Twenty-four hours later, I’m still a little stunned. Like everyone else, I was expecting the usual Yankees-Red Sox show, in which the two incredibly evenly-matched teams take turns beating the crap out of each other, and the season is ultimately decided by who plays better against the Blue Jays. Well, not this time.
This is not the same Yankees team that we’ve been watching in various incarnations from 2002 to 2005 -- a collection of overpriced superstars, some likeable and others not, who could pound out enough hits for a impressive number of wins, but never quite gelled into a unit capable of winning consistently against the best teams. Okay, so it’s still a collection of overpriced superstars. But they’re playing damn well together, seem like they're having a ton of fun doing it, and are complemented perfectly by young and underpaid talent like Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Scott Proctor, and Chien-Ming Wong. (A chunk of the credit for this has to go to the newly empowered Brian Cashman, who's been kicking all kinds of ass this year). I sort of knew this had happened, but I didn’t fully recognize it until this weekend -- specifically, Sunday night. Unlike the Friday and Saturday games, when the Yankees feasted off weak pitching, Sunday night’s game was one that the Yankees had absolutely no right to win. Schilling was on, Mussina wasn’t and was then injured, the bullpen was exhausted, and perhaps most of all, no one really expected them to anyway: three in a row was plenty; no one was going to give them a hard time for losing to the combined A-games of Curt Schilling and Jonathan Pabelbon, in a game that seemed destined to be taken by the Sox. The last few innings of that game demonstrated the rare mixture of talent, determination, and luck that I haven’t really seen since the 2001 World Series.
We’re living in a post-2004 ALCS world, and I’m not about the call the division race over, or proclaim that the Yankees are going all the way, what with their uneven pitching rotation and all. But I do think it’s time to give this team credit for being the best group of Yankees in at least five years, and the most fun to watch as well. I'm adjusting my expectations and enthusiasm accordingly. It would certainly be arrogant to say they’ve got anything sewn up, but at the same time, it strikes me as ungrateful to ignore what this team has shown us so far this season. Whether or not they get very far into Octover, or make the playoffs at all, it’s been a memorable summer.
On a side note, we all learned another valuable lesson this weekend: for Christ’s sake, you should never, ever pitch to David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez, unless the bases are loaded, and maybe not then either. It took the Yankees a long time to figure this out, but they seem to have finally gotten it (though to be fair, this would have been harder in previous years, when Manny had more protection in the lineup). I actually have a recurring dream about David Ortiz, in which he is a giant, around three stories tall, who picks me up and gently but firmly carries me across the countryside towards some mysterious destination, and I panic, because I don’t want to go, but I can’t get his attention. Aside from the fact that I should probably seek therapy, this should tell you something about the impact of Ortiz in a lineup. Meanwhile, Manny reached base something like 17 out of 20 times this weekend, yet only scored three runs, and two of those were on his own home runs. Seriously: if I never see a Yankees pitcher throw strike to that man again, it will be too soon.
Jeff Karstens makes his major-league debut tonight in Seattle. Given how tired I am from simply watching the Red Sox series, I can only imagine how the players are feeling, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them let this one go. But, as we've seen quite often recently, I've been wrong before. Meanwhile, Boston plays the Angels; I only wish there was some way for both teams to lose.