Was it really only two weeks ago that the Yankees fell perilously close to the cellar? Just 14 days since they were losing every game? Scaring fans and delighting Yankee-haters? As happens in baseball so often, in the blink of an eye everything’s changed.
I hesitate to declare our long national nightmare over, since it can once more turn on a dime, but for the past two weeks the Yankees have accomplished the kind of stunning comeback that makes you shake your head and ask, what the hell was that all about?
Bobby Abreu began hitting again. Mariano Rivera went back to his old habit of saving games. Johnny Damon, taken off the field and put in as designated hitter, got to recharge, resulting in his most productive stretch of the season. Melky Cabrera stepped in to replace Damon on the field. Andy Pettitte, after pitching a solid eight innings in one game, said, ”Let’s keep it going. We’re starting to play a lot better.”
Joe Torre told reporters the team’s comeback is no coincidence: “This is happening because they’re working hard, and they’re not going to be denied.” Good management is undoubtedly a contributing factor as well.
The comeback started before the long-awaited arrival of the Cavalry, i.e., one Mr. Roger Clemens, but surely anticipation energized the team. They swore that all they expected from Clemens was his best effort every fifth day, and they got it—but they got a lot more too. As Alex Rodriguez put it, “He brings a personality and character that is second to none, and I think this team definitely feeds off of that.” Jorge Posada echoed that sentiment, noting that Clemens brings “excitement and intensity.” Johnny Damon, playing alongside Clemens for the first time, says he’s finding out there’s more to Clemens than his long list of accomplishments on the mound. “He’s a great teammate,” Damon said.
Yesterday the Yankees beat the Diamondbacks 4-1 for their seventh straight win. For the first time in 34 days, they reached the .500 mark, and are back to even. I’m hoping today’s the day they rise above that mark, and start the long climb back into their rightful place—Numero Uno, ahead of the Red Sox and the rest of the league. Hey, it may be a long shot—but why pitch low?
Meanwhile, on the other end of New York City, the Mets seem to be slipping, losing eight of the last nine games, allowing the Atlanta Braves to creep up on them, just one game back. A few weeks ago I said that watching the Mets play the Yankees with my son, a die-hard Mets fan, was like riding a seesaw; well, it’s starting to feel like the Mets and Yankees are themselves on that seesaw, with only one of them able to be on top at any one time. These guys inhabit different leagues and different boroughs: there’s no reason for this seesaw act. Let’s Go Mets!
In Interleague play last weekend, the Oakland Athletics not only swept the SF Giants; they also shut them out. Despite Barry Bonds and the excitement/anxiety of the chase after the home run record, watching the Giants is an exercise in boredom—or frustration if you’re a fan of theirs, which I’m not. Frankly I’ve never seen a team that generates less excitement, or whose players exhibit less charisma. Once upon a time they had a catcher with some pizzazz—Benito Santiago—but he left the team a few seasons ago and disappeared from baseball. I’m happy for the A’s, but with a caveat—I can’t bear to see Barry Zito lose against his former team.
Zito’s performance last weekend was painful to see—as painful as the one a few weeks back, when he faced the A’s for the first time and on their own turf, lasting only four innings and allowing something like seven runs. I had my fingers crossed there wouldn’t be a repeat performance on the SF side of the bay, but, alas, it happened again. What’s going on?
Naturally, I have a theory: it’s obvious Zito’s really nervous facing his old team, and it’s possible they’re so familiar with his pitching they have an easy time hitting off him. But there’s more to it than that, as Zito revealed when he recently told a reporter, “I think we could play a little looser and have a little more fun out there…and enjoy the game.” Giants teammate Randy Zinn responded with, “We have more laid-back guys. We don’t have rowdy, rambunctious guys. Every team has a personality.” Indeed every team does—and the Oakland A’s are a bunch of characters, a group of eccentrics who do goofy things like Swisher’s and Bradley’s home-run dugout dance, wear wild hair and weird beards, crash into walls and perform somersaults in the outfield, and attract fans who paint themselves green and pound bongo drums during games. So, did Barry Zito have more fun in Oakland, and when he faces his former teammates does he get nostalgic and emotional? I’m betting he does. Does it interfere with his pitching? Again, my guess is it does. I just hope he gets over it soon.