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Fri Apr 18 03:35:16 SAST 2014

Yankees collapse spectacularly

JULIA BEFFON | 19 October, 2012 12:050 Comments
New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers - Game Four
(L-R) Phil Coke #40 of and Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate after the TIgers won 8-1 against the New York Yankees during game four of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on October 18, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan
Image by: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

IT WAS not that the mighty fell that was so shocking, it was the precipitous speed with which they did so. Empires, evil or otherwise, are meant to crumble over time, not implode in days.

Within a week, the New York Yankees went from one of the most powerful and feared teams in any sport to a rabble, fidgeting uncomfortably through Wednesday’s rainout as it forced them to stick around one more day before they could lose to the Detroit Tigers and head into the relative obscurity of the off-season.

What made it even stranger was that, like a set of centuries-old vampires suddenly exposed to sunlight, the apparently ageless Yankees collapsed into a pile of dust without anyone seeming to lay a hand on them.

The Tigers struggled to score runs themselves and their pitching, with now-axed closer Jose Valverde as first but not only culprit, would have coughed up the victories to most other teams.

To viewers it looked like they were throwing mudpies; even the normally formidable Justin Verlander was ordinary. Yet the Yankees treated the pitches like kryptonite-coated grenades.

CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda were magnificent on the bump for the Yankees, but there’s little use in throwing a gem if your own team’s bats are dead.

Joe Girardi’s shell-shocked troops were desperate to finish the season in Detroit, having no stomach for returning home and facing their furious fans.

Most fingers of blame have pointed squarely at Alex Rodriguez, the 37-year-old slugger still owed more than R1-billion (yes, billion) on a contract signed before the world sank into recession.

But A-Rod’s demise — and I’m pretty certain he’s played his last game in pinstripes — is more symptom than cause.

The Yankees, unlike other franchises (and most other businesses) are not particularly affected by the world’s money woes. Their TV deals provide a teflon shield against declining attendances.

But it will take more than money to revive them. It will take someone with the courage to come in and clean up Miss Havisham’s house.

The franchise has been frozen in time since July 2010, when longtime owner George Steinbrenner died. It seems that team, the last one he signed, cannot be touched.

The side — which won the World Series in 2009 — has not been adequately replenished and players have been allowed to remain until they retire. A few — mainly bit-part veterans — have been brought in, but pitcher Sabathia and first baseman Mark Texeira prior to the 2009 season were the last major moves made by the Bronx Bombers in the trade or free agency markets.

When the pitching rotation was hit by injury midway through the season, management did not look for new blood; instead, Andy Pettitte, 40, who retired at the end of last season, was lured back.

Not all the Yankees are in the twilight of their careers, just most of them. And the crazy glue keeping all the egos in check and the team together over the better part of two decades has been Derek Jeter.

When the inspirational captain’s ankle finally fractured in Game 1, the air went out of the husks sitting on the bench.

For these hollow men, this is the way an era ended, not with a bang but with the whiff of a strikeout.

*All the above was written before Thursday’s Game 4, where the Yankees had the possibility of starting a rally — like the Boston Red Sox in 2004 — and coming back to win the series. The only change I needed to make is to note that Sabathia did not, in fact, toss a gem. He didn’t last beyond the third innings of an 8-1 pasting.

The Tigers, who now progress to the World Series starting on Wednesday, weren’t particularly good. They didn’t have to be.

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