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July 15, 2005

The Only Thing They Can Do
by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees had a terrible day on Thursday, apparently losing rookie starter Chien-Ming Wang for the rest of the season. With Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright on the disabled list, that leaves the Yankees relying on two proven starters -- Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina -- and three empty spots. Tanyon Sturtze could fill one of those spots, but he's never had success in the rotation, and it will still leave two gaping holes even if he pitches at the start of the game like he's pitched late in games recently.

Sean Henn, Alex Graman? Two pitchers with minor league success who have been complete failures in the majors. Darrell May? We've seen what he can do, and what he can do is give up home runs. Tim Redding is younger with better stuff, but he's got just as bad a track record. Al Leiter, Shawn Chacon?

Ugh. Until Pavano and Brown come back, the Yanks are going to have to slug their way to victories.

They don't have a choice, maybe they'll catch lightning in a bottle every now and then and get a good outing from what's there, but don't count on it. They're going to have beat the living crap out of teams most of the time.

Fortunately, they're capable of doing that. The holes are starting to be filled, Robinson Cano has proved to be a solid second baseman, Jason Giambi has been as dangerous as any hitter in baseball over the past month (and his OPS over the last 7 games is 2.091). Bernie Williams is starting to hit solidly, and is finally out of the field. Melky Cabrera has been a zero offensively and defensively, but there's rumors that Eric Byrnes might be coming over with Chacon -- a move which would and a good bat to the lineup, and while not exactly a good fielder, he is better than Bernie.

There really is no positive way to spin the news that Wang is gone. There's no way to replace him, the Yankees just have to suck it up.

Last night they sucked it up, although it was in a game where Mike Mussina -- a pitcher who they need to pitch well -- stunk it up early. They lost a chance at a big inning in the first when Robinson Cano foolishly tried to stretch a single into a triple after Manny Ramirez turned it into a double, and fell behind 4-0 right away as Mussina struggled to find the strike zone. But they got two back right away as Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams homered down the right field line, and after Gary Sheffield drove in the third run with a double and the fourth with a homer, tied it, 5-5, on a two out error in the sixth.

After David Ortiz broke the tie in the seventh, the Yankees came right back to tie it again, with a double by struggling Jorge Posada followed by a double by Ruben "Big Mouth" Sierra. Gordon worked around a walk in the eighth, and in the ninth Curt Schilling came into the game as a true reliever for the first time since 1992 (his last relief performance was a postseason warmup in late 2002).

It didn't go well. Sheffield doubled again, and Alex Rodriguez hit the first pitch he saw deep over the centerfield wall. Rivera came in and blew away the team that "owns" him, and the Yankees moved to within 1½ games of first for the first time since April 13th.

The Yankees have a terribly difficult schedule coming up, and with only two pitchers it's going to be very difficult to keep in the race. But they have to stay there, they have to win games. They can do it, but they have to stay hot with the bats and get lucky with the pitching. They're only 1 game back in the loss column, giving up is not an option.