The Yankees officially began their 2018 journey Feb. 13 in Tampa, unafraid of the World-Series-or-bust mantra accompanying the club reminiscent of the George Steinbrenner years.
“If we don’t win, I think it’s not a great year for us,” Dellin Betances, a Yankee since he was drafted in 2006, said the day that pitchers and catchers reported. “It’s probably the first season I’ve ever come in with those expectations.’’
Aaron Boone replaced Joe Girardi, who had led the club to Game 7 of the ALCS. Boone found that kind of expectation music to his ears.
“He’s right about the World Series, it would be a great year,” Boone said in his first spring training news conference. “We understand the expectations, and I think one of the things that’s exciting to me is to hear some of those comments [from players] . . . embrace the expectation. We’re going to embrace that and we’re going to expect to be great.”
The Yankees were great at points of the season, in which they went 100-62 but weren’t as consistent as the AL East behemoth they spent the year pursuing, the Red Sox. The Yankees’ archrivals proved better built for the six-month regular season, going 108-54, and for the shorter burst that is the playoffs, capturing the best-of-five ALDS in four games.
As Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, put it early Wednesday morning after his team was eliminated, 4-3, in Game 4: “This is the time of year when good teams get sent home and great teams move on.”
Of the Red Sox, against whom the Yankees were 9-10 during the season, he added: “They outhit us and they outpitched us and they outplayed us. You have to tip your caps to them. They didn’t win 108 games during the season by just being a decent team. They have a really good team over there. I felt like we could beat them and we didn’t play our best baseball and we got beat.”
The Yankees were oh-so-close to pushing the series to a fifth game – Gary Sanchez missed hitting a walk-off grand slam by mere feet in the ninth against a wobbly Craig Kimbrel – but, in the end, Didi Gregorius summarized it best.
“We came close,” the shortstop said. “But close is not enough.”
Boone took plenty of criticism for being slow to his bullpen. Going into the postseason he said would be “aggressive” in using its depth of power arms, but ultimately was not. The Yankees’ undoing in the series, however, was their failure to hit when it counted. A team that hit a record 267 homers and ranked second in the majors in runs with 851, scored a total of four runs in Games 3 and 4 at the Stadium. The Yankees, who took advantage of Kimbrel’s wildness in a two-run ninth, hit .214/.295/.321 in the series. It brought about a fresh round of critiques of the roster being overly reliant on the home run.
“We want to continue to get better, so we’re chasing the perfect offense,” Boone said. “We’re chasing to be the best we can be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough, and we’ll continue to work at getting to that point where we’re as complete in every department as we can be, offensively, pitching, defense. You’re always chasing utopia, you know. We’re chasing that.”
A chase that ended far sooner this October than the Yankees had hoped or expected.