Robinson Cano watches as the Tigers celebrate. - Jonathan Daniel
Now that the worrying is over, the real fun begins. Time to roll up your sleeves, put on your thinking caps, and start working on a championship season for 2013 -- and time for Brian Cashman and the Yankees braintrust to do so as well... and in a way they didn't prior to and during the 2012 season.
What is there to say, this close to the end? The 2012 Yankees slowed as summer turned to fall, sputtered in the postseason, and then died. Ace CC Sabathia didn't have it in Game 4 of the ACLS, but the runs he and the rest of the staff were almost irrelevant - the offense scored just one run, so it would have taken a shutout to win.
As I've pointed out several times before, early this season Brian Cashman mocked those who would call the Yankees old. The Greeks had a word for this: hubris. Cashman tempted fate and reaped the rewards. The Yankees had gotten away with an elderly roster for years, even prospered with one, but just because one has been successful for a period of time (and given how much it cost to spend that old roster to a division-winning level, one can argue how successful the strategy really was outside of 2009) when one should not have been does not mean you should make the mistake of thinking that the result was something you earned. You could play Russian Roulette and survive ten straight pulls of the trigger; some would look at that and erroneously conclude that they knew how to beat the game, were blessed, were inordinately lucky. Then they pull the trigger the 11th time and suffer a cruel but short-lived awakening.
Having said that, let's not overreact: As Joe Girardi said in his surprisingly controlled and reserved postgame press conference, this loss (as well as the five-game length of the previous series) was not just a matter of any one player struggling but of a whole lineup slumping at once. "Slumping" doesn't even do the situation justice. "Slump" is the word for when a .300 hitter hits .250 for a couple of weeks, or a .250 hitter hits .190 for a spell. There is no word for what happens when an entire team, one that hit .265 as a group during the regular season, goes through nine games hitting, for all practical purposes, .000. We shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that this was just one of those fluke strokes of bad luck that happens in baseball; the hitters looked too out of sorts for that -- in most cases the results were exactly what they deserved. And yet, we know that most of these players will be back next year, hitting just as well as they ever did. It's not like this postseason suggests the entire Yankees roster of position players are done and should retired. In that case, we should shrug our shoulders.
That shrug, that little, half-hearted shrug, doesn't absolve the Yankees of the need to get better, to get deeper, and make sure that they have a more vibrant lineup in the future. The team's performance in the amateur draft has been questionable for years (if not decades) and part of what happened this year, and what will inevitably happen this offseason, will in large part be a result of the farm system's inability to feed players to the major league roster.
Let's stop there for now, though; there will be plenty of time from now through February to dissect this loss and discuss how the club might go about having not just the strength of a division-winning team, but of a champion. Tonight is for mourning, for reflection, and - judging from the postgame commentary on YES - to obsess about Alex Rodriguez (I swear that Michael Kay just argued that the team lost because the media was overly focused on the third baseman). Reality returns tomorrow, and in some ways that will be the good part: this was a flawed team, it was a damaged team, and it will be much less stressful to talk about how it will get better than having to keep worrying about why and how it is hanging on.