Brett Gardner (R) #11 of the New York Yankees congratulates Mariano Rivera #42 following the Yankees victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium.
Given the amount of agita, anger and bitterness spewed about the Yankees failure to make the playoffs in 2008, you'd think that clinching a spot in the postseason tournament would be reason for a celebration. It didn't have to be V-J Day in Times Square, but if not making it to October is worthy of tears then making it is worthy of at least a high-five or a group hug.
No such luck. The Yankees showed as much excitement at the end of their victory against the Angels as your average toll booth operator shows when taking your money and allowing you to continue your journey. There's good reason for their measured response. The Yankees have known that they were heading to the playoffs for quite some time, so making it official was more of a formality than anything else. The team certainly doesn't want to give the impression that they're just happy to be there, so it wasn't worth celebrating just getting there.
Heck, confirming their reservation might not have been the best thing that happened to the Yankees on Tuesday. The Red Sox lost for the second straight night, which all but removes the pressure that it looked like the Yankees would be facing during their three games with Boston over the weekend. There are still scenarios where the division lead could evaporate, but they became a lot more far-fetched on Monday and Tuesday, which should allow the Yankees to approach the playoffs with their eyes on making sure that everyone is in prime condition.
It's too soon to give either of them a truly rousing round of applause, but both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi deserve some congratulations for getting the Yankees back to the dance. Cashman's offseason moves have all worked out well, and that goes beyond the three big-ticket free agents. Trading for Nick Swisher and sticking with Melky Cabrera were lower profile moves that really paid off for the Yankees.
As for Girardi, kudos go to him for pulling off a delicate balancing act. He had to know that another October-less finish would put his job at serious risk, but he never managed like a man who had his job on the line. He was prudent about not overworking the pitching staff, even if it cost him the occasional game, and he did an awfully good job of rotating through his various designated hitter and corner outfield options to keep everyone fresh and productive throughout the season.
Of course, those pats on the backs will become angry thumps if the team flops in the postseason, which, when you think about it, is all the explanation you need for why the team kept the champagne on ice Tuesday night.