Wednesday, August 17, 2005

From Hunted to Hunters

Here's a copy of the column I wrote for my buddy's paper, the NY Beacon this week.

With a little more than 6 weeks left in the season , the Yankees find themselves in a position they haven't experienced since 1997. Normally, the Bombers are the big game everyone is hunting. Now they are the hunters as Boston has become the big dogs of the AL East. Despite pitching problems of their own, the Red Sox have been able to hold to the top spot in the division. With Baltimore fading fast and Toronto seemingly playing for third, only the Yankees have a realistic shot of overtaking the infidels of New England. The big question is, which Yankee team will we see? Which hunter will be going after the big game?

Will they resemble Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders? Or Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny? The Outlaw Josey Wales? Or Yosemite Sam? Will it be the Yankees team that came back against Angels last month at the Stadium? Or the team swept by the Royals? The team that beat the Red Sox three out of four at Fenway? Or the the team that lost three out of four to the Devil Rays at the stadium?

Bronx Bombers? How about the Bronx Cybils? Because no team has changed personalities as much as the Yankees have this season.

The main cause of their bi-polar disorder has been their starting pitching. With two thirds of their original starting rotation out (Although Jaret Wright did return this week), never before has every game been such a tenuous situation. While the stand-ins have accorded themselves well lately, the bullpen has been breaking down lately because of overuse. Joe Torre knows the main reason for last year's collapse against Boston was because Rivera, Gordon and Quantrill were the top three in appearances last year. He's been trying to avoid that this year, but last year they were in the driver's seat because Boston had an awful May and June. This year, they're chasing the Sox.

Even though the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, every game counts. Especially in a pennant race. Last year, the Yankees feasted on last place teams. This year, they're .500. The Red Sox are four games over .500 vs last place team. It's not great, but take a look at the standings, as I'm writing this, the Yankees are 4 ½ back. Every game counts.

The wildcard is also within reach but not a given. Oakland has discovered how to play baseball again and while they've cooled a bit, you can expect them to be in the hunt until the end. They can pitch, play defense and get timely hits. While they can't hit with the Bombers...Harden, Zito and Haren can shut down any lineup in the league when they're on. If it comes down to a one game playoff for the wildcard. You would have to give the advantage to the A's over anyone the Yanks would send out there right now. Because of age, you never know what you'd get out of Johnson, Mussina and Leiter. And Chacon and Small are unproven. Nothing is a given like in years past with New York.

If the Yankees are going make the playoffs, they're going to have to grind out every game from here on out. They're going to have to become the big game hunters going after their prey. Their inner Teddy's will have to subdue their Inner Elmer's to get this done. It means they'll have to win a few games 9-8, 7-5 like they did vs Texas. It means they can't lose 4-3 in 11 innings to Tampa like on Tuesday. It means A-Rod and Sheff have to play like MVP's. Randy Johnson and Moose have to pitch like aces. Joe Torre has to become Casey Stengel. Jeter has to become Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson.

It means the Yankees have to play like the Yankees. Not the Sybils. The hunters have to kill their prey if they want to eat in October.

Editor's note: After walking in the winning run Tuesday night against Tampa, Scott Proctor was forced to call Darth Marc. Darth, let the call go to voicemail because he had not made up his mind as to how to discipline the reliever.


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