This is the most intense Yankee moment in more than a decade
Gerrit Cole plays Rays on the pitch in Game 1 of ALDS
The Tampa Bay Rays are a better team than the Yankees this year. You just are. Give the Yanks the truth serum and they will tell you the same thing, admitting that they have to be playing their absolute best baseball to beat them.
That's exactly what happened in Thursday's 5-1 win in Game 4 of the American League Divisional Series, and that's exactly what has to happen again on Friday night. The Yankees deserve an elimination game with Gerrit Cole-Front - and this will not only be top-notch October theater, but also the greatest pressure and intensity the Americans have felt in more than a decade.
This is not an exaggeration.
Let's rewind to 2009 when the Americans last held a championship. This relieved a drought that had persisted since 2009 and likely extended the tenure of GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi for many more years. It changed the course of franchise history.
It also depressurized for the next few years. That's only natural if you've recently won a World Series. Teams don't get complacent (some do too), but they can't help but feel subtle relief. That took the Yankees through several years of not having to hear how long it was since they won.
When 2013 rolled around, Jorge Posada was gone, Alex Rodriguez was injured and then suspended, and Derek Jeter eyed the end. The Yankees had entered a period of transition that would ultimately lead to the present moment.
As the team put on retirement ceremony after retirement to honor his former dynasty, Cashman enjoyed some of its finest seasons and kept the team on the verge of the fray while waiting for the arrival of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Luis Severino . As with any group of prospects, some flared up while others were still writing their stories.
In none of those years was the Yankees expected to reach a World Series. They worked to get back there, but not with urgency. It was slow burn and by design. In 2016, still far from asserting itself in championship mode, Cashman took the radical step of selling the Yankees at close of trade, placing Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran on prospects.
The following season saw a surprise run and sprint to the end of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees lost seven games against the Houston Astros, which illegally stole signs.
It hurt, but it was ahead of schedule too. By the next year, the Americans were ready to win again, dropping a painful divisional series on Boston en route to a World Championship under the masterful direction of rookie manager Alex Cora (later embroiled in the Houston scandal but brilliant) tactician who just stopped managing his friend Aaron Boone in October).
This one stung the Yankees a bit more, but it was early in their run. Giancarlo Stanton had just arrived, Severino was a budding ace, and neither she nor the judge had suffered as many injuries as they would later.
The Yankees made their way to Game 6 of the ALCS in 2019 and were facing out in Houston. The Yankees officials who were on the field prior to that game at Minute Maid Park did not express or exude stress. They wanted to win, but were also okay with their process and trajectory. Win or lose, the future seemed bright. They lost.
That brings us to the current moment. It's been 11 years since the Yankees saw a World Series. The Red Sox have two titles during this time and are converting to Chaim Bloom under a brilliant executive. The Rays built a more complete roster for a fraction of the budget and easily won it all this month.
The Yankees are still in extremely capable hands with Cashman and his top lieutenants Tim Naehring, Jean Afterman and Michael Fishman. These are the people who can find the DJ LeMahieus and Luke Voits who made this run possible. This year won't be the end of anything.
But it is also true that the judge is getting older and not staying on the field enough. Severino missed almost two years. Sanchez has become irrelevant in this series, his future with the team is suddenly in doubt.
And the Yankees are the Yankees. The baseball operations department is rational and process-oriented, but the brand wins. At a certain point, they need to do better in crapshoot after the season. And they know. Heads don't roll when they lose, but the pressure becomes uncomfortable. Doubts about this core of gamers will creep in. It becomes a burden like 2007 or 2008.
The rays are deeper, but the Yankees still have to beat them. You have to avoid the Game 2 opener as the dominant offseason storyline. You must then beat the Astros and at least play in the World Series.
These goals are subject to the whims of luck and the tiny sample size. You are not fair or rational. But it is time.
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