Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Yankees

Farewell to the Master

If this is the end for Mariano Rivera, it finished not with a whimper but the thud of a baseball against a wall. That was always one potential finish, but this was like the residents of Pisa waking up to find the damn thing toppled over and finally having to answer the question of “What now?” Rivera stood for so long and broke so many rules that the talk today will likely be of what a tragedy it is for the whole exercise to end this way. I don’t celebrate it, but in the end River’s body did what no single hitter could ever do convincingly, and that’s show that the guy is human. This could have happened at any point since the strike. It happened in 2012.

Rivera’s career isn’t just staggering. He’s sui generis, a now-fallen baseball god with no father to his breathtaking style. Cal Ripken was eventually the Guy in Gehrig’s Shadow, and the bulky guy who didn’t meet a batting stance he didn’t like. Rivera was the converse. Almost ashen in his wiryness, his control panel had one button and he pressed it with joy. Yankees fans loved him for it, and why not? They won and won and won and won, and they won with happy endings the likes of which all sports fans may not crave, but love, because it puts them at the center of the narrative. Rivera was Disney-like, and if there’s anything good about the way it likely ended it’s that we can appreciate the man instead of the myth.

But oh, what a myth! Even in his most visible moment of “failure,” against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, it was in play. He only gave up broken-bat singles, and when called upon to throw to second base, he pressed the only button he had, and chucked it into center field. In a moment so potentially fraught with symbolism just after September 11, mighty Mariano fell short, and the winners weren’t New York’s brokenhearted but a bunch of Curt-come-latelies from Arizona. The gift here was the same as the injury, in a way: It showed that life doesn’t give a shit about your narratives, and the lesson is to enjoy the good times when they happen.

I’m trying to make chicken salad here, which might sound rich coming from a Red Sox fan, but I loved Rivera. He belonged to the Yankees, but he belonged to the baseball-playing human race, and that’s all I really care about. Shit, it’s better than he played for the Yankees. If anyone was deserving of the spotlight, it was him. Derek Jeter is a great, great player, but he’s symbolic of the Yankees teams in a way Mariano isn’t. Those Yankees teams were Derek Jeter and had Mariano, and that’s an important semantic difference. Mariano belonged to all of us, because things that damn awesome just do.

All that said, there’s no official word that this is the end for Mariano, but it is the end for the Yankees, who finally have to face life without him on a sustained basis. This is the moment everything changes. As fans of literally every other team can tell you, “relief pitching” is an oxymoron, in that it’s almost always a relief for the other team to see it activated. Through all the scuffling, the Yankees knew Rivera was on the end of that chain, and for as long as they needed him. Even as his appearances longer than one inning dwindled, you knew he had it in him, just like he had three innings in him in 2003 against the Red Sox in the famous Aaron Boone game. It’s barely remembered that David Ortiz came about two feet from hitting a home run off the great one in extra innings, and for good reason: Rivera kept him in the yard, and when Boone did Ortiz about 60 feet better, he ran to the mound and pounded it with his bare fists, crying like a man who had given everything he had to a game he loved. If your lasting image of Mariano is of the legend writhing in the dirt, tears streaking his face, make it that one, and not the one from yesterday. That’s the legend in carbonite, the tower that can never be rebuilt.

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Why this Red Sox nonsense doesn’t happen with the Yankees

It’s easy to take any individual story from the New York Post during baseball season and shake your head at its stupidity. Stories like “Sources: A-Rod and Derek Jeter Don’t Have Sleepovers Any More” and “Video Shows Sheffield Scowling At Kitten” resonate in the public memory (whether I just made them up or not) precisely because they seem to have a news value of exactly zero, yet are repackaged in one form or another over and over from March to October, usually dwarfing the game stories and getting a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth life on ESPN. Nine for the kitten.

If the shitshow following the Red Sox collapse has taught us anything, it’s the functional utility of these stories. The culture of the Yankees extends beyond silly-on-the-surface rules like “No facial hair below the lip.” A player is, when signing in the Bronx, effectively relinquishing his right to privacy. It’s not in the contract, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s why the Yankees pay you more than you’re worth—in a very real way, it sucks to play for them, and everyone knows it.

