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September 19, 2005

Unlikely Heroics
by Larry Mahnken

If the Yankees are going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to win their way in. Boston's not going to help them, Cleveland's not going to help them. They can't coast into October. They need to win.

Pat Kelly was one of the things that seperated the late-90s Yankees from the early 90s Yankees -- a middle infielder who hit like a middle infielder and wasn't very good on defense. He came into the ninth inning on September 29th, 1995 with a career OPS of .675, and .622 for the season. The Yankees came into the ninth inning that night trailing 3-0, leading the California Angels of California by only 1 game in the Wild Card race, having not made the postseason in 14 years...

Pat Kelly came to the plate with the Yankees down 3-2. Pat Kelly came back to the plate with the Yankees leading 4-3.

It was the only real highlight of Pat Kelly's career, his moment of Pinstriped Immortality. It was his Aaron Boone moment, a big hit from a bad player in a moment that didn't just mean a lot -- it meant everything.

Bubba Crosby didn't have one of those moments last night, but he had a big one, ending a crucial September game with a homer to right-center in the bottom of the ninth. And the Yankees are in a tighter spot now than they were in 1995 -- they led the race at the time, and would have, in fact, won the Wild Card had they lost that night anyway, thanks to MLB's stupid tiebreaker rules at the time. Last night, they trailed both the Wild Card and AL East race by 1½ games, and losing a game in the standings could have made their task all but impossible.

But while more crucial than Kelly's homer, Crosby's wasn't as big. Kelly essentially clinched a playoff spot for the Yanks, Crosby just kept them close. They're still not in the playoffs, but they're still alive.

With Boston's loss, their task is now simple: hold serve, win when Boston wins. Do that, then win 2 of 3 in Fenway, the AL East is all theirs, no playoff game. If they can take the division lead before then, then all they need to do is avoid a sweep in Boston, and they get at least the playoff game -- or the division title outright if they pass the Indians.

Step one: win tonight.