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April 18, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

Certainly George will be happy, and probably a little self-congratulatory after last night’s shellacking of the Devil Rays, but lets keep things in context:

They beat the Devil Rays.

There, that’s pretty much enough context. They beat the crap out of a crappy team, it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be okay from now on. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to suck as soon as they play a good team again, and to win pennants you have to beat up on the weak teams, but it’s just one win, no matter how big.

To me, the element of this game most likely to be overlooked is the terrible performance by Jaret Wright. In his three starts, Wright has been pounded twice and was close to getting knocked out of the box by Boston. With a huge lead against a weak team, Wright barely got through five innings, and probably shouldn’t have been allowed to go that far. After a spectacular second inning, Wright quickly instilled a feeling of dread – if they blow this thing, it’ll be the low point of the year.

I didn’t expect much of Wright this season, and yet he’s failing to meet my expectations so far. How long it will take the Yankees to decide he’s worthless, and who will ultimately take his place in the rotation are fair questions to ask, but they can wait for another day, when Wright has actually cost the team a game.

For now, let’s focus the rest of our attention on the fact that the team won. They won with an amazing offensive outburst in the second inning against Rob Bell, sending seventeen batters to the plate, hitting two homers and scoring 13 runs. In two innings, Alex Rodriguez ripped a double and two homers, knocked in six runs, and was on his way to one of his best games in pinstripes – if not the best: 5/6, 2 HRs, 13 TB, 5 R, 6 RBI.

Jason Giambi doubled and singled, was walked twice, once intentionally, and hit by a pitch. Bernie Williams was 3/6, Derek Jeter 1/3 with 3 BBs. Tino Martinez hit his 11th career grand slam. With one out in the second, everyone in the lineup had at least one base hit.

These are the kinds of games that the Yankees are capable of when most of the lineup is clicking. Rob Bell is the type of pitcher who can help a lineup click, but he’s not that bad. Was this team angry, embarrassed, or scared of George Steinbrenner? Possibly, but it’s also possible – probably equally possible, I’d say, that this was just fortuitous timing, several slumping hitters breaking out all at once, at the end of a long skid. The Yankees won’t need these kinds of offensive performances all season, even behind Jaret Wright, but they’ll get a few of them.

I looked at the standings after yesterday’s game for the first time since Opening Day, not surprised to see the Yankees near the bottom, but also not concerned about that particular placement. Their overall performance has been frustrating, and I’ve been bitter, about the decisions they made that helped that frustrating performance, but I also knew that at this point in the season, a slump like this one, bound to be overreacted to at any time, will never be more overreacted to than in mid-April. Last night stopped a slide, for now, and it woke up some sleeping giants, for now. But the Yankees are still in fourth place.

For now.