WASHINGTON — Earlier this month, we hit the 10-year anniversary of George Steinbrenner’s passing, and the truth is that the transformation of the Yankees’ culture was well underway by the time The Boss died.
Pinstriped patience, a refusal to overreact to small samples, ranks as recognizable in The Bronx nowadays as a short right-field porch and the absence of beards.
Then came the coronavirus, and among its least consequential worldwide effects is a dramatically shortened 2020 Major League Baseball schedule, the 60 regular-season games only 37 percent of the standard 162.
Which means that, when the Yankees and Nationals break the ice on this highly anticipated campaign Thursday night at Nationals Park (weather permitting), Gerrit Cole making his Yankees debut against Max Scherzer, the Steinbrenner family’s crown jewel faces familiar, sky-high pressure and expectations — on unfamiliar terrain that discourages patience and offers only small samples.
“If we get out of the gate slowly, you’re going to hear us all speak to, ‘We have time.’ But it’s just less time to deal with,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who led the charge to transform the organizational culture, said Wednesday. “So yeah … anything that ails us, we need to probably address sooner than maybe we would have to in the past.”
As one example of this season’s urgency, Cashman divulged that he recently raised an issue with his manager Aaron Boone: Given the depth and explosiveness of the team’s offense, should the Yankees concede any games this year? Normally, if you fall behind big early, you ask your mop-up man to soak up some innings — or, as Cashman put it, find “a Christian you throw to the lions” — and live to fight another day. You might not be able to afford that luxury this time around, Cashman said, because “within the blink of an eye, the season’s going to be over.”
Boone, for his part, opined: “Sixty games, is that an opportunity for maybe some teams of lesser quality to be relevant and factor in? Sure. That’s a fair point, and I think it opens the door maybe for some teams that maybe over 162 might struggle. But I’m looking at this to be an advantage for us.”
It brought to mind Boone’s counterintuitive comments from earlier this week that his players, who historically, consistently receive massive fan support, would thrive in empty ballparks. Just like then, the manager expressed belief in the character of his corps: “This year is going to present a whole new different level of adversities, and I feel like we are cut out to handle that. And that is the expectation, and we’re excited for that challenge.”
Cole, asked about the randomness that 60 games can create, cited the reigning champion Nats and their slow start in 2019; at 27-33 through 60, they wouldn’t have qualified for even a 16-team playoff. Said the right-hander: “If the Washington Nationals knew that the first 60 games were going to make or break their postseason appearance, maybe it would’ve been different.”
Maybe. Maybe not, though. The Yankees should easily grab an October invitation, stand as the favorites to defend their American League East title. On the other hand … that darn 60-game slate again.
Boone said he has discussed this issue with his players, “in the sense that nothing changes for us. Nothing. … We’re looking to play well tomorrow, and when that one’s over, we’ll move on. Our guys are focused, our guys are ready and I’m confident we’ll go out and be really good.”
Cashman, who at one point referred to his team as “a band of merry men,” said of the schedule, “It’s going to create opportunity for anybody to step up and do something special, I can’t stress enough how much I want that to be us.”
Not a great time to be patient. Always a great time to be champions. Here they come (unless it rains), ready to adjust their pace for the sprint ahead of them.
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