Stalwart Yankees lefty setup man Zack Britton officially retired from the game on Monday, and while his Yankee teams never managed to close the deal and record the final out of the season in October, each of the squads he helped lead competed for a championship.
Sometimes, they were outgunned; the 2018 Red Sox came out of nowhere. Sometimes, they were unlucky; the 2019 "Next Man Up" Yankees ran out of next men at the worst possible time. And, sometimes, they were self-eliminated from the postseason, like in 2020.
The Empty Stadium Campaign turned what was supposed to be the Yankees' first season led by Gerrit Cole into kind of a farce, through no fault of their own. But entering the season, this was supposed to be a heavily favored roster which finally began to live up to its potential during their run through the reorganized playoffs.
Gio Urshela's grand slam found tarp in Cleveland. Gary Sánchez was delivering blasts to the short porch at Progressive Field. DJ LeMahieu came up ridiculously clutch against Brad Hand. The magic maintained through Game 1 of the ALDS (in San Diego) against the Rays, when Giancarlo Stanton obliterated the AL East champion's stable deep into the night.
Unfortunately, the team shot themselves in the foot as soon as the curtain rose for Game 2, a moment that indicated doom for suddenly hopeful Yankee fans. Electric rookie Deivi Garcia was given the start, only to be replaced after a single inning (and single home run allowed). JA Happ unwillingly trudged in from the bullpen and further disintegrated. The Yankees had tried to out-Rays the Rays, fooled no one, and flipped the short-series momentum for no apparent reason.
In Andy Martino's new book The Yankee Way, Britton (and Gerrit Cole) opened up about the way the locker room took that switcheroo. According to Britton, the team was just as heated as its fans were about getting too cute in the biggest games of the year. The left-hander wasn't looking for a longer leash for Garcia, though. He believed Happ had what it took to start that game and provide length, and was flabbergasted the team would rather mess with his mojo than play it straight.
Zack Britton: Team thought "We're the f***ing Yankees" after Deivi Garcia 2020 ALDS blunder
Happ, Garcia, Erik Kratz, whoever. Just let a starter be a starter and see how it plays out.
Yankee fans are, of course, still searching for that elusive World Series (victory and trip). The 2020 postseason's hypotheticals remain juicy, but the reality is that the team fought back in Game 2 (but not far enough), Masahiro Tanaka got blown up in Game 3, and Michael Brosseau took advantage of Aroldis Chapman (yet again) in Game 5 to complete the team's pantsing.
While Britton hints that the team's relationship to the analytics gurus who guide their strategy has improved since 2020, the results certainly haven't. Here's to hoping the audit finally (miraculously) flips things around and finds a happy medium for all parties.