By Jon Lane
The Yankees aren’t clinching the AL East this week, their magic number is 16, though the way they’re playing the question has become not if, but when. Yes, I’ve written in this space that stranger things have happened, it’s not over until it’s over, blah, blah, blah. But to win 100 games minimum, they’d have to go 11-12. At 89 wins the Yankees have already matched their win total from last season and their division lead is a season-high nine games, I doubt very seriously we’ll see a Flushing-like choke job.
Storylines and subplots will be changing, but here’s what’s going on right now:
? That Red Sox-Yankees series September 25-27 at this rate will be relegated to playing for pride – unless the magic number isn’t at zero by then.
? More importantly, New York leads the L.A. Angels by six games in the race for the league’s best record, which means homefield advantage throughout the postseason.
? The Yankees pounded Rays pitching for 24 hits in their two-game sweep yesterday – but not one came from Derek Jeter. At 2,718 hits, Jeter remains three away from Lou Gehrig’s franchise record. He’s faced tonight’s starter, David Price, twice and walked once. The Rays start Jeff Niemann Wednesday night, who allowed a double to Jeter the first and only time he’s pitched to the Captain.
? Jeter did reach another milestone. He played in his 2,117th game as a Yankee to pass Yogi Berra for third all-time.
? One more race to watch: Carlos Pena is out for the season with a fractured index and middle finger. He finished with 39 home runs, which leaves Mark Teixeira (35) in pursuit. Jeter, Teixeira and Joe Mauer make for a nice MVP debate, but what about Mariano Rivera? He’s 1-2 with a 1.75 ERA and returned from groin stiffness to earn his 34th straight save in Game 1. You can make a serious case that Rivera is the Yankees’ most indispensable player. That’s serious value in my book.
? He said it: “It’s great to have Gardy back – the fastest white man in America.”
It was good to see the Bronx’s version of Brett the Jet back with the Yankees. Brett Gardner raced to Swisher’s territory in right field to rob Fernando Perez with a tremendous running catch. Gardner will provide Melky Cabrera a much-needed blow and that lightning-like speed that will be critical come the postseason.
By Jon Lane
Sad news broke last night when George Murray, who enjoyed an unforgettable afternoon at Yankee Stadium on July 22 thanks to HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel), lost his battle with ALS.
HOPE Week was the Yankees’ wonderful community program that publicized five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities. The organization surprised Murray and his wife Kim – on the day the couple celebrated their ninth anniversary – and son Trason with a meet-and-greet with Yankees players in the Billy Martin suite followed by a postgame tour of Yankee Stadium. During an interview with Murray, I brought up how Yankees legends Lou Gehrig and Jim “Catfish” Hunter lived with such a terrible disease with dignity.
“I never attempted to compare myself to those real men,” he said. “I think if we all look inside us, then maybe we can have some of that strength.”
Allow me to put Murray in the same category as those men and many more. Murray is a hero. He served our country as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and performed a peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Murray is a role model. When he found out he had ALS, he was ready to fight back and live his life as a committed husband and father.
I only knew Murray for 10 minutes but I’ll never forget him. I left the suite telling myself he was one of the most courageous invididuals I’ve ever met.
Phil Hughes shared his thoughts on the positive impact he made on George Murray and his family.
“Just the expression on his face and the joy we were able to give him on that day … you saw a guy who really looked like a fighter. It’s tough and I know a few of the guys took it hard,” Hughes said. To be able to bring him a bright spot during his last days is something I’ll always remember.
“People get caught up that we’re the real heroes. That’s not the case. We play baseball. This guy served our country. He’s way more of a hero than any one of us.”