NEW YORK --- They had stumbled into October, playing the last two months of the season as if they were just another team, failing at the plate and on the mound uncharacteristically often.
For only the third time in their proud history, and the first since 1944, they failed to hold on after leading on Labor Day.
But now, as the weather turns crisp, the New York Yankees have regained their sharpness of the first four months, once again looking like the World Series champions of old in their first-round sweep of the Minnesota Twins.
"In here, we were never worried about that stuff," Nick Swisher said Saturday night after the Yankees advanced to an American League Championship Series matchup against Texas or Tampa Bay. "I think in the postseason, experience plays a huge factor, and we have a lot of it in this clubhouse."
New York was 66-37 through July before going 29-30 the rest of the way as numerous players wound up in the trainer's room and some on the disabled list.
Andy Pettitte was sidelined from July 18 to Sept. 19 because of a strained left groin, and Alex Rodriguez was out from Aug. 20 to Sept. 5 with a strained left calf. Not long after he was acquired from Houston at the July 31 trade deadline, Lance Berkman spent two weeks on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle.
Mark Teixeira has played with a broken pinky toe on his right foot since being hit by a pitch from Oakland's Vin Mazzaro on Aug. 31. A few days earlier, Teixeira injured his right thumb on a fielding play, an injury that eventually required a shot of painkiller.
Brett Gardner had a sore right wrist that needed a cortisone shot in mid-September, around the same time Swisher received a cortisone shot in his sore left knee.
As the Yankees lost 17 of their final 26 regular-season games and finished as the AL wild-card team, one game behind AL East champ Tampa Bay, manager Joe Girardi was criticized by some for giving regulars days off. Some fans said he was treating the games as if they were spring training.
"Some of our guys couldn't play, and I think people took that as we weren't trying," Girardi said after the sweep was completed at Yankee Stadium. "Believe me, we were trying. We were trying to win our division. I mean, we wanted home-field advantage. We love playing here. ... And I think people misunderstood that. "
The 2000 Yankees lost 13 of their final 15 regular-season games, turning a nine-game AL East lead into a 21/2-game margin. But they rebounded in the postseason to win a third World Series title in a row.
Now, trying to become the first repeat champions since those 1998-'00 Yankees teams, New York advanced to the ALCS as a wild card for the first time and is on a similar surge heading into the ALCS starting Friday on the road.