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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees fans got a little ahead of team’s promising future

Yankees pitcher Tommy Kahnle after giving up a home run

Yankees pitcher Tommy Kahnle after giving up a home run to the Astros' Jose Altuve during Game 7 of the ALCS on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Houston. Credit: AP / Eric Christian Smith



The Yankees, some through misty eyes, described their feelings in the aftermath of Saturday night’s Game 7 loss as a numbing cocktail of frustration and disappointment, chased with the stark realization that yes, this remarkable, unexpected season now was officially over.

Left unsaid was the shock of it all, to arrive in Houston one win away from the World Series and ultimately leave empty-handed despite two chances, the second a 4-0 loss to the Astros that transformed Minute Maid Park into a raucous, streamer-filled, steam whistle-blowing coronation party for the American League champs.

How could the Yankees have seen this coming? We certainly didn’t, not after proclaiming the Astros kaput in the Bronx, where they lost three games and copped to being intimidated during their stay. Ultimately, that turned out to be premature, and maybe counting out a 101-win team like the Astros, with two home games still in their pocket, was giving the Yankees a tad too much credit.

But that was an easy trap to fall into this October, just because Joe Girardi & Co. had convinced the baseball world that this team was indeed the Yankees again, capable of winning a championship a year or two ahead of even the rosiest projections. They did it through the rapidly maturing talent of homegrown prospects such as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Luis Severino — a Core Four 2.0 for the next generation — blended with the leadership that veterans such as CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and Todd Frazier provided.

The Yankees were talented, determined and uncharacteristically unbuttoned, a young team on the rise with a bright future ahead. We just got a bit ahead of ourselves thinking bigger things for this October, and the Astros supplied the bucket of ice water this weekend by flipping over the Yankees’ 3-2 ALCS lead to claim the trip to L.A. to meet the Dodgers in the World Series.

“We had a great season,” Brian Cashman said, standing in a quiet corner of the visitors’ clubhouse. “It’s been a wild and fun ride, but tonight it hurts because the ride’s over.”

Now comes the long winter, and the time for the decision-making to further rebuild the roster for a shot at returning next October. Cashman is expected to be back as general manager, but the future of Joe Girardi — another free agent — remains unsettled.

Girardi was one of the true believers in these ’17 Yankees from the very start of spring training, and he treated this playoff run as this group merely playing to the ceiling of their abilities.

Throughout this postseason march, Girardi refused to shed much light on his own plans. And with moist eyes on occasion, Girardi gave similar responses late Saturday night, saying, “I’m as proud of this group as I’ve been of any team I’ve ever managed.”

As for wanting to come back, Girardi hedged on his answer.

“I love what I do,” he said. “The first thing I do is I always talk to my family first. Because I think when you have a job, your family has to buy in, too. So I’ll sit down, talk to my wife and kids and see where they’re at and what they’re thinking. And then we’ll see what the Yankees are thinking.

“That’s not my concern right now. I’ve had 10 great years here. I feel extremely blessed. God has been good to me. And we’ll see what the future holds.”

The week ahead was supposed to involve a World Series berth for these Yankees, who were confident that CC Sabathia would provide a sizable nudge toward L.A. by taking the ball for Game 7. Sabathia had been 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankees loss, and Girardi, with a rested bullpen, wasn’t going to need much more than five solid innings.

But Sabathia wasn’t the same Saturday night, and in the fourth inning, after losing an eight-pitch battle with Evan Gattis that resulted in a booming solo homer off the locomotive bridge, he steadily declined. Tommy Kahnle rescued him with a one-pitch double-play ball to strand two in the fourth, but the Astros increased their lead to 4-0 in the fifth on Jose Altuve’s homer and a two-out, two-run double by former Yankee Brian McCann.

The Game 7 loss was an all-systems failure by the Yankees. They were betrayed by their bullpen and an offense that survived Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander but couldn’t crack Charlie Morton. Judge gave us a highlight catch and Greg Bird a crushing, ill-fated dash to the plate, but both were footnotes to the abrupt crash of the Yankees’ unanticipated dream season, now over.

“It’s tough,” Judge said. “We didn’t get the job done. That’s about it.”

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