David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The faint smell of victory cigars and flat champagne stretched down the long hallway to the edge of the visitors' clubhouse. Inside, the Yankees went about the sorry business of deconstructing their ALCS flop against the Tigers.
Everyone knew they had some explaining to do. After getting swept by the Tigers, the final blow delivered with yesterday's 8-1 loss at Comerica Park, the Yankees stood there, soaked in shame rather than bubbly, and spoke at length about their collective failure.
The most troubling part? No one had any answers.
Spending $200 million for this year's club got the Yankees 95 wins, a hard-fought Division Series victory over the Orioles and a trip to the ALCS. They disappeared so suddenly, however, that it was like not showing up at all. They never once held a lead and scored in only three of 39 innings.
Staggering, stunning, breathtakingly awful.
"If there was a magic wand we could have waved early in the series," Mark Teixeira said, "we would have done it."
The way the Yankees wielded their bats during these playoffs, they might as well have been waving wands. Maybe canes, given the advanced age of this group.
Cashman was peppered with a number of possible reasons for the ALCS collapse. Fatigue from an exhausting final month of the regular season? A one-dimensional lineup stacked with misfiring power hitters?
The general manager shot down those theories, describing the Yankees' demise as a "perfect storm" of factors brought on by nothing more complicated than his hitters going cold at the wrong time.
But all of them? Simultaneously?
The multiple benchings of A-Rod fit the behavior of a team in panic mode, and regardless of the button pushed, nothing clicked.
"Losers are supposed to figure out why," Cashman said. "The bottom line is we lost. We're massively disappointed. There's too much pain that exists here now."
Joe Girardi had done a good job hiding the stress, as well as internalizing the churning emotions from his father's death. After yesterday's loss, he struggled to keep it together during his postgame interview session. He finally came apart at the end, leaving the room in tears.
"We fell short," Girardi said. "But how do we all get better? That was my message."
For the third consecutive season, the Yankees weren't good enough, and watching it unravel again this year was not a pretty sight. As if the nightly frustration wasn't bad enough, the afternoon sideshows involving A-Rod were not exactly team-building activities.
The idea that Rodriguez, a pinch hitter who didn't reach base in Game 4, attracted the biggest media throng after the clinching game was comical. And for what? To address whether he wants to be traded. For the record, Rodriguez says his desire is to stay.
A-Rod barely got the chance to swing a bat in the ALCS, which would seem to indicate he's more a part of the problem than the solution. As much as Girardi reiterated after the game that this was not just about A-Rod, he was the only Yankee who was benched regularly. They could not have done any worse if he had been in the lineup.
"The bottom line is I've been doing this a long time," Rodriguez said. "I know how to play baseball."
That was the assumption we all made about the Yankees, but when it came time to prove it, they flunked. Obviously, losing Derek Jeter to a fractured ankle in the 12th inning of Game 1 was a difficult blow to absorb. But there were plenty of other healthy bodies on this roster, and a pitching staff that had kept the Yankees within striking distance in every game but the last.
They just couldn't land a punch, and as a result, they were swept for the first time since a best-of-five broom job by the Royals in the 1980 ALCS. Robinson Cano, a more deserving playoff goat than A-Rod, wasn't even born yet.
"I'm going to be thinking of this all winter," Cano said.
That winter started much earlier than the Yankees expected for reasons they never could have imagined -- or just refused to.