The Yankees lost another nail bitter to the Rays last night and relinquished their hold on first place.
Although the game had its share of positives (Jeter seems to be swinging better, Cano remained hot and Hughes exhibited a more diversified repertoire), there were also some lingering concerns (Teixeira’s power outage since the broken toe and injury status of Swisher and Gardner) as well as more fodder for second guessing (i.e., no pinch hitter for Kearns and Curtis?). As Hank Waddles nicely put it at Bronx Banter, the lens through which one views the team is really just a matter of personal perspective.
However, there is one issue stemming from the series that really bothers me. What is the meaning of first place? The whole notion of “losing battles to win the war” makes perfect sense, but what are the battles and what is the war? Is finishing first place really just a means to a greater end (i.e., winning the World Series). Or, does it have inherent value of its own?
In addition to believing that it sets the team up better in the post season, I also place great significance on the accomplishment of finishing in first. As someone who lives and dies with the team over 162 games, the division title has always seemed to be a reward for that dedication. Maybe that comes from growing up in the 1980s when winning a division title had more cache and the Yankees seldom were able to win it, but even throughout the wildcard era, I’ve always taken great satisfaction from the Yankees finishing in first. I always thought the organization did as well, but after this the past week, well, maybe not so much.
I don’t doubt for a second that every player on the field is giving their best effort, nor I am foolish enough to think that Joe Girardi is not doing what he thinks is in the team’s best interest. I just wonder if winning the division is considered to be in that interest. The idea that winning the division isn’t important in the grand scheme of things really bothers me.
Act Two Starring Derek Jeter
A key moment in last night’s game occurred in the top of the seventh inning when Derek Jeter appeared to get hit by a pitch from reliever Chad Qualls. On contact, Jeter began to writhe in pain, but the replay showed a curious thing: the ball actually hit the knob of the bat. Apparently, Joe Maddon saw the same thing because he argued vociferously until eventually getting the thumb. Jeter’s admitted acting job wound up paying big dividends when the next batter, Curtis Granderson, lined a two run homer into the right stands. The blast gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead, but it was only temporary because in the bottom of the inning, Dan Johnson belted his second two-run homerun of the game to give the Rays a 4-3 lead that they would never relinquish.
During Maddon’s argument, YES showed a replay in which Jeter briefly looked up at the umpire after pretending to be hit. The expression on his face (second 20 of the following video) was a priceless combination of childlike innocence and adult larceny. In a scene reminiscent of the movie Christmas Story, when the character Ralphie pulls the wool over his mothers eyes as to the real reason for his broken glasses, Jeter took a quick peak to see if he had fooled the umpire.
After the game, Jeter admitted to his foray into acting, reasoning that “his job is to get on base”. Rays manager Joe Maddon agreed with Jeter, stating that if one of his players had done the same, he would have applauded it. Still, twitter was buzzing with questions as to whether Jeter’s actions were appropriate. Naturally, more than a few wondered what the reaction would have been if Alex Rodriguez was the one putting on an act. Both were very good questions.
I have no doubt that if Arod was involved, the issue would have been blown way out of proportion. With Jeter in the starring role, however, there isn’t likely to be any fallout, nor should there be. The game of baseball is full of charades (catchers framing pitches, middle infielders dekeing base runners, outfielders selling a trap, etc.), and Jeter’s phantom HBP was no different.