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June 10, 2004

Good News, Bad News, and Baaaaaaaaaaaaaad News
by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees needed some good pitching, and for two straight games, they got it. Unfortunately, the offense conveniently vanished at the same time, and they won two straight 2-1 games on the strength of brilliant starting performances by Mike Mussina and Javier Vazquez.

Yesterday, the starting pitching wasn't so much good, and the Yankees found themselves down 5-0 in the third inning.

It didn't take them very long to get back in the game, scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the third, the last two on line drive homer by Gary Sheffield off the left field foul pole, and taking the lead on an opposite field 2-run homer by Derek Jeter (after fouling off about 30 pitches) and a homer by Bernie Williams immediately after it. The bullpen made it stick, and with Boston being pounded by San Diego, the Yankees found themselves 3½ games ahead of Boston by the end of the night.

But the really bad news is that starter Kevin Brown had to leave the game after two innings with "stiffness" in his lower back, an injury he says he suffered in the first inning--and may have been to blame for his dreadful second. Brown says it doesn't feel like the injury that he had surgery for two years ago, and the Yankees can hope that they were able to get him out of the game before he seriously hurt himself. If they can get out of this with a stint on the DL, they should consider themselves fortunate, and if they can get out of it with just a missed start, they should consider themselves blessed. We all knew Brown would get hurt eventually, it was just a question of when and how badly.

More bad news came from the performance of Tanyon Sturtze, who walked in a run in the third, but was otherwise very good in emergency relief (compared to his poor, scoreless outing against Baltimore last week). While some might say that 8.1 innings of 1-run ball are worthy of the increased work he's likely to get now (and probable starts, as well), I'd say that 641.2 innings of 5.18 ERA are a lot more indicative of what the Yankees can expect out of Sturtze--and he's past his prime, too. So that's probably the high end of we can hope for from him long-term.

We'll wait and see how this turns out--if Kevin's out very briefly, and the Yankees go out and accquire an okay starter in the interim, it could turn out very well (either solidifying the rotation or adding depth to the bullpen).

I said after The Sweep that Bernie Williams' April probably wasn't a good indication of his level, that we'll likely have a better idea of what he's got left from his May. It looks like I was probably right on that count, as his May numbers--.271/.352/.438/.789/.268 GPA--were much better. Those are substandard, but still acceptable numbers for a DH, and right in the middle of the pack for Major League centerfielders. Bernie isn't what he once was, but he's still got something left in the tank.