Even Without Derek Jeter, Yankees Will Dominate
That was certainly some rude surprise for the three million or so Cablevision subscribers who were elated that the Yankees’ Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays was miraculously filtering into their cable boxes.
As Derek Jeter lay writhing in pain around the third base bag, his dislocated left shoulder a victim of a violent collision with Jays catcher Ken Huckaby’s plastic shin guard, one couldn’t help but think that maybe this was the end of the Yankees dynasty.
The loss of Jeter for a month or more – at press time, it was still unclear whether any player had ever come back during the course of a season from this type of injury – certainly throws a wrench into the Yankees’ plans for this season, but it doesn’t by any strength of the imagination cripple the club.
Even without their spiritual leader prepared for active duty, the Yankees are still a heavily talented veteran club that compares and dominates over most any other roster.
With one of the most prolific power hitters in the game at first base with Jason Giambi, 40-40 candidate Alfonso Soriano at second base and Bernie Williams – on whom I had the pleasure of viewing an excellent ‘Yankeeography’, thanks to the tentative pact between YES and Cablevision – in center, this team will still have no problem putting up runs.
The Yankees’ main concern is still focused upon Mariano Rivera’s return to health and the crusade of Roger Clemens and David Wells to keep theirs, making the question of whether or not 25-year-old rookie Erick Almonte can hold down the fort while Jeter’s on the shelf little more than an annoyance.
Almonte was at one point a highly touted prospect within the Yankees’ ranks, but his production cooled last season and he was demoted from Triple-A Columbus to Double-A Norwich, reportedly as much for a souring attitude as for his .235 average.
He’s capable both at the plate and in the field, but lacks plate discipline: not necessarily a concern, since the Yankees could likely hide Rey Ordonez in their lineup and still bring a pennant home to the Bronx.
"It’s not a very secure spot to be in, shortstop with the Yankees, when we have a guy signed to a 10-year contract," manager Joe Torre told reporters. "So all I told (Erick) was, ‘It’s a big opportunity, have fun with it.’"
The Yankees should have no problem padding their win total during the month of April, thanks to a schedule that sees them play the lowly Devil Rays six times and the mediocre Blue Jays for seven games, but it also shouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Brian Cashman work the phones if things get a bit rocky.
There’s already been early talk about swindling Omar Vizquel from the Cleveland Indians for a one-year fix at shortstop, but here’s the sleeper pick: former Met Melvin Mora, whom the Orioles have been talking about unloading for some desperately-needed pitching.
*Who would have thought that, come April, the Mets would be looking at 40-year-old David Cone with beady eyes, practically begging him to salvage their pitching rotation?
With number three starter Pedro Astacio out and neither Mike Bacsik, Jason Middlebrook or Jae Seo a strong candidate for the number five rotation slot, the Mets need Cone to step up and resemble something of the righty of old – circa 2001, perhaps – in the worst way.
Cone gets his first major league start in over a year at Shea Stadium on Friday night against the Montreal Expos, after sealing his comeback by throwing an impressive 93 pitches in an intra-squad game last Sunday.
"I’m thrilled to be coming full circle," Cone said. "To finish where I started ... I know I started in Kansas City. I grew up with the Mets. It’ll be nice to be back."
"He’s like a kid in a candy store right now," Mets reliever John Franco said.
It’s a great story whether or not Cone is successful, but unfortunately the same may not be able to be said about the Mets as a whole. They’ll need Cone to at least give them five good innings each time out, with a little more to be asked from Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Steve Trachsel, to avoid being buried by the Phillies and Braves in the East.
*He said it: "I was kidding him about that before, but I don’t think Wally Pipp was making $12 million a year." – Mets backup catcher Vance Wilson, on spelling Mike Piazza during his four-game suspension.
Pipp was the Yankees’ regular first baseman until he sat out a game in 1925 due to a splitting headache. A young kid named Lou Gehrig took over that day, and as it turned out, took over for good: Gehrig wouldn’t come out of the lineup for 2,129 more games. When Gehrig bowed out due to his advancing ALS (better known as, you got it, Lou Gehrig’s disease), Pipp had already retired for eleven years. •Bryan Hoch ap-
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