“Those that cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs,” reads the framed quote hanging in Jorge Posada’s locker in the back corner of the Yankee clubhouse. Now that passage from the book of Jonah doesn’t exactly qualify JoPo as the team’s philosopher king—hanging just below is a quote from Thurman Munson—but in this crowded room at this time of year those words signify.
And they are ripe for parsing, Samuel L. Jackson style: “Now, Ringo, I’m thinking it could mean that the Red Sox were doing the clinging, and that Curse of the Bambino is what they were hanging on to, and it was Boonie’s Louisville Slugger that whupped their sorry bean-eating idol-clinging asses.
“Or it could be that the worthless idols are the teal-wearing Marlins, and we’re the good shepherds trying to deliver this grand and glorious game from their base and evil ways. I’d like that.” A pregnant pause. “But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is that those worthless idols are out there in Monument Park. And we are the ones who are doing the clinging. But I’m trying, Ringo, I’m trying to get to that state of grace.”
This Yankee post-season has been nothing if not trying. The Yankees first saw themselves in the uncomfortable situation of being bitten by the hand they were trying to feed—down 1-0 against the luxury-tax-beneficiary Minnesota Twins. Then a date with destiny against the Red Sox, in which every game went against form—who could have conceived of a seventh game after the Yanks beat Pedro once and Derek Lowe twice? But the outcome was as preordained as the last episode of Joe Millionaire. And now the even upstartier Marlins are threatening to morph into the ’01 Diamondbacks or the ’02 Angels.
The truth is that the Yankees aren’t battling these other teams, formidable though they might be. They’re battling their own history, their own tradition, themselves. With a $180 million payroll and 26 banners hanging in repose, the only acceptable outcome, in the opinion of George Steinbrenner and the faithful of Yankee Nation, is a cheap champagne shower on Sunday night, if not before. And right now, the Yanks are oh-for-the-millennium.
Every Yankee deals with this preposterous burden of expectation in his own way. Andy Pettitte works himself up to the point of implosion—is this my last start in pinstripes?—and pitches batting practice for a couple of innings before Zolofting himself into his accustomed unhittability. Derek Jeter jokes with Aaron “Fucking” Boone about “the ghosts” that are bound to show up, the same way Jeter clowns with the Boss on that vapid Visa commercial. And after those ghosts showed up last Thursday in the form of the Boone Shot, David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Mel Stottlemyre strolled across the hallowed center field turf toward Monument Park, where Boomer poured some champagne on Babe Ruth’s plaque and Rocket wiped the Bambino’s bronzed forehead with a blue towel as gently as if he were cleaning a baby’s behind.
But those are the vets deconstructing the pressure. The Yankee studs who’ve come up short of the big Bud party—call them Lords of the Ringless—are pressing mightily. When Yogi threw out Game Seven’s first pitch, he might have said, “I’d like to thank everyone who made this evening necessary.” And he would have been talking about Jason Giambi. In his Oakland days, Mr. G would go weeks without swinging at a bad pitch. This October, he has spent the entire playoffs trying to pull 0-2 pitches. And if he had merely been able to make contact against Mike Timlin with two on and one out in Game Six, the Boston series might have been shorter and far less dramatic. Mike Mussina could fit that bill too, giving up taters as if he were pitching in the home-run derby, then kvetching about his 0-3 record. And then there’s Alfonso Soriano, who has morphed into Juan Samuel. His post-season on-base percentage is .267, and he hasn’t looked even that good. Indeed, he added a new twist to his struggles in Game One of the Classic, taking a called strike three—something he does less often than drawing a walk—with the lead run on base.
So against a Marlin team that’s at once overmatched and up to the task, the Yankees hold destiny in their hands. Will they cling to worthless idols, and continue swinging for the fences—and missing? Or will they Zen out and let the game come to them, like the 3-0 pitch that Hideki Matsui took yard in Game Two? Patience, grasshoppers, patience. After all, didn’t Samuel L. say something about “walking the earth?”