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July 20 - Four at Fenway

Now that the malaise of the All-Star break is behind us, and the
showcase game has been revealed as nothing more than the direct
cause of four days of meaningless Sportscenters, we can focus on
actual baseball again.  

In a season defined by injuries and the growing popularity of designating
poor performers for assignment, the Yankees have managed to reign in
the rest of the American League East and sit a half game up on Baltimore and Boston as of July 19th.   
An incredible feat, considering the loss of four starting pitchers to the disabled list, including Chien Ming
Wang, who would have never felt the warm caress of the Bronx sun if not for the injuries to Jaret Wright,
Carl Pavano and, (surprise, surprise) Kevin Brown.  All in all, these guys have spent more time
rehabbing than Yasmine Bleeth.  Injuries are to be expected over the course of a long season, but no
team is prepared to fill the void of that many starters landing on the D.L.

Despite a rotation resembling the “remains of a destroyed, sinking battleship”, thank you Royal
Tenenbaum, the Yankees entered Fenway Park on June 14 to begin yet another four game series of
unfathomable importance with the Sox.  The build up was monumental, with Curt Schilling and his Hall-
of-Fame-worthy “red sock” coming out of the pen, still on the mend from the most well-documented
ankle surgery in medical history.  The Yankees counterpunched with well-documented pitching woes of
their own that resulted in Tim Redding (and his 9.10 ERA with the Padres) toeing the rubber in Game
Two and the ever popular “TBA” penciled in for Game Four. With these two teams not scheduled to meet
again until September 9th, it seemed realistic to assume that the Yankees’ season could be defined by
this four game set.

The Yanks went on to claim three of four from Boston, but not without the
stirring drama that seems to envelope this rivalry from series to series.
Alex Rodriguez won Game One on a two-run homer off of Schilling in the
top of the 9th and finally connected with Yankee fans. It was reminiscent
of Jason Giambi connecting with that walk off grand slam to beat the
Twins in 14 innings on May 17th, 2002. That’s what it takes to be
accepted in New York: not a big contract, not big numbers, but consistent
clutch hitting. Scott Brosius is a prime example. Yankee fans have been
spoiled by Derek Jeter’s theatrics time and time again over his ten years
at shortstop, and now expect nothing less than perfection from the numerous big names that litter the
roster.  The line between hero and goat is perilously thin.

Game Two marked the Bombers’ second 17-1 drubbing at the hands of the Sox this year and featured
Melky Cabrera’s swansong in centerfield. His misplay of Trot Nixon’s line drive in the second treated
Yankee fans to their very own Boston Marathon as Nixon trotted home. Looks like dubbing centerfield
the “Melky” Way was a little premature, but hey, at least Redding wasn’t around to see it. Bernie’s
ousting from centerfield struck a chord with many Yankee fans and left us wondering how fourteen and
a half years of loyal service had come to this. While his defense has become progressively more erratic
over the past two years, you cannot replace a veteran presence in center during a key series with major
playoff implications.   

The Yanks did respond to take the final two games of the series behind Randy Johnson and an
eleventh hour trade for Al Leiter, who pushed TBA’s prospective start back to Wednesday. It was a true
joy to see Leiter back in pinstripes, despite his hefty 6.64 E.R.A with the Marlins. He seemed
rejuvenated during his start in Boston, limiting the potent Sox lineup to a mere three hits over six and a
third innings and limiting his walk total to three. The main concern over Leiter’s return was his penchant
for walks, as he had allowed 60 in just 80 innings while pitching for Florida.  

While the Yanks stand poised to make a run at their eighth straight American League East title, their
pitching teeters over a precipice like so many wayward lemmings.  The eventual return of Brown and
Pavano to the rotation will provide no more relief than a Band-aid over a gaping wound.  The playoff
hopes of this team rest on the bats of Jeter, Sheffield, Rodriguez and the revitalized (cross your fingers
now) Jason Giambi.  So tonight I rest, unsure of what’s to come, with visions of sugar plums and the
2002 Angels bashing their way to the title dancing in my head.  It’s the only way I know to keep hope
alive.