10 May 2007

Don't Look Now...but Here Come the Yankees

On Thursday, April 19th, the Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-6, which raised the team's season record to, believe it or not, 8-6. A-Rod had hit his second, 2-out, 9th-inning, walk-off homer in less than two weeks. The Yankees had the best offense in baseball, and in Alex Rodriguez, perhaps best player in baseball having possibly the best month anyone had ever seen.

And then the wheels came off.

Sure, A-Rod, and the yankees, continued to hit, but both the starting pitching and the bullpen fell completely apart, and the Yanks lost seven straight, their longest losing streak since Y2K, when they lost their last seven games in a row.

The first series against Boston was a disaster. First, Andy Pettitte's solid performance was squandered when Mariano Rivera decided to remind us all that he is, in fact, only human, by blowing the game in the ninth. Then rookie Jeff Karstens reminded us that he simply doesn't belong in the major leagues, surrendering 7 runs in 4.1 innings. Then, not to be outdone, rookie Chase Wright made an indelible mark on the collective Yankee Fan Psyche by surrendering four straight homers, which, as you'll recall, got Chase Wright chased right back to Double-A Trenton.

Rookie Kei Igawa, just days after his first major league win, suffered his first major league loss, to the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays no less, giving up a Karstens-esque seven runs in 4.1 innings. Chien-Ming Wang, not as sharp as usual coming back from a hamstring injury, lost the next game, and then highly touted prospect Phil Hughes, in his first major league start, lasted only 4.1 innings himself, though in his case it was more because he hit his 90-pitch limit than because of the four runs he allowed. Unfortunately for him, the Yankee batters decided to take the night off, and the Bronx Bombers were unable to do anything with A.J. Burnett's 97-mph gas. The Yankees were shut out for the first time all year.

Finally, in the last game of the streak, Pettitte proved unable to repeat his performance of a week earlier, allowing five runs in less than five innings of work against Boston. Red Sox rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka was not terribly sharp either, allowing four runs in six, but the Yankee bullpen, especially the increasingly mortal-looking Mariano Rivera, gave up six runs in four innings to put the game well out of reach. That dropped the Yankees' record to 8-13, 6.5 games in back of Boston in the AL East, and set the New York sportswriters and radio talk show hosts into Panic Mode. Phil Hughes was going to be brought up ahead of schedule! George Steinbrenner was freaking out! Joe Torre was going to be fired! Carl Pavano was on the DL!!! (OK, so that part was business as usual.) Human sacrifice, cats and dogs, living together...MASS HYSTERIA!!!

Except that then a funny thing happened: The Yankees started winning again.

Maybe you haven't heard about it, but the Yanks have managed to stem the losing tide and have actually won eight of their last eleven games. And this, despite injuries to Karstens (broken leg, six weeks or more) and Phil Hughes (pulled hamstring, about 4 weeks) and the recent demotion of Kei Igawa to Single-A Tampa to work on his mechanics. Last week, Phil Hughes reeled off 6.1 no-hit innings before his hamstring accomplished what the Rangers' bats could not: getting him out of the game. Pettitte rebounded nicely the day after, and Mike Mussina pitched well in his first start since coming off the DL with a hamstring injury of his own. After an ugly loss to Seattle on Frriday night, Chien-Ming Wang flirted with immortality, pitching 7.1 perfect innings before surrendering a homer to Ben Broussard, and picked up his first win of the year. The next day, rookie Darrel Rasner helped to shut out the Mariners for his first win of the year.

A shocking loss followed on Monday when Mr. Automatic squandered Matt DeSalvo's impressive major league debut by giving up a game-winning homer to the struggling Adrian Beltre. Nevertheless, Mike Mussina (who's usually excellent against Texas) and Andy Pettitte (who's usually not), helped keep the Yankees' 2007 record against the Rangers perfect by beating them on Wednesday and Tuesday, respectively. Pettitte benefited from A-Rod's first homer in a dozen games, and five relievers helped hold onto the win for Moose.

And now, they're back at .500 for the first time in almost three weeks, with a chance (dare I write it?) to have a winning record if Wang can continue his success and help the Yankees sweep the Rangers in the season's series tonight.

Granted, they are still in second place, and still six games behind the Sawx, who have this frustrating habit of continuing to win, but the Bronx Bombers have started to look like the team we all thought they would be this year, a very good sign.

And speaking of signs, as you Red Sox make your drive for the pennant, keep an eye on that rear view mirror:

Those Yankees are closer than they appear.

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