I admit, I’ve been slow to acknowledge what’s been as obvious as a shiny new pimple on the chin. The Yankees? The Yankees will figure it out. The Yankees will right the ship. The Yankees will regain their step, and their swagger.
Don’t worry about the Yankees. They’ll be fine.
I’m worried about the Yankees, officially. I am no longer certain they will be fine. The could be. They should be. As much ground as the Rays and the Blue Jays have picked up on the Yankees since they held that 15 ¹/₂ -game lead, there’s still more ground to cover.
Lately as I watch the Yankees, and as I check the AL East standings, I’m reminded of a classic line typed by the great Newsday sports columnist Joe Gergen as he sat in the Fenway Park press box in September 1978: “The Yankees are two games back and drawing away.”
And look, maybe I’m just a pie-eyed optimist or someone who has been conditioned through the years to expect Yankees teams to figure things out but … I still think the Yankees will figure things out. I still think they will right the ship. I still think they will regain their step, and their swagger.
But if they don’t?
Man. The last thing anyone wants to do is join this cast, New York teams who made their fans suffer through the worst thing a fan can suffer through: the all-out, watch-out-below collapse. And here’s the thing: This group is comprised of all good teams. You have to be good in order to squander. So there had to have been a time, before it all fell to pieces, when every one of these teams figured: We’ll figure it out.
They just never figured it out.
The gold standard. In a way it’s almost unfair. The Red Sox weren’t nearly as bad as the team that fell behind 0-3 in the ’04 ALCS. It’s almost like they were sand-bagging. But they weren’t. The Yanks won Game 3, 19-8. And then Kevin Millar showed up the next day and crowed, to anyone who would listen: “Don’t let the Sox win this game. Because they win this game, we get [Pedro Martinez] and then we get [Curt Schilling], and then it’s Game 7, and anything can happen in a Game 7.”
He was a prophet. And the ’04 Yankees were permanently cast in infamy.
Really, you can bookend both the 2007 and ’08 Mets for how they so shockingly and eerily blew their seasons in the final weeks of September. But ’07 was the true kick to the gut, because that one no one saw coming. The Mets were 7 ¹/₂ games up with 17 to play, and they were playing well, cruising to a second-straight NL East title. That was Sept. 13. The Phillies promptly swept them three straight at Shea, and that broke them.
They went 5-12 in those final 17. The Phillies, gaining redemption for their own choking antecedents from 1964, went 13-4. Splat.
It was the Giants who would script the happy ending to this season, but across 11 weeks it was the Jets who were the dominant team not only in New York but in the NFL — a high-octane offense and killer defense pushing them to a 10-1 record. Jets fans know what happened then: First came a 45-3 bludgeoning by the Dolphins on “Monday Night Football.” Then everyone got hurt. Then Ken O’Brien, an MVP most of the year, simply forgot how to play. Then 10-1 became 10-6, they backed into the playoffs, actually won a game against Kansas City … and, well, then came Cleveland. Enough said.
A sleeper pick. This was the team, Pat Riley’s first, that inspired the city to fall back in love with the Knicks. And they won a playoff series against Detroit, then took the champion Bulls to Game 7 of a bloody, bruising series. But they were also five games up on the Celtics in the Atlantic with eight games to play, then went 3-5 while Boston went 8-0, winning the division on a tiebreaker. Maybe avoiding the Bulls for one more round would’ve made a difference, maybe not. We’ll never know.
The granddaddy. Fun fact: After Brooklyn’s lead in the NL reached 13 games on Aug. 11, they went a respectable 26-22. The Giants went an absurd 37-7.
I’m trying hard, very hard, to find five wins apiece on the Jets’ and Giants’ schedules. I have utilized a compass and a pick axe and various and sundry tools, and the search is ongoing. Check back next week, and I’ll tell you how my Indiana Jones mission ends.
Julius Randle may have had a disappointing season last year. But don’t tell that to the students at the Earl Monroe New Renaissance Basketball Charter High School in The Bronx. Randle donated $500 for every 3-pointer he made in 2021-22. Sponsors and individual donors matched from $3 to $200 — a total of $475,000 went to the school’s literacy enrichment program. And the reading levels of the 110 freshmen went up an average of three-plus grades.
Nothing speaks to the shaky foundation the Yankees were built on that it may turn out losing Matt Carpenter was the Jenga piece that toppled the game.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we’re on a “Yellowstone” binge in our house, so let me say that while I know “1883” only lasts 10 episodes, as I sit on episode 5 I wish it would last 100 more than that. Tim McGraw rules. (My wife would vote for Sam Elliott.)
Whack Back at Vac
Gary Bochner: The only trumpet song that they are going to play at Yankee stadium in October is “Taps!”
Vac: I’ll say with supreme confidence that it’s going to take a Herculean effort the rest of the way to top that for WhackBack of the Year.
Richard Siegelman: Could I plausibly claim that the $12.6 million Mickey Mantle rookie card was once one of mine — which my mother threw out along with all of my comic books?
Vac: And I’ll swear on a stack that my great-grandfather won one of those Honus Wagner cards in a craps game on the Lower East Side around 1910 or so.
@knishboy: You don’t see much chatter if any about Francisco Lindor’s $341 million contract anymore. Goes to show you that in New York if you produce the money isn’t an issue.
@MikeVacc: And thus shall it ever be.
Peter Drago: Well, it’s September and the Mets will be playing “meaningful games” the rest of the month and beyond. No matter what happens next, this team of smart, hard-playing professionals has given the fans a wonderful summer of baseball. Of course, a ring would be the cherry on top of the sundae!
Vac: It is actually quite a bit of fun to see how completely the normally jaded Mets faction of baseball New York has embraced this team. Now if the Mets could only share their secret with the Knicks and the Jets …
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