Beasts of the East
Baseball’s natural order has been restored in the Bronx. As the 26-time-World-Champion New York Yankees await their bitter rivals from Boston, they ride the crest of a magical 15-wins-out-of-17-games stretch that has propelled them into second place in the AL East, a half-game ahead of the 25-21 Red Sox. Three weeks ago, the gap between the Yankees and Red Sox seemed insurmountable, the Yankees’ six-game deficit twice as large as the one that defined the difference between the Yankees’ annual AL East championship season and their perennial bridesmaids’ tidy little second-place finish in 2004. Now, it is the Yankees who look at the lumbering corpse of the Red Sox bullpen in their rearview mirror, eyes forever on the prize – an eighth successive AL East title, with only the Orioles between them and the true measure of baseball glory.
Talk to any Yankee loyalist, and they’ll tell you that the season is 162 games long, not 11. Postseason laurels may be all well and good to Johnny-come-latelies like those jelly-bellied fellows in red and blue, but the true measure of dynastic dominance occurs in these weekends in Tampa and Kansas City, far from the madding crowds and patriotic bunting of October nights past.
Across town, even the Mets tip their caps to their crosstown chums’ consistency. “The Yankees were just pullin’ the old okey-doke,” reported Mets Manager Willie Randolph, elaborating that a series of shrewd moves by George Steinbrenner were merely the baseball equivalent of “laying in the weeds.” Steinbrenner moved Tony Womack to left field, a position at which he was rated -31 runs defensively, and decided to pay erstwhile reliever Steve Karsay the remainder of his 2005 salary to sit at home and watch such family fare as “Britney and Kevin: Chaotic.”
Karsay’s $6 million, after all, is mere pocket change to Steinbrenner, a man who regularly sacrifices “virgins and other undesirables” for his own pleasure in his enormous underwater complex off City Island. Recently on the crosstown bus, a woman of a certain age remarked that she thought the Karsay deal was a sound cutting of ties, adding that “Unlike the Yankees, Karsay chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in New York.”
To be fair, the Red Sox are worthy competition. Yet they’ll never amount to anything but the Yankees’ sinecure unless they finally win an AL East title. If there’s one thing the Yankee players admit, it’s that they’re only glad to be playing this weekend’s series on home turf; the drainage system at Fenway Park is so outdated that Gary Sheffield compares playing right field on a rainy day to “surfing on a washcloth,” and New England has been pounded by rain and miserable temperatures for days on end.
Indeed, a dark cloud, courtesy of a freak springtime weather pattern, hung over Boston all week – perhaps an omen of the increasingly likely fact that dark clouds just hang over the miserable Sox by dint of some decree from a higher power. Perhaps God, Enlil, Zeus, or some lesser voodoo deity simply has it in for the Red Sox, in the middle of their frustrating decade-long quest for AL East gold.
Murray Chass, a baseball columnist for The New York Times, is a former New York Yankees beat writer who helped set the standard in print journalism for the position of national baseball writer. He has covered baseball for more than 43 years.