Marty Noble

New York's postseason hopes closing fast

New York's postseason hopes closing fast

NEW YORK -- When it occurred in 1985, it was a rarity, an uncommon and appetizing opportunity to witness two meaningful, September baseball games in one city on the same day. The Mets, tied with the Cardinals for first place, were playing the Cards at Shea in the afternoon of Sept. 12. The second-place Yankees were to oppose the first-place Blue Jays at the Stadium that night with a chance to whittle away at the Jays' 2 1/2-game lead.

The New York guys prevailed in Queens and the Bronx, and the city moved to the edge of its seat. It was a delicious sequence of hours that said "What if?" and "Oh boy?"

Both teams at home is no longer unusual. The Mets played the Rockies at Citi Field and the Yankees opposed the Rays at the Stadium on Wednesday night. The circumstances/standings were quite different as well.

Four teams, two games, two boroughs. But so little drama, even less hope. Hardly delicious -- more like the taste of a seat on a crosstown bus. Any New York optimism was minimal or contrived.

New York City baseball already had come to the intersection of no chance and highly improbable as it continued moving toward October. The Mets weeks ago pulled to the curb on No Chance Boulevard and put it in park. Only in the last week have their vitals become noticeable again. And the Yanks, after months dealing with detours, were stuck at a light on Highly Improbable Avenue. Grid lock alert. The Tigers, Royals, Angels, A's, Mariners, Orioles, Blue Jays and Indians blocking the box. U-turns were implausible.

So with more than half of "Pantyhose Month" remaining -- "September is Pantyhose Month," Dave Parker once said -- the city is on the threshold of spending a second straight postseason as a wallflower. Not since 1993 and '94 has NYC been shut out in successive autumns. And the Yankees had a 6 1/2-game lead when the 1994 season was suspended.

The blind equation that determines magic numbers and the countdown on Derek Jeter have kept the heartbeat of the Yanks faithful stronger than the team's legitimate chances. The public is reluctant to distinguish between the current team and the Torre teams that accomplished so much. It believes. And Jeter's move toward the door is a warm and entertaining diversion.

But these Yankees are more about resolve than results, a testament to Joe Girardi, who prefers better results.

About 12 years ago Jeter, for the first time, provided a sobering and unsolicited appraisal of his team that so unsettled the Yankees' following. "We're not the same team that won three straight World Series," he said in the summer of 2002.

The Captain sees no need for such candor these days -- the Yanks' flaws are as evident as their predicament -- and no teammate has enough résumé or clubhouse standing to make that of sort of truth-be-told assessment. Moreover, this is hardly the time for any player to acknowledge the team's multiple imperfections.

So the Yankees enter their final 19 games repeating the mantra of the almost-vanquished. "We're not out of it," which is not to suggest they're in it.

"It's happened before," Girardi said Wednesday night before his team's 74th victory. "It's very difficult. You can only worry about things you can control." And then he gave his players their marching orders for the evening day: "Go control them."

And the Rays scored four times before the Yanks batted.

But the Yankees demonstrated the sort of resilience they have seldom shown and won 8-5.

No matter, soon the math will bully them into concession. It already is squarely against them, though in a subtle, almost undetectable way. The Mariners and A's are ahead of the Yankees in the American League Wild Card hunt, and they play each other three times in Seattle this weekend. One team wins each night, so if the Yanks lose only once in their simultaneous four-game series in Baltimore, they lose ground to one or the other AL West team.

Similar scenarios involving the Tigers and Indians and also the Rays and Blue Jays -- all four are ahead of the Yankees -- happen this weekend. Any loss can damage the Yanks' chances in three ways. So the Boys from the Bronx appear to have no alternative but to run the table. But in this season of big league parity in which all but five teams have had losing streaks of at least five games, only the Royals and Blue Jays have produced 19-game runs that have included as many as 16 victories. The Yankees hardly are equipped for a comparable run.

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Sad to see David Wright reduced to spectator even though his 2014 was lacking. But the Mets can take solace in that Wright's poor production was the result of injury and nothing that a few months of rest, rehab and reloading won't help. And if they're smart, they will remodel right-center field at Citi Field and enhance Wright's chance of being a bona fide offensive threat again.

Knowing Wright's humble, unassuming nature, he probably will be embarrassed if the club provides what might appear to be an accommodation mostly for his benefit. But he should keep in the mind that the club created the dimensions that -- regardless of intent -- undermined him. The Mets would be making amends, nothing more.

So perhaps next season -- if Wright is right, the Mets are respectable and the Yankees are repaired -- autumn in New York will have some baseball and September some hope. This much we know, the Yanks and Mets will be in town at the same time in the season's final weeks. They are to play an Interleague series Sept. 18-20 in Queens.

"What if ... ?"

Marty Noble is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.