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May 17, 2006

Hip Hip Jorge!
by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees have lost some tough games this year, there's no doubt about that. In the second game of the season they wasted a glorious opportunity to break the game open in the first inning and ended up losing in the bottom of the ninth. A week and a half later they took a lead into the ninth against Johan Santana and the Twins, only to lose when the ball just barely eluded Robinson Cano's glove, scoring two runs.

Hideki Matsui stared at strike three with the tying run at third against Baltimore a week later, and a few days after that Mariano Rivera gave up 2 runs to lose to the D-Rays 4-2. Then last week, the Yankees lost both Hideki Matsui and a late lead against Boston. Hey, aren't you glad I'm reminding you of all these things?

Well, they all only count as one loss a piece. Well, maybe not the last one -- Matsui will cost them more than one game. But they all felt like more than one loss.

Last night the Yanks got one back, winning a game they had no business winning in a spectacularly dramatic fashion -- going instantly from a heartbreaking defeat to an uplifiting victory.

There are lots of reasons to be concerned right now. Hideki Matsui will be gone for a while, maybe the whole season, and if he does come back this season he might not be particularly effective. Gary Sheffield is out indefinitely, and his desire to be completely healthy going into potential free agency might keep him out longer than normal. Now Jason Giambi, perhaps the most valuable player in the American League so far, is out with a neck injury.

In less than a week, the Yankees went from having the best lineup in baseball, perhaps the best in a long, long time, to having a below average lineup. In the offseason the Yankees decided to stick with Bernie Williams at DH, Bubba Crosby as a backup OF, and Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo as backup infielders. If the Yankees stayed healthy, it shouldn't have been a problem, but now with three of their top players out, the Yankees are paying for their gamble.

Bernie Williams probably shouldn't have a job, now he's batting in the middle of the lineup. Bubba Crosby would have been a weak choice to start in center, he's a terrible choice to start in left. Andy Phillips deserved at least a shot, last night he was the designated hitter!

Still, they have Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano. Those are four quality hitter, and last night, at least, they were enough.

They can't expect that to happen much more often, but then they can't expect Shawn Chacon to pitch quite as badly as he did last night. But still... this team suddenly isn't looking so great. A year ago they were five games back, one game over .500, but with a lot of potential to look forward to. Now, they're one game out, seven games over... and in serious trouble.

I think the Yankees are going to make the playoffs, and if Matsui and Sheffield are back they've got a great shot to win it all.

But I'm not that confident in that right now. So last night's win, that's the kind of thing we should hang on to. Those are the games that make baseball such a great game to watch, and they might end up being the great memories of the 2006 season, not anything that happens in October.