HOUSTON — Others have endured the title-less desert longer. The Indians have not won a championship since 1948, and clubs such as the Mariners, Padres and Rockies fall into the never club. Across a bridge the Mets have waited since 1986, and across the country their West Coast doppelganger in Los Angeles has been watching gimpy Kirk Gibson video since 1988.
The Yankees’ title absence is shorter, since 2009. But these are the Yankees. Twenty-seven titles and descendants of George Steinbrenner. So 10 years is a minute or two less than forever.
These are the Yankees and the rules are understood — the Rays can lose to the Astros in these playoffs and have had a great season. The Yankees cannot.
In 2017 that was possible, to lose in seven games in the ALCS to the Astros and feel the initial disappointment, but a big-picture glow. Back then expectations were tinier and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino were just establishing themselves.
Since then, though, the Yankees got bounced from the playoffs by the Red Sox — the RED SOX — and had to watch as their one-time punching bags won a fourth title in 15 seasons. Since then the Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton and retrofitted their bullpen with one enticing piece after another. Since then they won 100 games in 2018, now 103 in 2019. And just beating the Twins by rote is not going to be good enough any longer when it comes to October accomplishment.
A few years back, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told me he could not abide living in a world in which one team had a good year and 29 unsatisfactory ones. That the joys and the achievements from consistent excellence and winning divisions and pouring champagne for rounds of the playoffs had to count. I agree with him. The logical side of my brain totally gets it. I do think there is a crapshoot element to short series any time of the year — remember the horrible Tigers and White Sox winning series in The Bronx in April. So, of course, there is randomness in October as well.
But for better or worse I also believe this: This is how we keep score.
Dan Marino and Charles Barkley and Ernie Banks don’t have championships and that is part of their permanent record whether they were underserved by those around them or not. There is no sense in holding parades and handing out rings if the titles are ever going to be devalued in meaning.
Brian Cashman and his baseball operations department should be lauded for assembling a deep, talented, professional team over these past few years without ever going into a rebuild. Aaron Boone, as opposed to, say, Mickey Callaway, had an instant acumen for managing a major-league team and his skills sharpened in Year 2. The Yanks are set up to be good for a while. But tomorrow is a projection, not a promise.
The logical theory is that if you get into the big dance enough, eventually you will win one. The Dodgers have now said that through seven straight division titles and seven straight eliminations. At some point you have to cash one in. The Astros did in 2017. The Yankees have not in this era. They have lost twice in the playoffs to Houston, also falling in the 2015 wild-card game.
They might get other chances to get to the World Series. But their last opportunity to get to it in the 2010s — to avoid becoming the first decade the Yankees have not reached the Fall Classic since the 1910s — begins Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. This ALCS is the only one guaranteed in which the Yankees can stop the narrative that they can’t beat the Astros in October. The road to the title goes through Houston. Again. Who knows what will be in 2020?
All we know for the Yankees is 2009 is a long time ago.