It felt, somehow, both wistful and hopeful in the visitors’ corner at Minute Maid Park, late on the night of Oct. 21, 2017. The Yankees’ magical ride through the playoffs had crashed into a wall and ended at the hands of the mighty Astros, yet man, had this group of Baby Bombers fired up its long-spoiled fan base, posting a 6-0 postseason record at Yankee Stadium and putting a scare into the definitive favorites from Houston.
Just minutes after Greg Bird flew out to George Springer to seal Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, a Yankees executive smiled and offered a lamentation:
“We just ran out of home games.”
Those words exploded with age, didn’t they? On Monday, commissioner Rob Manfred handed down one-year suspensions to Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, the general manager and manager of that 2017 Astros club, for the team’s illegal, electronic sign-stealing — including, a Major League Baseball investigation confirmed, during that postseason. Then Houston owner Jim Crane, who received a $5 million fine, quadrupled down on that verdict by firing both men. Luhnow’s successor, furthermore, will move forward without first- and second-round draft picks the next two seasons.
The ’17 ALCS featured four contests in Houston, by virtue of the Astros’ superior record, and three in The Bronx. So if the Yankees and their customers should give up on overturning that Astros title, as civilized societies don’t jump down rabbit holes in the interest of changing the past, they — still ring-free with this impressive core — have every right to wonder what might have been.
“The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB Clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated,” Manfred’s report reads.
Now, look: Maybe the Yankees were operating a similar scheme at their place and simply covered it better. No one in the Tri-state area should climb too high or mighty here. Besides, this verdict produced oodles of good news for the Yankees:
1. The Astros, already weakened by co-ace Gerrit Cole’s decision to accept Hal Steinbrenner’s $324 million offer, just jettisoned their two most important baseball operations employees.
2. Red Sox manager Alex Cora, heavily indicted in this report thanks to his actions as the ’17 Astros bench coach, looks like a dead man walking, with a severe penalty coming after MLB completes its investigation into allegations that the 2018 Red Sox, who also eliminated the Yankees in the playoffs en route to winning the Fall Classic, electronically stole signs.
3. New Mets manager Carlos Beltran, while not disciplined for what he did as a designated hitter on the 2017 Astros, nevertheless got his good name muddied as the only player named in the report. Contrary to his denials to The Post in November, Beltran did participate in unethical spywork, an unwelcome development for the Yankees’ crosstown interleague rivals.
None of this news fits Aaron Judge and company for a ring right now, though. And while the Yankees, with Cole, look more than ever like the clear favorites to win it all in 2020, they embark on this mission without beloved contributors such as Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius and Austin Romine, all of whom signed elsewhere.
Remember how darn popular that ’17 Yankees team became, and how quickly? They could have matched their 1996 ancestors, with that club’s catcher Joe Girardi managing them 21 years later, as one of the franchise’s all-time favored champions. Instead, they ran out of home games.
If they’re more experienced and less adored now (looking at you, Gary Sanchez), they still have mounds of talent, their window far from shut. They can produce great memories and minimize the sad ones.
Until that actually happens, though? Go ahead and contemplate alternate realities and results. For all intents and purposes, the commissioner has legitimized mournfulness in Yankees Universe.
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