Yanks reminded of winning formula
Complete effort against elite opponent offers hope in Bronx
NEW YORK -- Gloom and doom were nowhere in sight at Yankee Stadium on Monday night. They had been replaced by solid pitching and timely hitting.
For the second straight night, the New York Yankees played precisely their kind of game -- more-than-capable starting pitching, bursts of power hitting, aggressive baserunning, generally sound defense. Two straight victories constitute the smallest of streaks, but this development does offer the possibility of a trend -- the Yankees playing baseball as they hope to play, as they expect to play.
"It's not something we usually trumpet," Yankees manager Joe Torre said with a chuckle, referring to the two-game streak. "But lately, we haven't done it a lot."
May 8-9 vs. Texas was the last time the Yankees attained this modest level of consecutive success. But the particular beauty of this latest effort for the Yankees was that it came against the Boston Red Sox in the opener of a three-game series. If you watched the Yankees play the last two nights against the Mets and the Red Sox, you could have asked yourself, "What was the problem again?"
Oh, right. The problem is that even after these two nifty performances, the Yankees are 9 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. This is a problem that will require something much more substantial than a few nice nights at the yard to solve. But you have to start somewhere, and the Yankees have played solid baseball on two straight nights in two different boroughs against the two teams with the two best records in their respective leagues.
The Yankees won, 6-2, on Monday night, the same score by which they won on Sunday night. It's a good winning score. It indicates quality pitching on the part of the winning team, and the six runs represent a healthy offense. It indicates that the opposition was substantial enough that you did not simply walk over them, and yet the margin indicates that you had the clearly superior performance.
Now, the trick would be to have something resembling this same game as often as possible. It won't happen for the next 119 straight. But it will have to happen more than 60 percent of the time, or the Yankees will not get to where they usually go -- the top of the division.
It is distinctly uphill from here. This series, Torre suggested, is not about altering the basic nature of the AL East standings over the course of three nights. If the Yankees sweep, they would still be 7 1/2 games behind the Sox. This series is about the Yankees feeling better about themselves, about getting back to a position, as the manager said, in which they would feel comfortable. That would be, in the first instance, above .500. Even that is still four more victories away.
But it is truly a long season. Bigger deficits than this have been erased, and much later in the season. Do the figures 14 games behind and 1978 ring a bell with anybody?
Coming back from a deficit this large, even at this early date, will require excellence over an extended period of time. But this is supposed to be what the Yankees are all about, anyway. It's not like this is being asked of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
And performances like the last two indicate that the Yankees have not forgotten how this is done. The formula remains intact.
On Monday night, starter Chien-Ming Wang did not have his best command of the season, but he battled successfully inning after inning, taking the Yankees into the seventh, getting a richly deserved standing ovation as he departed. Torre called Wang's performance "courageous," and that did not seem to be an overstatement.
The rest of the Yankees were patient and powerful at the plate, aggressive on the basepaths and capable in the field. Leadoff hitter Johnny Damon set the tone, reaching in four straight at-bats, stealing two bases.
"I thought Johnny Damon had a great game -- with his legs, with his bat," Torre said. "He looked like he had a lot of life in his body tonight."
Said Damon: "If we can play the way we played tonight -- we had our offense, we had our pitching, we had our defense -- we'll be all right."
Now that it is once again clear that the Yankees are still capable of playing their game, against the best possible opposition, the next item on the agenda would be taking this quality and combining it with quantity.
"We've got to play well every day," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "You can't keep saying, 'It's early, it's early, it's early.' I liked our intensity the last few days."
This level, of both performance and intensity, will have to be extended -- from a few days to four-plus months.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.