Tuesday, April 27, 2004

April sours fall on Yankees

Struggles against Boston aside, it's too early for a full-on panic

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

Realizing that much of the nation is worried sick about the New York Yankees - how many of you tossed and turned last night, knowing Derek Jeter is 0-for-25 and getting booed? - we offer the calendar as comfort.

Or maybe that should be a warning.

April can be an illusion. Full of things that are here today, gone tomorrow. Or at least the next road trip.

The Detroit Tigers, for example, lead the American League in runs scored. The Texas Rangers are in first place. Barry Bonds has more home runs (nine) than his San Francisco team has victories (seven).

None of the above are expected to become habits. But what of the Yankees, who for the past two weekends looked like a $185 million paper tiger against the inspired infidels from Boston?

Is the empire truly crumbling, or was this just a tease to the Red Sox Nation, to find out if last October's broken heart has left it any less gullible?

For the moment, there is much to wonder about the 8-11 Yankees. Whether the regime is tottering or just slow from the gate, already five games behind Boston in the loss column. The composite score of the past weekend with the injury depleted Red Sox was 16-4. New York hasn't seen star power crash this badly since the last time Billy Joel drove to the store.

The boos poured down from the unhappy customers Sunday, in a place where the natives eat their own, even those with World Series rings. Jeter, beloved from his earflap to his cleats, has never heard such displeasure.

But the Yankees spent a fortune over the winter to stay ahead of the Red Sox, then lost six of their first seven games against them. In the grumpy grandstands and on the talk shows and tabloid covers of New York, calm is seldom useful when panic is in order. It will not take many bad days for the Yankees to be labeled as pricey flops.

So now we wait to see what appears first this spring - the cicadas or lava from George Steinbrenner. First, his impatience will surely swing into action. Followed by his checkbook.

But the pinstripe haters out there must be in a fine mood these days . . .

Giggling at the Yankees' .217 team batting average, which is better than the Montreal Expos, but nobody else.

Chortling at the thought that Roger Clemens, hitting .333 with three RBI in Houston, would have the highest average in the New York lineup, and more RBI than Bernie Williams.

Chuckling at Boston's weekend sweep in the Bronx; three games where the Red Sox had 16 runs and the Yankees had 15 hits.

Smirking at how Boston was 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position Saturday, and STILL won 3-2.

Roaring at the infield lineups Sunday, when the Yankees could not win with Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, while the Red Sox could not lose with Dave McCarty, Cesar Crispo, Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn.

The Yankees have not been under .500 this late in the season since 1997. But they regrouped to win 96 games, which is something to remember. They have plenty of time to resume tormenting the American League East, though they must wait until June 29 to strike back at the Red Sox.

Or maybe they really are too old, too comfortable, too meek. They'll find out more this week about whether this is truly an offensive crisis, against Oakland's stable of starting pitchers.

As for Boston, life is giddy and good. The Red Sox won April. Big.

But they have done that before.

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