The New York Yankees will have to beat some very good teams if they are to make the playoffs. But along the way, they’ll have to beat some bad ones too, for those games count just the same.
A mid-week series against the Chicago White Sox, for example, can be a terrific place to stockpile some wins. But if treated nonchalantly, it can be a fast way to short-circuit a season in overdrive.
Having already been swept by the lowly Sox once this season, the Yankees were sure not to overlook them twice. They played with decidedly more fire this time around, more flat-out investment, and exacted some revenge with a sweep of their own. In the process, the club gained another game on the Rays to pull within 2 ½ games of the second Wild Card Spot and made it clear that, yes, we’re taking this seriously now.
That much was evident Tuesday night, when the Yankees stormed back from three runs down in the eighth to capture a rousing, playoff-like win. Though many of the fans – who, maybe, just maybe, might decide to fill The Stadium with the Red Sox in town this weekend – had left the Yanks to fend for themselves, the dugout jubilation after Eduardo Nunez’ go-ahead double was a scene taken from October.
Ignore the empty seats and the White Sox uniforms, and the picture painted was one of playoff baseball. There was Nunez pounding his chest on second base, A-Rod ferociously high-fiving Granderson at home. There was Cano celebrating on the dugout’s top step with both arms raised, Boone Logan leaping to his feet like a Little Leaguer.
And, of course, there was Derek Jeter at the entrance of the dugout, distributing approval contained in a fist bump and looking very much like he’d been there before. Some things never get old.
This newfound gusto is what gives the Yankees a chance to turn a lost season into a memorable one. If this team, beleaguered by April and eulogized by August, can claw into the playoffs, whatever happens there is almost non-consequential. The impossible will have already happened.
It is now distinctly possible because the Yankees are simply willing it so. You no longer have to worry about them showing up on a nightly basis, like you did for much of the summer. The team is relishing each chance to play now, each chance to win, each chance to prove the naysayers wrong. This is a club committed to the cause, and hell-bent on achieving it.
They are taking it one game at a time, as they rightly should, but it’s hard not to think that they didn’t look at this Chicago series Sunday night and think one thing: sweep. Wins are valued at a higher rate than ever in September, and with so many teams after them you must grab the ones that the schedule gives you. Check, check, check against the White Sox.
That’s professional execution from a veteran team, behaving now like born-again rookies. Only rookies tend to wither in pressure situations; this team lately seems to thrive in them.
Now, the Red Sox come to town for one of those series you circle on the clubhouse calendar. If these games seem to matter more, it’s only because necessary wins over the White Sox have made this weekend showdown relevant. We’ll know more about the team’s playoff chances four days from now, but this much is already clear: the Yankees are playing for real now.