These 2 moments could’ve changed course of Yankees’ recent ‘dynasty’

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09: Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees hits a sac fly to score Didi Gregorius #18 against Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning in Game Four of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 09, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09: Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees hits a sac fly to score Didi Gregorius #18 against Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning in Game Four of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 09, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

As the MLB lockout stretches on endlessly, so does the New York Yankees‘ World Series drought, which once had an “end in sight” as recently as 2019.

In 2020 and 2021, though, things felt different, no matter what the preseason projections told us would eventually unfold.

The magic of 2017 and 2019, stomped on midway through by the 2018 Red Sox and whatever it was Alex Cora was doing up there in Boston, hasn’t returned since the Jose Altuve home run.

Baseball is something beyond its predictable elements between the white lines. Analytics and formulas are used to help determine events with the highest possible probability … but something always breaks. Someone always defies them. A player can be placed in a perfect situation with the advantage tipped 95% in his direction and still fail because of a barely-noticeable crack in the bat, an untied shoelace, or an unforced error without any equipment malfunction involved.

Sometimes, people just fail. They come so close to success, and then they fail. They barely advance at all, succumbing failure before success is even visible. No plan is foolproof. No forthcoming Baby Bombers dynasty can ever be guaranteed to deliver the triumphs of the previous generation.

And now that it’s all but over — again, at least in the iteration we watched from 2017-2019 — two singular postseason moments continue to cloud my frontal cortex, serving as the symbolic representations of times when we were directly on the edge of receiving what we begged for, only to miss by an inch or two and throw the picture off course.

Both moments — as expected, these are the Bronx Bombers we’re talking about — were sure home runs, struck like 1,000 other home runs we’ve all seen before … except they couldn’t get past a force field between despair and glory.

If Gary Sánchez stings Craig Kimbrel with a walk-off grand slam in Game 4 of the 2018 ALDS, do the Red Sox struggle to recover for Game 5 at Fenway, dealt a near-fatal late blow when they thought they had the series wrapped up?

These 2 Yankees moments changed the course of recent history, from 2017-2019.

Of course, there’s a good chance those behemoths would’ve shaken it off. Boston’s tortured postseason history from 1919-2003 is no more; typically, tense moments bend their way these days, even though their fans still put on the same hat from two decades ago and claim their lives are dark.

But up 4-1 in the ninth, Kimbrel opened the inning with a four-pitch walk to Aaron Judge before Didi Gregorius rolled a single through the hole. Giancarlo Stanton blunted the momentum by whiffing at a slider in the other batter’s box — something the 2021 Stanton would have never done, but a behavior the 2018 version was very much accustomed to.

It wasn’t over, though. Luke Voit also took a four-pitch walk, followed in the blink of an eye by Neil Walker getting drilled on the foot to force in a run, sending the stadium into a madcap, pre-2004 frenzy. This was it. We wanted Boston. We’d got Boston. They’d won 108 regular-season games. That was cute. They’d exploded for 16 runs the previous day in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead … but 2-1 isn’t 3-1. This is what the Yankees had done for years: prevented their opponent from finishing the job after their opponent had already mentally surrendered to victory.

Then, Sánchez got under one. At the 17-minute mark, with his arm visibly sopping in pine tar, Kimbrel delivered one more time, and Sánchez missed a full-count, knockout-punch grand slam by two or three feet. It didn’t touch the wall. The crowd couldn’t grab it. But it was remarkably close, and the ensuing years have undone not only the perception of the Yankees’ title chances across the league, but Sánchez’s entire career in pinstripes.

And then there’s Didi Gregorius‘ shot against Gerrit Cole in Game 3 of the 2019 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. From the moment of impact, you can tell Sánchez’s shot might be a bit short. But after rewatching Gregorius’ video time after time after time, and knowing what we know about the 2019 rocket balls during marquee games … how is this not a home run?

You could argue this game was ruined when MLB decided to take the literal Yankees and give them an afternoon home game to kick off their playoff slate. Sun setting on Gerrit Cole’s fastballs, fans still stuck at work … some advantage. See where your priorities lie, League That Should Want to Profit Off the Yankees.

But with Cole slightly “off” all day, Gregorius upper-cutted one (at the 3:45 mark of the above video) that should’ve sent the entire city of Houston into a Twitter frenzy, whining about the short porch they very much also had access to.

Instead, Gregorius’ high fly ball couldn’t even reach its closer-than-ever intended target. The Yankees mustered next to no offense in Game 3 and 4 defeats before tightening the gap, and they could’ve made Aaron Judge’s Game 2 home run off Justin Verlander hold up — or built on it. And sure, they lost Giancarlo Stanton after Game 1, and these Astros were formidable, and they never quite recaptured their mojo from their opener, and it’s their own fault, and Houston’s bench was whistling … but how did this ball not get out?

Gregorius’ Yankee career, of course, ended a few weeks later — not figuratively like Sánchez’s, but quite literally and acrimoniously.

The 2021 Yankees capped their season with a week in Boston and Toronto that almost made you feel like they mattered, too. If the Wild Card Game is in New York instead of at Fenway Park, Giancarlo Stanton’s incorrectly-called lasers probably would’ve left the yard, or at least caused more chaos bouncing around the outfield. Momentum could’ve flipped there, too.

But the 2021 Yankees were not the 2017, 2018, or 2019 Yankees, and you knew that for all 162 games’ worth of their dreary season. Instead, these were the pair of moments that could’ve altered everything, and that we’ll always come back to … until the offensive infusion we all know this roster needs arrives and starts the clock again.