EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 28, 2008

Yanks around for long haul


Bill Burt

BOSTON — Something happened while Manny was being, well, an idiot the last two months.

The New York Yankees proved, yet again, they are every bit as good as your Boston Red Sox.

Admit it, you weren't paying close attention. Whether it was the improbable run of the Tampa Bay Rays or the fact that old fogies Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte were at the top of the New York rotation — "They'll fall apart eventually," you figured. The Yankees weren't worth the trouble anymore.

The fact that the Red Sox were able to overcome David Ortiz missing 45 games over nearly eight weeks, and still sit near the top of the American League East heap might have had something do with it.

There's a different Steinbrenner spitting out the same demands on the back of the New York Post and a different Joe guiding the Bronx soap opera from the dugout.

But it is the same Yankees team your grandfather and great grandfather grew to despise and envy the last seven or eight decades heading into the real baseball season ... August and September.

The Yankees not only are not dead, they apparently have not taken kindly to the Red Sox stories about the birth of their dynasty.

Since a 20-25 start through May 20, the Yankees have been the best team in baseball at 38-21, including last night's 9-2 loss the Red Sox.

While Ortiz battled injuries, the Yankees have easily trumped his time on the disabled list. Ace Chien-Ming Wang (8-2) hasn't pitched since June 15. Hideki Matsui hasn't played since June 23. And Jorge Posada has played in less than half of the Yankees' 104 games and will not play catcher again this season, if even comes back.

What they have done in their streak, particularly in July, is pitch. Before last night, starters had limited opponents to three earned runs or less in 15 of 16 games, allowing only three homers over that stretch. The relievers have been even more dominant, with a 1.60 ERA since June 27.

Last night the Yankees got a pass. They not only had Sydney Ponson starting, but they were facing Jon Lester and his 4-0 record in five starts this season after a Red Sox loss.

The fact that the Yankees were first to jump into the trade-deadline player pool by acquiring one of the two best relievers available, lefty specialist Damaso Marte, from the Pittsburgh Pirates (closer Brian Fuentes of Colorado is the other) is proof enough they are not conceding anything in 2008.

This Ramirez mess made for an interesting weekend. The fact that he begged out of another Yankees game on Friday added another remarkable chapter to his nearly eight seasons here.

Trading him is out of the question. Unless they could get a guy who could bat in the cleanup spot, to protect Ortiz, it's not happening.

If Red Sox manager Terry Francona can sign off on three more months of Manny, New England can grin and bear it with him.

On paper, the Red Sox are the most complete team in the American League East, and probably all of baseball. Their seven All-Stars — Ortiz, Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew and Jonathan Papelbon — were all worthy. So was Mike Lowell (.287, 13 HRs, 63 RBI), who didn't get the invite.

The Red Sox have a few questions heading into the stretch run. Jacoby Ellsbury, who had three hits last night, needs to take back control of the leadoff spot. The bullpen needs to fix their seventh and eighth inning roles. And Julio Lugo at shortstop isn't going to cut it.

I realize, it is difficult to give the Yankees any credit when you live north of Hartford, Conn., for obvious provincial-based reasons. Their $200 million payroll is always the first knock.

But they do deserve credit.

The top of their lineup, starting with Johnny Damon to Derek Jeter to Bobby Abreu to Alex Rodriguez is as good as any in baseball.

Fat and happy, which is what a lot of Red Sox fans have become, is no way to go through a season when the Yankees are hanging around.

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Bill Burt can be reached at bburt@eagletribune.com.