It must either be a slow-moving Saturday for people, or the Yankees’ recent malaise has people in such a funk that commenting on a win and Jeter’s milestone just isn’t that engrossing an idea. I can understand either–or another–scenario, and hope people at least partied it up on a Friday night to mitigate some of the blase feeling the Yankees have unfortunately given us of late. For us as Yankees fans, it’s been a sluggish, trying year.
I myself got up later than usual this morning and, with my wife having a yard sale, was bound to duties of assisting with peripheral matters such as retrieving plastic bags, grabbing donuts, danish, and coffee, and making and obtaining change–most of which we had ahead of time. So far, it’s been a pretty decent haul–about $150 through 2 1/2 hours–but few of the big things have gone yet. We really need to ditch our new-old microwave, a “gift” from my sister-in-law that’s been a dud from day one (thereby falling into my motto about any machine and/or appliance–once a dud, always a dud–and far worse than our old, big, but highly reliable microwave that I still miss) and some good winter clothes have yet to go, probably in no small part that as cold as winters here can be people just might not be thinking or in the mood to think winter when it’s regularly been over 80 degrees. Who can blame them?
Similarly, who can blame anyone for not being jazzed by the Yankees beating the Orioles last night? I can’t, nor can I blame people for not jumping out of bed to chinwag about Jeter’s milestone which, upon reflection, has me feeling pleased about something with the Yankees for the first time in quite a long time. Jeter has more hits during his tenure with the Yankees than anyone else in baseball during the same stretch. Next year will really be the barometer to see how much of his power–never overwhelming–has diminished, but his inside-out stroke is tailor made to help counteract attrition and slowing bat speed due to age, and it should serve him well as he pushes to 3,000 hits and likely beyond. To give credit where due, Jeter has really stepped up his play of late, going 18 for his last 37 during an eight-game hitting streak. Without being dour, there are 11 K’s and only 1 XBH in that very fine streak, but that he’s hitting consistently is paramount. The Captain has been very good at the most crucial junction of the year, and deserves credit for being someone to have stepped up his game, if a bit belatedly. His milestone is a tremendous accomplishment.
I’m not convinced that Jeter’s hot hitting, should it somehow continue through the end of the year, will be enough to carry the Yankees to the post-season. A-Rod’s numbers with RISP (.244, 39 K in 123 AB) are abysmal, especially in contradistinction with last year’s sterling all-around performance (.333 with RISP). Giambi with RISP is a train wreck (.202, 31 K in 114 AB). That is, the clean-up and five-hole hitters are a combined .224 with 70 K’s in 237 AB with RISP. That’s absolutely haunted the Yankees from the get-go.
So has the fact that yet again the Yankees started slowly out of the gate. This, to me, is the “big-picture” reason why the Yanks are where they are, the aggregate of early-season and continued aggravation that has only mounted this year. 20-25 by May 20th, the utter inability to play consistently well and string together victories, the inability to score. We all know the recent historical drill: 21-29 in 2007, 11-19 in 2005. Those didn’t serve an older Yankees team well, either.
Here is a more serious example, to me, since this team–unlike the 2005 and 2007 Yankees, did not get to the playoffs but would by today’s format have been granted a Wild Card–the 1985 Yankees, who started 6-12, still languished near .500 in late June, then exploded to finish 97-64 yet lost the division by 2 games to the pace-setting Blue Jays. Toronto was in first from May 12 to the end, though the Yankees came within 1 1/2 games in early September. The Yanks needed to sweep the division-leading Jays in the last series of 1985 to force a one-game playoff but, after winning the first game 4-3, lost the second 5-1 to the annoying Doyle Alexander, giving Toronto the AL East. That Yankees team led the AL in scoring at 5.21 runs/game, was first in OBP at .342, first in stolen bases with 155, struck out the second fewest times, and was 3rd in the AL in ERA at 3.69. Why not first? The slow start, also going 24-24 in one-run games while Toronto was 26-21, hitting .269 with RISP compared to Toronto’s .284. and Toronto was first in team ERA at 3.31.
In more macabre detail, the 1985 Yankees had three dead spots in the lineup–catcher Butch Wynegar (.223/.356, 5 HR, 32 RBI; 17-107 [.205] with RISP), shortstop (yes, the same) Bobby Meacham (.218/.302, 1 HR, 47 RBI; 33-128 [.258] with RISP), and third baseman Mike Pagliarulo (.239/.324, 19 HR, 62 RBI; 22-84 [.262] with RISP. In fairness to them, Wynegar tailed off dramatically in 1985 from previous years and was playing hurt, while Meacham (24) and Pagliarulo (25) were kids and new to playing full time, with the latter two hitting better with RISP than otherwise. My point is this: in this season when the Yankees had a tremendous offense and pretty good pitching, when Mattingly won the MVP (.324/.371, 35 HR, 145 RBI, 41 K; .314 with RISP), beating out Rickey Henderson (3rd in MVP) who was nothing short of outstanding (.314/.419!, 24 HR, 72 RBI, 80 SB; .288 with RISP), with a very productive Dave Winfield (.275/.328, 26 HR, 114 RBI; .317 with RISP), and Gator Guidry’s last great year (22-6, 3.27 ERA, 259 IP, 143 K, only 42 BB), the Yankees still missed the post-season due to some of the same pitfalls besetting the 2008 Yankees–hitting with RISP (to a lesser degree than the 2008 Yanks), a few under-achieving regulars (this year it’s Cano, the banished Melky, catcher [in no small part from Posada’s injury], Jeter, Giambi and A-Rod with RISP), and yet another dreaded slow start. These issues have undercut better teams and better Yankees teams than the 2008 squad.
It’s been a tough year thus far, but remember that this too shall pass, that we as Yankees fans have been very fortunate to have witnessed an incredible string of successes for the team and for individuals that have transcended the sport and the era. Jeter’s fits among that, the most prolific hitter of his era, playing his hardest and improving his game at the time when the Yankees have long needed players to step forward and step up their play. It may not be enough to salvage a tough 2008, but at least Jeter’s doing it and adding to his lore in the process. If we as Yankees fans have 2008 as the worst we’ve had the misfortune to weather lately, we should consider ourselves most fortunate indeed. If you think this is bad, try being a Pirates (no winning seasons since 1992) or Royals (one winning season since 1995, when the Yankees’ playoff streak began) fan. Many fans of these once-proud and historically successful franchises would love to have the “problem” of being eight games above .500, of having a great player like Jeter reach the 2,500 hit milestone, to be preoccupied with whether or not their team’s 13-year playoff run will end.
We’ve had it pretty damn good as Yankees fans, regardless of the outcome of the 2008 season.