Well, here we are again.
It’s October and the New York Yankees are once more staring down the barrel of elimination in the American League Divisional Series – this time by the hand of the less-than-locally-loved Tampa Bay Rays as Game 4 approaches Thursday night.
Excluding last season’s sweep of the Minnesota Twins in the best-of-five round, this scenario has become all too common for the current generation of Yankees as shown in prior ALDS rounds against the Cleveland Indians in 2017 and Boston Red Sox in 2018.
Those with decent memories need not a reminder of those two series; Joe Girardi doesn’t challenge the hit by pitch, Francisco Lindor jacks a grand slam, the Yankees are down 0-2 but manage one of the most exciting, feel-good comeback stories the franchise told in years.
However, 2018 was anything but a fairytale for the Yankees – especially Game 3 in the Bronx.
That night’s blowout, which was so severe it forced manager Aaron Boone to use catcher Austin Romine as a relief pitcher, essentially sealed another postseason of disappointment for the Yanks as they lost in four games.
This ALDS presents a hybrid of those two playoff series between Boone’s opener ‘mis-Happ’ with Deivi Garcia in Game 2 and a no-contest loss Game 3 which now has the Yankees on the brink of another early playoff departure with the franchise’s current legacy hanging in the balance.
To be fair, each recent postseason falter has come with legitimately extenuating circumstances – however sign-stealing scandal or fair play, pandemic or no pandemic, healthy or hurt, at this point there’s no difference if the result is watching another rival celebrate victory while keeping the Yankees from achieving “the ultimate goal” of World Series No. 28.
What happens in the next 24 to 48 hours will define who this group of Yankees are, especially those who have been around since 2017, specifically: Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Aroldis Chapman, Masahiro Tanaka, and Aaron Hicks.
Will this be the tale like that of a united, ‘thumbs down’ 2017 team that breaks down the wall that the Yankees’ proverbial backs are to? Or will it be another disheartening disaster like the Boston Massacre?
For Giancarlo Stanton, whose first Yankees playoff series was against the Sox in 2018, the task is clear.
“We know what we need to do.”
Criticized heavily for a lack of standout play than in other past playoffs with the Yanks, Stanton has emerged as everything the organization and fans of baseball have wanted him to be as a clutch superstar this October – and don’t bet on that going away anytime soon.
“It’s going to be a tough battle but we know, there’s no other option,” Stanton said. “We know what’s in front of us, that’s all you can do. What’s happened, happened and we know we need to get some wins.”
If Luke Voit essentially playing on one foot is any sign, it is unlikely that these Yankees will roll over, but will that be enough for a comeback?
This team showed their true relentlessness during Wild Card Game 2 in Cleveland and will have to demonstrate that ferocity twice now to make it so, which is so possible that it almost feels like a betrayal to doubt.
That palpable sense of ‘no matter how down and out the Yankees are they just have to find a way back into the night’ needs to be this team’s definition if they are to muster a comeback and later finish the final job in 2020.
It might sound like some corny ‘eye of the tiger’ preachiness, but it is now a battle of wills that is to define who these New York Yankees are.