Sunday, August 9, 2015

No, Yankee Universe, The Sky Isn't Falling

Yankee fans shouldn't be scared -- unless they jostle Tex. 

By Barry Millman

These are the times that try Yankee fans' souls.

The first back-to-back shutouts in 16 years. Three solid pitching starts wasted.  A single run scored in a three-game series. A 4 1/2-game lead chopped to a slender 1 1/2 games and a suddenly do-no-wrong Toronto team swept the Yankees right out of their own house for their eighth consecutive  win.

No, Yankee Universe, the sky isn't falling;  just the temperature of the Yankee bats, which had produced 90 runs in 10 games, a ridiculous rate that not only wasn't sustainable, but spoiled many a fan and set them up for a fall. And when the fall came, it fell hard.

The second-highest scoring team in MLB hit just .151 and scored a single run in their three-game series against the trade-reloaded and newly resurgent Toronto Blue Jays, the highest scoring team in MLB -- who just happen to be chasing them in the standings. In doing so, they extended a slump that began with the second game of the Red Sox series Wednesday and has now seen them hit just .163 over 153 at-bats. No Yankee team in history has scored less over such a span.

Put another way, before they ever stepped into the street for the latest (but far from last) shootout with their biggest rivals, their guns were already jammed. 

Talk about really, really bad timing.

Throw in a decision by Joe Girardi to leave a gassed Ivan Nova hanging out to dry one batter too many that triggered a tsunami of second-guessing his every move past, present and future; some absurdly raised expectations by "analysts" who spread a bunch of misguided pre-series Yankees-own-David Price smack; a young Yankee fan beaning and bruising an unwary Brett Gardner in the back of his skull with Jose Bautista's home run ball;  an adult Yankee fan receiving an angry lecture from Mark Teixeira on why it's not a good idea to strike the arm (twice) of prone infielders who dove into the stands in pursuit of foul balls; and you had about as ugly a weekend spectacle as any fan of a first-place team could imagine.

[Note to those Price analysts: His now 7-2 record and splits at the new Yankee Stadium were all decidedly in his favor. Next time, don't go by two starts with the tail-spinning Tigers.]

Sadly,  it was also a perfect incubator for a bumper crop of snakebit Chicken Littles on social media chirping how the sky -- or at least the quadrant encompassing all their postseason hopes and dreams -- was seemingly crashing to earth on their heads like Bautista's ball on Gardner's noggin.

Time for everyone, team and fans alike,  to take a deep breath and exhale. Anyone who didn't expect this race to tighten and become a dogfight was dreaming. In any year the division is cannibalistic, with every team, regardless of record or competence,  taking big bites out of each other. Even in 2009 when the fully loaded Bombers -- fueled by an offseason half-billion-dollar free-agent spending spree -- won the American League East going away, it was a pitched battle for much of the year with the pinstripers not even touching first place for the first 47 games, and then were themselves furiously fighting to protect a slim half-game lead as late as the first week of August.

The good news is there's still a long way to go and both teams will revert to their mean -- which will be good news for the Yankees because the last five games have been a stark anomaly compared to the last four months whereas the last eight games for Toronto most certainly are.  

Still more obvious good news, of course, is they're still in first place; this was the first series the team has lost in two months and, as Alex Rodriguez pointed out during the post-game media gaggle, this team has a track record of resiliency: "We definitely took a punch this weekend, and good teams punch back," he said. "We've taken punches before and the season's never a straight line."

Next up, a well-timed rest day in the schedule Monday before a brief six-day road trip that begins in Cleveland for three games with the 51-59  AL Central Indians. As good a place as any for them to start punching back and prepare for their next shootout with the Blue Jays -- set for the very next three days in Toronto. 

Fair warning to all unwary outfielders, diving first basemen and especially Chicken Littles: Strap on your helmets and brace yourselves.  

This race is a long way from over, and it isn't for the faint of heart. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.