BUFFALO — Well, the manager hasn’t been able to rally the troops so the GM hopped on a plane and tried to do his part. Once upon a time, 11 summers back, he’d done a similar trick when the Yankees were going through some doldrums. That time was Atlanta. That summer was 2009.
That team was an awful lot better than this team.
“Every now and then, when I feel it’s appropriate, I’m not afraid to gather the troops,” Brian Cashman had said earlier in the day. “I wanted to remind them first and foremost that I believe in them, that everyone is in this room for some reason.”
So the Yankees have tried the good cop/sort-of-good-cop approach, and neither of those approaches has worked particularly well. A few hours after Cashman channeled Knute Rockne, the Yankees couldn’t go and win one for the Happer. J.A. Happ pitched a fine game, but the Yankees could only scratch a skinny run off the Blue Jays despite — all together now — lots of traffic on the base paths.
They lost 2-1. They are 21-21. They are tied in the loss column with the Orioles, and none of that seems real unless you’ve watched them play the past few weeks, unless you’ve seen 16-6 become 5-15. None of that is an accident. The Yankees are a mess right now. They keep waiting for that narrative to change. They wait still.
“I know we’re better than that,” Aaron Boone said, in his nightly reckoning, his nightly attempt to lend a positive voice to a poisonous stretch of baseball. It’s what he’s expected to do, but it’s harder and harder for it not to sound like Mister Rogers doing a voice-over describing a 20-car pileup on the Cross Bronx Expressway.
“We have not played to our capabilities the last couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s a rough stretch to get to that point. We still have time to turn this thing around, and I’m confident we will. But we’re .500 right now. That’s the reality of the situation.”
Whenever the Yankees find themselves in a funk like the one they’ve found themselves in lately, this is when the trickle begins. Lose a few more games and the trickle becomes a stream.
Fall out of playoff position?
That’s when the stream becomes a raging sea of lament:
“If only George was still alive …”
Yankees fans tend to have selective memories, so they tend to forget the version of Boss Steinbrenner who drove them to the brink of their wits across most of the 1980s, who was the target of their loud derision the night Fay Vincent threw him out of baseball 30 years ago.
What they remember, mostly, is this:
The Boss would have done something by now. He might have done multiple somethings: stripped Cashman of parts of his decision-making empire. Forced Boone to wait by his hotel phone for orders. Thursday’s an off-day; he would’ve demanded a workout that day, you could make book on it.
Pitching coach Matt Blake would’ve been the first one to go. The Boss might not even have fired Blake; prime Boss would have delighted at the notion of an “Alternate Site,” probably would have exiled Blake there (with a few of the players, too) for a bit, let them sample the dystopian horrors of the Alternate Site.
But the Boss isn’t walking through that door. And that’s a good thing. You think you’re aggravated with the Yankees right now? That’s nothing compared to the Yankees right now. They’ve seen this 5-15 horror show up close. They see the record in the paper. They know the days are dwindling down to a precious few.
“We have to keep grinding,” Luke Voit said. “We have to break through somehow.”
“We need to get some wins on the board and turn things around,” said DJ LeMahieu. “We’re a better team than a .500 team, but we can’t worry about that right now. We have to take care of business.”
Everyone wants to. It’s why Boone believes every day he’ll see his old team again. It’s why the GM got on the plane. It’s why the players believe, still, that they’ll figure a way into the tournament, even as the evidence mounts against them, even as their hold on the last playoff slot in the AL shrinks to a half-game.
But as the Boss might’ve put it, even if he wasn’t ranting it: Wanting is fine. But doing is what you’re ultimately judged on. That’s why you’re paid. There’s still time for the doing. Just not as much as there was before 16-6 became 5-15.