- Howard Bryant, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- The old dynasty finally fell, and for good Monday night in the Bronx. The descent started in the afternoon with a harbinger: The Yankees removed the 45-year-old Roger Clemens from the postseason roster, a move as symbolically significant for a team that has squeezed a generation's worth of nostalgia and performance out of its old bones as it was necessary because they were short a pitcher.
Over four hours on an 87-degree night, the crumbling continued, with only limited moments of suspense, as the Yankees unsuccessfully tried to dig out of a final, immense hole that began on the third pitch of the game, when Grady Sizemore blasted a 1-1 offering from Chien-Ming Wang over the wall in center. As the Yankees fell behind 6-1 with a certain inevitability, as Wang would last but one inning, the hole appeared larger than the 14½-game deficit from which they emerged to clinch a playoff spot. It seemed deeper than the 3-0 deficit they faced Sunday night with elimination near, and wider than their vaunted talent and reputation could ultimately overcome.
The final score of the final game of the American League Division Series was Cleveland 6, New York 4, and with that the Indians defeated the Yankees three games to one. The Indians will face the Boston Red Sox Friday night for the American League pennant, and deservedly so.
The dynasty is over in New York, giving way to age and time, and nothing could revive it. Not the repeated video clips on the scoreboard of the great Yankees triumphs in the past. Not the final, resolute pitching of Mariano Rivera trying to keep the deficit at three runs. Not even the last stubborn comeback attempts in the form of home runs by Bobby Abreu and, yes, Alex Rodriguez.
It was a game fitting in style for the Yankees, a team anchored by the enormity of its reputation, its payroll, and its expectations but was ultimately beaten by a determined young Cleveland team that did not need to engage in a search for old magic because it has created something new and fresh for which the Yankees had no answer.
Cleveland was the better team, deeper in starting pitching while the Yankees played two home games with their starters, Wang and Clemens, combining for 3 1/3 innings. Once the Yankees' exclusive province, the Indians performed in the moments that separate playoff winners and losers. The Yankees, meanwhile, were comforted by big names, but were confounded by their continued inaction. Cleveland received performances, while the Yankees waited. Kenny Lofton, 6-for-40 in 10 previous postseasons, went 6-for-16 in this series, almost single-handedly beating the Yankees in Game 1 with a bitter determination. For the second year in a row -- following Kenny Rogers in 2006 -- a scorned ex-Yankee played a hand in finishing their season.
The Indians hit .315 in four games, scoring 15 runs with two outs and 13 with two outs and runners in scoring position. They also received a winning performance from Paul Byrd that was as unimpressive -- he put 10 men on base in five innings and yet it was the Yankees who were frustrated -- as it was effective.
Meanwhile, the big-name Yankees came up small. Derek Jeter, the legend of previous falls, hit .176 and killed two rallies with double plays Sunday night and another -- with the Yankees down 6-2 with one run in and runners at the corners -- on Monday. Hideki Matsui hit .182 and Jorge Posada .133 in the series.
In his first two at-bats Monday night, while the Indians surged, Rodriguez struck out twice on six pitches.
Out of options, with nothing between them and the oblivion of a third consecutive first-round playoff defeat, somber acceptance came next. Pre-emptively and callously, George Steinbrenner prepared New York for the end, guaranteeing either a stunning finish to this series or the end of Joe Torre's 12-year tenure. And with one out, the 56,315 strong chanted Torre's name as he twice walked to the pitching mound, first to speak to reliever Jose Veras and later to remove him for Rivera.
This is the way Yankees fans say goodbye, for barring a change of heart, Torre will almost certainly not be back. It was the same chant that showered Paul O'Neill as he stood in right field during the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, when it was clear that win or lose, O'Neill would be retiring at the end of the season.
"You certainly can't ignore it. These fans are very special. They're certainly very special. I mean, you can feel their heartbeat," Torre said. "They know their stuff and they never quit on you."
The dismantling of the dynasty will surely follow, and finally, but not without some degree of melancholy, the old building faces the wrecking ball. Steinbrenner has wanted to get rid of Torre for years, and now appears to have the proper ammunition to proceed.
And perhaps it is time, for all dynasties ultimately crumble and decay, and losing to the Indians seemed as much a disappointment for the Yankees as it was the recognition that they have witnessed the end of something larger, something grander. For years, when the future beckoned, the Yankees reached back into the past, a futile attempt to stop time. They brought back Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez for a season, and kept Bernie Williams beyond his time. When the teams that would eventually knock them from playoff contention, emerging powers like Cleveland and Detroit, committed to youth, the Yankees would spend furiously to extend the life of the machine, opting for Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and of course, Rodriguez.
Now, there is no turning back, even though they are grossly inflated. Giambi, once considered a centerpiece, will be 37 next season and is an afterthought in the Yankees plan, except for his $21 million salary next season. Mike Mussina, who entered the game in the second inning after Wang imploded the same way Brown did in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, pitched gamely and professionally, but will be 39 in December. He lost his spot in the rotation in August after a generation as a frontline pitcher in his league and is owed $11 million next season.
I don't know what the Yankees want. They had the opportunity and they didn't do anything with me. This is a business. They treat it like a business and I will, too. But I don't hold anything against the Yankees.
--Yankees closer Mariano Rivera
Rivera, who will be 38 on Nov. 29, appeared Monday night resigned that he may have certainly pitched his last game as a Yankee, a consideration that might be the most telling sign of the future, especially because he is still wondrous.
"We'll see. I don't know what the Yankees want. They had the opportunity and they didn't do anything with me," Rivera said. "This is a business. They treat it like a business and I will, too. But I don't hold anything against the Yankees."
Posada, too, can opt for free agency. Pettitte, like Rodriguez, has a player option and can leave the Yankees if he chooses to do so. Clemens should have pitched his last game, gimpy and defeated by time.
The time for transition, as was proven Monday night, appears to be now. The Yankees created a championship core through its farm system, and then as that core began to fade, they attempted to augment it with spending. Since 2002, the Yankees won 100 games three times, played in a World Series and haven't won fewer than 94 games, but strayed from the core philosophy that created their success, and the result is a team top heavy and inflexible in need of a fresh start.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has over the past few months grown even more convinced that the big-money, heavy-spending Yankees way needs to die a quick death, an attitude supported by the ebullient play of Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and a host of young players saddled, but not for long, behind the Yankees' ballast. It is clear that it is time for a new history in New York -- perhaps orbiting around Rodriguez and a new stadium -- for the old one has finally run its course.
"My ultimate goal would be to home-grow everybody. That's not realistic, but my biggest dream would be to home-grow it all," Cashman said Monday night. "I'm very devoted to the amateur pipeline in the domestic and international markets."
If this is indeed the end, and as the Torre, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte era comes to a close, it was, as they say, quite a run. In New York, even a dynasty needs to be told when to say goodbye.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.