Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner said he wasn’t exclusively blaming Alex Rodriguez for the team’s sweeping and humiliating loss in the ALCS to the 88-win Detroit Tigers, that there were others to blame.
Steinbrenner then asked if it would be fair to blame the Kennedy Assassination on A-Rod. Funny he should mention that. The late Arlen Specter’s single-bullet theory? That was one more bullet than the Yankees had in their arsenal all week.
Hank’s reaction was a nice break from family tradition. The last time the Yankees were swept (the Yankees have been swept five times in the postseason; can you name them? Answer below), his father wanted to fire the third-base coach, who was defended by his manager, who was then fired, who eventually became the manager of the sweeping Royals and led them to their only World Series title five years later.
It would be the peak of irony if A-Rod one day returned as an opponent to do what he rarely did as a Yankee: excel in the postseason.
Me? I blame Derek Lowe. Because the day the Yankees added Lowe, you had to ask yourself: why would a first-place team want a $15 million pitcher with a 5.52 ERA released by a team on its way to losing 98 games?
I’m being facetious, of course. But it was one of the odd traits of the 2012 Yankees. They were like Kate Winslet on the Titanic: they enjoyed all the perks on the voyage that their status entitled them to, but kept looking for something more below deck.
The Yankees grabbed Lowe, who finished the season with a 5.11 ERA and the postseason with a 13.50 ERA in three mop-up innings. They also traded for Chad Qualls (4.60 ERA for the .500 Phillies) and Casey McGehee (.230-hitting first baseman for the Pirates), claimed Darnell McDonald (.214-hitting outfielder for the last-place Red Sox) on waivers and bought Steven Pearce from the 107-loss Astros (.254-hitting platoon piece). Not to mention adding Ichiro from the 87-loss Mariners; at least he temporarily arrested his fade.
The Yankees pieced together a $225 million roster, and then spent the summer reacting as if they would lose in the postseason for want of a 25th man.
That was Lowe, and he didn’t help (any appearance by him was a, uh, low point), but the Yankees lost, of course, because their stars’ contracts were gaudier than their stats:
That’s what made the Tigers’ sweep so delicious to those that don’t root for the Yankees. Their stars failed them. A Facebook friend, deploring the excessive coverage of the Yankees, said 20% of baseball fans root for the Yankees and 80% hate them. He’s right, of course, which is why there was so much coverage of them and not their conquerors: the 80% enjoyed the Yankees’ demise far more than the Tigers’ triumph.
(The three greatest days of this season for a Red Sox fan were the trade of Josh Beckett, the firing of Bobby Valentine and the sweep of the Yankees.)
The Yankees hit .188 and slugged .303 in the postseason after a regular season in which they batted .265, hit 245 home runs and scored 804 runs.
It seems another season ago, but five games and nine innings into the postseason, all seemed routine for the Yankees. They never won again. It’s hard to say why they collectively stopped hitting, or whether manager Joe Girardi panicked or didn’t panic enough.
What we do know is there was a lot more reality in the Yankees’ blowing their big AL East lead this summer than there was in their finally winning the division. Great Yankees teams don’t blow 10-game leads; the Red Sox do. And great Yankees teams aren’t forced to exert themselves against teams that have been absent from the postseason for a decade and a half. These Yankees were.
Fifteen of the Yankees’ final 21 games were against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Twins — three of the worst teams in the AL — and 12 of the Yankees’ last 16 wins came against them.
After the Tigers series, all three teams probably want a rematch.
St. Louis vs. San Francisco: Thankfully, the Giants won Game 5, if only to give us some baseball this weekend. But an NLCS where Barry Zito is the savior and Tim Lincecum more the pitcher who might have been left off the postseason roster doesn’t bode well for the Giants. At least they have Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain lined up to pitch Games 6 and 7, which gives them more of a chance than the Yankees had vs. the Tigers. Unfortunately, they have to play them at home, where they’re 1-3 this postseason.
The five time the Yankees have been swept in the postseason:
2012: Yankees score four runs in the ninth inning of Game 1, and two runs the rest of the series. In 39 innings, Yankees score in just three of them, and they never have a lead, not even for half an inning. Ex-Yankee Phil Coke pitches in all four games and saves two, and ex-Yankee Austin Jackson hits in every game in the series.
1980: Third-base coach Mike Ferraro waves Willie Randolph into an out at the plate in Game 2, and George Steinbrenner waves his arms in frustration in the luxury box. George Brett’s home run off Goose Gossage wins Game 3, and a 103-win Yankee team is gone. So is manager Dick Howser, though neither he nor Steinbrenner would say he was fired.
1976: The Reds win the first three games and Yankees manager Billy Martin declines to credit his 102-win, defending world champion opponents. Martin talks about bleeders and bloopers. So Johnny Bench hits two homers in Game 4 and Martin is ejected; the Reds hit four homers in the Series, the Yankees just one, and that by backup shortstop Jim Mason. The Series is the first to use a DH and the Reds’ is Dan Driessen, who hits .357 and slugs .714. That’s all the encouragement the Reds need to trade Tony Perez and replace him with Driessen; they didn’t return to the Series until long after both were retired.
1963: Sandy Koufax strikes out a Series-record 15 batters in the opener and is almost as good in Game 4 in a 2-1 win. Three of the Dodgers’ wins are complete games, and Koufax is MVP. At the banquet, Koufax gets the prize of a Corvette and a parking ticket. Says the Yankees’ Whitey Ford: “Koufax has only two apparent weaknesses: He can’t park and he can’t hit.”
1922: The Yankees rally for a tie in Game 2, but lost the other four games — all played at the Polo Grounds (Yankee Stadium debuted in 1923, when the Yankees won a rematch World Series in 6). Babe Ruth had an A-Rod-like series in 1922, going 2-for-17 with one extra-base hit and a team-high-sharing three strikeouts. Irish Meusel, who knocked in 132 runs in the regular season, knocks in seven in the Series for the Giants; teammate Casey Stengel, the hero of the ’21 Giants Series win over the Yankees in six, is 2-for-5.
sources: baseball reference.com, espn.com, Whitey Ford: A Biography (by Miles Coverdale Jr.), the 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Last Hurrah for the Big Red Machine (by Doug Feldman)