David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees won 95 games, the most in the American League, as well as a division title. But all that earned them Friday was an all-expenses-paid trip to limbo.
Top seed? That and $3.50 would have gotten Joe Girardi a venti iced latte. But more caffeine was probably the last thing he needed as the Yankees had to wait around all night to see who emerged from the wild-card game between the Orioles and Rangers. (The Orioles did, at 11:57 p.m.)
Avoiding that one-and-done playoff game was critical, and Girardi emphasized that repeatedly during the final month of the regular season. It was worth every extra drop of sweat needed to clinch first place.
But going all-out for the AL's best record should be worth more than merely a pass into the divisional round. Look at the Tigers and A's.
The Tigers won 88 games to earn the third seed, and they got to sit home since the season ended Wednesday before opening with the first two games at Comerica Park.
The 94-win A's were put in the same situation as the Yankees, having to start on the road, but at least Oakland knew which team it had to play right away.
"It's just so much different not knowing who you're playing," Girardi said before Friday's 7 p.m. workout in the Bronx. "It just seems to be, um, uncertain what we're doing. There's a lot of uncertainty."
The inconvenience was temporary, but it's a glitch regardless, and one that will be fixed after this season. Why did it happen this year? Major League Baseball already had set the date for the World Series before deciding on the new playoff format, which included the second wild card.
As a result, the schedule-makers had to work backward from the Fall Classic in squeezing in the two other playoff rounds, along with that additional do-or-die wild-card game. To get it done, they had to compress the divisional round to the old 2-3 format used when the wild card was introduced in 1995 before it was dumped for the 2-2-1 starting in 1998.
So how did the higher seeds do opening on the road? Not as well as a higher seed probably should. During those three years, they were an even 6-6 in the Division Series, with a 20-24 record overall. That's not very encouraging for the Yankees, who weren't getting a pushover in the first round in any case.
That's a little frustrating, especially after working so hard to bury the Orioles during the final week. And as much as the players tried to shrug it off, having to go home and pack a bag after the workout was not a perfect scenario. Not for a 95-win team, anyway.
"It's a one-year thing," Mark Teixeira said. "We're not going to complain about starting the first two on the road."
Teams can't get too wrapped up in the travel part of their business. They play 81 games away from home during the regular season, so flying halfway across the country on short notice is not a crippling demand. Aside from that, the extra days off afforded the Yankees a chance to set up the rotation to their liking rather than burn someone like CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte in a wild-card game.
But the Commissioner's Office is acutely aware of the corrections that need to be made, starting with next season, and the higher seeds will get the luxury of opening at home when the Division Series returns to the 2-2-1 format. That, of course, doesn't do the Yankees much good right now.
For them, it was all about making the best out of a less than ideal situation, wherever they wound up. But as unsettled as the Yankees were Friday, imagine how they'll feel if they return to the Bronx down 0-2 to the Orioles in this series.
By then, it won't matter where the Division Series started. And home field probably won't feel like much of an advantage then, either.