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September 7, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Kinda reminds you of last year's ALDS, doesn't it?

The Yankees got burned by the Red Sox again yesterday afternoon; they didn't get the Rocket, the Red Sox got him. Trends being what they are, 1½ games looks very small, especially with the struggling David Wells on the mound against the Red Sox.

But it's still a lead, and once again, they're still going to be in first place tomorrow morning, win or lose. And they have a 3 game lead on Seattle for the Wild Card, which isn't the division title, but if I'm not mistaken, both pennant winners last year were Wild Cards, were they not? If I'm not mistaken, the Yankees won the World Series in 2000 with the 5th best record in the American League, and the pennant in 2001 having to play a 102 win team and a 116 win team to do it. Backing into the playoffs is not the end of the world.

And they're really not in a lot of danger of losing their playoff berth right now, either. Yes, that lead could be cut to 2 games today, but while the Yankees play 10 more games against Tampa Bay and Detroit (and really only 5 more games against good teams), the Mariners and A's play every single remaining game against the AL West--and 6 against each other. Barring a collapse, the Yankees don't have to worry terribly about playing in October.

This ISN'T a collapse. This ISN'T 1978 in reverse. The Yankees didn't take a 7½ game lead because of how well they played, they took that lead because Boston lost 5 of 7 to Baltimore in early August and 4 of 5 to Seattle and Oakland in mid-August, while the Yankees put together a 7-game winning streak with a lot of close games in it. Boston cut 6 games off the lead by going 12-3 since then, the Yankees have been 6-9, which is bad, but not a collapse. Really, the Yankees have played the last two weeks like they have played all season, even when things were going good, they weren't going great.

George Steinbrenner is ready to panic, though. He said on Friday night that he ordered Cashman to sign David Ortiz in the offseason (a claim which Cashman corraborated). Yeah, that would have been a good idea--sign a third lefty-hitting first baseman to take playing time away from our two superior lefty-hitting first basemen. That's the same kind of thinking that screwed up the Yankees in the 80's: sign a player not because he helps us, but because he would help our rivals! On the Yankees, David Ortiz would be a waste of a roster spot, and that money would have been better spent on decent bench players.

Sure, there's reason to worry. Giambi has one single hit (Wednesday's HR) since getting hit in the hand by Chicago, and while his hand will probably be fine by October, that knee won't be. Bernie still hasn't gotten his power back since his surgery, and it probably won't return until next season. Aaron Boone has been "better" in the last couple of weeks (in the sense that he hasn't been as bad as he was), but has shown hardly any power. The bullpen has been unreliable, and the rotation is completely hit or miss. There is a lot going wrong for the Yankees all at once, but things never are as bad as they look when you're slumping, and never as good as they look when you're hot. Boston isn't going to keep playing 12-3, New York isn't going to keep playing 6-9. The Yankees won't lose first place this weekend, and they're not going to fall out of contention this week. Take a deep breath, and look at reality. It's not time to panic yet.

Unless they lose two of three to Detroit. I'll hang myself then.