- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

This is the worst nightmare for New York Yankees fans — American League Division Series tied, one game each, going back to Detroit for the next two in a five-game series.

Isn’t it great?

The nightmare is that one more time, the Yankees may not even get to the World Series, let alone win it. And as we all know, anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is not enough.

That is why the Yankees are so important to baseball, and particularly to postseason baseball — it is so much fun to watch excess fail.

The Yankees lost their mystical advantage when they lost to the Tigers yesterday 4-3 in the Bronx. Win that game, and there aren’t too many people you could find — even wearing a Tigers uniform — that in their hearts wouldn’t believe that the series was over.

Now it’s just baseball. Now it’s just one team against another in a three-game series, and George Steinbrenner didn’t spend all that money to see his season come down to best two-out-of-three against the Detroit Tigers, for crying out loud. And it isn’t just the $199 million Steinbrenner spent on this year’s payroll.

The Yankees have not won a World Series championship since 2000. They’ve made it to the series twice since then, losing in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and then in six games to the Florida Marlins in 2003.

That means that Steinbrenner has spent $777 million in payroll since 2000 and not won a World Series title. If they fail again this year, we are talking close to $1 billion without a ring to show for it.

If that is not a nightmare, then at the very least, it is a deep dark place for the Yankees and Yankees fans to be. But for the rest of baseball in America, it means the sun is shining.

As Boston faltered this year, there was some criticism that Red Sox management wasn’t aggressive enough in trading prospects for players who could help them down the stretch, as the Yankees did when they acquired another financial albatross, Bobby Abreu. But the last thing Red Sox fans should want to become are Yankees fans, and have the joy of their allegiance diminished with any season that doesn’t result in a World Series title.

Here is what it is like to be a Yankees fan. You are sitting in Yankee Stadium, having paid a small fortune for seats to an ALDS game, and you watch your highest paid player — the highest paid player in baseball — strike out three times, as Alex Rodriguez did yesterday — and you boo, because it is all about money.

Now, there is nothing wrong with booing A-Rod. It is very reasonable to boo a player who makes $25 million a year and doesn’t deliver. That is a rational act.

But it also illustrates the joylessness of rooting for the Yankees, where no matter how much money they spend — no matter how big Steinbrenner’s wallet is — they can lose.

They lost yesterday because of power pitching, from starter Justin Verlander to a Detroit bullpen led by Joel Zumaya, who looked unhittable, throwing more than 100 mph. The Yankees may have the big lumber, but to repeat, over and over again, it is all about pitching, especially in the postseason, and it is clear that the Tigers have a huge advantage over the Yankees in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

Yankeee manager Joe Torre (by the way, if winning 78 games with a $15 million payroll made Joe Girardi a genius with the Marlins, then spending $777 million and not winning a World Series must make Torre an idiot) is clearly scared to death of that time he has to take out his starter and wait until he gets to Mariano Rivera, whom Torre said he will not use in a game until the ninth inning.

It is also clear that Detroit manager Jim Leyland has ultimate confidence in his bullpen, taking Verlander out of the game yesterday in the middle of pitching to Robinson Cano in the sixth inning.

With the count 1-1, Jamie Walker came in and got Cano to hit into a double play to end the inning. Then Zumaya came in and stunned the Yankees hitters with his electric stuff. And veteran Todd Jones closed out the game.

The moment of the game? When A-Rod and his $25 million looked helpless against Zumaya and his $327,000. When it comes to the Yankees, win or lose, it’s always about the money.

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