The stories in the Post and Daily News, day after day, regularly trump anything the zaniest bloggers could come up with, and are legitimized by being printed on dead trees. The players have to talk about this stuff. It’s part of the job. It’s a small, constant distraction that seems wholly impractical, but if the Red Sox/Red Sox media (and really, they’re one and the same to the consumer) implosion has taught us anything, it’s that this sort of release valve isn’t only coldly practical, it’s actually kind of good. Red Sox fans fantasize that everything will be alright right up to the point it’s not, then point fingers at everyone. The media won’t report on drinking in the clubhouse during the season because they don’t know about it or don’t think it’s an issue if the team is winning. Their intention is not to rock the boat, it’s to ride it.

The New York media is not so callow. It knows its job is to sell papers, and if selling papers takes down the personal reputation of the GM, a manager, or star player, so be it. All in the game, homey. Even when Joe Torre got ridden out of town after a playoff loss, it was a story months in the making.

Boston fans can’t accept that the team just sucked for a month and lost because they got all this nonsense news they should have had way before their period of mourning. Correlation equaled causation, and that was that. Meanwhile, players who thought that they signed to play for a “new” Red Sox organization realize that they’ve been sold a bill of goods. The Sox are not the cuddly Yankees. They’re the backstabber, wannabe Yankees. The Yankees, as odious as they can be, are usually honest about their brutal intentions, and when they’re not, the media is honest with them.

Boston fans want a fiction, and they are uneager to have that fiction disturbed during the season. They project their own fears onto the team more readily than any fans in sports and think it won’t effect the end product. They watch and spend money after all, right? It’s easy for the Epstein-era fans to be ignorant of a time that no free agent wanted to come to Boston, to the point that when Manny showed up, and even then only for an Edgartown’s worth of money, it was a shock to the system. Somebody chose to play in Boston? That was a new one. Yes, players wanted to play for Red and K.C.’s Celtics and now Belichick’s Pats, but those are exceptions—they have nothing to do with Boston culture. KG had to be convinced to play there, and then it worked only because people reminded him he never, ever goes out on the town.

It’ll be interesting to see the long-term repercussions of this fiasco, whether this is just a bump in the road or a reversion to the Boston sports culture pre-literally everyone winning. That’s not a happy place. If we can’t handle the truth about our players—if we don’t actively seek it—it’s the one we deserve. We care, and we have no business pretending we don’t, yet we do, over and over and over. Spread the pain out and it’s more manageable. Hold it in and it’s not.

The Stadium

Nick Swisher comes out to bat to music by Daft Punk, which is a shockingly good choice for a baseball player. I’m tempted to like him, and I’m not alone. He’s a second-generation Major League Baseball player who’s as comfortable in the madhouse of Yankee Stadium as he is anywhere else on the planet. He might even be most comfortable here, which is why he’s decided to turn his at-bats into a mini-dance party instead of trying to burnish one’s New York credentials, as the forever insecure Alex Rodriguez does by coming out to a Jay-Z song. In the pre-game introductions, Swisher gives a shout-out to his fans in right field when he’s done declaring his name and number. He has a mohawk that’s actually kind of endearing. Yes, I’m tempted to like Nick Swisher, right up until the point that I remember I was born in Boston and am therefore not allowed to do so.

I had not been to the new Yankee Stadium before last night. Call it an overkill on the old one. In 2002, fresh to the city, I made a friend who was also a Red Sox fan, and who liked coming to the local Red Sox/Yankees games with an obsessive/compulsive twist: he liked going to all of them or none at all. For three years, we chose “all.” It wasn’t overdoing it. It was hilariously overdoing it. I insisted on wearing a Red Sox hat to every game, because what are new New York transplants if not masochists? I took abuse, but not as much as you’d think, given that we almost always sat in the bleachers. The once untouched-by-justice area of the stadium had recently become a dry section, which meant its constituency had the strange effect of getting more sober as the rest of the park got more drunk. This led to more group chants of “ASS-HOLE!” in my direction, where everyone had to only participate a little bit, and fewer one-on-one run-ins with drunk, belligerent, unstable people, which is where the real damage happens. That never came to pass, and though I generally kept to myself, I probably deserved it at least once.

