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Mike Lupica: Magical season means nothing in October, but Yankee fans need to enjoy the ride

There has never been a Yankee half-season quite like this, not ever, not even when they were winning in ‘98 the way they are winning now, because in ‘98 they were only two years removed from their last World Series. This one is different, both wonderful and complicated, because this time the Yankees are winning like this 13 years after they last won a World Series.

This time it is in the context of a baseball century where the Red Sox have owned October four times, and nearly made it five before the Astros — the dominant October team of this era in baseball — got off the canvas and went to their third Series in five years. This time this is all happening in the context of a baseball century in which the Yankees are the ones who have felt a little bit cursed.

So I asked my friend PC (it doesn’t stand for politically correct, trust me), as smart and passionate and realistic as any Yankee fan I know, what the experience has been like of having the Yankees be the YANKEES again, at least for now.

This is what he wrote:

“Understanding this is an organization that clings to the selling point of “championship or bust,” there is no way you can allow that company line to compromise your appreciation of what is happening on the field right now. For many reasons, not the least of which is this — the Yankees not only don’t win championships anymore, they seldom win their own division. Consider that this will be — assuming nothing goes terribly sideways over the final 3 months of the season — only their 5th AL East title since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009 and just their 2nd since the last of The Core Four, Derek Jeter, left the building at the end of 2014.

“This is not a “been there, done that” type of Yankees season, certainly not during the Aaron Judge Era. Yeah, they made the surprise run to the ALCS in Judge’s rookie year of ‘17, but only as an underdog Wild Card. And ‘18 brought Giancarlo Stanton from Miami, 100 wins — and only another Wild Card, this time as a clear also-ran to the Red Sox, who not only blew them out in the division race by 8 games but needed only 4 games to get past them in the ALDS.

“And while the Yankees finally won the division in 2019, it wasn’t like this, not with Judge playing in just over 100 games (102) and Stanton missing all but 18 games of the season. This year the big stars are doing big star things.

“For a change, it’s not just power. It’s pitching, especially the bullpen. It’s the defense, which looks so much better with guys who can actually play shortstop and catcher and first base. It’s the toughness that has led to all of the come-from-behind and walk-off wins. It is all of that. And when you consider that this is not the Yankees season many of us expected, not after the last two seasons of too many erratic and lifeless stretches of baseball, and not after beginning the season wondering if the Yankees were no better than the 3rd or even 4th best team in their division instead of the clear-cut best team in the division the way they are now, yes, you better believe this is a season you have to appreciate.

“But there is also this. Since the early 2000s, October has very rarely been their time of year. It’s why the people running the Yankees not only ring hollow when they tell us how they’re all about winning championships, they sound completely silly and out of touch ignoring the reality of the last 20 years. By now, Yankees fans have to be honest with themselves and understand that if everything is viewed strictly through the prism of what happens in October, they’re wasting an awful lot of time en route to a joyless destination.

“As a Yankee fan, I get that you always have to fixate on October. It comes with the territory, especially when the people running the team are always there to remind you how it comes with the territory. It’s why Yankee fans want the best record in the game for more than just show, they need it for home field against the Astros should they meet in the LCS. And it’s why Yankees fans are going to spend the next 3 weeks clamoring for their front office to do something it hasn’t been able to do much of late, make the deal or deals needed to push them over the top.

“It’s also why we know full well the ‘22 Yankees could surpass the ‘98 Yankees total of 114 wins and still leave us with a very empty feeling if they don’t win it all like that ‘98 team did. But you can’t let that fear of emptiness prevent you from enjoying the season that is playing out in front of us right now, which is only one of the most entertaining seasons they have had around here in a long, long time. There are too many reasons to like and appreciate what we see on a day-in, day-out basis, even though we need to realize that none of this assures us of a happy ending come fall.”

He understands full well that this powerhouse Yankee team could win the way the ‘21 San Francisco Giants did, could end up winning more than the 107 games that the Giants did last year, and still get clipped the way the Giants did by the Dodgers. The Giants were a game better than the ‘21 Dodgers, and still lost a five-game division series. The Yankees could end up being a lot more than a game better than the Astros by the end of the regular season, and still see the Astros get them the way the Dodgers got the Giants last October. The Astros are just as talented as the Yankees, aren’t afraid of the Yankees, seem to enjoy that the Yankees are still litigating those sign-stealing October, and just came off a four-game series against the Yankees that ended in a split a lot more meaningful to the Yankees than to them.

But my friend PC is most right about this: Yankee fans ought to enjoy how much better this team is than even the people who put it together could have ever expected, a Yankee team that doesn’t give up or give in, no matter who they’re playing, stomping on just about everybody except the Astros.

It has been a long time since the Yankees looked like the baddest men on the planet. It doesn’t guarantee them a single victory in October. It also doesn’t change the fact that Yankee fans should be enjoying the holy hell out of this ride.

SAYING GOODBYE TO MY FRIEND HANK

Sports and football and the racetrack — and just about everything else — got a lot less fun the other day with the passing of my dear friend, Hank (The Hammer) Goldberg.

He came out of newspapers, because his dad, Hy, was a longtime sportswriter and columnist for the old Newark Evening News.

Then Hy Goldberg’s kid grew up to work for Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder and eventually become the king of sports talk in Miami for what felt like a hundred years, before he parlayed that — you always want to talk about parlays with Hank — into another longtime gig handicapping football and the horses at ESPN.

There was never better company than Hank, at a big game or a big race, at dinner or the bar.

There was a Super Bowl Saturday night when he showed up at the place that always felt like his personal world headquarters, Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach, with our ridiculous party of 12.

No reservation, of course.

He was Hank.

The whole world was outside, a line stretched all the way to Washington Ave., waiting to get in, whether they had a reservation or not.

Hank led us to our table like a conquering general, all of us seated in about five minutes.

When we were, he turned to me and grinned.

“Did that take too long?” he asked.

He was 82 when he died on his birthday.

It still felt as if he left us way too soon.

MAX IS THE TRUE ACE, THE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO FOR THE ANGELS & KEITH’S PLACE IN METS HISTORY …

No one can wait for Jacob deGrom to be back with the Mets and once again be hitting 100 mph on the radar gun as easily as if he were hitting layups in basketball.

But we were reminded the other night in Cincinnati, when Max Scherzer rejoined the Mets and the season, that there is no better pitching show on earth than he is.

The nightmare for the Angels is that Shohei Ohtani, the Sho Hey Kid, moves up the freeway to the Dodgers the first chance he gets.

Put me down as someone who hopes Baker Mayfield goes to the Panthers and makes the most of his second chance.

My friend Barry Stanton says that people are sleeping on Clemson football going into the season the way people were sleeping on Kansas basketball in college hoops.

I don’t know if Nick Kyrgios can hold it together on Sunday against the great Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final.

We’re going to find out how much he needed a semifinal match, even if it had been against Rafa Nadal.

But I hope it’s a great Wimbledon final, one in which Kyrgios doesn’t sabotage himself the way he has so many other times in his career.

What we’re really going to find out is if Kyrgios, the kind of bad boy that Ilie Nastase once was, can finish the job at Centre Court that Nasty couldn’t finish against Bjorn Borg back in 1976.

Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox general manager getting pantsed right now by Brian Cashman:

Bloom knows it’s not his money, right?

When you add it all up, Keith Hernandez was the second most important Met in history, after Mr. Seaver.

Keith Hernandez was the Mets’ DeBusschere.

Enough said.

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