Ultimately, after all the Pavlovian night terrors, the hand-wringing, and the ulcers, the Yankees are what we thought they were: a superior offensive club hamstrung by a pitching staff not quite good enough to compete in the postseason.
While there are those that may be disappointed to see the Yankees eliminated by someone other than the Sox, I’m not in that number. Beating the Yankees is an immensely satisfying feeling, exhilarating and cathartic (as, I am quite sure in this post-2004 world, Yankee fans would agree if the Sox are on the losing foot). But the process, the agonizing process, is crushing for both sets of fans. Sleepless nights, gnawed fingernails, hoarse throats, and over-elevated adrenaline levels are the norm. Sox/Yankees postseason series’ may not take years off my life, but I’m quite sure they subtract a measurable period from my final tally.
One final Yankee note before happily burying their 2007 season. If, as is widely rumored, this is finally the year Joe Torre shuffles off to Billy Martin’s condo in Boca Del Vista, I couldn’t be happier. Torre has been the perfect manager for the Yankees since his arrival in the Bronx 12 years ago. He’s a master manipulator of egos and a truly terrific motivator. Yankee fans might argue that he could be a better in-game strategist, and I wouldn’t quibble, but I’d damn sure rather see Joe Girardi and his intensity or Don Mattingly and his inexperience in the other dugout in 2008 than Torre. Please, please, please make this happen.
On to the Indians, then, because, unlike the Yankees, they’re still standing. And not by any luck or random occurrence – these guys are good. In C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, the Tribe rolls out 2 of the AL’s 5 best starters. I’ve lamented the Sox’ troubles against lefthanders ad nauseum in this space. Carmona’s already pitched a shutout against the Sox once this season. At worst for Cleveland, they get to send Sabathia and Carmona to the hill 4 times in a 7-game series. That’s daunting.
Beyond the bookend stud starters, the Indians boast a pretty good bullpen, especially at the back end. Rafaels Perez and Betancourt both posted sub 2.00 ERAs in more than 60 innings. Closer Joe Borowski doesn’t strike fear, but he manages to close games.
The Tribe batsmen are solid, top to bottom, as well. (Sorry, that wasn’t meant to sound like a gay porn liner note.) They don’t have a really fearsome A-Rod/Papi type, but they demonstrated an ability and willingness to work counts and battle against the Yankees, and they didn’t falter in critical situations. Eric Wedge has his team confident and focused – I was a basket case last night when the Yankee echoes rose in full throat at several moments, but the Indians never wavered.
Now that I’ve channeled Lou Holtz for a few paragraphs, I can’t really deny that the Sox are playing perfect baseball right now. They’ve been built to excel in the postseason, and they paid off that planning in spades against the Halos. I won’t be slinging the doom and gloom, even if I’m constitutionally inclined.
This has the potential to be a terrific ALCS. And I might even get a chance to enjoy it, now that the opponent won’t be wearing pinstripes.