A Farewell to Arms
How spoiled have we been? Do you really need me to tell you? Over the past 20 years, the Yankees finished out of first place just six times. They have 14 first-place finishes in 20 years - including the strike year of 1994 - and seven World Series appearances with five World Series championships. The last time the Yankees started a run like that was back in 1947, when they finished first 15 times over a 20 year stretch with eight World Series appearances and seven World Championships.
Listen, we have to face the facts. If you are 20 years old, you have known nothing but joy in the Yankees' universe. You have received the hot Christmas toy every year for the past two decades, the beneficiaries of Talking Elmo, Furby, Teddy Ruxpin, Gameboy, Pokemon, My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kid - you name it, you had it under the tree. Compare that to the lump of coal Cubs fans have been finding in their stocking since 1908. Yeah, it's been 105 years and counting since the loveable losers have ruled the baseball landscape, and the next time you think the Yankees haven't been a success, think about the stench that has entrenched the landfill of disappointment around the North Side (or see the Harvey Pulawski story I wrote back in 2010).
I'm a child of the 1980s, which is a decade most Yankees fans would like to forget. We had Don Mattingly, but we didn't have too much more. It wasn't a time where Yankees' fans were walking around with too much bravado. The span of 1982 through 1993 was so dark, not even a nuclear blast could have cut through the darkness which engulfed the Bronx; the team had five losing seasons, including a 67-win campaign back in 1990 where they were just two games better than the Braves, who had the worst record in the league.
For perspective, it has been 21 years (and counting after this weekend's win) since the Yankees had a losing season - or, as long as it had been since the Pirates' last winning season before this year.
The 2013 version of the Yankees still may have another chapter left in them, but even if they don't, I love what Joe Girardi was able to do with this team (or at times, lack thereof) this season. They set a franchise record for players used this year, and the list of names they were without throughout the season was a "Who's Who" of baseball All-Stars - Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, and now Brett Gardner as well - and yet we are still talking about them making a potential appearance in the postseason. Gardner is not an All-Star to most people, but he is very important to this team, and I have been a fan since I saw him down in Staten Island back in 2005.
Still, these are the types of names this team has been without this season. You want to know how bad it is? I had a dream last night that Alfonso Soriano said, "Even if we make the playoffs, you have to shut me down because my shoulder doesn't feel right." That just wouldn't be fair, but it would be par for the course this season; I don't know about you, but being through that dark time in my formative years with this team, it always makes me see the lighter side of things.
It's hard to feel that way now though, because it's the end of an era, potentially the last time Mariano Rivera will be able to save a game that Andy Pettitte starts. Wait, did I just write that? Could that even be possible? Where did the time go?
It went somewhere, and in a few short weeks, three of the "Core Four" will be no more - but we couldn't have asked for anything more from either Pettitte or Rivera. Every time the Yankees needed a big win, Pettitte was there with his glove opened waiting for the ball to be dropped into it, and more times than not, he would pass the ball directly to Rivera to finish things up. You don't have to travel too far back in time for proof of this either; in every series-clinching win in the 2009 postseason, Andrew Eugene Pettitte started and Mariano Rivera finished.
In the future, these two will be dearly missed, especially in the postseason. In the playoffs, Pettitte put up a 19-11 record - giving him the most postseason wins ever - with a 3.81 ERA, while Rivera's numbers are absolutely Zeus-esque; he is 8-1 with a 0.71 ERA, 110 strikeouts (against just four walks) and, appropriately, 42 saves, a cherry on the sundae that is his record 652 (and counting) as I write this on Sunday morning.
Irony is striking me today. After all, how many times have we heard those first notes of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica and thought to ourselves, "It's lights out for the other team?" Today it's not necessarily lights out for the Yankees, but two bright lights of this team will be exiting.
Hopefully the night won't last so long.