Yankees have no excuse not to make playoffs

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Ian O'Connor

On the visitors’ side of Yankee Stadium, the ballpark he christened with a championship in 2009, Joe Girardi folded those Popeye forearms of his over the dugout rail and batted around a few subjects with a familiar face.

The coronavirus: “This Delta variant doesn’t seem to care if you’re vaccinated or not,” the Phillies’ manager said.

The Tokyo Olympics: “I don’t know how they’re going to pull it off.”

Aaron Boone’s Yankees: “I see a postseason team.”

A postseason team? Before Boone won Wednesday night’s wild matchup with his predecessor in 10 innings, 6-5, on Ryan LaMarre’s shot to the right-field wall, Girardi was closer to first place in the NL East (three games back) than Boone was in the AL East (seven) or in the wild-card standings (four). But the man who was fired after leading the Yankees to Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS did not care.

“This is a team that’s been in the postseason the last four years, and before that it had a long, long run,” he said. “Until they don’t make it, I wont believe it.”

I won’t either.

Aaron Boone and the Yankees have no excuse not to make the postseason.
Robert Sabo

Maybe it’s a product of watching the Yankees make near-annual playoff runs in 1995, even before Girardi arrived as an unpopular replacement for catcher Mike Stanley. Maybe it’s a product of watching so many breathless walk-off games in The Bronx over the years like Wednesday night’s, which gave the Yanks four straight victories and nine out of 12. Or maybe it’s merely a product of surveying the uninspiring scramble for the second wild card that will be claimed after the Boston/Tampa Bay divisional loser grabs the first.

The Yankees likely won’t catch the Red Sox or the Rays, though they can give them something to think about over their next seven games in Fenway Park and Tropicana Field. But there’s no juggernaut separating the Yankees from a fourth straight playoff appearance under Boone. Oakland is catchable, and Seattle and Toronto are beatable. Shame on the Yanks if they can’t navigate that not-so-perilous path to The Dance.

“You look at how many people they’ve had injured and the COVID cases they’ve had, and yet they’re right in the mix,” Girardi said of his former team.

“I still don’t think they’ve hit their offensive stride. You get a couple of guys hot in that lineup, they’ll score runs galore. And they’ve got some pitchers that hopefully are coming back for them that will make a difference down the last month or two. But there’s still a ton of talent over there.”

If not a ton, enough to recover Wednesday night from Jean Segura’s opening-pitch homer off Asher Wojciechowski, and a blown 5-2 lead in the eighth (thanks to a depleted bullpen that forced an overmatched Nick Nelson into the fire) and complete a two-game sweep of Girardi’s team. Brooks Kriske, with an entering ERA of 12.60 (Nelson’s was 9.95), somehow got the winning outs.

Joe Girardi
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

No, finishing third in the AL East and second in the wild-card chase shouldn’t be too much to ask. The Yankees will add some returning firepower from the injured list, and Brian Cashman will likely make a trade-deadline move or two. Meanwhile, Greg Allen and Estevan Florial keep infusing life into what was a Walking Dead team that apparently forgot baseball isn’t golf — running is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. “A new dynamic,” Giancarlo Stanton called it.

And yet when a team remains far behind its hated rival in mid-to-late July, October isn’t a popular subject. Asked if and how he talks to his players about the postseason, Boone sounded a bit like ol’ Jim Mora assessing his playoff chances (Google it): “I don’t talk about that at all,” he said.

“We’ve got to take care of the here and now in a big-time way. And we as a team very much understand that, and if we do that, that will take care of itself out there. … So I pretty much never talk about it.”

Never talking about it, of course, doesn’t make it go away. The organizational mission statement famously is what it is, and the Yankees haven’t met that objective since Girardi was leading them a dozen years ago. The Phillies manager was reminded that a Yankees team a small handful games over .500 represents a legit New York crisis.

“Always,” he said. “It was Day 2 for Joe Torre in 1998, and we ended up winning 114 games. A Hall of Fame manager who would win four titles and it was like, well, that’s just the way it is.”

It doesn’t have to be that way for Girardi’s successor. Now the Yanks have to pass only Oakland to give themselves another crack at that mission statement. Aaron Boone is 3-for-3 in making the postseason, and he has no good excuse not to go 4-for-4.