Requiem for the Next Man Up

The motto of a team from the past. (Steven Tydings)

The Yankees lost a chance to reach a World Series they could have won. Goodness, that’s still hurts to write.

Matt already summed it up in one word yesterday: Almost. The Yankees almost danced on a razor’s edge and sneaked past the best team in baseball using DJ LeMahieu, guile and their bullpen. But they didn’t and that’s why I’m writing a post mortem for the Yankees’ season instead of talking about how well the team matches up with the Nationals.

Plenty went wrong in that ALCS. We, unfortunately, will cover that from front to back in the coming days and weeks. (We’ll also have everything else, too, from season reviews to free agency previews to wild, off-the-rails features that we thought up while bored this summer. Get excited.)

But the Yankees came up short in a season where they could have done so at just about every turn. From the open of Spring Training on, they were shorthanded. A back injury here, a Tommy John recovery there and a mysterious shoulder ailment stretching to September.

Still, there was the Next Man Up. No one player fully embodied that spirit as it was truly a collective in the Bronx. Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin came out of nowhere for career-redefining seasons. DJ LeMahieu turned into more than just a superutility player. Mike Ford took just about every pitcher deep for a month straight.

It’s going to be remarkable 10 days from now and 10 years from now that the 2019 Bombers recovered from significant injuries to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andújar, Luis Severino, Edwin Encarnación, Luke Voit, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sánchez, just to name a few, and still won the American League East running away. That’s an all-time accomplishment, clinched into the record books with their franchise-best home run total and franchise-worst injured list totals.

Remember when Nestor Cortes Jr. and a wad of gum held together a rotation spot for months on end? That doesn’t happen for a normal, run-of-the-mill team. Only a team with tremendous depth to fill in for its already strong depth and a dash of the spectacular could accomplish something like the 2019 Yankees did, and that shouldn’t be forgotten at the end of it all.

Holding up the Next Man Up were five arms that remained steadier than the rest, the five men at the back of the bullpen. Though Chad Green had a lackluster April, the five horsemen were nails from there on out. There was no need for a Next Man in the bullpen…

… Until there was a need at the worst moment. Five became four and four became exhausted. The offense cratered in a way all-together foreign to the rest of the season’s body of work. It was, and I quote, not what you want.

Still, the Next Man Up came back around. After months of the Yankees patching center field for Aaron Hicks, Hicks relieved his struggling pals with the biggest hit of the season to that point, injecting the team with new life. When mistakes added up to the team being two outs from defeat, LeMahieu wiped the slate clean with a nearly-unforgettable blast.

Yet there’s nothing to wipe away that hanging slider. That’s permanent. It’s going to be etched in the fanbase’s collective psyche like 2001, 2004 and just after midnight on Oct. 13, 2012. Baseball once again hoodwinked and schemed to make us believe fully that this was it — this was our year — and erased doubt until the Astros walked off with the pennant. That sting of failure, deserved or not, hangs over everything for now.

It’s gonna be an offseason of deep stares into the mirror, sighs and perhaps a tearful goodbye to a fan favorite or two. On this site, season reviews will turn into season previews and we’ll once again believe a little too strongly in the catharsis of Opening Day.

But before anyone can move on, it’s time to appreciate what the Yankees’ had, even if it came up short. The Next Man Up doesn’t get a ring, but that doesn’t deprive him of accomplishment and a grip on our memories, one win over the Orioles, comeback against the Rays and Maybin hug at a time.

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5 Comments

  1. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    Thank God, Steven. I got so sick and tired of hearing that next man up cliché. We wouldn’t need next man up if our head doctor and trainer weren’t Dr. Nick and Homer Simpson. I’d clean house in both of those staffs. Other clubs don’t have these injury issues. I could expect this with the geriatric ward we were running out there from 2013-2016 but this core is all under 30 and still injured. Who’s the strength and conditioning coach, Jacoby Ellsbury? Or did they throw him in the East River? Nobody has heard from him in two years.

  2. Wire Fan

    Cashman built up some incredible depth and that plays in the regular season. As much credit as Boone gets for holding things together, Cashman should get a ton of credit for overcoming so many roster issues that would normally crater the season for most teams.

    You also have to tip your hat to the Yankees development folks (in the minors and majors) – Urshela reworking his swing and becoming a legit everyday player, Tauchman, Maybin, etc..

    The other memory will be what seemed like at times a clueless medical and strength/conditioning staff. From rehabs that went from one issue to another to a bunch of soft tissue injuries, to complete head scratchers. Cashman and the medical staff not initially knowing how/when Sevy got his lat issue? Betances also developing a lat issue during his rehab? The Yankees starting Sevy up and not bothering with an MRI to verify the injury was healed (and having to shut him down again)? The Yankees recommending Hicks have TJS, him throwing on his own and suddenly playing his way back onto the playoff roster?

    And it is not like it has just been this season. Sure there has been some degree of bad luck/freak injuries, but the Yankees need to look at completely overhauling the medical staff and the strength/conditioning staff this off season. Expecting things to get significantly better next year without making any changes seems like wishful thinking.

  3. D.B.

    “DJ LeMahieu turned into more than just a superutility player”

    That may be what he was hired to do and what a large portion of the fanbase thought he’d be, but he already was a very, very good ballplayer that had the type of profile that would work well with the short porch and that wouldn’t suffer from leaving Coors. I had big expectations for DJLM heading into his Bronx tenure, and he did not disappoint. When I read the reports preseason that they expected him to play nearly every day, I was not surprised and figured he’d be a boon (hehe) on both sides of the ball.

    So happy I was right.

    Also, Gleyber Torres. Yeah.

  4. dasit

    once the pain stops, this is how i will remember 2019:

    the most injured team in mlb history made it to game 6 of the championship series

  5. This season reinforced my resolve to never believe anyone when they tell me the team has too many good players, logjams have a way of clearing themselves up! And to laugh in the face of anyone who tells you home field advantage isn’t worth fighting tooth and nail for.

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