The year 2005 was as good a stopping point as any; the Red Sox had finally won the World Series, and I was experiencing a long bout of unemployment. When I finally got a job, I wasn’t eager to pour what little scratch I had into the Yankees’ pockets; the moment had passed. I tried sitting the bleachers a couple times for old times’ sake, and was just miserable. I had paid many dues in my life in New York, and I no longer felt the need to prove my true grit fandom at the ballpark. I would rather spend a little bit more on a seat and get to drink a nine dollar beer from time to time. I wanted to live the good life at the stadium, and was willing to pay the price for it.

When the new Yankee Stadium was built, though, it served as a natural inflection point to think about my relationship to the team and, more specifically, my relationship to money and baseball. I decided to stay away, influenced by the fact that my friend, the same one I went to so many games with, was frog-marched out of the Stadium in 2008 for trying to pee during God Bless America and told by police to “leave this country” if he didn’t love it, an experience which landed him on all manner of local news broadcasts and even The Colbert Report after he filed suit against the team for violating his first amendment rights. (He won, and the Yankees paid his legal fees and agreed to drop any policy restricting movement during the seventh inning stretch.) Curiously, by this point his compulsion had grown to the point where he was a full-season ticket holder during the whole ordeal, and he invited me to games when he had a spare, but our ballpark relationship had run its course. The problem was that I didn’t have any ballpark relationships to anyone else that transcended Shea Stadium and the old Yankee Stadium. Most of my friends are Mets fans, and cheap. Visiting the new Stadium never came up.

Then, on Wednesday, it did. My friend Nate asked a small group if we’d like to go to yesterday’s game against the Rangers. I pulled out my trusty Chart of Excuses and Deflections, and couldn’t find anything that matched up. I was in. I was kind of excited. I would be going back to Yankee Stadium.

Here were my observations from a chilly night in the Bronx: despite knowing where the new Stadium was, I kept looking for it on the site of the old one; you can actually get a beer for $6 now, albeit one that would be called “child” size in any other context; and if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t be constantly aware by watching the game that you weren’t, in fact, in the old park. We watched Yankees second-year pitcher Ivan Nova struggle for a few innings while young Rangers lefty Matt Harrison, pitching without sleeves, went eight innings and gave up one home run, aided by the most effective double-play inducing night by a left-hander in the history of baseball (well, at least since 1974, when they started tracking this stat). He got six double plays. We saw history, for now at least. That’s the beauty of baseball. You never fucking know.

Toward the end of the game, no one cared about that. The Yankees mounted a comeback effort against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, and it brought the life out of one guy in my section, who rushed toward the lowest seats to to start a “Let’s Go Yankees!” chant, and happened to do so right next to me. Between every pitch, he’d turn to either side of the aisle and yell, “Say it LOUD! And say it PROUD!” and then the chorus kicked in. I was reminded, as I often am in this city, of Frank Lucas/Denzel Washington’s observation in American Gangster: the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room. I said as much to my friends, within earshot of the guy, who would have heard me if not for his loud pride.

But I’m not criticizing him. Yes, Yankee Stadium is loud and overpriced and cloyingly obnoxious with its YMCA-dancing groundskeepers and patriotic bullshit. (I peed during the seventh inning stretch, per my right.) What I took for granted before is how into it everyone is, for baseball. It’s life or death every night, and everyone is rooting, loudly, for life, as if their yelling alone can and does make it happen. Despite the inevitability of death, especially in baseball, the Yankees keep winning, so the fans keep showing up and believing they make it happen. The Yankees win more and more, so they get louder and louder. When people cheat death, even through spending tons of money, we say it’s their right. We don’t say the same about the Yankees. They’ll probably get it in the end. But what if they never do? Don’t we have to learn to live with it? Isn’t that what those $6 beers are for?

