The Cutoff Man: What was the name of that movie?
You know, the one where Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil so that the Washington Senators can start winning?
Here’s a hint: It rhymes with Bamn Bankees.
The Bronx Bombers, the team that many love and many more love to hate, became the first team this postseason to win a division series on Saturday. With a win at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks punched their ticket to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) for the second year in a row, completing a sweep of the seemingly punchless Minnesota Twins. New York has now taken nine straight postseason games from Minnesota, tying the longest active streak in baseball.
Coincidentally, the other nine-game postseason winning streak against any one team is also owned by the Yankees, as they took nine straight playoff games from the Rangers in the mid- to late ’90s. The Rangers hadn’t been in the postseason again until this season, and they have taken full advantage of their newfound freedom from the Yankees, taking the first two games of their division series battle with the Rays to put themselves on the brink of winning their first ever postseason series. If they succeed, they’ll have to face their old tormentors in the ALCS.
Despite the fact that the Yankees were World Series champions last year, expectations were not as high for 2010 among fans and analysts alike. “I’ll be shocked if the Yanks get past the Twins, since our starting pitching is nonexistent except for CC,” lifelong Yankees fan and 2006 Brooklyn College graduate Ian Levenstein commented before the American League Division Series began. Levenstein, like many others, felt that the Yankees’ rotation was a huge question mark after 21-game winner CC Sabathia, who pitched game one of the series and won. Andy Pettitte, who started and won game two, ended the regular season with two mediocre efforts following a groin injury, and Phil Hughes, the eventual game three winner, was winding down his first full season as a starter and, after going 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA before the All-Star break, went 7–6 with a 4.90 ERA in the ensuing 15 games. Coupled with the fact that the once-dominant, still-expensive A.J. Burnett was having a horrendous year and Javier Vazquez was taking lessons from Oliver Perez on how to disappoint even the harshest naysayers, the Yanks’ pitching corps seemed questionable at best.
But somehow, they pulled it out and nailed down the sweep.
The Yankees beat the Mets in 2000 to win their third consecutive World Series and fourth in five years. However, they then lost the 2001 World Series to the Diamondbacks in seven games to jump-start a string of eight straight years of not winning a World Series, with the low point coming when they failed to even reach the postseason in 2008. They then returned to glory by winning the whole shebang against the Phillies last year, and in 2010, it looks like the Evil Empire is back to its postseason winning ways again.
As much as it pains me to say it, the Yankees are the team to beat right now in this postseason. Sabathia may not have had the best overall stats to go with his 21 wins, but that’s exactly the reason that the Yanks have no reason to worry: He still got 21 wins. What does that mean? It means that even if Sabathia gives up four or five runs, his offense will back him up with six or seven, as they did in Sabathia’s 6–4 win in game one. Pettitte, injury concerns aside, showed already that he is still one of the best playoff pitchers in history when he dominated in his 19th career postseason victory in game two. Hughes is only partially a question mark at this point after seven scoreless innings in the clincher, and in a best-of-seven series, there’s a little more breathing room in that department. What will happen with a fourth starter is yet to be seen; if the Yanks are confident enough, they can tweak their rotation enough to eliminate any need for a fourth starter. Sabathia has been historically dominant on short rest, especially in big games, and if the Yankees are on the verge of winning in four or five games, there’s a high chance that their starters will get plenty of rest before the NLCS ends and the World Series begins.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” baseball fan Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address. Similarly, the only thing that may threaten the Yankees’ dominance is, well, their own dominance. They have already won their division series, meaning they will have to wait six days for the start of the ALCS. Likewise, if they do then win that series in four or five, they will once again sit dormant for at least a week before the World Series. In 2006, the Detroit Tigers rocked the American League postseason only to wait till the bitter end of the NLCS to play the Cardinals in the World Series; St. Louis then steamrolled the Tigers to easily take the World Series. The 2007 Colorado Rockies similarly destroyed anything in their path in the NLDS and NLCS before waiting a week and looking cold, confused, and uncollected while getting convincingly swept by the Red Sox in the World Series. Were the Yanks to end up dominating their ALCS opponent as they are poised to do, would the same fate befall them?
Most likely not. Unlike the Tigers in 2006 or the Rockies in 2007, the Yankees are no strangers to the postseason and the World Series. Most of their army of highly paid veterans and youngsters alike have been on the big stage before and know what it takes to win a championship. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Yankees look poised to win it all once more. Besides, the late George Steinbrenner would have accepted nothing less than a world championship, and whatever George wants, George gets!