The Yankees look down and out. Once again. But they have adopted the mantra of Yogi: It ain’t over until it’s over. And every time it looks like the Yanks are dead, they rise up from the coffin.
Take a good look at the Yankees at Fenway this weekend. Strange as it sounds, you could be seeing them again three weeks from today in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
Remember back in the day when it felt like the Yankees and Red Sox met in the playoffs every year? It actually only happened three times (2004, 2003, and 1999), but the rest of hardball America got good and sick of nonstop talk about Red Sox and Yankees.
Nine years after the Sox subjected the Yankees to the ultimate humiliation —
The Yankees are the true wild cards of the five-team scrum for one remaining playoff spot in the junior circuit. We know that the Red Sox, Tigers, A’s, and Rangers are going to be in the playoffs. We are pretty sure that the amazing Red Sox are going to have home field throughout October. We know that one wild-card team will be the second-place team in the AL West — either Oakland or (probably) Texas. That leaves Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Kansas City, and You Know Who as the fifth and final team.
It’s been fun laughing at the Yanks every time the Sox face them this year. Including Friday night. New York put forth some hideous lineups early in the season and last weekend it looked as if the Sox buried the Bronx Bombers for good with a historic three-day onslaught.
Not so fast, Horace Clarke Breath. The Yankees enjoyed their wild-pitch walkoff win over the Red Sox last Sunday, then went to Baltimore, and took three of four against Buck Showalter’s Nine.
Coming into Friday’s night’s game at Fenway, the Yankees had won four of five and owned the American League’s best record (21-11) since Aug. 11. That’s the best record in the American League. It’s pretty amazing stuff given everything that’s happened to the Pinstripes, including Ryan Dempster’s plunking of Alex Rodriguez. We might end up looking back at that particular hit by pitch as part of what turned everything around for the Yankees.
The Yanks are baseball’s Rolling Stones: old guys who make a lot of money and sometimes have trouble moving around the stage. But they have been in the playoffs 17 of the last 18 seasons.
They all got hurt early. Mark Teixeira. Curtis Granderson. Kevin Youkilis. A-Rod. On and on. Remember Derek Jeter? The captain played all of 17 games this year, hitting .190 before he shut it down for good this week. The Yankees have started seven players at shortstop this season. They have featured 10 guys at third base and seven left fielders. Nine men have started games on the mound.
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner is the latest casualty. He has a Grade 1 strain in his rib cage and manager Joe Girardi says Gardner will “be out a while.’’
“It’s a big loss,’’ continued Girardi. “We’ve had to overcome a lot. I don’t think anything surprises us anymore. We’ve kind of gotten used to it. This is a club that doesn’t feel sorry for themselves. No one’s going to feel sorry for us. We adapt and do what we have to do and that’s because of experience. Having the experience allows our guys to come back.’’
Overcoming injuries is one matter. Overcoming the devastating losses to the Sox last weekend is another matter altogether. The Thursday and Friday defeats would have broken the spirit of lesser teams. Giving up 34 runs in three games might have crushed an inexperienced group. Instead, these veteran Yanks got up off the mat and won four of the next five.
“I just think it’s a group that’s been through a lot in their careers, that’s been through a lot in their lives,’’ said the manager. “One day doesn’t make you great or terrible. At this point in the season, the losses mean more, but you can go out and overcome that. This group has been extremely resilient. We roll with the punches. All of us wake up the next night and deal with it.
“I know I have a special group here. It’s been fun for me to manage and watch them do what they do.’’
The Red Sox are honoring ancient Mariano Rivera Sunday night. Nice gesture. As each day passes, it looks like the Yanks are done. But be careful before you say that this is the last time we’ll see Rivera pitching at Fenway Park. With 148 games down and 14 to play, the dreaded, hated Yankees are still alive in the American League.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.