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Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: October 20, 1:23 PM ET
Despite evidence, Yankees in denial

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

The Yankees lived in denial all season, so it wasn't surprising that swatting down unflattering truths about themselves was a major theme in their comments Thursday night after the Detroit Tigers swept them out of the American League Championship Series by no-hitting them into the sixth inning of the clincher, and scoring more runs in a game that Yankees ace CC Sabathia started than the Yanks team managed to score the entire series.

The same goes for announcing a media-access blackout for the next three days rather than allow reporters to show up at the Stadium starting Friday for the usual breakup-day exit interviews and autopsies of their corpse of a season.

This Yankees team had problems, all right. But if you thought a Game 4 knockout punch like the one it took, heaped atop the humiliations and body blows the Yankees had already absorbed in their first three losses, would create some acknowledgement of what the series exposed about them, you'd be wrong.

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman says the Yankees' season ended because of a "perfect storm" rather than his imperfect team.

First baseman Mark Teixeira said the Yankees didn't lose or hang up the second-worst team batting average for an ALCS ever because they were an older team playing on fumes by the season's end. They just got outplayed.

Alex Rodriguez insisted he isn't finished at 37, and vowed to come back next year like it was 2007 all over again.

Nick Swisher, a perennial postseason no-show for the Yanks, complained about how criticism from home fans got under his skin after Game 2. And he wasn't alone. After Thursday's season-ending 8-1 loss, an anonymous teammate told the New York Daily News, "I really think the booing spooked a lot of guys. A lot of guys hadn't been booed before, and they couldn't believe how nasty it got in the stands. ... A lot of guys were talking about it in the clubhouse [and] I was surprised by how much it bothered them.

"I really don't think they ever recovered."

If that's true, then shame on all of them. And so much for this team having a diamond-hard resolve thanks to so many been-there, done-that vets who like to brag they can hurdle anything because they can handle everything, even a catastrophe like losing Derek Jeter to a broken ankle.

It didn't show.

It's also worth remembering that it wasn't just frustrated fans who turned on this Yankees team at the bitter end -- it was the team's own passive-aggressive management team as well, particularly when it came to Alex Rodriguez.

Manager Joe Girardi all of a sudden didn't trust the same lineup that got him 95 wins, and it threw off a whiff of panic and doubt.

Team president Randy Levine's assertion that A-Rod shouldn't be scapegoated for the Yanks' ouster came just days after it was reported how back in spring training Levine had discussed A-Rod with Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and said, "You can have him."

General manager Brian Cashman said the "playbook" of how the 2012 team was constructed wasn't to blame. It wasn't even the players themselves, Cashman insisted. It was just the way they played for a week.

Cashman blamed the Yanks' sweep on a "perfect storm" rather than his imperfect team.

It's just denial, all right.

And it's a trait that doesn't bode well if the Yankees are going to fix what hurt them this year.

The Yankees need a philosophical tweaking just as much as a roster upgrade.

And contrary to what Cashman said, what caused the Yanks to lose to Detroit wasn't a "perfect storm" at all. Until everything fell apart midway into Game 4, the Yankees' starting pitching was actually terrific, and the bullpen and defense weren't bad, either.

What really killed the Yankees was their inability to knock in runners in scoring position, and manufacture runs when they weren't hitting home runs -- the same season-long, sort of low-grade flu that mushroomed into a crippling problem for them during the playoffs, just as many baseball insiders had predicted it would for months once the Yanks had to face the better pitching that postseason teams bring.

So the Yankees can't say they hadn't been warned.

Still, to the ugly end, the players seemed to be swinging for the fences rather than playing situational ball when they needed to. Even as Detroit was winning without an enormous contribution from Triple Crown-winner Miguel Cabrera, there were the Yanks clinging stubbornly to a philosophy that Teixeira captured in a nutshell: "We're a team that lives and dies with the home run."

Fine. And now the 2012 team knows how its obit ends. It was swept away while posting the lowest postseason team batting average (.188) in major league history.

Teixeira went on to add that it's difficult to overhaul the entire team's approach on the fly, just because the playoffs were here.

Now the Yanks have the whole offseason to do it instead.

But will they?

The Yanks now face their busiest offseason since they missed the playoffs in Girardi's first year and spent a windfall to bring in Sabathia and Teixeira. Even if they keep Hiroki Kuroda -- and they should -- they still need to go out and get another starting pitcher. Andy Pettitte may not come back and, any day now, don't be surprised if Sabathia finally admits his pitching elbow needs cleaning up surgically.

Russell Martin should be brought back, and Ichiro too -- but only at the right price, with the understanding he'd be Brett Gardner's backup. The Yankees should exercise their reasonable contract option on Curtis Granderson, but have a long sit-down with both him and Robinson Cano, whose contract also expires after next season, about adjusting their games. Granderson should be a better all-around player than he is rather than swinging for the fences and striking out 200-plus times. Cano needs to be told he doesn't want to turn into the second coming of Alfonso Soriano, a guy who was so enthralled with his power hitting or blossoming stardom he forgot to play the game right and found himself shipped out.

The Yankees will very likely conclude they have to re-sign Cano, same as they did A-Rod once upon a time. But will they learn anything about their mistake of just throwing the money at him and worrying about the rest later?

Crazy as it may sound now, the psychodrama swirling around whether A-Rod stays or goes may be the biggest nonstory this team has.

Rodriguez alone controls if he'll be back thanks to the no-trade clause the team also gave him as part of his absurd $275 million contract that still has five years to run. And no amount of public embarrassment seems to affect his state of mind. Rodriguez definitively said Thursday that he has no interest in going anywhere else.

All of this leaves it up to Cashman to work around the margins. But in contrast to his spending spree of a few years ago, the Yankees GM will be constrained by owner Hal Steinbrenner's edict to get the payroll under the $190 million luxury tax threshold by 2014 despite Cano's pending free agency, and all the other heavy contracts and holes to plug that he's got.

Yankees fans should hope Cashman's vow to come back with more of the same "big hairy monsters" in 2013 -- his joking nickname for the sluggers he likes to stockpile to take advantage of the Stadium's short right-field porch -- is just something he said in the heat of the moment Thursday out of pride, pain or defiance. The same goes for how he dismissed the fact the 2012 Yanks were the oldest team in the majors.

"We're not going to turn into the Bronx Bunters," Cashman scoffed. "If you're old and you're still good, it's not an issue."

It's as if cratering against Detroit changed next to nothing for the Yanks.

Denial is an amazing thing.