NEW YORK – The exodus by the fans started as early as the seventh inning the top of the seventh when the A’s were working over Scott Proctor and Mike Myers. Another day, another miserable loss for the Yankees, whose fast, empty at-bats make it feel like late September in the Bronx.
Afternoons like these, you could swear the Bombers already have flipped the calendar to spring training 2008. Problem is, with 85 games still on the schedule the potential for disaster is enormous. And the negative crescendo isn’t just building on the field; there’s trouble in the clubhouse, too, as Jorge Posada accused his teammates of “going through the motions” in the 7-0 whipping from the A’s.
No indictment could’ve been more damning, especially as Joe Torre’s administration teeters on the brink of dismissal. But Posada didn’t back away from his comments when asked for a clarification.
“I think everyone knows what I’m talking about,” is what the veteran catcher said. He meant the first-pitch swinging, the lack of hustle on the base paths, the missing outrage that should’ve accompanied a sub-.500 record and double-digit deficit.
Instead, the Yankees look as soft and complacent as late-September also-rans. Posada might’ve intended to jab his teammates with his postgame remarks, but it’s Torre who’ll ultimately be held accountable.
If there’s one characteristic of Torre’s that bothers George Steinbrenner most, it’s his laid-back style. Torre was hired as the anti-Billy Martin, and for 11 years he had the perfect personality for a roster full of self-starters. But to hear an inner-circle Yankee say the club is tanking it might give The Boss all the ammunition he needs to find a new manager – sooner than later.
Certainly, the Yankees can’t keep losing without some dramatic earth shift; there’s too much internal pressure for this to continue indefinitely. When Johnny Damon said, “Things start to happen when you’re not winning” the list he’s talking about is alien to the current Yankee culture.
He means in-season firings, wholesale changes at the trading deadline, and smaller, more hostile crowds. Nearly half the fans who packed the Stadium by 1 p.m. Saturday were gone two hours later, choosing a traffic jam on the Major Deegan Expressway over the Bombers’ self-destruction.
In reality, the Yankees were cooked as soon as Kei Igawa surrendered back-to-back home runs in the third inning, doomed to spending the rest of the afternoon chasing Chad Gaudin’s two-seamers, sliders and change-ups.
Only Damon’s two-bounce single up the middle with one out in the sixth inning spared the Yankees the embarrassment of being no-hit in their home ballpark. Otherwise, they were overmatched in every key at-bat – including the one in which Alex Rodriguez, up 3-0 in the count in the sixth inning and two runners on base, struck out on three straight fastballs.
Not even Derek Jeter could save the day. With runners on first and second against Rich Harden, the shortstop swung through an up-and-in, 2-2 fastball, after which Bobby Abreu struck out on three pitches.
Just how can a team with so much on-paper talent look so meek? One major league executive said the other day, “I think people give that (Yankees) lineup more credit than it deserves. I mean, take a closer look.”
Indeed, with five front-line players (Jeter, Abreu, Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera) totaling just 18 home runs, the myth of Yankee firepower has been replaced by a smaller, more depressing equation: The Bombers score if and only if A-Rod and Jeter are having good days.
If not, Torre’s strategy is reduced to crossing his fingers until the eighth inning, after which he prays for Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball. The mitigating factor here is effort. If Posada is right about the Yankees’ apathy, nothing can save the season, not to mention Torre or even general manager Brian Cashman.
Already, the math looks close to impossible. If the Red Sox go .500 the rest of the way, the Yankees will need to play .660 to catch them. Safer to focus on the wild card, you say? If the Indians go .500, the Bombers need to play .590.
The kind of comeback the Yankees will require borders on historic. No wonder so many fans gave up on Saturday. Damon himself said, “They have a right to be upset. We’re the ones who’ve been bringing them disappointment.”
Of course, Damon was quick to say Cashman and Torre aren’t to blame, that it’s the players who have to recapture the energy of an 11-1 run in early June. But like a wave crashing onto the beach, full of sound and fury, that hot streak was all for theatrical effect.
The Yankees are no closer to first place than they were a month ago. Torre looks lost, the players look numb, Cashman looks as though he just got off the phone with an enraged Steinbrenner (which he probably did).
It hasn’t been this dreary at the Stadium in 20 years. New players arrived every week, it seemed. Managers were hired and fired – and fired again. The clubhouse was poisoned by finger-pointing. History is close to repeating itself.
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