Annual Autumn drama shaping up in AL East

In the mayhem over the last week, long-term perspective was sacrificed in favor of constant monitoring of the current standings. No one should forget that the Yankees’ presence in the playoffs is in itself remarkable considering where they stood two weeks ago, and even more so considering how things looked four months ago. Indeed, the Yanks sat four full games out of first place on Sept. 11. They managed not just to make the playoffs but to win the division by rattling off 16 wins in their last 20 games, including the crucial clincher Saturday at Fenway Park.

The really extraordinary element is that the Yankees sat in dead last place in the division in early May. The full force of the New York sports media establishment was brought to bear in sounding their death knell, in constantly noting the discrepancy between the team’s absurd payroll and its pathetic performance, in relishing every moment when it seemed that this colossus of a franchise might die before the season even got interesting.

Some even called for Steinbrenner to fire Joe Torre, who is as much of an untouchable sports figure as there has ever been in New York. The Yankees could have easily packed it in-all they would have had to do is read the papers-there are too many egos, too much individual talent that can’t mesh and not enough teamwork. And then they win the division. No wonder Torre, who was ostensibly a step away from losing his job, thinks this was the most meaningful division championship that he has experienced in New York.

Sore winners

It took the Yankees one day to stop celebrating and start complaining. On Monday, several members of the Yankees griped about the Rangers-Angels game Sunday. Buck Showalter, the manager of the Rangers (who had been eliminated from playoff contention) pulled three of his starters prematurely in the third inning. At the time, the Rangers led 4-1. When the Texas starters sat, the Angels scored six straight runs and won 7-4. Why is this significant? The Angels’ win gave them home field advantage against the Yankees in the ALDS. Showalter said he just wanted his three starters to get an ovation from the crowd. The Yankees aren’t so sure. Bear in mind that Showalter is a former Yankee manager; thus, the conspiracy theory is that Showalter sabotaged the Yankees intentionally.

The truth is that the Yankees aren’t just babies for whining. They’re missing the point, and worse, they’re hypocritical. For one, they shouldn’t have been in a position to rely on another team to earn home field for them. Secondly, as I recall, the Yankees pulled several of their own starters in Sunday’s game against the Red Sox. Yes, the game was already a blowout. But A-Rod cited “honor” as the reason Showalter should have kept his starters in the game. Doesn’t honor apply to the Yankees when they’re down 10-1 in Fenway as much as it applies to the Rangers? Further, the Yanks-Sox game Sunday could have held much deeper significance than it did. If Cleveland had won Sunday, a Sox loss would have earned the Indians the possibility of a playoff berth. The Yankees, by their own logic, should have kept their starters in not just for the sake of “honor”, but also out of respect for the Indians.

One sidenote: Fox covered the Sox’ post-game celebration Sunday, replete with champagne and paraphernalia. Let’s be clear about something: the Red Sox won the wild card. Congratulations. But do they really deserve t-shirts and alcohol? If you’re wondering what the t-shirts said, I believe they called the Sox “Wild Card Champions.” That’s an oxymoron. The concept of a wild card is entirely irreconcilable with the concept of a “champion,” at least until said wild card team wins the World Series. Then buy them some t-shirts and cover the celebration on national television.

New York football

The New York football Giants, in case you’re keeping track, are currently 3-1 and the highest scoring team in the NFL going into their bye week. Plaxico Burress caught 10 passes for 204 yards Sunday against the Rams, but the story of the day was Eli Manning. Is it just me, or did we see a new Eli Sunday-looser, more confident, more lethal throwing downfield? In other words, the Eli that New York has been waiting for since it picked him number one overall. Perhaps it’s that he finally has a serious weapon at wideout. In any case, the Giants have a franchise quarterback who may finally be maturing into the star he was expected to be. There is one good football team in New York right now with legitimate postseason aspirations. Hint: that team is not quarterbacked by a combination of Brooks, Vinny, and Kliff Kingsbury. �

Speaking of which, I had Paul Hackett nightmares Sunday. Watching the Jets offense, you would think Hackett (the recently departed Jets’ offensive coordinator who dulled the team’s offense to the point of absurdity) was secretly calling the shots for new coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. I especially like goal-line calls: draw plays to Curtis where he is stuffed as he receives the ball, and rollout passes that look as if the team forgot to come back to practice after lunch to learn the final few offensive plays. It’s a shame, too, because Brooks didn’t look half bad throwing the ball in the second half.