Monday, October 14, 2013

The Broken Ankle That Started It All

Many baseball people like to argue that the "Dynasty" era of Yankees baseball ended with Luis Gonzalez's bloop single off of Mariano Rivera that won the Diamondbacks the 2001 World Series. Others claim that it was Josh Beckett tagging Jorge Posada out in the middle of the first base line that won the Marlins the 2003 World Series.

Personally, I believe the Dynasty continued on long after that, but ended one year ago today - October 14th, 2012.

The day before, October 13th, had made most of the Yankee faithfuls believe the Dynasty was alive and well. The Yankees took the field for Game 1 of the ALCS, just a handful of wins away from a trip to the 2012 World Series. After suffering through an inept offense for much of the ALDS, they were given a second chance to back up their "Bronx Bombers" mantra. And wow, did they ever!

Down 4-0 in the 9th, facing Tigers' closer Jose Valverde, Ichiro Suzuki roped a two-run home run that curved just inside the right field foul pole, cutting the Detroit lead in half. With two outs, Mark Teixeira was able to work his way on with a walk, and up came Raul Ibanez. The 40-year old New York native had provided plenty of clutch moments for fans to enjoy all season, including game-tying and game-winning home runs in Game 3 of the ALDS just a few days prior.

And after swinging and missing for strike one...this happened:

As TBS announcer Ernie Johnson proclaimed, "He's done it again!", Raul HAD done it again. It was unbelievable, and with a win seemingly inevitable, his home run would go down with the likes of Reggie's three homers in '77, Bucky's go-ahead shot in '78, Leyrtiz's in '96, Brosius' in '01, and so on. If anyone said otherwise at the time, I probably would have called them insane.

If not already, ALCS Game 1 was becoming an instant classic as the game went into extra innings and each team failed to score. With Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Delmon Young due up in the top of the 12th, most people felt a momentum shift, if only slightly. 

Cabrera led off with a single, but David Phelps then got Fielder to ground out. Young then laced a fly-ball into right field, in which Nick Swisher swatted at and missed completely as it went to the wall. Cabrera scored the go-ahead run, and the Tigers were now up 5-4.

Then came the knockout blow. Not just for 2012, but for everything that had happened up until this moment:

It was known that it was sore, but Derek Jeter's ankle finally snapped. After suffering only a handful of minor injuries that resulted in little-to-no time lost throughout his career, at age 38, the Yankees shortstop had suffered as bad a "break" (no pun intended) as any infielder can have. He was helped off the field and wouldn't return for the remainder of the playoffs -- which in reality was only a few days, since Detroit made quick work of New York and swept them aside.

Since Game 1 concluded in the wee hours of October 14th, Game 2 began later that afternoon, in which I was in attendance for. At no fault of their own, Yankees fans were terribly demoralized, as the Captain was done for the year and hopes for a pennant were as bleak as they'll ever be in mid-October at Yankee Stadium. 

The stats say that 47,082 fans made their way to the Bronx, but you wouldn't believe it by all the empty seats there were. The crowd was deathly silent all throughout the game, as was the lineup, which was only able to muster up 4 hits against Anibal Sanchez and Detroit's bullpen, headlined by 2009 Yankee alumni Phil Coke. It was like being in some alternate universe, where you could hear a pin drop at Yankee Stadium and Derek Jeter was not playing shortstop for the Yankees in October.

It was so surreal, but it was a perfect preview of this season and beyond. The game featured an 11-strikeout game by Hiroki Kuroda, but Jayson Nix was at shortstop and the lineup was putrid. With Mariano Rivera on the bench nursing a torn ACL, there also was no chance Mo could jog in from the bullpen and close out a win, which will become the norm come 2014. 

While the streak of winning multiple championships ended in 2001, the Yankees continued to be at the top of the division almost every season, always putting themselves in a position to add more titles to their illustrious history. They even did, of course, win it all in 2009, with the Core Four leading the way. 

Now, Andy, Jorge and Mo are all gone, and Jeter is still trying to limp back onto the field and be an everyday player. Even if he can, next season very likely will be Derek's last, so there is no denying that their time as the core of the Yankees is over, though it did live on way longer than many people ever expected.

Still, October 14th, 2012, may be the date we look back on in a few years when the Yankees are either A) Suffering through a period of mediocrity, or B) Returning to glory without their familiar playoff heroes. The future ensures a lot of change, and maybe its for the better. But wow, it's a shame how abruptly the Dynasty ended, isn't it?

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