Another stumble out of the gate
By Jon Lane
Back blogging after a few days out of pocket and it figures I return to a mess. It’s not my job to clean up, but I can weed through what’s going on with the Yankees and do my part to calm the waters.
Right now, fans have a right to be angry. Granted, there’s an absurd injury epidemic, but the Yankees are 0-5 against the Red Sox and stand at 13-13 coming off two hideous defeats.
Aside from the Red Sox’ ownership of the Yankees, how is this different from any of the past few seasons? For the fourth time in five years, the Yankees are at or below .500 in May – and chasing their competition. On May 6, 2005, the Yankees were 11-19 and two games out first, and won the AL East. Two years later, with team executives breathing down Joe Torre’s neck, the Yankees were eight games below sea level and 14 ½ back on May 29, but made it above .500 on July 14 and snuck into the postseason as a Wild Card.
Think Joe Girardi is having it rough? The 2005 season was when George Steinbrenner made his infamous “enough is enough” statement when the campaign was just 12 games old. In 1985, the last time the Yankees lost five straight to Boston, Yogi Berra was fired after 16 games. And be sure to catch the re-runs of “The Bronx is Burning” or buy the series on DVD to see how vintage Steinbrenner handled any time the Yankees were on a losing streak. Yet we’re at the point where fans chanted “We Want Torre!” in the ninth inning Tuesday night. Chris Shearn speaks out about how New York is suddenly in love with Torre again. What’s the next solution, purchasing Casey Fossum’s contract?
The big problem here is that while the Yankees were given an expensive face lift, they have failed to avoid the slow start that is threatening to force them to piece together another miraculous run, which will leave this veteran team out of gas for the playoffs. The Yankees are winless against the Red Sox and 3-8 against the AL East. Spending $400 million on people will have you judged against ridiculous standards. Floundering against your chief competition and getting outscored 38-23 by your hated rivals leave you open to criticism – which like it or not is fair.
“It’s not any fun. It’s frustrating,” said Girardi, thus far spared by Hal Steinbrenner and working with a roster with six key players on the disabled list and a bullpen underbelly nothing short of a complete disaster.
Think Joba Chamberlain still belongs in the bullpen? Yes, he was the losing pitcher. No, the total effort wasn’t outstanding due to a miserable first inning when he allowed four runs. But instead of folding, Chamberlain gave his team a chance to rally and looked damn good doing it, whiffing 12 batters in 4 2/3 innings after the rough beginning. His last eight outs came via the strikeout until Girardi removed him after 108 pitches.
The crowd protested, but Girardi did the right thing. Chamberlain is a 23-year-old prodigy more important for tomorrow than today. David Cone brought up Dwight Gooden during Tuesday’s telecast. At age 19, Dr. K threw 218 innings. The next two seasons, 276 2/3 and 250, and he was never the same again. The point is that organizations are being more and more protective of their young arms, especially when you have one in Chamberlain’s that destined to be special.
“Physically, you can’t do that to him,” Girardi said. “It’s a tough spot if we let him keep going and he gets hurt. That’s the real tough spot.”
Besides the lousy bullpen and Jason Bay taking Chamberlain deep for a three-run shot in the first, here’s why the Yankees lost Tuesday night: Trailing 4-3 they put runners on second and third with one out against Josh Beckett in the sixth, getting a bad break when Melky Cabrera’s double bounced into the stands and forced Nick Swisher to stay at third. Still, elite teams find a way to overcome bad luck. Ramiro Pena and Jose Molina, both playing thanks to injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, failed to bring anyone home.
Beckett scattered 10 hits but limited the Yankees to three runs. The Yankees were 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position – 1-for-12 in the two games at Yankee Stadium – and are 8-for-54 (.148) against Boston in those situations. On the season, New York is batting .254 with RISP, .244 with two outs. You can have Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson leading your rotation, but even the all-time greats have gotten outpitched and if you don’t score runs in the clutch, you’re not winning. Period.
Don’t think I’m letting the rotation off the hook. Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett are tied for the team lead in wins – two. Burnett’s ERA is 5.40 and CC Sabathia 4.85. You certainly hope the sleeping giant awakes from his annual spring hibernation, because the returning A-Rod will do nothing to help the pitching.