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August 13, 2004

Miguel, my belle
by SG

When Aaron Boone went down to his basketball jones, the Yankees scrambled to solve the newly created hole. Although Boone was really not that great, the Yankees had no alternatives on hand. They swung a trade for Mike Lamb, and signed Tyler Houston to a minor league contract, but neither one of them seemed to be a real option. When Boston decided that the cost for acquiring Alex Rodriguez was too high, the Yankees swooped in and offered their last marketable young player for the reigning AL MVP. This fixed the hole at third, but opened a new hole at second. For all of Soriano's faults, he was very valuable player at second base. The Yankees talked about Enrique Wilson as the starter, but the rumor mill threw out all the big names. Names like Bret Boone, Jeff Kent, and Jose Vidro.

It didn't happen, and the Yankees went into spring training with Wilson as the starting second baseman. They had signed Miguel Cairo to fill the backup infielder role, so they figured they had second base covered. Enrique Wilson, in addition to being one of Joe Torre's guys, hit close to .500 in spring training. Since this was apparently more indicative of his ability than his career .253 average and 68 OPS+, he was annointed the starter. Of course, he stunk offensively, while playing a decent second base. Wilson started the first six games of the year, putting up a lusty .443 OPS. After a well-deserved day off, he played the next six games, and managed to lower his season OPS down to .393. After starting one of the first 13 games, Miguel Cairo started seeing a little more action. Slowly but surely, Cairo's play helped him wrest a good amount of playing time away from Wilson, to the point where he was the primary starter.

Now Cairo's not really a great player, although I like him. He doesn't strike out, he works counts, and he fouls a lot of pitches off. He's a pest, and he's not an easy out. He's a good defender, although Wilson has a stronger arm. The thing that surprised me was how well he seemed to be hitting. At the All Star break, Cairo was hitting .307/.356/.454. It was at that point that I started thinking about another mediocre backup infielder who earned the starting second base job for the Yankees at one point. Mariano Duncan, who hit .267/.300/.398 in his career, but had the best season of his career in helping the 1996 Yankees go on to win the World Series. Duncan was one of the clubhouse leaders for that 1996 team, and his motto "We play today. We win today. That's it!" was the rallying cry of the team. Of course, he reverted to form after that season, but he was very valuable for that one season, hitting .342/.350/.500, while playing cringeworthy defense at second base.

To tie this into 2004, a Yankee team loaded with offensive stars like Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter struggled to score runs against the tattered remains of Scott Erickson's arm. However, Miguel Cairo was up to the task, cranking a grand slam in the second inning, to plate four of the five runs the Yankees would get off Texas. This was all the more impressive because he hit a very low pitch which wasn't a bad one from Erickson.

El Duque was finally facing a team above .500, and I was interested to see how he would fare. Although not as sharp as he had been in last few starts, he battled in and out of tough spots. He seemed to have his best fastball of the season(clocked as high as 92 mph), but his control was off, and he struggled with it through seven determined innings, lowering his ERA to 2.09. He also moved to 5-0 on the season, and the Yankees are 7-0 in the games he' s started. Flash Gordon was his usual brilliant self, striking out the side in the eighth, then Scott Proctor got one out, gave up a hit, and Mariano came into to close it out, getting a weak ground out and K. There's a lot of concern about overworking Gordon, Quantrill, and Rivera (QuanGorMo if you prefer) , but I didn't have a problem with Flash or Mo appearing in tonight's game after a fairly quiet week last week. The games the Yankees can win now will let Torre rest them in September.

The Yankees manage to win the series at Texas, which has always been problematic. I don't see Texas staying in the race much longer, that starting pitching is going to collapse on them at any moment. The Yankees are off to Seattle next, for three games against a team that's hurting. The matchups for the weekend:

Friday ( Lieber vs. Villone)
Saturday (PP™/TTAS™ (Loaiza) vs. Moyer)
Sunday (Brown vs. Meche)

I'll also be curious to see how Jose Contreras does against Boston Friday night. I hope he pitches well. I still think he can be a good starter, and will root for him in his post-Yankee career. Plus Boston losing is always enjoyable.