|Alex Rodriguez struck out to end the series. (AP photo)|
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact the Yankees' season came to an end Thursday night. It was almost surreal sitting in the stadium watching the Yankees go down without a fight against Jose Valverde in the ninth inning and having the Tigers celebrate right in front of me.
For all the playoff games I've been to, I've never seen an opposing team celebrate on the field at Yankee Stadium. But it happened last night. It was sickening. But it wasn't just that celebration that made the night surreal.
CC Sabathia coming into the game in relief should have blown the roof off the place, but with the Yankees being down and already not being able to get a clutch hit, the air was taken out of the place. Silence. When Mariano Rivera came into the game in the ninth, with Enter Sandman blasting, there was no excitement in the ballpark. Rivera's entrances have always been an unbelievable experience to witness in person. Here he was entering in the ninth inning of an elimination game and nothing. Silence.
Silence would also be the word to describe the bats held by Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera and Nick Swisher.
|Mariano Rivera did all he could. (AP photo)|
Standing and praying in the Bronx for A-Rod to actually be A-Rod again and get a base hit was the dream. In reality, I found myself praying he wouldn't hit into a double play. Luckily, I guess, the postseason disgrace with the billion dollar contract struck out. I don't even know who to be madder at, A-Rod or Hank Steinbrenner. Hank, if you remember, is the reason Rodriguez will be in pinstripes for six more season. We're stuck with Rodriguez because of him.
After A-Rod struck out, the other postseason bum with a mega contract, Mark Teixeira, actually worked a walk to drive in a run to cut the Tigers lead to 3-2. Of course, that's what everyone wants from the power-hitting first baseman, right? Teixeira has done absolutely nothing in the postseason during his Yankees career. Worse yet, he has Jason Giambi written all over him. Quick refresher: Giambi was a .342 hitter with the Athletics the year before signing a big contract with the Yankees. He quickly sunk to around .250 during his Yankees career, becoming one of the worst free agency signings ever in the process.
Mark Teixeira batted .308 between the Braves and Angels during the 2008 season, including .358 with the Angels over the final 54 games that year. With the Yankees, Teixeira saw his batting average sink to .249 this season. On top of that, he's a career .170 hitter for the Yankees in the postseason. The second coming of Giambi? Unfortunately, it's looking that way.
|Jorge Posada was the Yankees' best player. (AP photo)|
But getting back to that pivotal seventh inning with the bases still loaded and one run in for the Yankees. Nick Swisher was the third Yankees power hitter in a row to come to the plate with the chance to put the team in the lead. Of course, you know the story. Swisher struck out swinging. What else is new? If you thought Teixeira was the worst postseason performer on the team, you'd be wrong. Swisher is a career .169 hitter in 124 career postseason at-bats. Pathetic.
I have to admit, once Robinson Cano's dribbler got past Joaquin Benoit to load the bases in the seventh inning, before the aforementioned at-bats that followed, I fully thought the ghosts that called the old Yankee Stadium home were back. There was no way the Yankees were going to lose this game.
The only problem was the ghosts never made it across the street. I know that for sure now. I've been to huge games in both stadiums and this new ballpark is nothing compared to the old place. It was the main reason I didn't want the team to build a new stadium in the first place. The real fans have been priced out of the majority of the stadium. It's the reason why this crowd couldn't push these Yankees over the edge and get the big hit. The old Yankee Stadium made it happen. Sure, the players are different, but there was something special about the old place. It rubbed off on the players. They believed in it.
Thursday night, there was four morons in my section that were sitting and eating in their seats a row ahead of me while the rest of us were standing and cheering a third strike to end the inning. I will point out the place did stand for the majority of the later innings and was just waiting to explode like the old place used to. Well, except for the losers in the "moat" seats around the dugouts who never seem to know what's going on. One day, the real fans will take over the place again, and the celebrities and rich non-fans will stop entertaining clients and give up their seats for people who actually care to be there.
But the Yankees never gave the crowd reason to explode. The Yankees went down quickly in the ninth inning, with Rodriguez striking out to end the game. I prayed for A-Rod to put his failures behind him one time and tie the game with a home run. It didn't work. My prayers weren't answered. It's A-Rod, after all.
The stadium emptied quicker than I've ever seen it. I just leaned up against the raised cushioned seat staring at the field in disbelief as the Tigers celebrated in the infield. I leaned there for several minutes.
I couldn't believe it was real. I couldn't believe, as Craig pointed out late in the game, that Jorge Posada, the only Yankee that came to play this entire series, wouldn't get his "Paul O'Neil" sendoff. We never got to say goodbye to Posada from the stands.
The whole night was surreal. It's probably why the end of the Yankees' season still doesn't seem real. But it is.
The Yankees have so many questions heading into the offseason, but the answers are rather simple. There won't be any major changes. The team's core will stay the same - because it has to stay the same. Rodriguez, Swisher and Teixeira aren't going anywhere. The Yankees could say goodbye to Swisher, but who would replace him? Nobody ... so he'll be back.
Posada will be gone. That's sad but completely expected. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia will move on and be replaced. CC Sabathia will most likely opt out of his contract and end up getting a raise from the Yankees. I don't believe he should opt out, but it's probably a foregone conclusion.
The core won't change, but the postseason makeup of the club has to. This team needs to be able to rise to the moment in the playoffs. It'll be the same team next October in the same spots trying to get the same big hits. We can only hope for something better. Something clutch. For once.
It's not too late to save this new Yankee Stadium and make it a place where clutch hitting is the rule not the exception. Coming up short postseason after postseason is getting old. Maybe the disappointment of this postseason is the spark that changes this team for the better. Maybe they come out hungrier than ever next season with the goal to succeed in the postseason. We can only hope.