The Yankees can’t win a World Series in June. That opportunity has to wait another four months.
But what is possible? Playing championship-caliber baseball, mowing through the American League East, setting up an October to remember.
So as the victories continue to pile up at a record clip, the Yankees never really have much to say about historic home winning streaks, or an ever-multiplying division lead, or the meaning of all these late-spring accolades.
They just keep relentlessly spitting out Ws, like a Big Pinstriped Machine. And the Yankees did so again Thursday night, when Anthony Rizzo’s ninth-inning homer delivered a 2-1 victory, their eighth walk-off win of the season, to complete a three-game sweep of the Rays in the Bronx.
“It’s impressive,” said Rizzo, who now has 16 home runs. “We’re winning games in a lot of different ways.”
But the Yankees still seem to realize, even at this early stage, just how hollow a season like this would be without a World Series ring. And being that driven, to crave the next win more than enjoy anything that came before, is the price of greatness.
“We’re not satisfied with just winning the division,” Aaron Judge said this week. “We want to go out there and bring a championship back. I think with that in our mindset, each and every single day, that’s what’s kind of pushing us all here.”
During the course of a long, methodical, 162-game season, players tend to narrow their vision. Looking too far ahead is a fruitless, and often disappointing, exercise. But it’s not like the Yankees aren’t fixated on the daily task at hand. They just refuse to spend much time gazing in the rear-view mirror.
The Yankees are now 47-16, tying them with the ’98 team for the third-best start through 63 games in franchise history. All three of those teams won the World Series.
Since 1930, only five previous MLB teams have won 47 games or more through the first 63. Four went on to become world champs — the fifth was the 2001 Mariners, who lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.
Noticing a trend here? It’s definitely not lost on the ’22 Yankees, who already have turned the AL East race into a rout by building a 10-game lead over the Blue Jays and now 12 over the fading Rays. Thirty-one games over .500 is a ridiculous pace to set (next-best is the Mets, at 19 over) but these Yankees have made it feel like a new normal, just as the ’98 team did en route to 114 wins and a World Series title.
“We were just talking about it in the lunch room — we don’t expect anything less with this group of guys we have here,” said Nestor Cortes, the team’s breakthrough star (6-2, 1.94 ERA). “It’s pretty special and I think we can continue to do good things.”
You can just picture Cortes & Co. hanging in the back, sipping post-game cappuccinos, chuckling over another conquest. The Rays were supposed to be the first big hurdle of this upcoming 13-game steeplechase, but ended up being just another hapless foe, kicking the ball around and scoring only two earned runs in the series.
Gerrit Cole stuffed them in Tuesday’s opener, and Cortes kept them down just long enough Wednesday night for Kyle Higashioka to deliver the eventual game-winner: a three-run homer after Isiah Kiner-Falefa was intentionally walked in front of him. On Thursday night, the Yankees had to scratch Luis Severino due to COVID-19 concerns (he later tested negative) then rode the foursome of Clarke Schmidt, the newly-called up Ryan Weber, Ron Marinaccio and Michael King for the W.
Every button the Yankees push works. Whether it’s the trade for Jose Trevino, the signing of Matt Carpenter, the emergence of Clay Holmes or Thursday’s rush-job of patching together a bullpen game to beat the Rays.
“Yes, we want to win a championship and that’s what we’re all focused on,” Aaron Boone said Thursday afternoon. “But I do feel like they’re doing a great job of just being obsessed with today ... We understand we’ve done nothing yet.”
Nothing may be a little strong. The Yankees are 22-10 against the AL East, including 17-5 in their last 22 — the best record of any AL team within its division. Their 29-7 home record is tops in the majors, and the 14-game winning streak at the Stadium is the longest in the Bronx since they went for 15 in 1961.
MLB’s best-run differential (plus-131), now first in comeback wins (18) and crushing the rest of baseball in a number of offensive categories. All of it just makes the Yankees hungrier for what’s ahead.
“We’re worried about the next game,” Judge said.
And that won’t end until a Game 7 in early November, if it comes to that.