Isn’t it amazing what one win can do for a team?
On Wednesday morning, the Yankees were losers of four straight and hanging by a tattered thread in the AL Wild Card race. 24 hours later, after a rousing come-from-behind win on Wednesday night, they have one hand back on the shelf of the cliff and are ready to thrust the second one up there as well.
That, of course, is just the first step. The second step involves pulling themselves up to their feet and above that precarious cutoff. And with four teams ahead of the Yankees trying to push them off before that happens, the second step is the hardest.
Just last week, remember, the Yankees had pulled to within 1 game of the Rays for the second Wild Card spot. Four days later, they had slipped 3 ½ games behind, falling back into the heap just as they were nearing the summit like a real-life game of Shoots and Ladders.
But after an enormously clutch 8th inning rally last night – sparked improbably by Brendan Ryan’s leadoff double – the Yankees have dusted themselves off and hopped back in the race. It’s a cluster of I-95 proportions right now, and there’s a smoking crash at the head between Tampa Bay and Texas.
As these two teams sit locked in ice, unable to gain ground on anyone else as they continue to beat each other, the time for the Yankees to make a move is now. (Admittedly, it has been “time for the Yankees to make a move” for the past month and a half, but with ten games left it’s not simply rhetoric anymore.) They have alternated speeds since the middle of August, speeding up and slowing down, accelerating and braking, as if scared of being pulled over.
But with six teams fighting for two spots, the race is lawless now and anything goes. The Yankees need to slam their foot to the pedal of this aging luxury car and see what kind of drive it has left. If Tuesday night was any indication, its engine is spent. And yet if Wednesday night was the barometer – okay, the 8th inning of Wednesday night – then this ‘90s model sports car is still rearing to race.
Indeed, the two biggest hits of last night’s rally were delivered by two products of the 20th century. With the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the 8th inning and runners on first and second, Alfonso Soriano strolled to the plate with that same long, heavy bat he used as a rookie in 1999. And as he has always been inclined, he jumped on the first pitch and sent it sailing over the head of right fielder Rajai Davis. 3-2 Jays.
Behind Soriano was Vernon Wells, another player who made his Major League debut in 1999. If Soriano is a rusty version of his former self, Wells is but a skeleton. But the one-time Blue Jay stiffened up and ripped a double to left, burning the team he came up with 14 years ago and scoring Cano and Soriano. 4-3 Yanks.
From there the game belonged to Mariano Rivera, who dipped into his fuel reserves for a four-out save. In the mid-90’s, when Rivera was still pitching behind John Wetteland, it was his job to get through the 8th inning when the Yankees held a lead. So to see him come trotting out to the mound in the 8th last night – even with 2 outs already recorded – was to see time reversed for a moment. Mo got the four outs he was charged with getting, albeit in a dicey manner, and after he blew a 92 mph cutter by J.P. Arencibia to end the game the Yankees were high-fiving once more.
They didn’t pass anyone last night, but they gained ground on the Rangers and the Indians to tighten up this wild Wild Card race. More importantly, they gathered some much-needed momentum after falling limp in Boston, and head into tonight’s rubber game with some pep back in their step.
If they win tonight, they are guaranteed to inch closer to the top, with the Rays and the Rangers set to square off again. And take a peak at this weekend, when the Rangers open play with the Royals and the Orioles visit the Rays, and a golden opportunity beckons for the Yanks.
But, ahh, tonight. Tonight is what matters. The Yankees need to take care of business against Toronto – a team they have owned this year – or none of the aforementioned matchups matter.
With one hand back on the cliff, this team can go anywhere in the final eleven days of the season. If they lose their grip again, it’s a long, fatal fall to the canyon floor. But if they dig their fingers in firmly, and summon the strength to finally pull themselves up, it’s a triumphant celebration on top of the mountain.
(It’s also a one-game playoff with another hardened AL team, quite possibly resulting in a long, fatal fall to the canyon floor.)
But for now the Yankees are still scratching and clawing, still doggedly climbing, and still hoping that their overspent engine can propel them the final mile.