The best-laid plans of mice and men, as Robert Burns and, later, John Steinbeck, cautioned us, can go haywire. So it was with my plans for this column, in which I was going to throw caution to the wind and loudly proclaim that the Yankees are dead!

Buy the plot, I was prepared to urge, and start chiseling the monument. Those fellows in pinstripes only look semi-alive. They really are just zombies out of some bad horror film mindlessly lurching around the baseball field waiting to be shoveled under.

After all, were they not 13 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, a team that made them look sick Saturday night in Fenway Park – just two days before I planned to pen this column? The Yankees kept giving away the lead. The relief pitching was dreadful, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz was literally carted off the field after hitting his head on Mike Lowell’s hip, Jason Giambi was already out with an injury, and a variety of other Yankees had just grown old. Johnny Damon has looked like a shell of his former, Red Sox self, and not just because he is now clean-shaven. And there is Alex Rodriguez, the player Red Sox Nation especially loves to hate – he of such bush-league actions as trying to knock the ball out of a first baseman’s glove and yelling to distract an infielder from catching a pop fly.

Then, during that June 2 game, Rodriguez wandered about the infield during the seventh inning, forgetting to cover third base, as if he were a rookie rather than a veteran future Hall-of-Famer. The Red Sox scored five runs that inning to retake the lead, 10-6, eventually winning 11-6. Even Derek Jeter failed, committing two errors, including booting a made-for-order double-play grounder that would have ended the inning with New York still ahead.

Yes, the Yankees looked disorganized, disinterested and disinterred, the latter condition soon to be remedied in my column. After all, even the return of the great Roger Clemens had been delayed by his recurring groin strain.

But just to be sure, I waited for one more game. I watched as the Yankees took a 4-0 lead Sunday night. No worry, though, as the Yankees had been taking leads and blowing them in almost every game they had played against the Red Sox this year. And, sure enough, they did it again. Five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning put Boston up 5-4. I confidently switched off the television, turned off the light and went to sleep, prepared to get an early start on my column the next morning.

But how fickle are human expectations when malicious Fate starts turning her wheel. “The Yankees won,” my wife said as I shaved. Just another of her jokes, I thought, and finished shaving. Of course, my wife is one of those people who keep reminding me of the past: the many Red Sox failures and Yankee triumphs, the Bucky Dents and Bill Buckners, as if the 2004 World Series were just a temporary hiccup.

Smugly, she waited for me to sit down with my coffee and the paper. I started, of course, as any true American does, with the sports page. And there it was, the headline. Not only had the Yankees won, but Alex Rodriguez had won the game with a home run. Sure, Rodriguez has some gaudy ninth-inning statistics this year: 7 for 15 with 4 home runs and 11 runs batted in. But against the Red Sox?

So there I was, to be reminded again of that old warning about plans. What do I say now? Are the Yankees still alive? Do they really have a chance with no bullpen except Mariano Rivera, an aging and injury-ridden starting staff, and a bunch of over-the-hill hitters? OK, Clemens can still pitch, if he can get healthy and stay that way. Yes, Jeter is fine, and maybe Cano will start hitting. Posada has been great, but is he really going to keep batting .360?

A year from now, maybe two, some of those young pitchers forced into starting this year will be good, but that is the future. Now is now, and the Yankees, even with a come-from-behind victory over the Red Sox, even after winning the series 2-1, cannot really make it this time, can they? Probably not, but, yet, just maybe. So here is where I am, writing my “maybe” column rather than my “bury the Yankees” column. Maybe I can find some mice to console me.

Edward J. Rielly is a Westbrook resident, English professor at St. Joseph’s College, and widely published author with three books on baseball and American culture.


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