Yankees fans surely felt the irony.
As they watched the Tampa Bay Rays literally lose the World Series because an overzealous manager wrenched his starter from the mound to dig into his deep bullpen, they had to ponder a similar situation. Some have argued that the Yankees blew the ALCS in Game 2 when Aaron Boone yanked starter Deivi Garcia after one inning – pulling a reverse Grady Little – and set off the domino that tipped over a line of pitching dominoes that cost them a trip to the Fall Classic.
But no matter your take on the Bombers' fate, the net result seems the same every year: a season bubbling with promise that ends painfully short of the World Series. With other teams, in other towns, there is an acceptable level of failure, one that leaves the door cracked open, and the blinding light from a glittering future beaming through.
With the Yankees, however, every season is a failure unless there's a parade at the end of it.
And since 2017, when this bunch first fell to the Astros in the ALCS - and somehow got Joe Girardi fired despite the unexpected leap in playoff contention - it keeps happening.
The Yankees have qualified for the playoffs in each of the last four years, and have stumbled despite reaching the ALCS in three of them. Instead of losing to a loaded Astros club, as they had done twice, they lost in six games to the bargain-basement Rays, a team that literally spent a quarter of the Yankees' payroll for a better product.
Some say the Yankees don't need a slew of hot stove deals to improve; all they need is Luis Severino to return to health and maybe add another arm at the back end. They are loaded everywhere else, so just adding two arms to the rotation will, by default, plug the one gaping hole in the team's roster.
The problem with that is that the Yankees have been plagued with injuries for years, and the issue won't simply blow away with a breeze. Next year there's sure to be a new host of tweaked tendons and mangled limbs. Not to mention that this group, so young and fresh on the scene a few years ago, is no longer called the Baby Bombers, as they aren't qualified anymore. The average age of the Yankees roster is 29 years old, and only four teams - the Giants, Mets, Nats, and Braves – had 2020 rosters older than the Yanks.
Among the Yankees either already 30 or turning 30 in the next 18 months are Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Aaron Hicks, Mike Tauchman, Masahiro Tanaka, Zack Britton, DJ LeMahieu, and Aroldis Chapman (the last three have already turned 32). That's 11 rather prominent players out of the club's 40-man roster this season.
Turning 30 isn't the universal death blow it used to be, but every team in MLB is always looking to get younger, and for good reasons; younger players are cheaper, more nimble, and more durable, and they are also more pliable emotionally, more coachable than their calcified colleagues who have been in the game for a decade. No doubt these Yanks will be chalk to walk into the 2021 postseason, but there's little to suggest they won't find and fall through the same pothole that has beguiled them since '17.
In other words, the "we'll get 'em next year" battle cry has expired. That was a sad yet charming mantra bestowed upon the Brooklyn Dodgers, who kept losing in heartbreaking fashion, from the 1951 Shot Heard 'Round the World to going 0-5 against the iconic Yankees of DiMaggio and then Mantle. The famed "Boys of Summer" finally broke through in 1955, climbing over that Yankees mountain in seven games.
Will these Yanks have an epiphany and finally break through that invisible autumn membrane, the “leaf ceiling” if you will, that blocks them every year? When you're 20, a few years feels like a decade away. When you're 30, not so much. When you're 40, you wish you'd done more in your 20s. Fans hope the same fate doesn't await these young, but no longer baby, Bronx Bombers.
Follow Jason Keidel on Twitter: @JasonKeidel