“What the heck is going on here?” commissioner Bud Selig shouted at his trusted assistant. “I thought the Yankees were dead!”
“Well, not exactly, sir,” the trusted assistant said.
Selig peered at the wild-card standings. There were the Yankees — the Yankees of Alex Rodriguez, the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the appalling — er, appealing, Alex Rodriguez — sitting 2-1/2 games back in the race for the second American League wild card. And trailing only one team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
“No,” Selig said. “I will not be presenting the World Series MVP trophy to Rodriguez. No, no, 211 times no!”
Now, of course, the above conversation did not take place. At least, I don’t think it took place. The commissioner does not root for teams to win — or lose.
And, truth be told, the ratings on FOX for a Yankees World Series — and even better, ahem, a Yankees-Dodgers World Series — might be valuable enough to the sport for the commissioner to bear the indignity of watching A-Rod preen on both coasts.
But momentary panic? Yes, the commissioner may indeed be experiencing momentary panic. And as a keen observer of the sport — that is, when I’m not making awful World Series predictions — I am here to tell him: “Relax.”
One of the AL West contenders, the Texas Rangers or Oakland Athletics, will win one of the American League wild cards. The Rays, who finally snapped out of it with a 7-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night, will win the other.
Yes, the Yankees mounted a stirring comeback against the Chicago White Sox earlier in the evening, producing a five-run rally against left-hander Chris Sale and three relievers in the eighth inning for a 6-4 victory.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda pitched better than he had in his previous three starts. Derek Jeter started the comeback with a single after earlier producing his 3,314th career hit and moving into ninth place on the all-time list.
Curtis Granderson tied the score with a pinch-hit single in a left-left matchup against Donnie Veal. Eduardo Nunez gave the Yankees the lead with a two-run double off righty Matt Lindstrom. And Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for his 40th save, making it 6-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings since he blew three straight chances from Aug. 7-11.
So, what’s not to like?
Nothing, as long as the opponent is the hapless White Sox, who are primed to “earn” the No. 3 pick in the draft behind Houston and Miami. Right-hander Erik Johnson will make his season debut for the Sox on Wednesday in the series finale against lefty CC Sabathia. After that, the Yankees’ next 10 games — four at home against Boston, six on the road against Baltimore and Boston — will be considerably more taxing.
The Bronx Embalmers will be in terrific shape if they can survive that stretch — the rest of their schedule consists of three games in Toronto, six at home against San Francisco and Tampa Bay and a season-ending three-game trip to Houston.
The problem is, the Rays are a better team.
Left-hander Matt Moore did not allow an earned run in 5-1/3 innings Tuesday night in his first start since July 28. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson returns from an eight-day rest on Wednesday night. Righty Chris Archer is talented but inconsistent, but lefty David Price and righty Alex Cobb are better than any Yankees starter except, uh, right-hander Ivan Nova?
The Rays’ biggest problem of late has been their offense, which produced only 19 runs as the team lost eight of its previous nine games. But one rival AL manager predicted Tuesday, “They’ll pick it up again.” And sure enough, they erupted that night.
It’s unlikely the Rays will grab the first wild-card spot and home-field advantage in the one-game playoff; they trail the A’s by 2-1/2 games, and the Athletics face a considerably easier schedule. The Rays, like the Yankees, play about the same number of games against contenders and non-contenders. Not all gimmes.
Lest anyone forget, the race also includes Baltimore, Cleveland and Kansas City, all of which are within two games of the Yankees. The streaky Royals, winners of eight of their last 10, are the hottest of those clubs. The Orioles’ pitching remains suspect, and Indians ace Justin Masterson will miss at least one start and possibly the rest of the season with a strained left oblique.
The Yankees’ season, on the other hand, continues to be a source of wonder, considering their injuries, the circus surrounding A-Rod and the struggles of Sabathia and now Kuroda. Joe Girardi deserves strong consideration for AL Manager of the Year, no matter what happens the rest of the way.
A good number of supposed experts — myself included — picked the Yankees to finish last. Yet here they are, 10 games over .500, on pace to win 86 games. Jeter and Granderson still could get hot after missing most of the season with injuries. A-Rod is 38 and coming off two hip surgeries, yet still has an .805 OPS in 104 plate appearances.
It’s enough to drive a commissioner to distraction; A-Rod, after all, is helping the Yankees win games only because first-time offenders under baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement are allowed to play during their appeals.
Well, if the commissioner is worried, I’m here to tell him, “Don’t worry about it. Everything will be OK.” At least, I think everything will be OK. But, really, what do I know?
Like so many others, I’ve been wrong about the Yankees all year.