With a two-game lead on Labor Day the Yankees nonetheless looked more vulnerable than they've been since the late eighties. They were coming off a dismal effort against the upstart Orioles in which they'd been out-played, out-maneuvered, out-managed, out hustled, and lucky to win one of three vital games in their own ball yard. They should have been swept.
Then in a Labor Day matchup with their new nemesis, Tampa's scrappy Rays, they absorbed a loss which, if they do end up missing the playoffs, will be seen as the pivotal moment. In a crisp beauty of a showdown matching C.C. Sabathia and James Shields and intensely-played by both teams, Tampa prevailed 4-3. But what most marked New York's defeat was the lackadaisical effort by Robinson Cano on two critical plays -- one on defense and the other on the base paths -- that arguably decided the game. Bear in mind there's nothing new about Cano's nonchalance which the Yankees oddly have meekly tolerated.
Superstardom in the Bronx has always borne with it special responsibilities. Cano is alleged to be their most talented performer, the newest in their long line of the anointed. But for all his gifts he does not deserve to be a member of that elite; not yet and maybe never. There are many reasons why this Yankee team is sliding in roughly the same direction as their arch-rivals from Boston. But in the Cano example, one finds something revealing; at least symbolically.
So at the end of the holiday weekend as the stretch drive quickens desperately the Yankee's lead, which stood at 10 games July 18th, is down to one over the inspired Orioles and two over the relentless Rays.
It took the Yankees seven weeks to squander their big lead. Last season it took the Red Sox five weeks to blow a comparable lead over Tampa. Is that also telling? We'll see, soon enough. In the first six weeks of this season plus these last seven the Yankees' record is 35-41. Between mid-May and mid-July their record was 41-17. It's an odd discrepancy. Injuries are a factor but all teams must deal with injuries.
But enough on the Yankees! The much better story is in Baltimore. Can we even begin to imagine the delight over this astounding turn of events on the part of O's Manager Buck Showalter, who was memorably so ingloriously dumped in the Bronx, and GM Dan Duquette, who was so roughly banished from Boston? The turn of the screw always makes a great tale.
And as of Labor Day the momentum, for whatever it's worth, was all with the O's under the ever plotting and scheming Showalter, and the Rays under the spell of the inscrutable Dr. Joe Maddon. As it happens -- rather wonderfully -- they will meet for the final three games of the regular season in Tampa. Here's betting that's where and when it gets decided.
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