Baseball is romantic and it is cruel. The Yankees have four games left to play but their season is now effectively over and the playoffs are out of reach. The sun has set on two pillars of Yankee folklore and the impressive charade of a mostly bench player roster has finally worn down and come to grips with a reality many thought earlier this year was destiny.
It is romantic because Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettite will retire together and leave their legacies as some of the most revered Yankees in club history. It is cruel because they will fall short of making the playoffs, a feat, only happening twice in 19 years, that seems synonymous with simply wearing pinstripes each season. It is romantic, cruel, and maybe even ironic because former Yankees Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher have hit home runs to help the Cleveland Indians win their last two games and mathematically eliminate their former teammates.
But this has been a difficult, strange, and nostalgic season for New York fans long before Wednesday evening in the Bronx. Mark Teixiera, Kevin Youkilis, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter all shared the majority of the season injured and broken down. Alex Rodriguez didn’t come back until August (though most thought he’d never be back) and he brought with him a steroids cloud that will linger ambiguously into the offseason. Names like Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay found new meaning and life for several weeks and then came back to earth. Then Alfonso Soriano returned to New York roughly ten years since he was dealt for A-Rod. Necessarily, fans became familiar with names like David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, and David Huff.
It wasn’t the blueprint for the season or a team that now must deal with existential questions that come with big stars, impending free agency, and a lot of aging veterans. Among those questions are Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes, though the former will be much more difficult to consider than the latter, who may have pitched his final game as a Yankee Wednesday night against Tampa Bay. Needing to win the remainder of their games and the Indians to lose theirs (among many other scenarios), the Yankees asked for a miracle, or at least a chance at one. It did not come.
Hughes received an early supply of boos within the first inning after giving up three hard struck balls to right field, two of which landed for doubles. He wouldn’t record an out in the third inning- highlighted by a diving effort to tag third base by Eduardo Nunez that was called safe- and Manager Joe Girardi pulled the plug on his effort early. With three earned runs to his credit in two plus innings, a storm of boos rained down upon Hughes whose disappointing season took a final bow.
“It’s been a long season. It’s been rough,” Hughes said. “Hopefully there are things to learn from it and take from it and I’ll think about that later.”
Eduardo Nunez in the leadoff sport carried the offensive side of things, homering and scoring two of the three Yankee runs. But it was too little too late and the offensive woes continued to plague a Girardi team that ultimately looked unmotivated during the final week of play.
“I’m proud of the way they fought,” said Girardi of his team’s perseverance throughout the year. “They kept coming back and they kept coming back. We didn’t get where we wanted to get. It should fuel you next year and the way you play out these four games says a lot about who you are as a person to me and what you think about this game.”
The clock struck midnight around 9:15pm when Cleveland wrapped up a 7-3 win against Chicago. At that time the Yankees had the bases loaded and Granderson ended any hope by grounding out to second. Yankee Stadium quickly became a ghost town and October baseball, for the first time since 2008, soon became a dream for next year.
“It’s a really sad feeling,” said Cano. “Suddenly now you’re home and suddenly it’s going to be in my mind and my head and my heart I would say maybe until next season.”
Mariano will likely make his last appearance tomorrow to a large standing ovation. There won’t be pressure to win or a playoff spot on the line. It will simply be a final game whose meaning will derive only from the game’s best closer entering to “Sandman” one final time.
As I walked into the stadium, a media attendant quoted T.S. Elliot to reflect on the year’s end. New York finishes their season in Houston, away from the noise and the chatter of playoffs and failed expectations. It’s somewhat disheartening and somehow fitting. This is the way the Yankees season ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.