Yanks gearing up for lesser opponents
Bombers must handle rest of AL East to reach postseason
BOSTON -- Fenway Park's visiting clubhouse is a cramped, antiquated workplace. The dugout runway leaks fluids of unknown origin, and players must sometimes fend off reporters in a loud corridor not far from noxious truck exhaust fumes.
But if the Yankees get to experience those inconveniences once more, it will mean some very wonderful things happened over the 13 regular-season games following Sunday's stirring 4-3 victory over the Red Sox.
"The thing about getting to the postseason, it's all about us," manager Joe Torre said. "It's all about our being able to beat the teams that we play from here on out.
"It's all about how we play the rest of the league. This stuff [in Boston] doesn't even matter who's better than the other team; it's always going to wind up a game or two better in the end. It's about being able to play the rest of the league efficiently enough."
The Yankees won 10 of 18 games in the season series against the Red Sox, moving 4 1/2 games off the AL East pace with Sunday's victory, though the Yankees' best chance at playing October baseball remains with the Wild Card (2 1/2 games up on the Tigers entering play Monday).
"We still have to win ballgames," Roger Clemens said. "I think the last time we played Boston [on Aug. 30], we came out a little flat in the next series. We have to keep our intensity up here.
"We're behind these guys and they've played well all year. For a number of reasons, our club didn't get off to a great start, and it's obvious we're still paying for that right now."
While the Yankees have handled the Red Sox well, that has not been the case against some of the lesser clubs in the division, perhaps because those teams have enjoyed getting up to face the top competition in the AL East. As Clemens recalled, the Bombers swept the Red Sox at home last month, but then dropped two of three to the bottom-feeding Devil Rays.
It's a common theme that Boston has also experienced, but New York's concern now is that it has nothing but games against those lesser AL East clubs left, including six against the troublesome Orioles, against whom the Yanks are just 4-8 this season.
One point in the Yankees' favor is, as they showed in their recent series at Toronto, they can find ways to beat clubs without trotting out their horses in Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte.
In fact, the Yankees now face the issue of having six capable starters for the stretch drive, something they'll try to remedy by working Mike Mussina -- excised from the rotation for the sins of three horrid starts -- back in after a redemption game at Rogers Centre, while also permitting rookies Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to continue their growth and maturation process on Major League mounds.
Whether it's at Yankee Stadium (where six games remain) or on the road (Tropicana Field and Oriole Park at Camden Yards await), chances are the Yankees will find a way.
New York finally evened its road record at 37-37 on the Toronto trip, and it can clinch a winning September with four more victories, thus avoiding its first losing month since May.
Yet Torre spoke this weekend about how Baltimore's young pitching of Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Jeremy Guthrie had proven to be a thorn earlier in the year. New York is only 8-7 against MLB-worst Tampa Bay and just 8-6 vs. Toronto.
"I'm always trying to remind the players that we're just concerned about having the best record we can have," Torre said. "Let's see what that gets us. If you're looking in your rear view mirror, you're going to run into somebody."
Then, there is the other big distraction: certainly, the taste of a division title would be sweeter than a Wild Card. But the Yankees would need plenty of assistance, rooting for a late Red Sox collapse that really would be out of their hands anyway.
"We can't worry about other teams," Jeter said. "The bottom line is, if we win our games, we'll be fine. We can't worry about who's in front of us. ... We need to go out and play well."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.