Saturday, June 30, 2007

Not Much Left to Say, but Much Left to Do

Sports of The Times
July 1, 2007

It’s always nice when the players seem to be watching the same games we are. Jorge Posada tends to agree with vox populi that this is not the most intense Yankees team he has ever seen.

After the Yankees were victimized by a one-hitter from Chad Gaudin and Rich Harden yesterday in a 7-0 loss, Posada said firmly, “It seems like, at times, we just go through the motions, and today is one of those cases.”

Because Posada is a Yankees insider and not one to point fingers, his observation carries a bit of gravitas. When somebody told Posada that his words could be construed as a red flag to those who see a breakdown in leadership or attitude, he replied, “I think everybody knows what I’m talking about.”

Many of the 54,150 fans at Yankee Stadium knew what he was talking about. After the Kate Smith bottom of the seventh inning, they turned their backs on the field and vanished into the pleasant Saturday afternoon sunlight to pursue other diversions. The Yankees followed soon afterward.

Nobody else in the clubhouse would match Posada’s strong observation, but Johnny Damon — the Yankees’ only authority on how to hit Gaudin safely yesterday — said he could understand the exodus.

“They have the right to be upset,” Damon said of the fans.

If not for Damon’s hard single up the middle in the sixth inning, the Yankees would have been vastly more embarrassed, as no-hitters are epic events.

Asked if Gaudin had no-hitter stuff, Derek Jeter said, “He had one-hitter-type stuff” — meaning, one assumes, that there wasn’t much difference between what was and what almost was. The Yanks are 37-40 and looking listless.

“Joe and Cashman, it’s not their fault,” Damon volunteered about the malaise that seems to grip the Yankees. He was talking about Joe Torre, the manager, and Brian Cashman, the general manager who put this team, you should pardon the expression, together.

The Yankees do seem lethargic at times, or maybe this is just a bad team, overexposed, over the hill, with no Gary Sheffield, no Jason Giambi and, in total hindsight, no Bernie Williams, either. Yesterday, the Yankees hacked away at Gaudin, a modest-sized right-hander without much power. They looked extremely mediocre in the process, a throwback to the bad old days of 1965-67, when the entire organization hit bottom.

“We’re obviously not hitting to our ability,” Torre said.

Don’t expect any Lou Piniella-style tantrums from Torre. That’s just not his fashion, for one thing. A public flash of anger may work for a patchwork team trying to discovery its identity, but the Yankees almost have too much identity. Does Torre yell in a clubhouse with old pros like Jeter, Posada, Damon, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui? He would never insult their intelligence or professionalism, even when it is not producing the results Yankees fans would like.

Torre clearly knows how to handle the temper tantrums of the marginal, like the antics of Kyle Farnsworth when he was taken out Friday night in favor of the best relief pitcher in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera. Whatever happened in the clubhouse overnight, Farnsworth seemed chastened yesterday, and Torre praised him for being “passionate,” as he called it. Torre added, “He’d like a chance to do it over.”

But straightening out one fringe relief pitcher is one thing. Getting a whole team to start hitting is another.

Torre said the mood of the team was good after a sign of nerves early in June. He said the hitters were well prepared to be patient, but not too patient, and he just couldn’t understand the absence of production. “Puzzling,” he called it.

“There are games going off the schedule that we can’t get back,” Torre said.

Jeter agreed that time was moving quickly on the Yankees. Somebody tried to console him by noting that at least the Yankees have now left June behind them. Jeter responded dryly: “It’s a new month. There you go. We played the first three. Now we’ve got a new one.” He didn’t sound very cheered by this logic, but he tried to avoid the big picture that the Yankees have stopped hitting.

“You’ve got to stop grouping games together,” Jeter told reporters, adding, “It doesn’t work that way.” He noted that the Yankees had won Friday night and he praised Gaudin for pitching well yesterday. Good pitching very often modifies or disproves so-called trends, but these losses are coming too quickly to be taken as one-shot wonders.

Damon is the most resilient of players, the one who calmly said, without boasting, that the Red Sox could win four in a row when he played for them against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. He has the World Series ring, and the personality, of a star player who has learned to bounce back. But Damon, when asked yesterday if he thought the Yankees could dig themselves out of this hole, said, “I’m not sure.” Then he added, “We’re going to have to walk with our heads up and play hard.”

The core of this team has played too long at the top level to be susceptible to rage or bullying. A younger, newer version may very well need a whip. But as Jeter and the rest know, there are three months left in this season. If Posada says the Yankees sometimes go through the motions, they all know he is right.



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