Friday, April 01, 2005

Restoring the pinstripes

Opening Day is Opening Night this season for the Yankees. It also, just by sheer coincidence, happens to be against the Boston Red Sox the season after the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series then lost such a series, 4-3, to those same Boston Red Sox.

Wait, let me rephrase. It also, just by shear coincidence, happens to be against the Boston Red Sox the season after the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series then completely choked and got a fresh "how's ya father" while losing the next four games in a row to those same Boston Red Sox, the archest of archenemies.

Oh yeah, the Red Sox won the World Series, too.

Watching the Yankees become the first baseball team to do such a thing certainly was interesting from a historical perspective. This city has seen its share of championships. At some point, it gets boring, at least for a little while. This may be why far too many men cheat on their wives.

But as 2005 begins, the Yankees must still wonder how it happened. There will be constant reminders in the next two weeks. From April 3-12, the Yankees play nine games. Six are against the Red Sox. At least one of those games will be on national television, and you can bet the other five will be scrutinized by every John Kruk and Harold Reynolds seconds after the final out. Screaming A. Smith may even get in the mix, just for fun.

It will be impossible for the Yankees to forget about what happened last October. They will say all the right things when scribes and TV puppets ask their questions. They will conduct themselves as if they lost to Detroit in a six-game series that was a battle the entire way. The average person will marvel at how calm and collected the Yankees appear.

But no matter what they say, the collapse has to creep into their minds somehow. Forgetting it would be like trying to buy The Godfather Trilogy on DVD and asking the store to not charge you for “The Godfather III.” It won’t work. (I’ve tried.)

Right now, the Yankees are like 25 versions of Austin Powers running around in search of their mojo, and there’s no Heather Graham waiting at the end of this scene. Just a Fat Bastard named David Wells waiting to steal it once again.

The voice inside their heads is no longer little. It’s louder than the heavy metal music Wells used to play in the clubhouse on days he pitched. Shoot, it’s louder than Wells. How does a team respond after engineering the greatest choke in baseball history?

We could argue that it begins this weekend with a few wins at the Stadium, and continues the following week by beating the Red Sox in Fenway the day they receive their rings. We could, but that would be a load of hoo-hah the likes of which we haven’t seen since Biff crashed his car into the horse manure truck in “Back to the Future II.”

We could argue that the therapy continues throughout the season and every win is a step in the right direction. That’s nice, but they’re not recovering alcoholics.

The only way to atone for such transgressions is to win the World Series this year. There is no other tolerable course of action. And if the Yankees can beat the Red Sox on their way to a fifth ring in 10 years, well, that’s quite all right, too.