“The ultimate pain you can feel in sports,” was how Yankees manager Aaron Boone put it.
“It’s a failure,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said of coming up six wins shy of the necessary 11 W’s needed to have a parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
The Yankees will look back and bemoan all of their missed opportunities.
They had the Astros on the ropes in Game 2, but couldn’t put Houston away. And Didi Gregorius was so close to hitting a three-run homer in Game 3. But they just couldn’t seem to get that timely hit when it mattered most (DJ LeMahieu notwithstanding).
Regardless, this marks the third straight postseason that the Yankees were eliminated by a superior team with superior starting pitching.
And that’s really what it comes down to.
In the 2017 ALCS, it was Justin Verlander (16 innings, one run). In the 2018 ALDS, it was Chris Sale (Game 1 win as a starter and Game 4 hold as a setup man). And in the 2019 ALCS, it was Gerrit Cole (seven shutout innings in Game 3).
That’s how the Yankees go 0-3 and lose to two — or shortly, maybe three — championship teams.
And that’s how the Astros (Cole, Verlander, Zack Greinke) end up facing the Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin) for the right to hoist baseball’s ultimate prize.
All of which goes to say that the Bronx Bombers need to do everything in their power to land Gerrit Cole on a massive deal in free agency.
Inconsistent rotation and overtaxed bullpen cost Yankees in ALCS
Maybe it costs eight years, $240 million.
Maybe it starts with Cole getting $120 million over the first three years and an opt-out the following season in case he wants to go to Los Angeles (the California kid may end up going to the Dodgers or Angels this winter, anyway).
Whatever the cost, the Yankees need to get it done.
Because they failed to reach the World Series this decade — the first time that’s happened since the 1910s.
And that needs to change.
The Yankees don’t like making massive, long-term investments on starting pitching — with CC Sabathia (seven years, $161 million) and Masahiro Tanaka (seven years, $155 million) being their most recent exceptions.
Those types of moves can hurt down the line, as pitchers age, become more injury-prone, and their production declines.
But their hitters keep failing — as even the best hitters in the most prolific offense tend to — against superior starting pitching in the postseason.
So get Cole, while taking him away from your toughest opposition in the process. In his last 25 starts, the 29-year-old righty is 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA, posting 258 strikeouts in 169 1/3 innings.
The rival Boston Red Sox are about to enter retooling mode. And the Astros may very well lose Cole regardless at the end of the season.
So the time to take advantage of that is now.
Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino all had their moments in the ALCS. Tanaka posted six shutout innings in Game 1, while Paxton notched six innings of one-run ball in Game 5 — both wins.
But then there was Paxton recording only seven outs in Game 2; Tanaka’s four-pitch leadoff walk to No. 8 hitter Robinson Chirinos before George Springer’s three-run homer in Game 4; and Severino allegedly tipping his off-speed pitches in the first two innings in Game 3.
The Yankees didn’t have Domingo German (domestic violence incident) on their ALCS roster. And J.A. Happ’s regular-season struggles prompted them to make him a $17 million bulk man in the bullpen. It all added up to needing to use an opener in Game 6, and Chad Green surrendered a three-run homer to Yuli Gurriel in the first.
The Yankees wanted to be aggressive with their deep power bullpen — and they were. But the lack of length from their starters may have caught up to them in the end.
Adam Ottavino struggled throughout the ALCS, while Tommy Kahnle finally faltered in Game 6. And then Altuve delivered the knockout punch with Chapman — who is eligible to opt-out of his contract — on the mound.
It was a strategy that called for perfection. And their relief corps fell short in that respect.
After so many misses on starting pitching, the Yankees could use a hit
The Yankees have missed out on their share of impact starters over the years — including this one.
The trade deadline also yielded nothing.
Granted, two pitchers the Yankees really coveted (Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler) play for the other team in town, so that wasn’t happening.
Wheeler, a free agent himself, could provide an intriguing alternative to Cole. He’s inconsistent, but has plus stuff and struck out nearly a batter an inning in 2019. There’s a lot of potential upside with him. Strasburg is the other big name that could hit the market if he opts out.
Verlander was a near-miss in 2017, his contract a non-starter for the Steinbrenner family. And Cole, who the Yankees drafted but couldn’t sign in 2008, keeps feeling like the one that got away after the Yankees also were unable to acquire him in 2018. They didn’t want to trade either Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In retrospect, they would’ve moved Andujar in a second, but Cole wasn’t the caliber of pitcher he is now, arguably the best pitcher on the planet. Rather, he was coming off a season in which he went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA and 31 homers allowed.
So maybe the third time will be the charm.
And just imagine if they had gotten Shohei Ohtani — as they hoped they would (injuries aside) — instead of turning to Giancarlo Stanton, who still has eight years left on his deal (at Cole money).
Oh, what might’ve been.
The Yankees have a lot of decisions upcoming — chief among them the futures of Gregorius, Chapman, Brett Gardner, Dellin Betances, Edwin Encarnacion and Austin Romine.
In any case, Sabathia is retiring and Tanaka is going into the final year of his contract.
The Yankees simply need to open their coffers and get Gerrit Cole — even if it means going over the luxury tax and paying more.
Yes, several players are going to be due significant arbitration raises (specifically, Judge, Paxton and Gary Sanchez), but GM Brian Cashman and the rest of his front office need to get creative and figure it out.
They’ve done it before on the position-player side, unearthing diamonds in the rough like Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford on the cheap. The pitching side, however, has been a different story.
Sabathia and A.J. Burnett proved to be the missing pieces on the 2009 World Series championship team. And Cole could be that missing piece for the 2020 Yankees.
Until then, the pain will continue to linger.
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