You Don’t Know How it Feels (To Be A Yankees Fan)

Shortly after the Bruins dropped their four consecutive game to the Philadelphia Flyers, losing a 3-0 lead both in the series and in the game, a Twitterer with the handle of JConnole14 dropped a little phrase that was, one presumes, both bitterly and eagerly retweeted by Bill Simmons: “Now I know how it feels like to be a Yankee fan.” It’s a joke that writes itself, and one that urged Bruins fans to laugh rather than cry. You just suffered a devastating, scantly-precedented defeat. Why not make yourself feel better and twist the knife that’s still wedged into the back of the average Yankees fan, six years and their 27th World Championship removed from the darkest moment in their history?

I like the pluck. I like the motivation. I like everything about it except that it’s not true.

Let’s be careful not to equate hyperbolic situations just because it’s easy. The Bruins loss was horrid, and, for diehard followers of the team, must have felt like being hit by a cement mixer careening down Mt. Washington with busted brakes and a razor wire-barbed cowcatcher on the front. The facts are these: the Bruins have a long history of disappointment that was exacerbated by this newest glorious way to express futility in the face of success; it was an infection that got worse. It’s not Aaron Boone-level pain yet only because it’s merely Bucky Dent-level pain or even, at this point, Bill Buckner-level pain. Being the second round of the playoffs, though, maybe Buckner would be a stretch. Still, it sucked.

Now let’s look at revisit what happened to the Yankees. They are the winningest American sports franchise of all-time. They have won about a quarter of all World Series ever contested, and just to piss you off, have lost 13 of them. They were coming off maybe their most satisfying elimination of the persistently, unapologetically losing Red Sox, and had built a three games to none lead in a sport that’s fickle enough that the Sox were the first team to ever even tie it at three games after that, let alone win the series. Beyond that, the Yankees were beaten in back-to-back overly winnable extra inning games by the same batter in the same day; they followed that up by losing to their most willing gum-flapping antagonist who was pitching with a very obviously injured ankle tendon that was bleeding through his sock, and they lost largely due to their new prized acquisition’s illegal, un-“Yankee”-like open-handed slap of an opposing player; and followed that by being blown out of their own building, their only solace being their one-inning, two-run crusade against the Pedro Martinez vanity experiment. The sport was never the same, and the sport will never be the same. Hockey will continue more or less as it should, even if the headache for B’s fans lingers into August. The pain will eventually fade, and in hockey’s anything-goes playoff system, patience will eventually be rewarded.

Yankees fans who are waiting to reverse what happened in 2004 will have to settle for winning 10 World Series in a row, or having A-Rod break the all time hom runs record in their uniform, or having all civil liberties suspended on their new lockdown campus. I suspect if those things happen, they really won’t care about 2004 any more. But I will, and while I’ll know what it’s like to see my favorite hockey team get felled by four swift kicks to the nuts, I’ll still never know what it felt like for Yankees fans to be so humiliated. Don’t let this one go until you absolutely have to. You earned it.

Did The Yankees Win The World Series Yesterday?

I work in Midtown Manhattan, the place of which they always show wide shots on national TV broadcasts to signify the “New York” in “New York Yankees.” The buildings are tall and photogenic, so it makes sense. It’s almost as if they scrape the sky!

The Yankees won the World Series yesterday, and I didn’t watch most of it. The last six innings of it, at least. But I didn’t feel like I was missing much. I’m not fundamentally opposed to watching the Yankees win it all—yesterday just wasn’t the day.*

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who missed the game. Short of a slight uptick in the number of Yankees hats people are wearing around the city, you would have no idea that a local team just won the World Series. There’s no random high-fiving in streets, there’s no “I can’t believe it!” or even “Yes! We won!” anywhere. The city’s moving at its normal, impossible-to-catch pace.

So to those fans who argue that “Yeah, the Yankees spend a lot of money, but it still feels great!” I’d ask: Where are you? I’m a Red Sox fan at the nexus of the Yankees universe and I don’t see you. Are you in Starbucks? If so, hi! The day after the Red Sox won the World Series, do you know who was in Starbucks? A bunch of delirious, stupefyingly happy (and possibly drunk) people waiting to use the bathroom, but not waiting to celebrate.

