Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rallying the Troops

When I opened this blog back in June, I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about what everyone else wrote about that day. Of course, this isn’t realistic, since there are only so many things you can talk about regarding the Yankees on a given day. Thus I have, as infrequently as possible, written on the same topic as the guys that get paid to pen their thoughts.

Upon waking this morning, I opened my local paper, the Newark Star Ledger, and then hit up the electronic version of the New York Daily News. Between the two of them, there must have been five or six articles on the Yankees lack of success against their current foes, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And why not? It’s the most prevalent topic, and we as sports fans should get a comprehensive look at this unique situation.

So what now to write about? I could analyze some statistics, but that seems sort of inappropriate. This is the Second Season, which is driven more by emotion and desire than by numbers. Of course, the numbers still matter, but just look to Sunday’s game for an example of what I’m saying. You can scrutinize the hitters until the cows come home; they only managed three hits all game. But one of them plated a run, and Randy Johnson, surely feeling the barometer rise, hurled with the passion that is needed for success at this point in the season.

And tonight, maybe all nine starters end up 3-5. There are ups and downs to the Second Season, and it doesn’t always even out into a pretty looking average number. Maybe Bernie Williams hits a 2 for 25 slump in the next few games; maybe those two hits plate two game-winning runs. Maybe Shawn Chacon goes out there with nothing again, and surrenders five runs. But maybe he sucks it up and heads out there for the sixth inning and puts them down 1-2-3. And maybe that is significant because A-Rod maybe just hit a homer that put the Yanks up 6-5.

It’s not about going out and socking four dingers in a game. It’s not about tossing consecutive one-hit shutouts. It’s about going out there with passion and conviction, knowing that if you’re not 100 percent focused on what’s happening at this very moment, you’re sitting in your penthouse, watching the World Series on your 64-inch HDTV.

It’s about knowing that the manager is human, and therefore fallible, maybe calling on you in a situation that you’re not comfortable in. It’s about sucking it up, forgetting what makes you uncomfortable about the situation and playing on raw emotion, tossing every pitch to a guy who owns you like it’s a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the ALCS. Or stepping into the box against a guy you’re 0 for the century against and locking in on his pitches like you’re the Six Million Dollar Man.

The critics say this team doesn’t have the heart to come back from this deficit. They see A-Rod as a pretty-boy who cares only about Number One. They see Jeter as a guy who once led his team to victory, with the emphasis on the past tense. They see Sheffield as a clubhouse cancer, a guy who can sabotage your team given the proper motivation. Matsui is scrutinized for never having batted .300 or provided the pop in his bat as advertised. Bernie, Posada, Tino. They’re washed up. Cano? He’s a rookie who hit a hot streak early on and brings nothing to the table. And of course, Giambi is back on the juice.

And that’s not even including what they say about our $100 million pitching staff. Randy is washed up, and he doesn’t have any more games like Sunday left. Chacon is unproven and showing his true colors. Aaron Small, despite being 7-0 with a 2.82 ERA, will always be judged by his journey across the majors. Wang will never be the same after his rotator cuff injury, and the one game he pitched since recovering is proof enough of that. And don’t get them started on Jaret Wright. He may have been great last year, but putting him in pinstripes was a horrible idea.

Now re-read those last two paragraphs and ask yourself this: Am I, as a die-hard Yankee lunatic fan, going to let the critics have their way? Sure, some of those statements may be halfway accurate. But look how ridiculous others sound. And if the critics are making such outlandish claims against the team we live and die for, why do we need to listen to them?

Who says the D-Rays will continue their ownership of the Evil Empire? The critics, of course. And even though they outnumber the faithful by a larger margin than Reagan defeated Mondale, we can’t allow them to get us down.

Sure, trend and statistic are against us, but since when does that mean a damn thing this late in the season? I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate because it’s appropriate. The Yankees are a team built on magic. Yes, that sounds as corny as my Uncle Rick’s jokes, but it’s true.

I remember back in ’96 when the Yanks finally won the AL East. And I remember looking at the playoff schedule and looking to my buddy Steve and lamenting, “We have Texas? Dammit, we’re done first round.” But we took them in five. And I remember the day after the Jeff Maier incident, when we knew we were going to topple Baltimore.

Most importantly, I remember going down 0-2 at home to the unstoppable looking Braves. And I remember David Cone coming up huge in Game 3. And then the monster of all memories, my dad waking me up to tell me that Leyritz just homered, and “we’re brining it back to the Bronx!” I’m sure he remembers that too, but he surely doesn’t remember that I had my little transistor radio tuned in, and I knew exactly what had happened.

And no Yankees faithful forgets Andy Pettite in Game 5, 1-0, the prelude to a championship. Finally, burned into our minds, is the image of Charlie Hayes catching that pop off the bat of Mark Lemke in foul territory, followed by Wade Boggs holding on for dear life on that horse.

You know what? I also (vaguely, I wasn’t yet a teenager) remember the Yankees from ’88, ’89, and all those Dallas Green/Bucky Dent/Stump Merril/even Buck Showalter days. And I’ll tell you right now, this team doesn’t resemble those guys at all.

This team looks like a bunch of guys who have been complacent with where they’ve been for most of the season. They’ve battled back from a desolate April and May to be right in the race in September. But in the race isn’t enough, and these guys know it. Well, at least the vested veterans do, and they’re going to be the ones to show the rest of the team exactly what it means to be a Yankee.

I hate being categorized as a “homer,” but come on, guys. This is the time we need to stand behind the Yanks. There’s already enough hatred of them out there. Have faith that the Yanks will step up and place dread in the hearts of the haters. We want them running to the hills, yelling, “Oh shit! They’re back!”

In the words of Journey, don’t stop believing.