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October 18, 2003

And this, too, shall pass away
by Larry Mahnken

It is said an eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him with the words, "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

-Abraham Lincoln

Aaron Freakin' Boone. I still can't believe it.

Thursday seemed like waiting for an execution, knowing that it was going to happen, but hoping for a call from the Governor, and a miraculous pardon. And that pardon came, but it wasn't until your head had been shaved, you were strapped into the chair, and they had their hand on the switch. Five outs away, three runs down, and the greatest pitcher on earth on the mound. And they won. I still can't believe that this happened.

The way it happened, the glorious comeback, the shocking home run, the utter joy that surged through me, makes the World Series almost an afterthought. If they lose--if they get swept, and crushed, it won't take away from the joy of that one moment, when the ball left Aaron Boone's bat, and I knew: they did it. I can't believe they did it.

But let's make sure that we appreciate this World Series, even if they don't win, even if they don't play well, because look around the American League, and look at the Yankees' roster. This could be it. The last stand for the great dynasty of the Yankees.

Boston's not going to fall into fourth place next year. They'll be back, and they'll be better. So will Toronto. The Yankees can't just glue the pieces of this roster back together and hope to snatch another title, and they can't just tack on a couple of free agent studs and think that it will work. They need to reevaluate the roster, and rebuild, and look to the future.

That doesn't mean that they have to stop trying to win, it means that they can't win with the same core in the same way. They can't just convince themselves that Alfonso Soriano is going to be a good defensive second baseman, or that the combination of him and Jeter up the middle is anything close to acceptable for a team trying to win titles. They can't let Bernie fade away in center field, turning outs into singles and singles into doubles. They can't keep trading away their prospects for mediocre third basemen who need to hit dramatic home runs to validate the transaction. They need to rearrange the pieces they have, and instead of finding a piece that looks nice and they can jam into the puzzle, they need to find the right pieces that complement the pieces they have.

And in doing that, the results might equal disaster. The pieces might not come together, and the team might collapse. But if they keep going like they have, the team will slowly decline into mediocrity, and when they get there, they've still got to make the moves to turn themselves around. No, they have to turn around now, to make success a possibility, instead of making decline a certainty.

I don't know if it's going to happen, they might be even better next season than they were this year. But they might not be, and it might be many years before we see the Yankees in the Series again. So we'd better appreciate it.

Of course, a victory would be much nicer than defeat, at least for us Yankees fans. A Red Sox fan at work asked me during last Saturday's game "aren't you sick of them winning all the time?"

Uh, no.

Oh yeah, I'm really sick of my team winning. I'd be so much happier if they lost. Especially to our arch-rivals. Because they wouldn't gloat or anything. Rivals are always respectful towards one another. Anyone who's sick of their team winning (as I understand it, David Pinto knows such a fan) is missing the point. The point isn't to have one title, or even to win the most titles. It's to win THIS title. You won last year? Hey, that's great. As soon as you're eliminated this season, it doesn't matter anymore. Go ahead and enjoy all your past glories in the offseason, but when the games are being played, the only thing that matters is winning the World Series this year.

I can understand fans who don't get upset when their team doesn't win, or comes close and falls short. That's fine--that's HEALTHY. But not caring if they WIN? Not WANTING them to win? That's...stupid. What's the point of being a fan then?

But I digress. Can they win? Well, yeah, but it's not going to be a cakewalk.

The Marlins beat the 100-win Giants in four games, but then the Giants' lineup, outside of Bonds, wasn't that impressive, and neither was their rotation, outside of Schmidt. They beat the Cubs in seven, and while Wood and Prior are great pitchers, they didn't have much of a lineup, either.

The Yankees have a great lineup. They've played like garbage in the postseason, but Thursday's victory may have awoken their most dangerous bat, Jason Giambi. Giambi hit two home runs off of Pedro Martinez--who allowed 7 all year. One went into the black, the other fell just short of it, and those followed a first inning homer off of John Burkett in Game 6. Maybe it was just a couple of lucky swings, but if Giambi is hot in the World Series, you can throw out every other factor, the Marlins are done. When he's good, he's really that good.

The Yankees can't count on that happening, though. Derek Jeter was excellent in the first round, not so good in the ALCS, but you can expect him to be solid again in the World Series. Bernie Williams is inexplicably batting fourth in the postseason, but at least he's still getting on base somewhat. But he needs to get a couple of extra base hits to justify pushing Posada to fifth in the lineup. Nick Johnson wasn't good in the first two rounds, but the Yankees will likely miss his bat all the same in the three middle games of the series. And Aaron Boone...well, it was just one home run. I hope he'll keep hitting them, but in all likelihood, you're not going to get much from him. He's had his Tino moment.

The pitching staff comes into the series a bit screwed up by Game Seven, and as a result David Wells will be the Game One starter. On one hand, he's been great this October, but on the other hand, Florida kills lefties. If he's not sharp, this could get ugly.

Except Brad Penny isn't exactly making the Yankees shake in their cleats. A large part of the Yankees' offensive struggles in October has to be Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez and Tim Wakefield when his knuckeball was dancing. Brad Penny is none of those pitchers, and while he's no John Burkett, the Yankees are more likely to hit him like Burkett rather than the others. The only starter Florida has that really fits in with that group is Josh Beckett. For all the talk about Florida's pitching, they gave up 6 runs a game to the Cubs, for goodness sake.

What Florida won with is their offense, which is the only thing that scares me about the Marlins. They're a team that doesn't strike out or walk, they put the ball in play, and try to make things happen. Remind you of anyone? Yep, that was the Angels formula last season.

Except the Angels had a more balanced lineup with lefties and righties, and a much better bullpen than Florida's. The Marlins did well against the Cubs, but Chicago lacked any real lefty threats in their lineup, which allowed the Marlins to hide their lack of a solid matchup lefty in the pen. Florida doesn't have any real lefties in their lineup, either (Pierre and maybe Hollandsworth), which somewhat pushes Gabe White and Felix Heredia out of the picture and makes Jeff Nelson and Jose Contreras huge. Torre is also deactivating either Erick Almont-E or David Dellucci to get Chris Hammond on the roster, recognizing that his changeup is extremely effective against righty batters. While Hammond was essentially abandoned in the last month of the season, he could play a crucial role in the World Series.

Florida's lack of a matchup lefty will probably cost them at least one game. The Yankees as a team hit far better against lefties than righties, and Jason Giambi's split was particularly extreme (1.022/.718).

Anaheim kept the game away from Mariano Rivera in every game last postseason but the one they lost, and for the Marlins to have a chance, they need to do that, too. Joe Torre isn't going to make the foolish decisions that cost the Cubs the pennant, mostly because Mariano Rivera is a guy who makes it easy to pull your starter in the eighth. Florida needs to beat up on the Yankees' starting pitching and hope that the Yankees' offense continues to hibernate for another week. Otherwise, they have no chance.

I think they'll get to David Wells tonight, but I don't think that Brad Penny is going to shut down the Yankees' offense like Boston and Minnesota did. This should be a high-scoring series in the games Boomer and Pettitte pitch, and I feel good about the Yankees coming out on top in the end. It would be nice to see it come back to the Stadium for a clincher, and to give Roger Clemens a fond farewell, so I'll tack on one more win than I really think Florida will get: Yankees in Six.