Their 3-2 walk-off victory over the Red Sox allowed a little euphoria and relief into the Yankees' clubhouse for a day, but no one should kid himself. There will be no sprint to the finish line for this team.
Perhaps the ugly play has jolted us at times, but the ultimate result - the Yankees missing the playoffs - doesn't shock the system, right? Most of us agreed this was a distinct possibility once Brian Cashman passed on the Johan Santana trade.
No, when sorting through the rubble of this season, we must contemplate a bigger question, one that goes beyond 2008:
Has this painful season derailed Cashman's greater vision of turning the Yankees into the proverbial player development machine?
"No," Cashman said before the game. "If anything, you're starting to see the necessity of (why) you have to get younger . . . We've had some injuries, there's no doubt about it, but we've got some key guys who haven't performed like they're capable of. Is that because of age?"
Cashman fell on his sword Thursday, taking the blame for the disappointing campaign while absolving Joe Girardi and his coaches of any significant wrongdoing. It was the right thing to do, even though Girardi surely will receive some recommended changes this winter.
But the Yankees' 11th-year general manager doesn't think his global plan is faulty. Not in the least. If the impending free-agent executive returns - and that's the safe bet, given that the Yankees have largely let him run the baseball operations, just as George Steinbrenner promised three years ago - he'll stick to what he's been doing.
Hank Steinbrenner said Thursday that the Yankees will speak with free agents CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in the offseason, and Cashman is on board with that strategy. The team has roughly $85 million coming off the books, and the only free agents likely to return are Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte.
Even if the two veteran pitchers both come back, along with a presumably healed Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain, "Obviously, as we've seen this year, you can't have enough pitching," Cashman said.
Sabathia's preference is to sign with a West Coast team in the National League, as Newsday reported July 13, so it might be a moot issue. In any case, I asked Cashman if throwing a nine-figure contract at a veteran free agent from another team - one who hasn't been exposed to the New York market - would clash with his philosophy.
"No, not necessarily," he said. "Ultimately, what I feel is a strong reluctance to trade three or four assets to another team (for a player) and then sign him to a multiyear contract. You trade for a guy, give up three or four assets (and then pay him), then you've crushed your payroll and your assets at the same time."
That's why he didn't trade for Santana.
"If you choose to play in that (free-agent) marketplace, the one thing you'd be sacrificing is a draft pick," Cashman continued.Look at Cleveland's Cliff Lee, Cashman said, and the White Sox's Carlos Quentin. Development can take time. It's a high price to pay, this upcoming lonely October, but Cashman thinks it will prove worthwhile.
A sports empire and its fan base will have to wait another year, at least, to find out.