Verlander was fantastic! Um … wasn’t he?

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Posnanski makes a great point today about how sports commentators, columnists, broadcasters and the like tend to fall in love with narratives, even if they don’t really hold up.  His example: how everyone during and after last night’s Tigers game was gushing about Justin Verlander, and sticking with that narrative even though, on the merits, the performance wasn’t all that great: eight innings pitched, four earned runs.

I agree with the general point, but I must quibble with Posnanski’s use of Verlander as an example of this.

For one thing, four runs in eight innings against an offense like the Yankees on short rest (or however you want to characterize pitching three days after Friday’s false start) isn’t anything to sneeze at.  Not otherworldly, strikeouts notwithstanding, and I agree with Posnanski that it’s way too easy to blow it out of proportion. But it’s not nothing.

More generally, I think the praise of Verlander last night and into this morning is less about his line score and more about him just being an amazing freak of nature who is outrageously fun to watch.  Posnanski himself describes it in his column: the crazy velocity, changing repertoire and control; the fact that he was still cracking 100 on the radar late in the game.  Setting aside his game score — and acknowledging that people who overstate his literal effectiveness are drinking Verlander Kool-Aid — that stuff was pretty damn remarkable, and it’s thus understandable that it is being remarked upon so much.

This all falls under a theory I’ve cited many times recently in which our friend Ken Arneson reminds us to “Remember the Beer.”  That enjoying something and wishing to honor it some way is a totally different matter than properly assessing something and wishing to praise it in a different way.

We can appreciate that Dwight Evans was objectively better than Jim Rice, but if people want to recall Jim Rice’s exploits more fondly because they took great enjoyment from them back in 1978, so be it.  We can be in awe of Wily Mo Pena’s home runs even though, by every objective measure, Wily Mo Pena sucks.  The point is that just as we should never let our fond memories of a player shake our objective assessment of his merits (no matter how much I enjoyed Jack Morris’ career, he wasn’t a great pitcher), we shouldn’t let the objective assessment of the player detract from our enjoyment of him.  Same goes for movies and records and art and stuff too, by the way, but that’s another essay.

As for Verlander: no, his performance was not “great” last night in an objective way.  But it was dazzling. And enjoyable as all hell unless you’re a Yankees fan. And if people want to talk that up to the heavens today, I see no real reason to take any issue with that.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.