Maybe the answer is that the Yankees, much like the Red Sox, are far more of a regional team than they are an urban one. Upstate New York, Long Island, and Northern New Jersey are all Yankees-blue bleeding regions; Manhattan’s polyglot communities don’t lend themselves to life-fulfilling emotional obsessions with baseball. There’s just too much else to do, to many people around to invest yourself so completely in something over which you have no control (In Boston, this may be true, but probably far less so). Besides, the Yankees are the safe choice. Their aura pulls in the casual fan, but the truly baseball-obsessed fan often lands with the Mets. I got two texts from my best Yankees fan friend last night. They were both about the commercials during the game.** If the Mets won the World Series, I guarantee you’d know it, even if you just had to go to the grocery store. And I wouldn’t get texts about commercials.***

Tomorrow the celebration “begins” with a parade up the “Canyon of Heroes” downtown, sure to draw tens of thousands of people from across the region. Commuter trains and parking lots will be jammed. No doubt many, many kids will visit the city for the first time. They’ll get the impression that in Manhattan is the center of the Yankees universe. They’ll be sorely mistaken.

I won’t be here. I’ll be in out of town for a wedding in what can only be termed as “gloriously serendipidous timing.” I’m sure tomorrow the louts will be out and about. At least they can follow directions.

* Sigh.

** Sorry, Ravi! (Here comes the hate mail.)

*** I’m not saying all Yankees fans are like this, either. See Big Dood’s great screed from inside the mind of a die-harder for more. He calls all Yankees fans, including himself, Edward the Longshanks. That’s just fine work.

UPDATE: Ravi responds (eloquently) in the comments:

It’s not hate mail. I didn’t want to write anything about the game, b/c after 2004, anything could be a jinx. This has been the most nerve shattering playoffs for me, and I don’t mean that as a joke or a snide comment. The absurdity of those late-90s teams was the created expectations of continuous dynasty, which the organization itself bought into.

When I ran down 9th avenue after the last out, a cab passenger stopped at the light rolled down the window and said go yankees. Back at the bar, clinking beers with the two yankees fans I know from school (again wtf, if there are so many Yankees fans, how come I dont know more of them?) was, for me atleast, a result of relief the victory brought than any celebratory toast.

I will also say that the beer I had after the game was the most satisfying beer I’ve ever drank in my life. I wish this text box was larger, because watching Rivera lock it down again, helped those jitters from 2004 finally subside, and to this day, no writer has ever been able to capture what he means to the Yankees or to Yankees fans (possibly I suspect, because most writers aren’t Yankees fans).

But like Big Dood says, what can you do when they win? Why is it bad to show relief because the big bad Yankees won? How does a fan celebrate and act like an a–hole, knowing the expectations and costs of a $208 million payroll? I guess we’ll leave that to the douches at the parade tomorrow. But for me i celebrate with quiet satisfaction of knowing that my team is the best one this year.

Go Yanks.

Back To One

In Heaven, there’s a whiteboard. Today it will be someone’s job to go and erase the number on there. Yesterday, it was 3,297. For the last nine years, somebody has added 1 to the singles column, but today whoever pulls the job—a bummer on this day, as far as jobs in Heaven go—will take an eraser to the whole thing. There won’t be any ghost numbers left on the board from ink stains. This is Heaven, and the board works perfectly. No, the only number up there today will be a big, fat 1.

So it ends, a near-decade without a Yankees title. Really, I’ve got nothing to complain about. To say it was a good run is a tremendous understatement. Sure, it was close at times, but the 2004 Red Sox showed us the value of “close.” Joe Buck still says Dave Roberts was out. Joe Buck can eat it.

If you are a Yankees fan and are reading this: you have won. Yours is once again the best team in baseball. It really is a stupefyingly good baseball team, ranking up there with the Sox’ title winners and the 2002 Angels of the teams of the decade. Today, and only today, you should celebrate their victory without regard to their status as as a colossus built upon stacks of money. Today, you are allowed to cheer.

