BOSTON – The New York Yankees, or what's left of them, sighed and showed up here, the schedule piling on and the hometown tabloids at DEFCON 2, delirious over the once-in-a-generation opportunity to inject "busty" and "blonde" and "Bombers" into an otherwise sluggish news cycle.
Outside of that, the Yankees are dangerously close to becoming irrelevant, or more irrelevant than they've been at any time in the Joe Torre era, a fact greeted in the visitors' clubhouse Friday afternoon with clenched jaws and slow one-quarter head turns, hours before they would begin a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox.
They barely are off a five-game losing streak, seven months off their last postseason flameout, seven years off their last parade.
It has not looked like this very often, the Yankees a good month or two from playing back into even wild-card contention, the world wondering if this could be it, the year the Yankees as an organization fade completely to done.
Their first two months brought 29 losses and a 13½-game deficit, soft-tissue injuries to most of the starting rotation, the daily travails of Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, the occasional spirited press release out of Howard Rubenstein's office reminding us George Steinbrenner is out there somewhere.
Now Giambi is gone for at least five weeks because of torn tissue in his arch. No one knows what the commissioner's office has in mind, but Giambi could rehab himself back to health just to report to the suspended list. An MLB official said there would probably be no word on that – Giambi's "stuff" admission – until Monday at the earliest. No matter what, Giambi was one of the things that had to start going right for the Yankees, and the possibility of that now is slimmer than a David Ortiz sideburn.
For every Yankee going well, it seems, there is a tortuous and potentially fatal counterbalance.
Alex Rodriguez had April; Alex Rodriguez had May. And no, those were not the featured attractions last night at the Brass Whatever-It's-Called.
The pitching staff gets Roger Clemens back Monday in Chicago, but the Yankees, if they are to chase down their 13th consecutive postseason appearance, are well beyond getting better once every five days. It's beyond Bernie Williams – Torre and general manager Brian Cashman both killed that notion Friday evening, Torre saying Williams gave that up when he declined the spring-training invitation. It's beyond screaming "Hah!" at falling popups, as Rodriguez did Wednesday in Toronto, which Torre said "was probably inappropriate to do … at the time he did it."
It's even, for the moment, beyond the likes of Mark Teixeira or any other big bat that might come in and stand behind A-Rod and force fastballs and pound the gaps. The Yankees, for one, aren't loaded with tradable parts. Most teams, for another, aren't keen on giving up impact players in the shadow of May.
"I wouldn't be bracing for anything right now," Cashman said, "if I were you guys."
So they go with what they have. Johnny Damon's legs aren't working so well, so he'll be the semi-regular designated hitter. Melky Cabrera is the center fielder. Tyler "the Yankee" Clippard is, for the time being, the fifth starter. Josh Phelps drew last night's start at first base over Doug Mientkiewicz. Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte pitch the rest of the weekend.
And, in the first break of the rest of their lives, the Yankees caught Tim Wakefield on a steamy New England night in a game delayed 25 minutes by light showers. The knuckleball doesn't need any more climate variables, and it showed.
Wakefield proceeded to pitch to a target area from dugout to dugout, left in the fourth inning with a 6-3 deficit and wasn't yet in the tunnel to the clubhouse before it was 9-3, Yankees. The game ended 9-5 before the 334th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park, including a handful in blond wigs, just for A-Rod.
Not two weeks after the Yankees got him for six runs in five innings in the Bronx, Wakefield allowed five hits and eight runs, walked six, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and duped Doug Mirabelli into two passed balls. In 45 career appearances against the Yankees, 28 of them starts, Wakefield is 9-16 with a 5.03 ERA.
In other Red Sox happenings, third baseman Mike Lowell left in the fifth inning because of a bruised wrist, courtesy of a Chien-Ming Wang fastball. An inning later, J.D. Drew left because of a sore hamstring.
They'll miss Lowell.
The game had its Yankees-Red Sox moments because that's what their games do.
Five batters were hit by pitches: Lowell (by Wang), Phelps (by Wakefield), Rodriguez (by Kyle Snyder), Cano (by Javier Lopez) and Kevin Youkilis (by Scott Proctor). By the time Youkilis took one off the helmet in the ninth, he apparently had had enough, pulled himself out of the dirt and screamed and gestured at Proctor, which, of course, brought all uniformed personnel to the infield.
Proctor claimed it was unintentional, and Youkilis was evasive on whether he believed that. Posada actually went to first base with Youkilis, told him the pitch simply was wayward and tapped Youkilis on the chest with his mitt.
Asked if Youkilis had believed him, Posada said, "I don't know. Ask him. I thought he calmed down a little bit."
"What's said on the field stays on the field," he said, "and that's it."
Then, he again had had enough.
"It's over," he snapped. "Tomorrow's another game. I don't want to hear another word about getting hit by the pitch."
Torre was ejected in the fifth inning arguing Abreu indeed had stolen third base, a position verified by instant replay. By then the Yankees were ahead by six runs, and it was likely Torre was setting the example that from here on, every inch counts.
His job may depend on it. Their postseason life almost surely does.
And while one Yankee confided that it's really not about the Red Sox anymore, Fenway was as good a place to start as any, June 1 as good a time as any.
"I'm not really concerned about contending with the Red Sox right now until we move to .500 and start to move above that," Torre said.
Asked how the weekend might play with Steinbrenner and his lieutenants looking in from Florida, Torre shook his head.
"They're always watching," he said. "Whether you play the Mets, the Red Sox, Tampa, those are always the clubs that seem to be more important. It doesn't make us do anything any different."
He laughed at the thought that then popped into his head.
"That's out of my control," he said. "I'd like to think I can do something more magical this series, so those anonymous series I won't have as much to do."
- Alex Rodriguez