The Yankees aspired to be the 2020 World Series champions.
What they’re in danger of becoming is the 2007 Mets.
Too harsh? Time will tell. But the Yankees finally were able to climb off the mat Wednesday night with a 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays, a desperately-needed win that ensured the Orioles wouldn’t overtake them heading into Thursday’s showdown in the Bronx.
“Hopefully, this is something that can start to catapult us when we go home,” manager Aaron Boone said, music thumping loudly off camera. “I’m confident that it will.”
There was no overstating the gravity of the situation. The Yankees nudged back over .500 (22-21) behind Deivi Garcia’s brilliant seven-inning performance and still have 17 games remaining to avoid the epic ’07 swan dive of their Flushing pals, despite a shockingly similar 5-15 freefall that Luke Voit labeled “embarrassing” the previous night.
Voit’s soul-baring Zoom session, and his usage of that word in particular, took me back to ’07, when David Wright described the Mets’ pathetic spiral in nearly identical terms. His club was in the process of blowing a seven-game lead with 17 left to play, an historic collapse that required a 5-12 record down the stretch for a Mets team that spent 159 days in first place.
“Personally, I'm embarrassed. I think it's embarrassing. It's pretty pathetic," Wright said after loss No. 11 of that slide. "We had this division within our grasp with seven home games and we can't find a way to win one of them. The fans deserve better. Ownership deserves better ... This is on the players.”
Sound familiar? Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman uttered a nearly identical statement about the fans after his rare clubhouse meeting Tuesday at Sahlen Field. It’s all from the same playbook, because what else is there to say? When the futility becomes overwhelming, and every night brings a new frustrating scramble for answers, the only way ahead is to deliver a few platitudes and trust the process.
The Mets, as we all know, never found a solution. Their nosedive didn’t end until the season ran out of games for them to lose. Needing to win on the final day, the Mets were blown out, at Shea Stadium, by the Marlins, whose only motivation was to humiliate their hosts before going home for the winter.
We only mention ’07 now in relation to the Yankees because losing streaks don’t automatically stop. The Mets couldn’t fathom a scenario that kept them from the playoffs that September. This year, everyone felt the same about the Yankees, even when the injuries began piling up for the second consecutive season.
The 2020 Yankees are supposed to be too good to fail. But that’s mostly what they had been doing since Aug. 18, and in a 60-game season, losing 15 of 20 amounts to a 14-40 stretch over the regular 162-game schedule. Don’t forget, the Yankees also started 16-6 and held the AL’s top playoff seed by percentage points over the A’s. After Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Jays, Boone & Co. had plummeted all the way to the eighth (and final) spot, with a narrow half-game edge on the Orioles.
On Wednesday, They were able to change the narrative -- however briefly -- thanks to Gleyber Torres’ four RBIs (including a solo homer). Voit put the Yankees in front to stay with a two-out single in the fifth inning and Torres followed with a two-run double for some breathing room.
Cashman’s pregame address didn’t save the Yankees, but maybe Voit’s pointed commentary after Tuesday’s loss struck a nerve. Before Wednesday’s series finale, Boone was asked if Voit’s dejection was widespread in the clubhouse. “I don’t,” Boone said pregame. “I think when you're getting punched in the mouth a little bit, and you’re scuffling, it just kind of dings at you. But I really do feel like to a man, that deep down, individuals and us as a team know what we're capable of and I believe that is driving the day and needs to drive our day. You kind of need to not flinch.”
The Yankees? Flinching? Not the type of conversation we’re usually having about this franchise. But as Voit laid out, these have been humbling times.
Back in ’07, we got to witness those cracks with the Mets up close, as reporters still roamed the clubhouses in the pre-virus era. This September, we don’t get to see how the Yankees are handling the stress, other than what leaks through on the Zoom calls. And Boone was doing his best to project an unflappable stance through the “storm,” as Cashman referred to this recent malaise.
The clubhouse vibe Wednesday night, however, was a welcome change.
“It’s like a discotheque in there right now,” Boone said.
The goal now is for the Yankees is to keep that music blasting for as long as possible.