Tomorrow you will be reviled. In 1996, a Yankees title was welcomed by a portion of the nation that like to see baseball’s traditional powerhouse back at the top. In 2009, it’s a little different. There were no truly lean years; there was only one year they didn’t make the playoffs. That was last year, and oh, was it glorious. Unfortunately yet predictably, it spurred a Newtownian spending spree. Their action over before October, the reaction was to get the best players on the market at whatever the price.

With CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira on the squad, the Yankees weren’t picked by everyone as odds-on favorites, but they were picked by some. Then the games started, and they lost their first eight meetings with the Red Sox… who barely seemed to relish it. At least outwardly, the teams had switched places. Now Boston was the squad full of humorless automatons, and the Yankees played with passion. Once they started beating the Red Sox, they stuck themselves at the top of the division, staying there with come-from-behind and stay-ahead victories galore. The only question from July on was whether or not they could do it in October, “when it matters.” Or, if you prefer, “in the clutch.”

Ah yes, “the clutch.” Bugaboo of some sports journalists, sacred ground to others, “the clutch” leads to the most violent verbal battles in baseball today. Were the Yankees the best team in baseball before they won the World Series? Some would say yes, others would say no—that the World Series would decide it. Both sides have merit, or at least precedents. Like those who would crown the Yankees prior to the Series, no one confuses the winner of the World Series of Poker with the best poker player in the World. There are games, there are variables, and a “champion” is crowned. Will they be a good poker player? Almost certainly. Will they be the best? Almost certainly not (though this year, it is possible).

Conversely, in football, no one would bestow the title of the “best team in football” upon anyone until after the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s because football’s disparate elements—the block, the pass, the catch—only exist in the context of the game. The act of hitting a baseball can be separated out from the game, and the whole concept of the World Series of Poker is built atop a game. The more gray area there is, the more we’re willing to pronounce the end winner as the best.

For years, though, the Yankees have stocked their roster and come up short… and this after a decade where everything went their way. No baseball team in a 30-team league should win four World Series in five years and come three outs from another, like they did in the late ’90s; that’s skill combined with luck. When the Yankees chased that success with money in the ’00s, it wasn’t forthcoming. The Great Evening Out had begun, and it lasted almost a decade. Whether it was talent or money or just plain luck that snapped it, who knows? All we know is that it’s over.

The fear is that this is the first of many, and it’s a fear that lies dormant inside me, but not forever. To win two, you must win one. Until today, the Yankees hadn’t done that. Now the real fear begins to creep in. Tomorrow, someone will put a 2 on that board, the next day a 3, the next day a 4. The Yankees are champs, but a new dynasty isn’t set in stone. The number always exists, and all we can do is hope that it gets larger every day.

Game Six Preview, Ridiculous MVP Talk

The end is nigh, folks. Tonight you get to hear two words not associated with the World Series since 2003: Game Six. That’s an egregious shame.

Pedro Martinez will take the hill against Andy Pettitte in the battle of guys who pitched in the 1999 ALCS. Other than that, there’s not much to talk about. We’re all familiar enough with these teams at this point. So I’m going to say something about the MVP.

Some people have posited that Chase Utley is in line to win the MVP even if the Phillies lose. This is an absolute joke. There’s absolutely no way this will happen. If fans are blinded enough by Yankee pinstripes to egregiously screw up one major award, and writers are always at risk of handing out bogus season-ending hardware, what makes anyone think that, in the champagne-soaked moments following a Yankee victory, anyone is going to go, “Hey, let’s go with the guy from Philadelphia!”?

Okay, someone might think so, but the Yankees always have a weapon: Mariano Rivera. If voters can’t decide who should get it, they can always give it to the Guy Who Will Never Win The Cy Young Award. Or, if Alex Rodriguez does anything in the clinching victory, they can give it to him as a validation of his “breakout” postseason. But wait, you might say—those aren’t the criteria for the award! It’s “value” in the World Series, and that’s all! The problem is that like the season-long MVP awards, “value” gets so tied up with team performance that most voters just take the easy way out and conflate them. If Barry Bonds couldn’t win the MVP for a losing team with a .471 batting average, .700 OBP and 1.294 slugging percentage, why would Utley? Because of his hair?

