So here our Yankees sit, as in 2003 and 2004 vis a vis Boston, with the matchup everyone has been pretty much expecting since the sweep of Boston in July.
This time, they draw the Angels, with a BCS-like build-up of almost a week.
We now know the season turned:
1. When CC finally seemed comfortable with his role of staff ace;
2. When A-Rod seemed healed, or healed enough;
3. When Phil Hughes, to paraphrase Mike Lupica, slid seamlessly into Mike Stanton, circa 1998-2000.
When the Yankees seemed to dig victories out of potentially hopeless causes (think Game 5, ALCS, 1977), Roger Angell, no Yankee-lover he, conceded, "With the Yankees, you cannot open the door a millimeter, for they will kick it down." This is how the Yankees have been playing lately.
Any team can beat any team any day. The 1998 Yankees, one of the greatest five teams in history, lost 50 times, post-season included. It's the nature of things. Shut-outs happen. Home runs happen. Your team is not the only one with talent. Or else your starter sleeps on his pitching arm and gives up five runs in the first. Only . . .
Only . . .
The Twins would have had to have played perfectly to beat the Yankees, and in Games 2 and 3 they almost pulled it off. Two brutal baserunning blunders and one terrible umpire's call over twenty innings were enough to doom Minnesota. Their second-best player was out, their starting pitching (for how well it played in Games 2 and 3) was discalibrated thanks to the Twins' last-week cavalry charge, and their bullpen, from Nathan forward, was simply gassed.
For all that, the series was closer than people will remember, save perhaps Game 2.
Now the Yankees, like it or not, are the position the Twins were in, of having to bring their A-game every inning, every pitch, every split-second decision. CC has to be the bear in the woods, Joba and Hughes and Mo need to be practically perfect out of the pen, the outfield has to run down gappers, and at least three among Jeter, Damon, Tex, A-Rod, and Matsui have to produce big-time at the plate.
Oh, and it wouldn't hurt for both AJ and Pettitte to keep it up.
So there's the assignment.