NEW YORK -- The Yankees wanted this to feel like a pennant race.
They played in an era where we basically assumed that the Yankees would be playing in October. They're leaving at a time when it's easy to wonder when the Yankees will get there again.
It's not happening this year, barring a miracle the Yankees themselves are too realistic to hope for. As Pettitte spoke Friday at the press conference to announce his retirement, he talked about Sunday as his final Yankee Stadium start, and didn't even mention the pennant race until someone finally asked about it.
Even then, "we're not eliminated" was the best he could come up with.
Yes, this is the end. The end of the season. The end of two great careers.
The end of an era.
"I feel like I've had my run here," Pettitte said. "The group, we've kind of had our run."
It was a crazy run, really, an incredible run. In 1995, when Pettitte was a rookie winning 12 games, the Yankees went to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
In the 18 years since, they've missed out only once. This year will make it twice.
And next year . . .
As it stands right now, it's a whole lot easier to see the Yankees as a last-place team next year than as a first-place team. It's easier to believe that they'll be worse than this year, rather than better.
Think about it. The first baseman (Mark Teixeira) will be trying to come back at age 34, after missing basically a full year with a wrist injury. The second baseman (Robinson Cano) is a free agent, and at this point there's no guarantee he returns. The shortstop (Derek Jeter) will be closing in on his 40th birthday, with no guarantee his surgically repaired ankle will be any better than it was in this nightmare of a season. The third baseman (Alex Rodriguez) will likely be serving a suspension.
How does it sound so far?
They really don't have a catcher. The three outfielders they have signed for 2014 -- Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells -- will be 38, 40 and 35 when next season begins. Their only position player under 30 is Eduardo Nunez, who has proven this year he can't be a regular.
The closer is retiring. So is one of the more dependable starters. There's still uncertainty about whether Hiroki Kuroda will return (and he'll be 39). CC Sabathia will be back, but he looks less and less like an ace.
The free-agent market is awful. The owner would prefer to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold. And the farm system offers so little help that even with all the injuries the Yankees had this season, they never saw a reason to give the young players a chance. Even if they want to trade their way out of this mess, they have little to offer.
The truth is that the Yankees overachieved this year, just to get to the fringes of a pennant race.
"I don't know how they did it," one veteran scout said Friday. "I can't believe they've won as many games as they have."
The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, in 2008, they still had a strong and healthy core to build around. They had the Core Four, in fact, Pettitte and Rivera and Jeter and Jorge Posada, and they had Rodriguez and Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, too.
They had money to spend and no luxury tax restrictions, and they had a free-agent market offering top-level help. They spent $161 million on Sabathia, $82.5 million on A.J. Burnett and $180 million on Mark Teixeira.
And they won another World Series, the fifth for Pettitte and Rivera and Jeter and Posada (although Posada was just a small part of the first one).
It was a remarkable run. As Jeter said Friday, it's hard to imagine four guys playing together for as long, let alone winning as much as these guys did.
They were part of our Octobers, for better or for worse. It's no easier to imagine the postseason without them than it is to imagine the Yankees without them.
Now this is the end for Rivera and Pettitte, and the end for these Yankees, even if Jeter does still seem determined to stick around for another year.
It's strange to think of him walking into the clubhouse next spring with all his friends gone. It's strange to think of him playing out a season that as of now seems to have so little promise.
"What's the future of the organization?" Jeter said Friday, repeating a question. "You hope they have a lot of young players who can come up and contribute."
They did, 20 years ago. They had Rivera and Pettitte and Posada and Bernie Williams and Jeter himself.
They came up together, and they won together, and now Pettitte and Rivera are leaving together.
And now a Yankee era, along with a Yankee season, is coming to an end.