Even with a four-game sweep over the Boston Red Sox there is still caution around the New York Yankees clubhouse. In a matter of a few months the complexion of both teams has changed, as it can during the course of a long season. But the caution about how the Yankees now have command of their lead over the Sox is expected. There is still more time and plenty of baseball left to play before that important September stretch of October.
It’s a good feeling,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi Sunday evening after his team completed their first four-gamer sweep of Boston at home since those three games of August 16-19 in 1985. “We were on the other side of this and had some very tough losses,” he said.
Yeah, that was months ago, the tough losses in the Bronx and up in Boston. The Yankees then could not make the right pitch, the timely hit never came, and a bullpen was in shambles. “To come out and win these four games like this with the great pitching we had, and the home runs from big players and everybody contributing, it’s a good feeling,” said Girardi.
But there was caution. They are the Red Sox and these are the Yankees. More games to come up in Boston in two weeks and back in the Bronx next month. Nothing has been determined as of yet, and as the Yankees said, even with all of the enthusiasm and confidence, there is still a long way to go.
There are the big two in the Yankees pitching rotation, A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte wanting to make a statement that this is indeed their year with his fifth straight strong start Sunday evening. But with 50 games to play, after a loss to Toronto Monday evening, it appears the only weak link with the Yankees is their fifth starter Sergio Mitre.
Perhaps Mitre, who has given Girardi some quality starts, since his recall from Scranton, will do what Burnett, Sabathia, Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain have accomplished. “He is a part of our rotation,” said Girardi. However, with the end of August waiver deadline looming, and with the Yankees so desperate to dominate, who knows what GM Brian Cashman may provide Girardi before the September stretch as to another quality arm in the rotation.
They are so confident, and should be after dominating the Red Sox in the Bronx this past week. The new Yankee Stadium for the first time made some history and had some of that aura of the still standing old building across the street. It was much like the Yankees of 2006 who went up to Boston in August and swept five games from the Red Sox.
It was Sabathia getting the needed strikeout Saturday, Derek Jeter, who has been around for so many of these intense battles with Boston, handling tough plays in the infield and turning them into double plays. And there was Burnett pitching a gem Friday evening, Alex Rodriguez putting an end to a long night with a walk-off 15-inning home run, and a difference maker in the lineup in Al MVP candidate Mark Teixeira.
All of what Girardi could not say all of last year. He has a special team. “This club is very talented and very resilient,” he said. Sabathia and Burnett seem to get better as the season moves along. Pettitte may be sensing that this could be a special team, one more ring could be on the way, to go along with the four that he has from those other special Yankee teams that became a dynasty under Joe Torre.
“When you pitch you always have a chance to win,” said Jeter When a pitching staff holds the Red Sox scoreless for 34 innings a team is going to win. And for some reason, if the pitching fails there are other ways to win. The Yankees have the home run bat and always seem to come up with the big hit from someone in their lineup. “You have to have different ways to win games,” said Jeter.
Yeah, like hitting the ball with authority and getting that timely hit. Coming from behind is something also that has made this Yankees team so special, and a reason why they took command of the division lead by taking those four games over the Red Sox. “The pitching is not always going to dominate,” commented Jeter.
However the pitching did dominate and the Yankees feel good about themselves. Get a lead in the late innings and the bullpen, in so many ways, can also hold a lead and get the Yankees that much closer to making this a special season.
Ask these Yankees and the manager if they feel confident. Are they comfortable with still many more games to play? “We know how tough this division is,” said Girardi. “The lead is a bit surprising. Is it comfortable? No because we have a long way to go. The division will go right down to the wire,” he said.
Last August there was always the hope because there was plenty of baseball left to play. Boston feels that way now this time. They get the Yankees up in their place soon. They have time to make up for their lost games in the Bronx of the past few days. But there is a difference this time.
“I think our pitchers were a reason we were able to do this,” said Johnny Damon who quietly is having an MVP season of his own coming up with that game tying eighth inning home run Sunday evening. From there the rest was history with the Teixeira home run, and Mariano Rivera out of the pen notching another save.
Still more time to go and Boston still has time to get their pitching healthy and make it an interesting September. Though four games in the Bronx that ended Sunday certainly showed why Girardi knows he has a special team.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]