Nobody else has a chance, they said.
Except in late September, somehow the Red Sox fell off the Christmas list. And now in early August, the Yankees are gone, too. You can spend all the money you like, but there are some things you just can't buy, among them love and the American League flag. Shoot, this year you couldn't even buy a trip to the Championship Series.
It was a close-run thing, though.
In the fourth inning of the decisive Game 5, the Yankees loaded the bases against Detroit starter Doug Fister with just one out. In the first, the Tigers had taken a lightning-quick 2-0 lead when both Don Kelly and Delmon Young homered off Iván Nova (who departed after two frames with a minor injury). But it was still 2-0 in the fourth when the Yankees jammed the sacks, with the caveat that maybe they shouldn't have jammed them.
Alex Rodríguez led off with a walk, and moved to second on second on Nick Swisher's one-out single. Jorge Posada, continuing his fine swan song, drove another single up the middle. In some alternate dimensions, Alex Rodriguez waved around third base; in some of those he was out on a thrilling play at the plate, and in some he was safe. In this particular dimension, he was held at third and the bases were loaded.
And Fister took over from there, retiring Russ Martin on an infield fly and Brett Gardner on a pop foul.
Meanwhile, Nova's early exit brought on a parade of pinstriped firemen. First Phil Hughes, then Boone Logan Boone, then big CC Sabathia, who threw 106 pitches in his Game 3 start just three nights ago. And in his first inning, the fifth, Sabathia gave up a leadoff double to Austin Jackson. He recovered to strike out both Kelly and Young -- Nova's tormenters in the opening frame -- but after an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martínez plated Jackson with a shot up the middle. (Will they never learn?)
It just wasn't quite enough. Leyland pulled Fister after only five innings (but 92 pitches), and Max Scherzer -- throwing 96 rather than his customary 93 -- pitched a scoreless sixth. Scherzer got lifted for Joaquin Benoit in the seventh, and Benoit was shaky, issuing a couple of walks, including one with the bases loaded. But he escaped the inning by striking out Nick Swisher, then came back and pitched a scoreless eighth, working around Gardner's two-out single.
Which brought everyone to the ninth inning, and José Valverde.
Papa Grande had 49 chances to save games during the regular season, and saved all 49 of them. He'd recorded saves in Games 2 and 3 of this series, though neither were easy.
Sometimes history's a pretty good guide.
MVP candidate Curtis Granderson led off the ninth, and lifted an easy fly to right field.
MVP candidate Robinson Canó batted next, and lined out to center field.
Hall of Fame candidate Alex Rodriguez batted next and, with two strikes already, Valverde threw a fastball right past him.*
* Rodriguez also struck out in a huge spot in the seventh inning. Is there any doubt about what's going to be stuck in the collective craw of the Yankees fans all through the cold Northeast winter?
The Yankees outscored the Tigers 28-17 in their Division Series. But if there was ever a time when run differential was irrelevant, it's exactly right now.