Monday, September 23, 2013

Mo's Magical Day Ends With A Helpless Look Into The Future

Come on...don't lie. You KNEW the Yankees were going to win yesterday, right? It was the only way for Mariano Rivera Day to finish up at Yankee Stadium. Many people thought it wouldn't just be a win, but that it would be re-aired on YES for years to come, with a graphic overlaid on the top-right corner that reads, "Yankees Classics".

It certainly had the makings of one, for sure. After all the emotional, incredible moments of a 50-minute long ceremony honoring Mo, his fellow Core Four brother Andy Pettitte jogged out to the Stadium mound for the final time in his career. With a white number 42 painted along each baseline, it reminded me of David Cone's perfect game (with a white number 8 on the field in the same fashion) on Yogi Berra Day, especially when Andy breezed through a perfect top of half of the first inning. And the second. And the third. And the fourth.

That's right, as apropos as possible, #46 was perfect through four innings. Thanks to a solo shot into the Giants' bullpen by Mark Reynolds, the Yanks had a 1-0 lead as Andy went back out for the fifth. It started to approach "call your friends and tell them to shut off the ugly Giants football game" time, especially when he got the next two outs.

A walk to Pablo Sandoval ended his chance for a perfecto, but Andy got the final out of the fifth and personally, I thought a no-no was imminent. It had to happen. Perhaps it was a bit late, but the mystique and aura of the New York Yankees had finally found its way back to the Bronx.

Ol' reliable had the 8-9-1 hitters due up for the sixth, convincing me he'd at least take his no-hit bid to the seventh. He got Tony Abreu to ground out, and now up was Ehire Adrianza, whose unique name caught my eye when I saw it on the lineup card.

And wouldn't you know it, it was the rookie shortstop, batting ninth, who zapped the magic out of the afternoon when he got the best of an inside pitch and drove it over the left field wall for a home run.

Still, it was a tie-game, and the Yanks were well-equipped to come away with the win that was rightfully theirs. Yusmeiro Petit was showing signs of vulnerability, and the Yankees had him on the ropes in the seventh. There were runners on first and second with one out, and Petit was pulled for left-hander Javier Lopez. But, he promptly struck out the Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, ending the threat.

Andy Pettitte left to a huge ovation after surrendering a lead-off double in the eighth, and in came future closer David Robertson to try and keep the San Francisco Giants at bay. And, he simply didn't get the job done. Abreu laced a double down the right field line that scored pinch-runner Nick Noonan and gave the Gigantes a 2-1 lead. The Stadium, as loud and jam-packed as it was hours prior, was now emptying and as silent as it's ever been.

However, the Bombers muscled up another rally in the bottom half. A-Rod singled and Robinson Cano doubled, putting runners at second and third with no one out. This was it. Here was the moment of the game. The Yanks would take the lead, and hand the ball to Mo in the ninth. He'd pick up the save and beautifully end a majestic day in the Bronx.

If only it happened that way.

Soriano grounded into a fielder's choice, as Noonan threw out a clueless Zoilo Almonte at the plate. Curtis Granderson struck out, and then...wait, what?!?! Eduardo Nunez got a hit! Coming home was Cano and the Yankees were gonna tie the game!

Then, Juan Perez fired a bullet. Cano was easily tagged out for the third out of the inning. It was that abrupt, and it was that moment, more than any other this season, that made me realize that the era of Yankee baseball that started in the mid-1990s had ended.

Although Mariano fired 1 2/3 of scoreless baseball, the Yankees went down without a fight in the bottom of the ninth. It was the team's 74th loss of the year, guaranteeing them of their worst finish since 1993 when they went 88-74 - and it's safe to say they won't get to 88 wins either.

Sunday's game was the Yankees' past, present, and future in a nutshell. It started off as magical as any night in the Bronx from 1995-2001, with Andy throwing 4.2 perfect innings. Then the Yankees were hampered by numerous RISP fails, as was the case in each of their championship-less seasons from 2002-2008. Then, the never-say-die mentality of the 2009 team showed through in the late innings, but then shattered into a million pieces as it did with heart-breaking playoff loses in the 2010, 2011, and 2012 postseasons.

And with the bottom of the ninth's feeble comeback attempt led by Mark Reynolds, Brendan Ryan, and J.R. Murphy, it was a retrospective on this season and the impending changes - and not for the better - that our beloved Yankees will undergo starting this offseason.

On top of losing Mo and Andy, there are a ton of players whose days in pinstripes look numbered as well. Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, Brendan Ryan, and Lyle Overbay are all impending free agents. While Cano will likely stay put and most of the other guys are expendable, their losses create a ton of holes on the roster. The Yankees will be have just two starters in place for 2014 - CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova - and have no clear-cut closer, set-up man, lefty specialist, left fielder, shortstop, and third baseman if Alex Rodriguez's suspension is not reduced significantly. Not to mention the catching position, which right now still looks to have Chris Stewart and Austin Romine serving as the dynamic duo for another season.

One could look at all those likely departures and say, "Well, the Yankees will have a ton of room on the payroll!" Which is very true. But, if last offseason was any indication, the team is not looking to spend the money to adequately field a "championship-caliber team" as Hal Steinbrenner claimed to strive for a few years ago.

That fact, coupled with the Yanks' barren farm system, points to 2014 being potentially even more disastrous than 2013.

This offseason will probably be the most intriguing one the Yanks have had in a very long time. It could be somewhat beneficial, but in all likelihood next season will make Mo and Andy's absences even more glaring.

And, to conclude, I'll add a personal prediction of mine - I think Joe Girardi will not return as manager. Not because the Yankees don't want him back, but because he doesn't want to be back with the Yankees. The Cubs, Nationals, and Angels all will likely have managerial openings, and they all have brighter futures than New York at this point. Joe likely realizes that this winter and bolts for one of those three clubs. It'll be tough, but it may be a move that makes even the most confident Yankees fan see that, as Bob Dylan sang, the Times They Are A-Changin'. And not for the better.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)