DETROIT — By the time rain postponed the Yankees-Tigers game Wednesday night at Comerica Park, the Yankees’ magic number to clinch the American League East stood at nine. To secure a playoff spot? Seven.
To bring a convincingly healthy team into October? Zero.
The bell tolled on that hope Wednesday with the news (broken by The Post’s Joel Sherman) that Aaron Hicks’ visit to Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache resulted in the decision to rest Hicks’ ailing right elbow for a few more weeks before feeling compelled to do something more drastic like Tommy John surgery. Regardless, Hicks’ 2019 has almost certainly concluded.
“The clock’s against him now,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Hicks’ seven-year, $70 million contract is off to quite an inauspicious start — he played in just 59 games, between a serious back injury and this serious elbow condition — all the more so if the beginning to 2020 gets compromised by a TJ procedure. For the moment, however, let’s focus on the bigger picture and the shorter term:
These 2019 Yankees caught the injury bug all the way back in the 2018 AL Division Series, when Didi Gregorius severely hurt his right elbow, and they never really shook it. In order for them to halt their horrifying, 10-year drought without a championship, they must do so with a compromised roster.
The Hicks news, which became a fait accompli from the moment he tried to throw last week and still felt discomfort, stings especially when you consider its multiple ramifications: It removes the only switch hitter from the Yankees’ lineup.
It takes away an outstanding defender from the middle of the diamond and, by forcing Brett Gardner to slide over from left field, weakens two positions, as Giancarlo Stanton and Cameron Maybin can’t match Gardner’s fielding prowess in the corner.
It increases the onus on Gardner, who has enjoyed a renaissance at 36 but, because he’s 36, generates concerns of his tank running low.
With Hicks and Miguel Andujar done for the season, that’s two envisioned regulars gone. Then throw in Mike Tauchman, who helped cover for the extended absences of Hicks and Stanton.
Just for completion’s sake, don’t forget Greg Bird hit a home run on Opening Day before vanishing, Troy Tulowitzki retired and Jacoby Ellsbury never even made it to “baseball activities” in Tampa.
That we’ve got just over three weeks before the playoffs begin and the Yankees still have three vital players (Dellin Betances, Luis Severino and Stanton) working their way back from the injured list, with the two pitchers having missed the entire season to date and Stanton having clocked a mere nine games, tells you the tightrope on which the Yankees continue to walk.
They’ve navigated that tightrope masterfully, their success despite the injury epidemic an amazing story. From DJ LeMahieu to Gio Urshela to Tauchman to Mike Ford, these Yankees have produced more “Next Man Up” inspirations than the first 44 seasons of “Saturday Night Live.” Yet no one disputes that such joy will own the shelf life of a Red Sox general manager unless the Yankees at least reach the World Series.
To do so, they’ll have to overcome the favored Astros, and every piece of bad news hurts that daunting challenge. Can Betances, Severino and Stanton all return in good enough shape to contribute? Can the Yankees avoid any more mishaps for the duration of the regular season, not to mention once they’re in the postseason? Do they have any more unknown heroes at their disposal?
Nothing has been easy for this group, and we now know for certain that nothing will be easy. The Yankees will naturally tell us they wouldn’t want or expect it any other way. Must the path to a parade really be this much of a schlep, though? It’s a question that will either haunt these Yankees or make their triumph even more glorious.
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