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October 23, 2010
The ALCS Outcome
Witnessing an overdue execution can be taken as cause for relief, celebration or mourning, but there really ought to be no doubt, this was a conclusion that was coming, on Friday or on Saturday. That the Rangers did not need a gem from Cliff Lee to make it so provides that extra bit of vindication and validation. The Rangers did not win the ALCS because of Lee's left wing—they owe as much to Derek Holland's for this outcome. They did not win the ALCS because of Josh Hamilton's feats of strength, but because an entire lineup took the Yankees apart.
Sometimes things do go as you expect them to. A month ago, I noted that “if there's a dark-horse candidate for post-season hero,” it was Colby Lewis. It wasn't like I was the amazing Kreskinette, any more than I am when I'm spectacularly wrong, but now as then I did what I do or you: sift some information, indulge in a bit of informed speculation, and wind up either laughing at myself and learning something or feeling unreasonably smug at my ability to identify the obvious. It's to Lewis' credit that he had been overpowering people at the plate in the second half, and he didn't really have that many problems with the Yankees in Game Two, beyond a skipper gone all Sparky on him with early-hook jitters.
The Yankees' October ubiquity has long been a function of reliably competent front-office execution harnessed to a farm system equally effective in producing talent to supplement either the squad or Brian Cashman's sheaf of bargaining chips. Money isn't the root of all evil, but it certainly helps fund that kind of full spread of advantages in roster assembly and recruitment. But as we saw yet again, it also doesn't guarantee anything. Money and talent supplied the means of exchange to acquire Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson initially, and Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman later.
For all the effort, it availed them little. Johnson crumbled with the reliability that makes you think he's a performance artist's idea of an Edward Gibbon fun ride. Granderson was a disappointment if you set your expectations to unreasonable, which seems a default setting in the Bronx. Vazquez was a spectacular failure as a rental, a pitcher whose greatest value might be as a great cautionary tale for reading too much into the predictive power of single-season performance in the weaker league. Berkman was merely another ex-famous, well-intentioned cipher, to be deposited in Yankee lore with Jim Spencer or Ken Phelps.
But keep in mind that the Yankees have been in the business of losing post-season series for a while now, having going 9-8 in the last 10-year stretch, with two LCS and World Series losses apiece. The experience might be new to Joe Girardi, but it isn't new to the Core Four, or their fans. Expense hasn't guaranteed opportunity, nor has it guaranteed results. If not for Ron Washington's performance in the eighth inning of the series' first game, this very well could have been a sweep, one that might well have left rabid New Yorkers baying for Girardi's head on a spike outside the ballpark.
Set against that, the Rangers represent so much of what is good about the game. A lot like the Phillies, they represent just about everything you'd want as far as hitting any fan's joyspot. Their reaching the World Series is about deals that deliver—later or immediately—as well as about a farm system burgeoning with goodies. Past pickups like Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz or Josh Hamilton are obvious enough, but so much depended on Jon Daniels' magnificent risks with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, on the gambler's sense to get Cliff Lee to win now but also the production of localvore in-season help from the farm like Mitch Moreland and Alexi Ogando. Free-talent pickups like Darren O'Day and Matt Treanor were also in evidence, products of the willingness to get grabby on the cheap as well as playing on the big stages. It is, in short, a wonderfully constructed club, and a credit to all involved.
Not the Yankees were spared the indignity that was their due and destiny this October. There was—again—controversy involving the blinkered men in black, because if not for the umps, Lewis might have handed off a shutout to Neftali Feliz, moving the score even closer to what appears to be Washington's comfort zone with employing his stopper. You might understand how home-plate umpire Brian Gorman didn't have eyes in his knees to see Lewis' bouncing offering deflect off Nick Swisher, but if a half-dozen men can't catch an obvious fact in action, there's reason to wonder why we don't just employ fewer men and more cameras to help arbitrate the action. If the series had wound up tied over the game's idiosyncratic indulgence of human fallibility and failure, it would have been appalling, but it also wouldn't have been the straw that broke the camel's back—this particular dromedary has been a quadriplegic in traction for a while now. But in the same way that the industry effects policies of slow change on other fronts, you can expect developments to be ponderously executed, if at all.
Happily for any sense of cosmic justice, the Rangers didn't simply curdle in disgust over this latest travesty of officiating. They didn't simply got mad, they got even in their half of the fifth. Girardi's intentional pass of Josh Hamilton with two outs and Mitch Moreland moved around to third might seem like another instance of Rangers' basepaths daring delivering even better tactical opportunities, much like Nelson Cruz's game-changing advance to second base in Game Four, but in Girardi's defense, what were you supposed to do with Hamilton at this point? The Force of Nature has been rending Yankees' pitching limb from limb all series, and the tactical difficulty having to then pitch to Vladimir Guerrero, the game's great bad-ball hitter, was equally unavoidable.
The rest of what happened wasn't so much stat-padding as tacking on detail to a foregone conclusion: the Rangers were the better team, and not by just a little. Cliff Lee pitched just once in this series, and the Yankees deserved to lose five of the six games played. Put in those terms, Yankee fans might be grateful that they got a Game Five win to end their season on a personally witnessed high note, but that's admittedly a fairly weak parting gift.
For the Rangers and their fans, though, there's no more need for consolation prizes. They're here, they'll cheer, get used to it. For a franchise that had to suffer to much at the Yankees' hands in Octobers from a decade ago, the outcome seems like ample compensation. That the game ended with the feckless A-Rod rung up only adds that wee bit of poetic justice that makes any wait, even one that lasted 39 years, worth it. If, by happy accident, they also get the benefit of Cliff Lee leading off in a World Series guaranteed to feature one vaunted rotation or the other, either against Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum, then so much the better for those of us who get to watch what should be a Fall Classic worthy of the name.