David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - The Diamondbacks, at the very least, deserve a thank you. Maybe a shout-out to Paul Goldschmidt for his tiebreaking two-run homer off Astros reliever Chad Qualls. Or a hat tip to closer Brad Ziegler for the two-inning save, his first of the year on the last day of the regular season.
Those were extraordinary efforts from a 79-83 Arizona team playing for virtually nothing but pride Sunday in Game No. 162. But in beating the Astros, who still secured the American League's second wild card, the D-backs ensured that the Yankees would host Tuesday night's wild-card game.
And that's a heck of a lot more than the Yankees did during the weekend, when they were swept by the Orioles in a three-game series at rainy, frigid Camden Yards. Needing to win only once to lock down home-field advantage for the wild-card game, the Yankees whiffed completely against Buck Showalter, their former manager and chief antagonist.
Before Sunday's ugly 9-4 loss was finished, someone in the Yankees' social media department was savvy enough to favorite the Diamondbacks' tweet of their 5-3 win over the Astros. In response, Arizona replied on Twitter, "You're welcome."
That's as close as anyone from the Yankees got to an official display of gratitude, and we didn't expect much more than that. Though they didn't come out and say so, there was a sense that the Yankees were a bit embarrassed by the way the regular season wrapped up. They had a 41/2-game lead over the Astros on Sept. 27 but lost six of seven in the final week.
With the Yankees' veteran core, and a very expensive one at that, we'd be surprised if they weren't. As for any lingering damage, we'll have to see how the Yankees look tomorrowThey insist that getting the home-field advantage gift-wrapped, rather than earning it with a better performance this past week, won't affect them.
"Everything's erased," Joe Girardi said. "It's doesn't matter what you did the day before or two days before. The big thing is we have a shot -- just like the other nine teams do."
There are no more magic numbers and no more scoreboard-watching. And no more help from clubs such as the D-backs, who did the sport a service by battling the Astros straight up.
Major League Baseball purposely designed Sunday's schedule so that every game, regardless of the time zone, began at either 3:05 p.m. or 3:10 p.m. Eastern. That way, there would be no waiting around to see if a team had clinched, or been awarded home field. Everything would happen more or less simultaneously.
For the Yankees, the suspense on the field was over early. They fell behind 2-0 in the first inning, cut the deficit to 2-1 on Dustin Ackley's RBI groundout in the second, then went down 7-1 in the fifth after the first of Chris Davis' two homers.
The Yankees were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11, so the possibility of a comeback felt remote.
It wasn't until the eighth inning, after Andrew Miller entered the game, that the Yankees wound up with the result they needed at Chase Field in Arizona. At 6:30 p.m., Ziegler got the Astros' boy wonder, Carlos Correa, on a high chopper to short to seal the Diamondbacks' win. Miller was removed soon after, which is when most of the Yankees realized what was going on.
"It's not really how we drew it up," Chase Headley said. "But in the end, it doesn't matter. There's a lot of guys in here that are good players and have performed well. It's been a tough week, but that's baseball."
Headley's right. However bad it looked, the outcome is what the Yankees wanted all along -- to face Astros ace and Cy Young favorite Dallas Kuechel in the Bronx rather than at Minute Maid Park, where he was 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA this season. Now they have to figure out how to beat him. There's no more outside help.
"Now that the regular season is over, we can't think about it anymore," Carlos Beltran said. "There's nothing you can say to the team to make it hit or pitch better. We just have to do it ourselves."