Monday, September 7, 2009

Stopping to smell the roses

Remember how much it rained at the start?

Remember that homestand where the Yankees endured a five-game losing streak? Remember how bleak it seemed?

Remember how neither bases-clearing doubles in the driving rain or 12 strike-out performances couldn't buy a win?

Remember how the starting catcher and his backup went down with injuries literally within days and the Yankees had to turn to a kid hitting .190 for AA Trenton?

I don't know if you do remember this or if you don't, but if you remember anything, I hope you remember the fight.

I hope you remember how the Yankees would keep fighting back, keep making you wait until that final out even if they couldn't quite get over it.

I hope you remember how we said that this team was too good to not eventually break through, to get over the hump, to turn those come back efforts into whipped cream pies.

Did we know then that we could be looking at a special team? Did we have even a slight inkling?

There are, of course, those of us that will say that we are looking at a good team, but that it's not a special team unless those men are all clobbered in a massive dog pile on the field against the cool Halloween air.

If these are the Yankees we are talking about--and they are--then one should expect no less. Twenty six championships in just over 100 years tends to spoil fans.

Even so, had you told someone back on May 5th that the Yankees would wind up on pace to win 104 games on Labor Day, would he or she have believed you?

How can you put it in perspective?

One hundred and four wins, if achieved, is still ten wins shy of 114--but perhaps, instead of saying how 104 wins still could not compare to 1998, we should look at how good 104 wins would be--and how much more impressive 114 is, still firmly entrenched in our memories.

Last year the New York Yankees won 89 games.

Eighty-nine wins is not a horrible win total. In 2008, 89 wins was only good enough for third place in the AL East, but it was good enough to win the AL Central and NL West, and only one game shy of the NL Wild Card.

Eighty-nine wins would have won the AL East in 2000. The Yankees won 87 games that year--and then went on to win the World Series.

Eighty-nine wins is living in playoff contention, not living on the edge of disaster.

Eighty-nine wins, for any team not from New York or Boston is reason enough to hold one's head high.

Eight-nine wins is also what the Yankees have in 2009 with 23 games still to play.

The Yankees probably won't win 23 more games--almost certainly not with another trip to Anaheim remaining--but where they are now, they could win 11 more games, finish with 100 wins even, and do not have to play .500 baseball to accomplish that.

One hundred and four wins hasn't been done by the Yankees--with the exception of 1998--since the 1970s.

One hundred and four wins a year after winning 89 is a fifteen game improvement in one year.

Many thought that the Yankees this year would end up winning somewhere in the mid-90s--not necessarily good enough for the AL East, but good enough for a Wild Card spot.

Some thought the Yankees could not compete with the Red Sox and the Rays.

Nothing is done yet, nothing is clinched, and teams have found ways to stage impossible collapses as recently as 2007.

That said, a nine game lead with 23 left to play is a pretty darned good place to be.

The Yankees have some issues and concerns--and they also have the luxury of being able to try to fix them. They don't have to start their #1 starter on three days' rest for half of a month straight, for example, and they can let Mariano Rivera take a couple days off if his groin is nagging him. Fans can focus on historic milestones, such as what Derek Jeter will likely accomplish this week, and watch other pennant races knowing that their team's fight won't be so much getting to October as it will be staying there.

This time last year we knew two things: the Yankees would need a miracle to meet the postseason, and the old Yankee Stadium had precious few days left.

This year, we don't know how it will end, but it has the distinct possibility of being the best possible opening year of all.

Baseball players can't stop to smell the roses--not until they can pop champagne or until they can pack the golf bag--but the fans--we--can.

Roses, like all plants, bloom most spectacularly after a rain fall.