“Alex Rodriguez homered Sunday off Roy Halladay, as did Jason Giambi, but it was too little, too late for the Yankees.”
— Hannah Storm, on Monday morning’s SportsCenter
“Don’t expect the Red Sox to shed any tears over playing their last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. But if the champs sweep the Yankees — and throw some dirt on New York’s playoffs dreams — pinstripe fans might be crying all winter. Call it karma for years of suffering.”
— Outlook for final game of last week’s Yankees-Red Sox series, as it appeared on the “Hunt for Soxtober” on NESN.com
“Bottom line, they sucked.”
— Hank Steinbrenner, following Wednesday’s 11-3 blowout loss to the Red Sox
The first two quotes represent one part truth and one part anti-Yankee sentiment. Hank Steinbrenner’s quote was all truth, and media outlets from New York, Boston, and the national scene took that quote and ran with it like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl.
Doomsday coverage – the words “final nail in season” were used in numerous articles — pulled a matador move late Thursday and into Friday as Jason Giambi saved the team’s playoff hopes for a little while. Story headers reading “Maybe the Yankees aren’t done yet” fed the Optimism Machine. Friday’s gutsy victory over possible future Yankee A.J. Burnett — a win in which I thought Joe Girardi should have been taken to task for removing Carl Pavano after six innings and 72 pitches — prompted more “Maybe…” talk. And like many, I was pumping my fist when Hideki Matsui ripped a bases-loaded double to give the Yankees a 6-2 lead over Toronto. I was thinking “sweep.” I was happy to see the Yankees score all six of their runs with two out. I was even happier to see the Yankees do to the Jays what had been done to them so many times this season: pound the starting pitcher and get into the bullpen by the fifth inning. But what happened over the final four innings was a microcosm of the entire season. The Jays’ last four relievers — Jason Frasor, Brandon League, Scott Downs and B.J. Ryan — threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the 14 batters they faced, immediately putting the Yankees’ offense on the defensive. Ryan was the only member of the quartet to fall behind two hitters in a row and throw more balls (10) than strikes (9) in his appearance. Conversely, the Yankee relievers’ inability to throw Strike 1, particularly on the part of Damaso Marte and Jose Veras, contributed to their demise.
The papers focused on Cano’s error and A-Rod’s double play, the obvious turning point and climax of the game, but did not delve deeper into the causes for the effect. That was disappointing.
There was contradictory coverage last week as it pertained to Girardi. Newsday’s Ken Davidoff mused how Girardi should lighten up a little. Meanwhile, today, the Daily News’s John Harper; railed the Yankee manager for making excuses for Cano, who a la David Wells, avoided reporters after Saturday’s loss. Maybe it is time to send a message. Maybe it would have been another sign of a desperate team trying to inject itself with vital signs.
As the Yankees lost both series on their homestand last week, CoolStandings.com whittled the Yankees’ playoff chances from 6 percent as of my last post, to 1.2 percent. To make any kind of a run, the Yankees will have to go at least 20-4 (.833). The last time the Yankees sustained such a streak of excellence was 1998, when they went 22-2 from April 7 – May 8. That 1998 blitz included winning streaks of eight, six, and eight games. Thirteen of the 22 victories came on the road. For those clinging to a last shred of optimism before giving up on the season, like NY Times contributor Jane Heller, the aforementioned facts are for you.
The reality, though, is much bleaker. The media do not know what to make of it as the team yo-yos between oblivion and a pulse. Do we as a fan community?
On to other news …
WCBS HAD THIS STORY, AND SO DID AN OBSCURE BLOG, BUT NO ONE ELSE DID
During one of the games of last week's Red Sox-Yankees series fan was arrested and removed from the Stadium for leaving his seat in an attempt to go to the bathroom during the playing of “God Bless America” in the seventh-inning stretch. Since 2002, the Yankees remain the only team to include “God Bless America” during the traditional break.
The story notes that it is Stadium policy for fans to stay put during “God Bless America.” I do not recall this policy when I covered the team, nor do I recall any incidents like the one reported. Maybe it’s because in the press box, a more lenient policy was in order. I recall a handful of writers and broadcasters sprinting to various locations, including rest rooms, immediately after the third out of the top of the seventh was recorded, with no repercussion.
It’s one thing for the players to project themselves in a way that causes fans to dislike the team. It’s another for the organization to provide fodder for fans to dislike the franchise as a whole.
THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN SEPTEMBER (KIND OF OFF-TOPIC)
• Aside from the Yankees not making the playoffs, Mike Mussina ‘s run at his first 20-win season is the most compelling story involving the Yankees. I’ve written in the past how when Jeff Weaver was a Yankee he once said his teammates “played like they hated him” when he took the mound. That has not been the case with the Yankees when Mussina pitches. The Yankees are 19-9 in his starts this season, including 6-0 in August.
At age 39, Mussina has won more games at this particular age than Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux. The last 39-year-old to win at least 16 games in a season was John Smoltz, three years ago. Thanks to 18 quality starts, Mussina is on pace for his first 200-inning season since 2003.
Mussina has six September starts in front of him, beginning with Tuesday’s series opener at Tropicana Field (ESPN is projecting only four more starts for Moose; when I examined the remaining schedule and saw where Mussina fits into the rotation every fifth or sixth day, I saw six starts).
I’ve made light of Mussina’s idiosyncrasies, the apparent need for Joe Torre and Joe Girardi to placate him by giving him a “personal catcher,” and noted how his sarcastic demeanor with the local press has irked some (most of you have heard of his testy relationship with Michael Kay). However, with few positives to reflect on this season, Mussina winning 20 would be a tremendous bright spot.
• Joba is returning to the bullpen and not the rotation. What will this mean for next season?