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The Walk-Off Slam Game: Season savior or a mere fluke?

The Yankees still hold their own destiny, even after a much-needed walk-off slam from Josh Donaldson.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night against the Rays, Josh Donaldson put a ball in the right field seats for a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th. The Yankees were down three runs before the ball landed, and in an instant had turned it into a win. It was an unlikely turn of events after the game had already taken a dark turn for New York. There is a shared sentiment among most Yankee fans that this homer was exactly the jolt this slumping team needs, and that could very well end up being true. But how much does that really mean?

Less than 24 hours later, the Yankees showed us how fleeting that feeling can be. On the heels of a seemingly spirit-lifting dramatic win, New York resorted right back to their recent ways. They got knocked around by the Blue Jays and lost what ended up being a blowout, and it felt an awful lot like things did pre-Donaldson slam.

The Yankees had been 3-11 up to that point in the month of August, and basically every game has looked and felt exactly like that sounds. There is no doubt that Donaldson’s huge home run flipped the script on a seemingly lost game, as we can tell from this:

This badly stumbling Yankee team desperately needed something to go right, and a moment like that is about as good as it gets. They quickly took the momentum from Tampa Bay in that game, but whether or not they can maintain it going forward remains most important.

Momentum and streaks are a tricky thing to think and talk about. I feel fairly confident in saying that they are real, and that they have real and significant impacts. If you’ve ever played a sport at any level, there are certainly times you can feel good momentum amongst a team, or on a personal level. You can see it watching too, in things like win streaks or stringing hits together in a comeback.

The issue with these concepts however, come with the fact that they are not actionable. Players or teams can get hot, (or cold) and those shifts can often be seen pretty clearly. But they are also unpredictable, and have no real consistency. Players and teams are hot, basically, until they aren’t. This isn’t to say this sort of thing doesn’t matter, it does, especially when a team is so desperately in need of a shift, it just can’t be predicted or depended upon.

Thursday’s humbling follow-up game against Toronto, if nothing else, serves as a good reminder for how touchy these things can be. In what felt like no time, the hope sprung from the walk-off had all but disappeared.

Donaldson’s clutch grand slam is no doubt a good starting point to turn around this miserable run the Yankees have been on, as losers in 17 of 26 games since the All-Star break. It felt like the blast was exactly what this team needed, but they and we are likely reaching for anything at the moment, given the state of things. And there is a very real chance that when we look back at this part of the season, things may have shifted for the better around this time.

As good as it sounds however, these changes, and the effects positive momentum can have, is simply never guaranteed. It’s possible the momentum ended once Donaldson crossed home plate, or it could continue forward and push a strong finish to the season. It simply can’t be known or counted on.

The players themselves are responsible for making it happen, one way or another. Not only is a momentum shift unpredictable, it’s also not guaranteed. Without the players following through on the opportunity, the big homer may just stand as a one-off fluke in an otherwise difficult stumble to the end of the year. As nice as it would be to just let positive momentum take over, that relationship functions more in the opposite direction.

This team has now shown that it isn’t built to continuously bulldoze everyone in their path. And they can’t sit around and wait for momentum or good vibes to kick in. The shift we were all hoping for already feels like it’s in the rearview mirror, after the tough loss Thursday. Because as real as those things may be, it can never be known when they are coming or going.