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July 19, 2005

What Can Brown Do For Us?
by Larry Mahnken

Okay, okay, let's not get too excited yet. Yeah, the Yankees are finally back in first place, but it might not be for long.

In the next 31 games, the Yankees' opponents have a combined .550 winning percentage (which is, in fact, better than the Yankees' winning percentage). The Red Sox and Orioles don't have it easy over that stretch, playing a .520 schedule and a .509 schedule respectively, but they also have one more home game in that time than the Yankees do.

During these 32 games, the Yankees will play precisely 6 games against team with a losing record, compared to Boston's 11 and Baltimore's 9. The 6 games the Yankees play are against the Blue Jays, who are still in contention and only 3 games under .500 at this time, and the Devil Rays, who despite being 40 games below .500 are 7-3 against New York this season.

Al Leiter was great Sunday, but can he repeat that? Or was it just a well-timed fluke? Wednesday they start yet another retread, this one without a track record. At 33, Aaron Small is the youngest starter in the Yankees' rotation -- by three years. The Thin Gray Line is looking very gray, and very thin, indeed.

And Kevin Brown's pitching last night was hardly encouraging. Of course, it was a rehab start in a great hitters' park against a very good hitting team, and he was undone by the long ball as much as anything else, which is atypical of him. Last night's performance was made up for by a spectacular offensive outburst by the team, and the total ineptness of the middle relief and defense was made up for by an eighth-inning comeback. They won, and in the end that's what mattered last night.

But it's one thing to say that the Yankees can get past a bad start by Brown, another to say that Brown can do much better than that. The fact of the matter is that Brown has to do better than that, the Yankees need him to do better than that. They don't need him to pitch like Leiter did on Sunday, they don't need him to be great. But they need him to give them five or six innings without putting them out of the game, and usually, his performance last night would have put them out of the game.

They're in first place. It's July 19th. It doesn't really matter that they're in first place.

But it does feel good.