Fifteen years ago, I was ten years old. I was in fifth grade, and while I had been going to Yankee Stadiums since I was three, never had the Yanks made the playoffs during my lifetime.
The next year — 1994 — it seemed like baseball life would change. As August rolled around, the Yanks had a sizable lead in the AL East and were just 3.5 games worse than the MLB-best Montreal Expos. When the strike hit and the season ended, I experienced my first bout of baseball disappointment. It would be more shocking than in 1995 when the Yanks blew a 2-0 lead to fall to Seattle in the ALDS. In 1995, I was just happy to get there.
Since then, in October, I’ve seen, at the Stadium and at home, the Yankees win a World Series, lose a Divisional Series in heart-breaking fashion, win three more World Series, come oh-so-close to an emotional World Series victory, lose to the Angels, lose to the Marlins, lose to the Red Sox, lose to the Angels again, lose to the Tigers and lose to the Indians. For all the joys of victory, there is nothing more agonizing that the elimination game. As the outs fall off the board, that pit in your stomach just grows and grows until you don’t want to be around anyone else and you just want to wallow in your baseball-induced pity.
Tonight, while a regular season, was like that. While the Yankees and Mike Mussina were well on their way to defeating the Blue Jays, 540 miles away, the Indians couldn’t stop the Boston Red Sox from clinching. The Yanks scored just three runs tonight en route to a win, but for all that, they could have scored 300. It wouldn’t matter. For the first time since 1993 — for the first time since the Internet became a way of life and the iPod hit the scene — the Yanks will not playing baseball in October. It hurts.
What hurts even more, though, is that the Yankees are now the fifth best AL team but just 0.5 games behind the White Sox. As the Twins and White Sox battle it out, the Yankees could wind up the fourth best team in the American League. That’s not bad for a team missing its future Hall of Fame catcher, its All Star starting pitcher, and its regular DH for much of the season. That’s not bad for a team that witnessed a near worst-case scenario emerge in regards to its young pitchers, center fielder and second baseman. When these players make good on their abilities, when the Yanks put the right other pieces in place around them, the future will look very bright.
We can look forward to that future, but for now, we have a storyline to follow over the last five games of the season. Through five innings tonight, Mike Mussina was utterly brilliant, and he walked away from the game with his 19th victory of the season. It is the first time since 1996 when a 27-year-old Mussina won 19 games that Moose has reached that level. When he starts the final game of the season, all eyes will be on Moose as the old dog tries for one last new trick.