There were no proclamations from Aaron Boone at the start of this Yankees season, no guarantee in March of glory in October. That is not how baseball works, and Boone knows it in his bones. The Boone family — grandfather Ray, father Bob, and brothers Aaron and Bret — played 58 distinguished seasons in the majors and won just two World Series.
“One of the reasons you sign up to do this is you want to win a championship, and everyone in our room has that expectation — and rightfully, because I think we’re one of the teams that has the potential to do that,” Boone, the Yankees’ manager, said before batting practice at Thursday’s season opener in the Bronx. “But we’re a long way between now and then. So as much as that’s the intent, we kind of also get lost in the day and lost into the grind.”
The Yankees ground the lowly Baltimore Orioles into submission, 7-2, on a sun-splashed, stress-free afternoon. They got all the runs they needed — on Luke Voit’s three-run homer in the first inning — while Mariano Rivera was still chatting with reporters after his ceremonial first pitch.
Rivera, the newly minted unanimous Hall of Famer, won five World Series rings for the Yankees, the last in 2009. He has a different perspective from Boone’s, and applied old-style Yankees urgency to Boone’s team.
“It’s amazing it’s been 10 years, and it’s time,” Rivera said. “It’s time to get No. 28. I believe in the team, I’ve seen the guys, the talent that we have is enough to win. The question is, are we hungry enough to win? And I believe they are.”
For most teams, a decade without a championship is hardly noteworthy. The Orioles have not returned to the World Series since winning their third title in 1983. That was the first in 13 years for a team that dominated for much of that stretch, but there was no haze of angst over old Memorial Stadium.
“Well, we’re not New York,” said Jim Palmer, the Hall of Famer who pitched for the Orioles and is now one of their broadcasters. “We were never the Yankees. What do they have, 28 world champions, 27?”
They have 27, as every Yankees fan knows. But Boston has four in the last 15 seasons, and the Yankees have only that one.
“Let’s give credit to the Red Sox,” Palmer said. “But it’s funny, the Yankees have never bottomed out like the Red Sox did. They finished last a couple of times. I mean, they got really bad.”
So they did, and one of those brutal Boston summers allowed them to take an impact hitter, Andrew Benintendi, with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. The Yankees have not had a losing record since 1992, when they drafted Derek Jeter sixth over all.
ImageThe new Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday, said it was time for the Yankees to get their 28th world championship.CreditBrad Penner/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Last year, their 100-win season ended with a division series loss at home to the Red Sox, who outspent every other team and romped through October. In some ways, the Yankees’ path to the majors’ elite has been even more impressive than Boston’s, because they rebuilt on the fly without the embarrassment of finishing last, as the Red Sox did in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
But another season without a championship would represent the Yankees’ longest drought since the 18-year stretch that preceded their victory in 1996. The Aaron Judge Yankees have twice fallen short in the playoffs.
“Having been through the last couple of seasons where they’ve had a lot of success but ended in a disappointing way, I do think that’s added to the hunger,” Boone said. “And I do like the intent and the hunger that these guys, I feel like, are showing day in and day out right now.”
They showed it in their style of victory on Thursday. The Yankees’ 2-3-4 hitters — Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Voit — reached base 11 times in 14 tries, often by walk or hit by pitch.
“A lot of guys want to come out of the gate swinging, and trying to get that first hit out of the way,” said Voit, who came up twice after walks by Stanton. “For them to control the zone that way was really impressive.”
The Orioles were by far the majors’ worst team last season, at 47-115, and the Yankees won 12 of their 19 meetings. That was good, but not great; the Red Sox pummeled the Orioles, going 16-3 against them. Even the Toronto Blue Jays (14-5) did better against Baltimore than the Yankees did.
Asked about the importance of games against weak teams — and the American League could have several — Judge was careful to praise the Orioles. But he added a telling revelation.
“That’s our big thing, and I think last year a lot of times on teams that were below .500, we didn’t do too well,” he said. “So that’s been a priority of ours in spring training going into now: Just go out there and try to dominate every single pitch, every single team.”
That was a secret to the best team in recent major league history, the 1998 Yankees: They never took a game off. That season, they went 21-1 against the overmatched Devil Rays and Royals, and 8-1 against the Expos, Marlins and Phillies, their worst interleague rivals.
So as the long schedule unfolds, keep track of not just the showcase games against the Red Sox, the Houston Astros, and those high-flying hopefuls from Queens, the unbeaten, unscored-on Mets. If the Yankees play every game, against every team, with the relentless approach they did on Thursday, they might fulfill Rivera’s prophecy.
“New year, new challenges, new beginning — and with that new beginning is great hope,” Rivera said. “It will be a good year, 2019. Good things happen in 2019.”