David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Overachieve, underachieve. The question clung to the 2015 Yankees like pinstripes, and in the final analysis, after Tuesday night's 3-0 wild-card loss to the Astros, does it really matter?
The Yankees weren't good enough.
Few of us predicted this team getting this far. But those who did never imagined the end to be quite like this.
Three singles. Zero runs. And the largest crowd of the season, 50,311, booing the last pinstripe-wearing batters off the Stadium turf.
That's right. Boos. First for Brett Gardner, after he followed his three strikeouts with a weak grounder in the eighth. Then for Jacoby Ellsbury, who was benched until his pinch-hit, soft pop to shortstop ended the inning.
The 2015 Yankees were never fully embraced by their fandom, but Tuesday night came close to a full-on bro hug -- until Astros ace Dallas Keuchel squeezed the life from the lovefest. Carlos Gomez, who was a Met for a few minutes in July, and Colby Rasmus helped spoil the fun with solo homers off Masahiro Tanaka.
For a while, this night reminded us of all those Octobers when the Bronx was boisterous. And rarely did the party end before Columbus Day. As poorly as these Yankees performed in September, they led us to believe their sins could be erased in time for the wild-card game, that even Keuchel -- the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award -- could be beaten on this stage.
It wasn't true. Not only did the Yankees do little more than flail away at Keuchel for six innings, they exited with a whimper. With two outs in the sixth inning, and two on, Alex Rodriguez popped up Keuchel's first pitch for a weak fly ball to centerfield. In that moment, everyone felt fooled again, tricked into believing these Yankees had some magic left. But the needle was on E.
"The stadium was rocking, that's for sure," Keuchel said. "A-Rod coming up. Doesn't get any more exciting than that."
The defeat dropped the Yankees to 12-12 in what's called "winner-take-all" playoff games, including 4-7 since 1995. They've also lost four of nine postseason series since 2009, their last World Series title.
"We didn't reach our goal," Brian McCann said. "Our goal was to win the World Series and we came up short. But it wasn't for lack of effort or hustle."
McCann's words were straight from the Steinbrenner owner's manual, but this was hardly a team expected to bring home a 28th title, even with a $220-million price tag. The flaws became painfully evident once Mark Teixeira was lost with a season-ending shin fracture, and Girardi mentioned the Yankees' weakness against lefthanded pitching in his postgame news conference.
But there were others, such as Jacoby Ellsbury, who vanished in plain sight. Girardi took the extreme step of benching his $153-million centerfielder Tuesday night.
The Yankees, as they have in recent weeks, just looked spent. Tanaka had to be removed after five innings, partly because of a skyrocketing pitch count, with Girardi putting his faith in his normally reliable bullpen. But Dellin Betances, another Yankee who faded toward the finish, gave up an RBI single to Jose Altuve in the seventh that nudged a few fans toward the gates.
Even after Keuchel was pulled, the Yankees did nothing against the Astros' suspect relief corps.
The most they could come up with was Chase Headley's one-out walk in the seventh. In the ninth, Carlos Beltran and A-Rod both whiffed before McCann grounded to short.
"When the season started, no one thought we would be here," Girardi said. "They gave me everything they had, every day."
For this year, for these Yankees, it wasn't enough.