David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
One day at a time.
With an aging roster, hurting stars and a manager coping with the loss of his dad, the Yankees embraced that mantra to help get them through the Division Series. What sense did it make to worry about tomorrow when any step could be Derek Jeter's last?
So Joe Girardi did what he had to do before Friday night's Game 5 against the Orioles. He benched Alex Rodriguez, handed the ball to CC Sabathia and trusted his team to score one more run than the Orioles.
They scored two more. That's all that separated a humbling first-round exit from advancing to face the Tigers, who arrive tonight in the Bronx for Game 1 of the ALCS. When Sabathia retired Matt Wieters for the final out -- getting a comebacker to the mound, appropriately enough -- the Yankees held a relatively short celebration on the field and a somewhat muted champagne fest in the clubhouse.
The music was loud, corks flew, but players had to be mindful of the quick turnaround. Taking out the Orioles had drained them, both mentally and physically. They may be dodging Justin Verlander until later in the series, but the Tigers are going to represent an even greater challenge. "We're in the dance," Raul Ibañez said, "but we have work to do."
When Buck Showalter looks back on this Division Series, he'll no doubt wonder how the Yankees found a way to get past his upstart club. With Jeter hobbling on a bruised foot, Mark Teixeira still nursing a gimpy calf and A-Rod a non-factor, the Yankees were forced to rely on fill-ins such as Ibañez, who came to the rescue with two homers in Game 3 and also drove in the first run Friday night.
It's not how the Yankees drew it up before this series, but that's how they're living these days -- one moment to the next. Except for Game 5, when it was practically pitch-to-pitch. They didn't get their first hit until Teixeira's leadoff single in the fifth, then received an unexpected jolt when he stole second to set up Ibañez.
"We needed everybody," Teixeira said afterward.
This was the team that swatted 245 home runs during the regular season? Now forced to live off scraps in the playoffs? What else could the Yankees do? Robinson Cano disappeared in this series (he finished it 2-for-22) and the rest of the lineup was a virtual wasteland as well. But after taking the leap of sitting A-Rod, Girardi was rewarded by staying with the slumping Granderson, who drilled a home run into the second deck in the seventh inning.
Only then did the Yankees allow themselves to exhale, maybe with the exception of Sabathia, who from the first pitch was determined to deliver the Yankees to the ALCS. The eighth proved to be his toughest test, and the Orioles finally dented him for a run when Lew Ford sneaked a ground ball past Jeter's outstretched glove.
With the dangerous Robert Andino up next, Girardi could have retrieved Sabathia, who would have left to the standing ovation he deserved. But this Division Series had sucked everything from the Yankees, and that meant Girardi was going to need Sabathia to leave whatever he had remaining on the field, too.
That was fine with Sabathia. He fought his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to end the eighth and sent the Orioles home with a 1-2-3 ninth.
"This is what I'm here for," said Sabathia, who was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in the series and fell an out short of two complete games. "It's what I play the game for."
But now the Yankees likely will be without him until Game 4, and that means they'll have to recruit a few new heroes in the meantime. Andy Pettitte takes the mound for Game 1, and it will be interesting to see what Girardi does with his lineup. With the Tigers' stable of hard-throwing righthanders, and Doug Fister scheduled for the ALCS opener, A-Rod again could be left on the bench.
On Friday night, however, that could wait. The Yankees would deal with it the next day.