Subway Series I: Bronx Turmoil Meets Shea Youth
Here’s all you need to know about the way New York baseball looks these days – one team is in last place, and the other team feels like they are.
The latter, of course, are the Yankees, whom you’d never guess were still leading the AL East judging by the never-ending tornado swirl of comments and controversy surrounding the team.
If we’re to believe the media’s muckraking, manager Joe Torre’s job is in jeopardy, owner George Steinbrenner is banging on his desk not to call George Costanza in, but rather to acquire reliever Ugueth Urbina from the Rangers, and the Bombers are quickly circling the drain on the way out from their streak of recent postseason dominance.
Let’s go one by one here. Torre isn’t going anywhere, at least not this season – Steinbrenner knows better than to fire the guy who piloted his team to four World Championships in five years, even if they haven’t won a title since the Subway Series against the Mets (more on them later).
Even though the guillotine seems to be rising ever-so-slowly on Torre – he was loudly booed last Friday at Yankee Stadium for lifting Roger Clemens in the seventh inning of Clemens’ 300th win, a stunning scene which left Torre to mumble that he "used to be popular here" – it’s not going to fall this season.
"There’s always a push, there’s always pressure," Torre said. "For me, it’s been more public over the last three-to-four weeks. I think the public has gotten more of a taste of it."
Go ahead and re-channel Casey Stengel, Connie Mack or Joe McCarthy – no manager could have sustained the Yankees’ ridiculously hot start at 20-4, and even though New York has floundered since then, the next hot streak is waiting right around the bend. These Bombers are too good to play sub-.500 ball the rest of the way.
Keep in mind, the Yankees have been surviving without stalwart Bernie Williams in center field and without power-hitting Nick Johnson on the bench. Add that together with the fact that no one’s quite sure what riches Jose Contreras might have untapped in his indeterminately-aged pitching arm, and once he comes back, struggling Jeff Weaver is gone – sayonara, see ya, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
"You try not to let it affect you, but we’ve had key people hurt this year – that’s what happens in baseball," first baseman Jason Giambi said. "We’re just battling through it, and the good thing is that we’re still right at the top in first place."
Across town at Shea Stadium, the Mets have no such issues – they’re just concerned with getting out of the basement in the NL East. Don’t be fooled by the presence of veterans like Al Leiter and Tom Glavine: it’s officially a rebuilding era in Queens, and the young, hungry rookies are seeping in through every crack in the old ballpark’s structure.
That much was clear with the dismissal of GM Steve Phillips last week, whose term with the Mets will be marked by big veteran acquisitions – Glavine, Leiter, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz – and the mostly big disappointments that followed. Don’t go confusing the new Mets with a small market club like the Kansas City Royals – at $120 million Mets are the most expensive "scrappy" team you’ll ever see. It just so happens that more than $40 million of that investment is resting comfortably on the disabled list.
There’s a silver lining in the Mets’ anguish. With the club’s struggles, their fans have received a tasty glimpse of what the ’05 Metropolitans could look like. Korean rookie righthander Jae Seo has pitched as well as anyone in the NL, ranking fourth in the league with a 2.88 ERA as the Mets have won in his last four starts, while third baseman Ty Wigginton leads all NL rookies in runs, RBI, doubles, triples and extra-base hits. And then, of course, there’s the golden goose Jose Reyes, the 20-year-old wonderkid who elicits goofy grins from even the most hard-boiled of big-league scouts.
The two clubs meet up this weekend at big Shea; the festive Subway Series fever dampened somewhat by the absence of many key figures. Call us nuts, but there’s something you’ve got to like about the way the Mets have been "battling," as Art Howe loves to say, over the last week. We’re going to predict the Amazin’s’ defend their home turf and take two out of three from the mighty Bombers. You gotta believe. firstname.lastname@example.org.
?The woeful Detroit Tigers, who entered play Wednesday with a 17-50 record, worst in the majors, will be holding a "Bark in the Park" next Thursday at Comerica Park.
Tigers fans – and there are some, we believe – will be invited to attend the game with their dogs, with a select few canines being invited to participate in an on-field race around the bases with their owners after the game.
Don’t tell anyone, but this is the Tigers’ way of broadening player scouting in the greater Michigan area. If Rover can score from second base on a single to right, that’s probably better than half the players on Detroit’s roster.
Bryan Hoch appears regularly in The Wave. He can be contacted at email@example.com.