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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees need to do a reality check during offseason

Anthony Rizzo of the Yankees reacts after striking

Anthony Rizzo of the Yankees reacts after striking out against the Red Sox in the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card game at Fenway Park on Tuesday in Boston. Credit: Getty Images/Winslow Townson

BOSTON

The only thing the Yankees lead the league in anymore is delusion. And they shouldn’t require cutting-edge tech to see that. Only a mirror.

The record is what it is. Since the Yankees’ last World Series title in 2009, eight different teams have hoisted the trophy in that 11-year span. The Giants have won three, the Red Sox two.

The Royals are among those with rings. Think about that. And for all the ridicule the Mets absorb across town, they were in the World Series only six years ago. Going back even further, the Marlins have the same number of titles as the Yankees since hooking up with them in the '03 Fall Classic, which Miami won.

The running tab for all this futility? Hal Steinbrenner has spent roughly $2.4 billion chasing that ’09 crown, and here’s what the Yankees have to show for the investment: Nine playoff appearances and only four times advancing as far as the ALCS, losing each of those.

Most franchises would gladly sign up for that. For the Yankees, however, it’s an abject failure. And Aaron Boone's suggestion after Tuesday night’s wild-card loss at Fenway Park that "teams have closed the gap" on the Yankees was almost comical.

That perceived "gap" disappeared long ago, and all Brian Cashman has to do is look inside their own division. Since Boone’s walk-off homer won Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, the Red Sox have not lost a postseason series to the Yankees, winning four championships during that stretch.

This was characterized as somewhat of a rebuilding year in Boston. But the Sox found a spark in rehiring the formerly disgraced Alex Cora, whose baseball intellect (no snickering) and aggressive managing style helped them exceed modest expectations under second-year chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.

To bring up the tiny-market Rays again feels like piling on. Their dollar-to-victory ratio puts them on another level, as Tampa Bay has made a sport out of fleecing other clubs for inexpensive talent. On the season’s final weekend, the Rays — with virtually nothing to play for — tortured the Yankees just for kicks, coming within Sunday’s 1-0 loss of a Bronx sweep that would have forced the Yankees to play a tiebreaker against the surging Blue Jays.

Speaking of Toronto, the Jays were the team no one wanted to face in the playoffs, with a stable of scary young sluggers and a rotation fronted by presumptive AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray.

Even the Orioles — a team that white-flagged 2021 before Opening Day — put a sizable dent in the Yankees’ October push by winning eight of their 19 meetings

In spring training, the Yankees were a consensus favorite to reach the World Series. By the end of the regular season, a wild-card victory seemed feasible, but few outside the Yankees’ clubhouse gave them much of a chance to beat the Rays in the Division Series.

"Looking back to 2018 and 2019, I felt like we were one of those teams that were truly capable and it was really razor-thin between us winning the world championship and the Red Sox or the Astros. Last year was obviously a little different," Boone said late Tuesday night.

"But this year, I do feel like there’s more teams that are on the come that are way more competitive with us. That have closed the gap with us. It’s not just the Rays and Red Sox and Astros anymore. It’s the Blue Jays. It’s the Central teams that are coming. It’s the Mariners and Angels. These teams are on ground with us and we need to keep getting a little bit better."

It’s not as if the Yankees are mailing it in. They don’t take seasons off the way many franchises do before reloading for a title run. This was the Yankees’ fifth straight playoff appearance (I know, wild card, but still) and 23rd in the last 27 years. But Steinbrenner is trying to maintain the Yankees’ championship pedigree in a more challenging landscape than his dad faced.

But that can’t be an excuse. Sure, the Yankees had 92 wins this season. But six teams won more, and the once-unassailable Yankees brand is losing some of its luster.

When $324 million ace Gerrit Cole — the veritable symbol of the Steinbrenners' financial might — winds up pitching batting practice to the mocking chants of a giddy Fenway crowd in the season’s biggest game, that’s not the rest of the league catching up.

It was a sobering indication that the Yankees no longer are who everyone thought they were. Now Steinbrenner and Cashman need to come to that realization, too.

New York Sports