Even in the event of a Philly World Series victory, Utley may not be the choice. Any victory would go through Game Seven, and that means going through whatever’s left in Cliff Lee’s arm. If he played reliever for six shutout innings, the award would be his to lose. But it doesn’t matter either way—ultimately, the World Series MVP is pretty worthless anyway. How’s it working out for Cole Hamels?

Herman Edwards Defends Joe Girardi

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had an unlikely defender Wednesday: former Jets and Chiefs coach Herman Edwards.

Girardi was second-guessed by several outlets for pitching A.J. Burnett on three days’ rest instead of using fourth starter Chad Gaudin on four weeks’ rest. New York Magazine’s Joe DeLessio writes:

With a 3–1 cushion, though, Gaudin versus Lee isn’t nearly as crazy. By starting Gaudin last night, the Yankees would probably be conceding the game, since you can’t realistically expect much from a guy who hasn’t started in over a month. (Lee wasn’t particularly sharp last night, though, so who knows?) But Girardi would have been making a trade-off: Greatly weaken their chances in Game 5, but strengthen the rotation down the line, especially for Game 6.

In such a scenario, A.J. Burnett could have pitched tomorrow on full rest, and Girardi would even have an option for a potential Game 7: Andy Pettitte on full rest, or Sabathia on short rest. As it stands now, Pettitte — who’s 37, by the way — will likely start on three days’ rest for the first time since doing so with Houston in 2006. Girardi could have weakened the team for just one game; now, he’s weakened them for the final three.

I was sitting next to Herm when I read this on my MacBook Air (I own several of them), and I passed it over so he could see it. He had been smiling, but now his face was scrunching, and he looked at me with that familiar, disgusted look:

Picture 1

“Bryan!” he said. “Didn’t I solve this problem a long time ago? Didn’t I say the one thing that matters in this situation?”

I stammered, trying to make some excuses for DeLessio, but he wasn’t having it.  He continued.

“Give up a World Series game?” he asked, incredulously. “You…” he started. “You play…” he started again, a little unsure. “You play to…” He fumbled for the words. He clearly couldn’t remember them, and was hoping I could help him out.

“Win the game?” I suggested.

“Exactly!” He said. “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!” Now he was getting aggravated. He looked at me again…

Picture 1

… and continued. “HELLO?” he asked. “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”

He was right. The thought that the Yankees should have given up a game in the World Series to “increase” their chances of winning other games is ludicrous. Remember when Bob Brenly pulled Curt Schilling in game four the 2001 World Series so that he could start a game seven, if necessary? The Diamondbacks lost that game—and there was a game seven—only because he pulled Schilling, who gave way to a man named Byung-Hyun Kim. Herm’s lesson is clear and unmistakable: you play to win the game. The real reason the Yankees lost, per Baseball Prospectus‘ Joe Sheehan: “A.J. Burnett didn’t allow six runs in two innings because the Yankees started him on three days’ rest. He allowed six runs in two innings because he’s A.J. Burnett, and he sometimes shows up with nothing, and the Phillies will kill you if you show up with nothing.”

That’s about as concise as you can say it, and I was going to show it to Herm until he tossed my MacBook Air across the room, scattering it into hundreds of little pieces. This is what happens when you take a man away from the game—unresolved tension. He immediately realized what he had done and looked at me, sheepishly, and offered to buy me a new one. “It’s okay,” I said, “I got a million of’em.”

The Phillies Live For Another 48 Hours

We now know the real difference between the Phillies and the Yankees: it’s in the bullpen. They’re both shaky… until the very end. When the Yankees have a lead in the ninth inning, they win. When the Phillies have a lead, they might win.

That, more than any reason, is why a Phillies team that is otherwise demonstrably better than last year’s may not win this year’s World Series. They’ve added Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and Jayson Werth has made the jump from WWE lookalike to 38-home run smacking WWE lookalike; still, the Phillies have lost their edge. Last year, Brad Lidge was untouchable. This year, everyone in the bullpen is getting roughed up. Last night, Charlie Manuel went to Ryan Madsen—a player with such a sad early history that we named an award for futility after him in our fairytale baseball league—up three runs in the ninth inning. He let the first two guys on, and only a double play ball by Captain Clutch Jeter got him out of a giant mess. Johnny Damon singled, but Madsen got the suddenly slumping Mark Teixeira to end it. A-Rod never got a chance to gallop into history.

