In Boston and Atlanta, this will be remembered as the year of the choke.
In the Bronx, the regular season will be remembered as the year the team with the game’s highest payroll was a perceived underdog, at least in the world that exists outside the Yankee clubhouse.
Perception came in the form of preseason predictions that handed the Red Sox the AL East, the AL pennant and in some places a World Championship. But if there ever was evidence that the game is not played on paper, this would be it.
“It’s pretty sweet, because we came into the season and a lot of people said we were the second or third-best team in the division,” Mark Teixeira said. “We didn’t need to prove anything to ourselves, but it’s nice to prove it to the world that you can never count us out.”
What those predictions didn’t mention was that Curtis Granderson would become an MVP candidate or that Derek Jeter would recover from 2010 with a nice surge in the second half. Those predictions also did not factor in the contributions from low-profile signings Russell Martin, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
And none of those prognostications hinted at David Robertson becoming the game’s elite setup man.
Once the games were no longer played on paper, the Yankees were the better team going against a rival that added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
“That is gratifying,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We accomplished the first goal that we set out to do – win our division and have home-field advantage.”
Martin produced enough offensively and was a defensive upgrade. Though he tailed off in the final months, Colon was a revelation in the first half with his fastballs filling the void left by Phil Hughes. Garcia had a few hiccups, but his ability to pitch well with men on base and with an array of slow but effective stuff was important.
Rafael Soriano came on after some early struggles that were likely injury-related, but the best thing that emerged from Soriano’s lengthy absence was Robertson developing into the best reliever in the game.
Robertson’s role was not necessarily defined when the season began, but Soriano went down and Joba Chamberlain needed “Tommy John” surgery. That placed Robertson into the eighth-inning role where he thrived.
In a year highlighted by Jeter becoming the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits and Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves leader, the Yankees were steady most of the year.
Perhaps an even bigger underdog story outside the Yankee clubhouse was Jeter hitting .300. When he struggled early, his bat was written off, but he began heating up after returning from the DL and finished with a .327 average in the second half.
That put him just under .300. The Yankees never doubted that would happen, just like they never doubted themselves in the AL East.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for news throughout the postseason.