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Yankees lose ALCS Game 7 heartbreaker to Astros

The New York Yankees’ magical bid for a surprise American League pennant died painfully tonight in Houston, Texas. A year or two early in their idealistic reboot, the Bronx Bombers came within one win of reaching the World Series. Then they ran out of gas, falling to the Astros in agonising fashion.

To be sure, it was a rollercoaster ride for these refreshed Yankees, who lurched from fear to determination, from anxiety to exhilaration, and from hope to devastation. Under the credo of George Steinbrenner, anything short of a world championship amounted to pinstriped failure, but the startling progress of these baby-faced Yanks should be remembered amid the sadness.

They have not been so close to a Fall Classic appearance since 2012, those vaunted New York Yankees. Entering October, the most illustrious team on earth had just one Wildcard game loss to show for their previous five years of hard work. Just as senior management hoped, this likeable team restored pride and rekindled excitement at The Stadium. It was like the old days, but with a modern outlook. The only thing missing was a ring.

Brian Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ rebuild

Between 1995 and 2009, the Yankees reached the playoffs every single season, bar one. They won eleven division titles, seven pennants and five World Series championships in fifteen seasons. Brian Cashman oversaw an empire, but it crumbled as Major League Baseball underwent a seismic shift in philosophy. Rules around revenue sharing and luxury tax mechanisms levelled the playing field, necessitating a change in strategy among the game’s most progressive organisations.

Cajoled by Cashman, an underrated visionary, Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner eventually relented and waved the white flag on bygone stargazing. In order to compete, the Yankees needed to get younger, smarter and sharper. They needed to bolster their resources in analytics, sports science and psychosocial development. Cost-effective prospects, not expensive veterans, were the currency of future baseball success, and Cashman built a powerhouse in the hardball laboratories of Tampa.

At the major league level, New York endured profound frustration between 2013 and Opening Day this year. They still managed to stay above .500 thanks to adroit balancing acts by Cashman, but expectations of a world championship during that period were filed under delusions of grandeur. The real focus was on 2019, when the new core of cyborg Yankees would coalesce into an uber team of dramatic potential. Any surges in the interim were happy coincidences, not vital prerequisites.

Analysing the 2017 Yankees – success or failure?

Accordingly, the sense of dull disappointment at this postseason exit is cast against a backdrop of wider positivity. The Yankees were good this year, winning 91 games and negotiating tough playoff matchups, but their window of opportunity is just opening. In the foreseeable future, reaching the American League Championship Series will be a baseline desire, a starting point en route to glory. Right now, it is a premature treat, albeit one that still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

As spring melted into summer, which passed the baton to fall, a fine narrative accompanied these fairy tale Yankees. A gargantuan force, Aaron Judge broke the rookie home run record, launching 52 bombs. An imposing bulwark, Gary Sanchez hit 33 round-trippers of his own, more than any catcher in Yankees history. A smiling assassin, Luis Severino came of age as a dominating ace, pitching to a 2.98 ERA with 230 strikeouts and 14 wins in 193.1 innings.

Then there was Didi Gregorius, filling the Jeter void with a .287 batting average, 25 home runs and 87 RBI from shortstop. Then there was CC Sabathia, reinvented and resurrected, carving out a 3.69 ERA on guts and guile. Then there was Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, a bullpen trident of remarkable ingenuity.

At times, this looked like a championship-calibre team, that grand benchmark of Yankee efficiency, but the team was never greater than the sum of its soaring parts. Managed by Joe Girardi, a stubborn stickler for detail, there was still a suppressed rigidity to these Yankees, who yearned for emancipation. Girardi welcomed twelve rookies into his clubhouse along the way, but there was a niggling sense of doubt as to whether they could mesh into a transcendent ballclub before the calendar flipped to November. Ultimately, the answer was no. Not just yet.

To seal the American League Wildcard berth, the Yankees beat Minnesota, as they always seem to do, before 49,280 buoyant rooters in the Bronx. New York then fell behind the Cleveland Indians, two games to none, in the Division Series, only to win three consecutive elimination contests, sparking delirium.

Astros win the American League pennant

Momentum swung again when Houston won the opening two games of the ALCS, taking a commanding lead, but the Yankees fought back again. Running on fumes, Girardi somehow stitched together three straight wins once more, heaving his fascinating but imperfect team to the cusp of adoration. Then the Yankees fell flat in Texas, losing two miserable games at Minute Maid Park as winter arrived too soon.

Indeed, the terminal contest was played in 73-degree heat. Bearing hot stoves and splattering snow, the offseason seemed but a mirage in the plains. Yet when the Yankee bats died at the vital moment, producing just three hits in response to four Astros runs, their time was up and the run was over. Attention drifted to getting better for next year, that capricious beast of baseball fantasy.

Cashman is out of contract now. Girardi is, too. In the mismatched conundrum of modern Yankees baseball, change might be upon us, but determining if that will help is far more difficult to countenance. Cashman has built a juggernaut in waiting, the coming powerhouse of a new baseball epoch. Yet after eight seasons without a World Series title, whether he and Girardi are allowed to reap the ultimate rewards remains to be seen.

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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!

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