After the Yankee's outlasted the Orioles on Friday my compulsion to celebrate and drink champagne was stronger than after similar wins in the past. Somehow it seemed more remarkable than just any division series. But that doesn't make sense, the Yankees are no stranger to the playoffs, they practically have playoff games printed on the their schedule in April, plus they advanced past the first round as recently as two years ago. So why did this year feel different? A little trip down memory lane provides the answer.
Since 2002 the Yankees have played in nine division series not including this years. They won four of them, lost five. All four series wins were against the Minnesota Twins, they won those series in four games in '03 and '04 and swept them in '09 and '10. The other five ALDS series were against the Angels (twice), Indians, and Tigers (twice). They lost three of those series in four games and two of them in deciding game fives. For die-hard Yankees fans those where devastatingly maddening experiences. 2007 and 2011 particularly stung for me since I had the displeasure in both years to witness the Yankees lifeless performances and the opposing team celebrating on our mound.
This year had all the ingredients of those five non-Twins series. Despite being the favorite the expensive Yankee bats go silent, the games are achingly close, one big hit would make the difference but instead it's a (insert outcome here: double play, line out, strikeout, fly ball to the warning track). It wasn't even that the Yankees found ways to lose, there were no major bullpen implosions, surrendered leads or costly errors that haunt the memories of those series (obviously I'm emitting the 2004 ALCS which shall forever live in a vacuum). It was more that the Yankees never found a way to win. Each year the magic we all expected or at least tried to will into existence was stubbornly dormant.
Even the championship in 2009, while providing several acts of "true-Yankee making heroism" lacked a defining do or die moment. That year they swept the Twins in the ALDS, jumped out to a commanding 3-1 lead in both the ALCS and WS and won each series in 6. Incredibly, game 5 against the O's was the first elimination game the Yankees have won since Aaron Boone's signature ESPN commentator making moment in 2003. That was my first year in New York City. In a few months I'll have lived here a decade.
True the Yankees didn't show a lot this series, just enough. Many will say -- perhaps rightfully so -- that barely squeaking by the Orioles is hardly something to cheer given their comparative payrolls and resources. And maybe this victory is just the law of averages evening itself out in the Yankees favor after so much failure. Whatever the reason, at this point I don't care, with their backs against the wall it was a welcome change of script to see the Yankees stand up and push back for once. Bring it Verlander.