NEW YORK – If ever there were an appropriate time for a black cat to reappear at a baseball stadium in Queens, it was Friday night. Might as well complete the trifecta, for to run into the sort of bad luck befalling the New York Yankees of late, surely someone in pinstripes broke a mirror and walked underneath a ladder.
Alas, no coal-colored kitty appeared Friday night at Citi Field to curse the Yankees the way one did the 1969 Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. Already their disabled list reads like a disabled novella. Center fielder? Check. Catcher? Indeed. Designated hitter? It's Nick Johnson(notes), for crying out loud, which translates to: Duh. The Yankees' May, in a nutshell: Backup outfielder Marcus Thames(notes) rolled his ankle – wait for it – when he ran over his own bat while running up the first-base line this week.
The Yankees right now aren't the Yankees, which is to say they aren't the team that won the World Series last year and aren't the team they'll be once this misfortune abates. At least they're still the best team in New York, a sad indictment of their foes Friday night, the New York Mets, who have nothing to blame for their mediocrity but mismanagement.
It's not like the Yankees escaped their 2-1 victory against the Mets unscathed, of course, because they're still paying penance on the mirror and ladder. Right-hander Javier Vazquez(notes), finally pitching like his old self – albeit against a Mets lineup with all the firepower of a cap gun – cruised through six innings of one-hit ball before trying to lay down a bunt. The pitch from Elmer Dessens(notes) ricocheted off the index finger on Vazquez's throwing hand.
"I feel so embarrassed," said Vazquez, who expects to make his next start after X-rays came back negative. "I've been doing this for a lot of years in the National League, and this has never happened to me."
Imagine how the rest of his teammates feel. The Yankees need injury-bug fumigation. It infected Curtis Granderson's(notes) groin, Jorge Posada's(notes) foot and Johnson's wrist. Outfielder Nick Swisher(notes) missed time with a bum biceps, Thames' ankle is on the mend and Vazquez's most important finger is swathed in a wrap.
Center fielder Brett Gardner(notes) almost played victim in the sixth inning, when a changeup from Mets spot starter Hisanori Takahashi(notes) broke his bat. Shrapnel flew up the first-base line, and only Gardner's fancy footwork saved him from going down the same river as Thames.
"We've had some freak things lately," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
And yet they're still 26-16, the third-best record in baseball behind Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, with the easiest stretch of their season on the horizon. After finishing the Subway Series and hitting Minnesota for a tough three-game series, the Yankees play 13 of their next 16 games against the game's three worst teams. Cleveland comes to Yankee Stadium for four games and Baltimore follows for three. Three-game trips to Toronto and Baltimore are followed by a home series against woebegone Houston.
Which is why patience is a must when apprising these Yankees. These are maintenance games, important to keep the distance between them and both Toronto and Boston, not at all indicative of the lineups they expect to play in October. To pull of a victory like Friday's, then, felt like quite the coup.
Both Yankees runs were driven in by someone named Kevin Russo(notes). He entered the game without a major league hit and left it with a pair, along with two RBIs. So depleted are the Yankees, they summoned Russo – a second baseman by trade – and stuck him in left field. He was not vaccinated prior to arriving in New York, so his ability to make it through one game, and thrive no less, portends well.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel pulled Takahashi after six shutout innings, and Dessens quickly surrendered the lead on Russo's double down the right-field line. Born in West Babylon, N.Y., about 30 miles east of Citi Field, Russo didn't realize he could get his family tickets, so most of them watched the game at his grandmother's house.
The hero of the night was still learning how the big leagues go, and that sounds about right for a team that has endured such an odd month. It's edifying that a little more than a week remains and likewise frightening to think about all that can happen in nine days. Baseball players, after all, have missed time with strained eyelids, faces burned from tanning beds, arms blown out trying to tear phone books apart and ribcages strained from violent sneezes. Nothing is too ludicrous for these Yankees.
So they cross their fingers and toes and whatever else they dare try to cross and wish this bit of bad luck away. They've got plenty to be thankful for. Derek Jeter(notes) is healthy. So is Alex Rodriguez(notes). And CC Sabathia(notes). Same with A.J. Burnett(notes) and Phil Hughes(notes) and Andy Pettitte(notes) and Mariano Rivera(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes). If any team is equipped to handle injuries, it's a $200 million juggernaut fat with superstars.
"We're going through a thing where we're not getting it done," Girardi said. "You go through those things during the course of the season."
Gone is their three-game losing, thanks to the Mets, and a winning spurt may well be in the offing with Hughes starting Saturday and Sabathia on Sunday. Cat or no cat, the Yankees still own the five boroughs. And soon enough, when this bug finally passes and they're themselves again, the Yankees can start staking claim to the rest of the baseball, too.