Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Am I Too Late? Am I Too Late?

Tell you that I love you/Now they've carried you away

Steven Goldman raised a frightening point yesterday, one that might become much scarier over the next week: What if the Yankees are too late?

What if they spent a couple weeks too many playing like the Blue Jays? What if there's nothing they can do now to dig themselves out of the trap they built for themselves earlier in the season? What if their fate was decided by those dreary first three months of the season, and no hot streak or mea culpa trade can save them?

These are horrible questions to face, in part because they tie into larger issues of destiny, luck and self-determination. Did that math test I failed junior year irrevocably change my career path? Am I doomed to forever be unhappy because Lois broke up with me after finding me in bed with her AIDS-ridden pet howler monkey?

Unfortunately, there's no coming back from some mistakes. Maybe the Yankees can overcome their current 3-game deficit in the loss column for the Wild Card. But maybe they can't. Maybe they'll be 6 games out after Anaheim, Detroit and Boston are done with them. And if that's the case, it won't be the September Yankees who are to blame. It will be the May Yankees.

More specifically, it will be May Joe Torre and May Brian Cashman. When it became apparent that this team had needs, they weren't addressed with anything even resembling immediacy. Crippling weaknesses were ignored for months with a neglect bordering on the criminal. Players slump: it happens, and no one can be blamed for that. It's not anyone's fault that Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano hit like aborted fetuses until July.

But it is someone's fault when holes that were obvious in January remained obvious in March, April, May and June. This team never had a first baseman. They never had a backup catcher. The bullpen was always a quagmire with too few options for a manager who used them poorly.

Yet Miguel Cairo kept playing first base. Luis Vizcaino and Kyle Farnsworth kept blowing games, and were given ample opportunities to do so. A rotting corpse fell apart bone by bone while attempting to spell Jorge Posada.

Finally, more than half-way through the season, the Yankees' brass got proactive. Young players were brought into the mix and some notable failures were expelled. Injuries and trades forced Joe Torre to manage outside his comfort zone. And the team finally played up to expectations. Who knows...maybe if Joba Chamberlain had been brought up June 1, that would have been the difference between 91 and 94 wins. Maybe if Andy Phillips and Wilson Betemit had begun sharing first-base duties three weeks earlier, the Yankees would be in front of Seattle right now.

It didn't happen that way. And now it might be too late. There might not be enough oxygen left in the tank, or enough intangibles left in the Captain. If they do fall short, if they do fail, we'll all know why, and that's the hardest part. It was all so avoidable.