Now the series heads back to New York, with the Yankees in an interesting position. On the bright side, they get to face Pedro again, and it’s entirely possible that they launch a NASA-like program off his arm. On the negative side, they have Andy Pettitte starting a game six on three days’ rest, and Pettitte’s up-and-down postseason history seems overdue for a down (especially against this lineup). If they Phillies are somehow able to win game six, they’ll enter game seven in a situation they haven’t found themselves in all year: they’ll be without a solid starter, but the closer situation will be locked down. You have to figure that Cliff Lee will be pitching whenever the Phils need him… if we get that far.

After the Red Sox beat the Yankees in game five of the 2004 ALCS, the signs on the highway all read “Red Sox 5, Yankees 4,” knowing that both teams would pass underneath them on their way back to New York. Each win seemed to give the Sox strength. After last night’s win, there was no jubilation from the Phillies. They high-fived but for the most part did so with lips pursed, business-like. Maybe they’re not confident they can win two in a row, or maybe they’re not content to celebrate until the job’s done. They’ve got 48 hours to draw up a game plan, insofar as there is one besides “just win.” They came out swinging against A.J. Burnett last night, making sure that he couldn’t get ahead of them with the fastball to drop the curve on them. The teams will scout Martinez and Pettitte and reconvene at 7:57 tomorrow. It’ll all be over by this time on Friday, folks. Drink it up.

What Has Changed Since The Last Yankees Title?

This could be the last post you read on this site before the Yankees are once again World Series champions. It’s time to take stock of what’s happened since the last time they won it all.

• George W. Bush became President after Election Night (see what I did there?) and served two terms, the second of which was almost singlehandedly caused by Curt Schilling.

• Some things happened that you know about, like that bad day and that really good one. To give you a hint about that really good one, it also involved Curt Schilling.

• The Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals and Phillies won the World Series of baseball. Carlos Mortensen, Robert Varkonyi, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joseph Hachem, Jamie Gold, Jerry Yang and Peter Eastgate won the World Series of Poker. But they didn’t have to beat the Yankees, so it doesn’t really count.

• I moved from Chicago to Forest Hills, Queens to Martha’s Vineyard to New Haven to Forest Hills to Flushing to Morningside Heights to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Astoria to Astoria to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. During one of these moves I had the single greatest cup of coffee I’ve ever had at Kane’s Diner in College Point, Queens. Coachie be knowing.

• The Patriots, a team that was the laughingstock of the NFL 10 years prior, turned the 199th pick in the NFL draft into arguably the league’s best player and won three Super Bowls, narrowly missing a fourth when a dude caught a ball with his f*cking head.

• The Celtics won a title one year after being the laughingstock of the league.

• Barack Obama went from a guy teaching law school in the building next to my freshman dorm to being the President of all the United States, except for the ones that don’t like him, except he really is their President. Don’t tell them.

• Michael Bloomberg snuck into office because of 9/11 (the race was a dead heat before then, and he was the Giuliani-backed candidate) and thus far has stayed for the maximum two terms allowed by 200o law. If the Yankees don’t win tonight, we’ll have to edit that sentence.

• Pedro Cerrano became the nation’s first black President and, after being assassinated by a shot through the neck, now does Allstate commercials.

• Newspapers basically cease to exist. By the time of the Yankees next title, they may literally cease to exist. Maybe not in the case of a repeat. Maybe.

• Brett Favre started every football game of every year for eight years in either direction, but there’s no fine wine corrolary.

• I can now distinguish between an actual fine wine and a cheap one. I think.

Tonight, the slate may be wiped clean. We’ll go from 3295 days since the last Yankees title down to zero. That’ll be sad, but it was a good run—better than we ever could have hoped—and we’ll get to put up a 1 on Wednesday.