Normally this would sound like a thrown-down gauntlet because, normally, this would be a thrown-down gauntlet. In this time, in this place, in this city, it is something else entirely. For the Yankees it ought to be a welcome challenge, and for the people who care about the Yankees it ought to be something even better: a splendid adventure.
So here goes. Bold-face this if you like. Underline it. Italicize it:
The 2019 Yankees: Championship or Bust.
Now, look, we understand perfectly well that the best team doesn’t always win a championship. We fully subscribe to what Billy Beane has often said about the baseball postseason, that it’s a crapshoot. You can run into a hot pitcher (and we should borrow from hockey here, talk about a hot pitcher “standing on his head.”) You can get a bad hop. A couple of bats can go cold. It happens.
But that’s thinking responsibly. That’s thinking rationally. And if you are a sports fan in this time, in this place, in this city, and you happen to root for a team like the Yankees that starts the season’s second half on a 105-win pace, the last thing you should be doing is thinking rationally and responsibly.
There ought to be only one goal in mind.
And that’s the Canyon of Heroes.
That isn’t simply click-bait, either, or the media clearing its throat for sport, or inventing a hot take worthy of a back page. In fact, it’s actually a fairly tame comment compared to the one Aaron Boone made the other day in St. Petersburg, Fla., just before the Yankees parted for the All-Star break.
“When I look at our team now,” Boone said, “we’re capable of being the best team in the world.”
And that wasn’t a glib, pithy observation that they’d sailed the ocean blue to conquer the Red Sox on European soil, drumming them in a couple of games in London at the end of June. That was Boone having a candid look at his baseball team. It isn’t a perfect baseball team. There are ways it can play better. There are additions that can be made.
But 57-31 through the first 88?
If they aren’t the best in the world, they’re right there in the team picture. They’ve won three out of seven games against the Astros, who will be the only roadblock keeping them from the World Series. The Red Sox are a little short this year, and even if the Twins win 110 games, the only way anyone will ever believe they will beat the Yankees in October is when they actually get around to beating the Yankees in October.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We will bravely declare that to be so even if the Twins show up for the ALDS with Madison Bumgarner on the roster.)
Put it this way: you’ll sign up right now to see what that World Series would look like, right? And right now, it looks like the Yankees and the Dodgers, these two classic rivals, might well be tracking each other from 3,000 miles away (as well as when they share the same field at Chavez Ravine on the weekend of Aug. 23-25) for the No. 1 overall seed in the whole postseason tournament.
First to 106 wins (the Dodgers’ present pace), perhaps?
Yankees fans rarely have to be prodded to cherish what they have — a random trip through just about any baseball history book or record book usually does the trick — but they should especially enjoy the ride this time. Name the other fan base in town — Mets, Jets, Knicks, Giants, Red Bulls, any of them — that wouldn’t trade places right now.
Best, it’s the first time in a long time when you can be a Yankees fan and believe that they ought to win the championship, instead of that they could. Even during last year’s 100-win breeze there were always the Red Sox looming, lurking, loitering. Even two years ago, which ended in Houston in Game 7 of the ALCS, there was a nagging sense midnight was approaching and their Nike, Adidas and Puma ruby slippers were about to lose their magic.
Not this time. Not this season. Aaron Boone thinks the Yanks are the best team in the world? You should believe that, too. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the thunder. And if all goes as it should, enjoy retracing the same path the U.S. women’s soccer team just traversed in lower Manhattan. The Yankees know that route better than anyone else, after all. It’s time.