In "Annie Hall," Woody Allen's character complains that in Los Angeles all they do is give out awards ("Greatest Fascist Dictator: Adolph Hitler."). These days, all the Yankees do is lose and have meetings. The back cover of the New York Post says it all. There is a photograph of frowing Joe Torre, and the headline reads "Stinko De Mayo." The Yankees lost to the Devil Rays, 6-2, and are now tied with Tampa Bay for last place in the American League East.
Chien-Ming Wang allowed five runs in his second start but from top-to-bottom, the Bombers looked defeated. Gary Sheffield hit a two-run home run; otherwise, the Yankees are playing like a stunned team, unable to get out of their own way. They hit a half a dozen balls on the screws over the past few innings but had nothing to show for it. (The Devil Rays infield made plays the Yankees haven't been able to convert.) Even worse, there were a few mental errors that suggested just how lost the team is. Jorge Posada doubled with one out in the sixth inning. Matsui followed and hit a sharp ground ball to third base. Posada got caught well off second base and was tagged out, an inexusable error. With two outs in the eighth, Aubrey Huff stole second base, and Posada's throw bounced into center field. Why? Nobody covered the bag. The run didn't score, but it was an embarassing moment for Jeter and Cano. One that summed up another awful night for the team.
Kicking the Ka Ka
Last night I turn to Em and say, "You know, this switching of positions doesn't really amount to a whole lot. They are just switching s*** with s***."
"Well, maybe by moving it around, it'll smell less."
"Honey, s*** is s***."
"I can't believe we're having this conversation."
"Hey, if the s*** stinks, smell it."
Actually, her sense of optimism is nothing but endearing. After she allowed me to drone on about why things aren't going to get better anytime soon, about how history is squarely against this team, she said, "Nuts to that," and explained why she isn't losing faith. As she made her case, part of me was thinking, "Poor woman, she doesn't have twenty-five years of experience rooting for a team, she just doesn't know the writing on the wall when she sees it. The poor, naive dear." But another part of me was like, "Who cares? I don't need to convince her of anything. Why do I have to be right here? How is that going to make me, or her, feel any better?" Her enthusiasm and sense that good things will happen is completely endearing and one of the reasons I love her so. So I bit my tongue--momentarily, anyway--and told her that I think she's the greatest, held her hand, and watched Posada get picked off of second.
What Ails Ya
You know when Boss George will erupt? After the Kentucky Derby tomorrow. When that's all said and done, all bets are off. What does Steinbrenner think is wrong with his team? Yesterday, he told Hal Bodley of the USA Today:
"I am concerned because time is getting shorter as each day goes by," he told USA TODAY on Thursday. "We've got to get better, that's for sure. It's never too early. Pitching is my main concern."
..."We're just not getting the pitching," he said. "I don't know whether we have to think of some changes there or what."
..."I think we have a great team, and they'll start pulling together once the pitching goes, then they'll all go. As Joe Torre says, pitching wins it. Pitching is important. We've got to have it."
The Yankees appear to have finally identified the team's problem: defense. For all the attention being paid to the starting pitching, it's the defense that has been the bigger factor in those 16x runs allowed. They're converting just over 65% of balls in play against them into outs. I went back to 1986 and I can't find a team that converted less than 66% in a full season; under 67% isn't terribly common. The Yankees are on pace to have one of the worst team defenses in recent memory, and they have no obvious way to fix the problem. That doesn't let Kevin Brown off the hook, but it does mean that Yankee pitchers have to be graded on the kind of curve we're not used to employing.
One thing is certain: the Yankees have earned this moment. By watching as their position players got older and more immobile, but misidentifying the problem as a shortage of pitching, rather than defense, and by investing in arms this winter rather than picking up the true center fielder they desperately needed, they made this happen.
The current Yankee quandary should serve as a reminder of how terrible their off-season battle plans were. The Yankees knew or had no reasonable excuse for not knowing that Williams could no longer handle such a critical defensive position. But instead of heartily pursuing the obvious and highly effective solution to their problem, Carlos Beltran, they frittered away the winter by signing the likes of Jaret Wright (10.07 runs-per-nine, on the DL), Carl Pavano (6.09 runs-per-nine) and the aforementioned Womack. Those decisions were, to be frank, stupid, and the Yankees are now suffering because of them.
The OaklandA's, a team that hasn't been able to hit, is in town for a weekend series. Something's got to give.