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The great success of the Yankees over much of the last two decades has made it easy to take the first step on the way to winning a World Series for granted.
Making the playoffs has been the easy part over the years and the Yankees themselves have treated many of their division titles with all the enthusiasm of a sixth grader winning a perfect attendance award at the end of a school year. This is what you get just for showing up, but you really have to earn what comes next.
That's never been a particularly good assessment of the accomplishment involved in making the playoffs, which made it nice to see the team look genuinely excited on Wednesday night in the Bronx both when the scoreboard flashed the news of the Orioles loss and when they finished off their 14-2 rout of the Red Sox.
This wasn't the detached reaction we've grown accustomed to over the years, but a more emotional outpouring that reflected the difficulty of the journey.
The Yankees spent the last chunk of the year dealing with injuries, ineffective veteran bats and inconsistent arms of all ages while two very lively teams nipped at their heels and did their best to draw the curtain on this Yankees season. There were plenty of moments where it seemed like that curtain was about to come down, but, unlike the Rangers who totally blew it in Oakland this week, the Yankees always found some way to push back when the season was on the brink.
For 21 straight days in September, the biggest gap between the Yankees and the Orioles was just one game yet the Yankees were never the team trailing by a game. They never ceded the psychological high ground to Baltimore and finally secured for themselves behind a barrage of power that left this Yankee team as the most homer-happy in the history of the franchise.
Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano each hit two of them on Wednesday, allowing the Yankees to finish the year with a team-record 245 over the course of the season. Cano didn't set any particular record by finishing the year with 24 hits in his final 39 at-bats, including nine straight multi-hit games, but he did make you wonder if this playoff run will be the moment when Cano truly takes over as the face of this Yankees team.
Derek Jeter makes it difficult to guarantee such things, but it is certainly possible if the postseason Cano keeps this hot streak alive long enough to carry the Yankees to great places. How likely is that outcome?
The test the Yankees received over the last month doesn't make them a better bet than they would have been by winning 95 games and winning the division by six games or if they had won 105 and snoozed the last few days. The playoffs are always up for grabs and the way you got there ceases to mean anything once your first postseason game gets underway.
Having said that, you'd much rather bet on a team that showed the grit the Yankees were forced to show this season than some of the teams that didn't know how to respond to adversity until they found themselves in a tight October spot.