Observations of an Ohio-bred Yankee fan writing from Texas ...
The Yankees is dead! The Yankees is dead!
You could almost hear the glee in the voices echoing from Chesepeake Bay to Boston Harbor, from the CN Tower all the way out to the Big A overseeing the stadium that is home to the California's Orange County Angels of Anaheim near Los Angeles and Beverly Hills 90210.
And, as I have speculated here many times, that day probably isn't far off; 2007 at the latest seems a likely time to pay the piper. Will the dark days Yankee fans know as The Horace Clarke Era one day be pined for from deep within the Ferdin Tejada decade? We don't know yet. But it is seeming less and less likely that the answer will come in 2005.
Yes, yes, the Yankees have had to put together an in-progress eight-game winning streak just to get to .500 (19-19) and remain mired, relatively speaking to the franchise's usual standards, in fourth place, a game back of Toronto, three and a half back of the arch-rival Red Sox and five and a half games back of the shockingly successful Orioles under the tutelage of former Yankee coach Lee Mazzilli.
But if you'd talked to the most wildly optimistic Yankee fan at the beginning of the season (and he is not me) and told him the following would be true on May 15:
The Bam-Tino is back: In the 2005 Yankee Preview in this space some time back, I wrote the following:
Of course, he probably won't keep it up. but I remember thinking the same thing in 1997, then again four years later in 2001. And now it's four years later again ...
And yes, Tino is 37, which is quite "old" in baseball years (I used to think that was true in regular years, too, but I'm 38 now.) And Joe and Juan Baseball Fan in New York understand that the the Yankees are an old team -- and they are.
But think "wily veterans well-versed in small ball" rather than "plodding old mashers." As of May 15, only two American Leaguers over the age of 35 had stolen at least six bases -- Tony Womack, who had 10; and Gary Sheffield, of all people, with six. (The only NLer to fit those criteria was Omar Vizquel, who also had six.) The aforementioned Martinez also had one, and combined, the three speedy pinstriped geriatrics had combined to steal 17 bags in 19 attempts.
And as for the kids -- okay, "kid," singular -- Cano has slapped his way to a .325 average so far, probably an early-season mirage, but encouraging nevertheless.
That's not to say the power is missing from the Bronx lineup; Giambi didn't take it all with him when he threw away the needles. The Yanks were leading the AL in runs scored on the morning of May 15 with 211, with only the Red Sox at 202 in one fewer game, also cracking the bicentury mark. The still-aptly-named Bombers were third in the league in homers, behind just Baltimore and Texas and third in OPS at .802, just one of three AL teams (with Baltimore, leading the way at .827 and Boston at .810) over the .800 mark to date.
The pitching has looked much more Yankee-like recently. And really, it does all come back to this. The numbers are still godawful across the board, but there is reason to hope even that will change. In Johnson's last three starts, though he is just 2-1, he has posted 25 inning pitched, giving his bullpen a much-needed rest, with a 2.16 ERA, six walks and 23 strikeouts. After starting out 0-4, Brown has won his last two starts, posting a 2.08 ERA and five strikeouts against just one walk in 13 innings. Since blowing the two against the Sox, Rivera has converted all five of his save chances and his ERA has dropped from 2.70 in April to 1.80 so far through May; he also has far more strikeouts and fewer walks per inning in May than he did in April.
Oh, and that A-Rod guy? His 34 RBI is tied for second on the AL and in all of MLB, while his 12 homers are tied for the major league lead -- with Tino Martinez.
So what's all this mean? Not much, not by a long shot, not yet. Getting to .500 is not something normally celebrated by Yankee faithful, unless it's the late 1960s or the early 1990s. And we haven't even addressed the "fielding" the Yankees have been doing, or in many cases, not doing -- that word is in quotes for a reason.
But the moral of the story here, I guess, is -- to borrow a phrase from a man who once wrote about Yankees of the Connecticut variety in King Arthur's Court -- rumours of the death of King George's Yankees have been greatly exaggerated.