May 22, 2007

NY Yankees: Plenty Of Baseball Left

The Yankees looked aggressive Monday night against Boston. While they did win 6-2, they left the equivalent of the population of a small city of base runners stranded on base. However, I liked the fact that they ran on Tim Wakefield. Granted, Wakefield’s delivery is slow, and he pitches like he's a union employee on overtime. But, it was a good way to follow up on Tyler Clippard's excellent start against the Mets the day before. If they can keep this type of play up, win or lose, then this writer can keep respecting them as a team.

As Johnny Damon said while being interviewed on the field after the game "We need the fans to rally behind us." Johnny is good in the clubhouse, and he's capable of helping to lead a team of "idiots" to the World Series for an historic win. Maybe his attitude last night can help lead desperate fans who are crying for Torre's head back to their TV sets and to the stadium as the Yankees try as the team tries to piece together a respectable season and a possible post-season run.

As for the fans and writers calling for Torre’s head, I have an answer for them. Let him manage this season until it is over and done with. Its way too early, and he deserves the right to finish the season on his past accomplishments alone and not to be let go because of an almost historic run of bad luck and because of sloppy and desultory performance from some players. Torre has always been praised for pressing the right "buttons" to make his team work. He may have been pressing them a bit frantically last night, like someone dialing nine-one-one, but he pushed the right ones, got the running game going, and got decent pitching from Chien-Ming Wang. That's enough for one ball game, but it also may also be enough to convince his players that the rest of the season is worth fighting for.

Terry Francona, when interviewed by Michael Kay before the game Monday night on ESPN was quick to say the right things. Eager to avoid being quoted in every newspaper, website, and blog across the nation as being boastful, pointed out earnestly that “There’s plenty of baseball left to play.” He was also quick to note that the Yankees “Will heat up soon” or words to that effect. Essentially, Francona was trying hard not to run around with his arms in the air shouting “Yee Ha! The Yankees are toast!” Francona also doesn’t want his team to lean back and take a break and allow the Yankees to somehow catch up to them. They have their own historic comeback, being down three games to none in the 2004 ALCS to refer to in terms of realizing historic upsets.

Francona may very well be right. The Yankees can make a comeback, and it’s too early for them to consider the Yankees out of the race. A week ago, this writer would have thought the entire season was doomed. After last night’s game, the Red Sox remained a comfortable 9 ½ games ahead of their bitter, division rivals. There’s a lot of breathing room still between them and the Bombers. However, a wildcard berth for the Yankees is very probable for the Yankees, and Francona knows that. Also, we all remember the 1978 Yankees who overcame a fourteen game deficit and eventually won their division.

If Boston has to face a Yankees team with a healthy starting lineup consisting of Roger Clemens, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and possibly Phil Hughes in July through August, and, if the Yankees, who appear to awakening from their slumber, continue to play hard, things may not be so easy for the Red Sox down the road. The Yankees have had more than their fair share of injuries to their starting rotation, while the Red Sox currently have only one of their starters on the disabled list. That pitcher is Josh Beckett. As Terry Francona also stated in his interview Monday evening: “It’s good to play well early, but it’s also good to be playing well late in the season,” or words to that effect. Also, there's the possibility that the "injury bug" may catch up to the Red Sox as well. This writer hopes it doesn't as one does not hope for injuries either to the team you're rooting for, or their opponents. However, realistically speaking, such is the game of baseball. Injuries do happen, and at times with alarming regularity.

Last season, the Red Sox lost key players to injuries and finished the season in third place. No doubt that bit of history hasn't been forgotten either by the Red Sox management, or in their clubhouse. Maybe that is why Francona was reluctant to celebrate an early win for his team in the AL East. This writer doesn’t carry a tape recorder in his car and is unable to quote either Michael Kay or Terry Francona directly; but, the message Francona was making was clear. The Yankees can still be a formidable opponent, anyone on his team can succumb to injuries at any time, and there’s plenty of baseball left to play.

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