Yankees surging despite A-Rod distractions, pulling closer to AL East leaders
If you're a citizen of Red Sox Nation, listen up. I don't want you blindsided, and the same goes for those who cheer for the Rays and other teams in the American League. Actually, every baseball fan not partial to the pinstripes should take heed of the following: You are free to become jittery these days regarding the Yankees.
Yes, the Yankees -- or Team Turmoil, if you prefer.
Whatever you wish to call them, you also have to call them scary. That's because the Yanks have a tendency to feature the most dangerous bunch of guys in the history of sports when their clubhouse is about to explode courtesy of this reason or that one. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you haven't been paying attention for the last 90 years or so.
According to research by Ray Robinson, author of "Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time," Babe Ruth and Gehrig couldn't stand each other off the field, but they were friendly enough on it to win pennants and World Series championships for the Yankees. Plus, Joe DiMaggio was booed by fans after returning from a salary holdout during the Great Depression, and Roger Maris watched his hair fall out during his race to a record 61 homers in 1961. Still, they kept the Yanks sprinting to success.
During the 1980s, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner called star player Dave Winfield "Mr. May," and it wasn't meant as a compliment. Their relationship got nastier, but it didn't keep the Yanks from winning more times in the decade than anybody.
Too ancient for you? Well, how about the last few months, weeks and days, when the trials and tribulations of slugger Alex Rodriguez have dominated the baseball news in ugly ways? The various controversies surrounding A-Rod and his 211-game suspension by Major League Baseball for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal -- along with the subsequent appeal by his massive legal team -- have affected the Yankees so much that they are surging out of nowhere.
That's right. The Yanks swept a day-night doubleheader from the Blue Jays on Tuesday. They've won three straight games, including nine of their last 12 after losing eight of 11. Earlier this month, they trailed the Red Sox by 11 1/2 games, but they crept to within 6 1/2 games of the AL East lead now shared by the Red Sox and the Rays as of Wednesday, and sat only a game behind the third-place Orioles. New York sat only five games behind the A's for the second Wild Card spot as of Wednesday, as well.
Let's go back 35 years. The 1978 Yankees were the epitome of Team Turmoil, with Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner blistering each other in public with their tongues and their actions. One moment, Jackson was getting benched by Martin for ignoring signs at the plate from the volatile manager. The next, Martin was getting fired by Steinbrenner.
Unlike these Yankees, those Yanks' deficit was worse. They trailed the division-leading Red Sox in 1978 by 14 1/2 games, but then those comprising that particular Team Turmoil began doing the impossible. Among other things, they crushed the Red Sox so badly during a four-game series at Fenway Park that locals called it "The Boston Massacre."
Oh, and Bucky Dent.
Courtesy of those Yankees finally catching the Red Sox at the end of that regular season to force a one-game tie-breaker at Fenway Park for the division title, the usually light-hitting Dent hit the game-winning homer. Afterward, the Yanks whipped the Royals in the AL Championship Series and the Dodgers for the second consecutive year in the World Series.
Just saying. And I hear what you're saying ... the Yankees?
Despite their little renaissance, the Yanks still have issues. For one, they've spent much of the season as nothing more than an also-ran in the AL East behind the Red Sox, Rays and Orioles. Fourth place won't get you in the playoffs, and the same likely goes for third place due to Texas and Oakland's prowess in the AL West.
Then there is the Yankees' mediocre pitching, exemplified by a shaky CC Sabathia with an 11-10 record and a 4.83 ERA and by a retiring Mariano Rivera, who did the unprecedented earlier this month regarding his Hall of Fame career by blowing three straight saves. As for the Yanks' hitting for most of this season, don't ask. Until recently, they've been the antithesis of their Bronx Bombers ancestors, with a slugging percentage that ranks 26th out of 30 teams as of Wednesday. They also are 23rd overall in homers, 18th in batting average and 17th in runs scored.
One other thing: That A-Rod mess.
Day after day, "As Alex Rodriguez Turns" is on the verge of squeezing between "General Hospital" and "All My Children" as a regular entry on that soap opera channel. Not even the world's greatest fiction writer could make up all the stuff that has been taking place involving the third baseman against absolutely everybody. Then again, to hear Rodriguez tell it, you've had absolutely everybody against him.
In no particular order, there was baseball suspending Rodriguez for 211 games as a result of the Biogenesis investigation. There was Rodriguez appealing the suspension and claiming baseball is working in cahoots with the Yankees to take away as much of what remains on his $275 million contract as possible. There was CBS report, soon to air on "60 Minutes," stating that Rodriguez snitched on the alleged drug use of other players. There was one of Rodriguez's slew of lawyers telling The New York Times that the Yanks "rolled Rodriguez out there like an invalid" during last year's playoffs, accusing the team of knowing that he had a severe hip injury.
On and on it goes, and now there is something else: Rodriguez against the wrath of opponents while standing at the plate. In Boston last Sunday, the Red Sox's Ryan Dempster threw several pitches near Rodriguez before a fourth rocketed off his left elbow pad. Dempster was suspended by baseball for five games, but the bottom line hasn't changed: Rodriguez won't receive many Christmas cards this year from his peers.