Never count out the Yankees

first_imgANAHEIM Yeah, they’re back. Looking all that. You’re going to have to deal with this. Did you seriously believe they were just going to fade away, act like that $200 million was fool’s money, that they were ready to walk among baseball mortality? These are the Yankees, the most hated and loved team in all of American sport. Mostly, they are beloved by New Yorkers and ex-New Yorkers, which is apparently about half the continental United States. And despised by everyone else. It’s all that winning. All that money spent. All that attitude. All that George Steinbrenner. Sorry lover/haters of the Lakers, Notre Dame football, the Raiders but it is the Yankees who inspire more passion than any team in any sport that calls America home. Either wear pin-striped undies or burn Steinbrenner in effigy, the Yankees inspire a reaction. So those tired of all things Yankees had to be feeling pretty good when George’s Boys got off to a surprisingly dismal start, falling to 11-19 and nine games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. There was even that brief moment of unmitigated joy when the Yankees fell into last place behind the Tampa Bay Somekinda Rays, and George was having emergency meetings back in Florida. Get this: They were playing with you, toying with you, just plain teasing you. An inside joke on you. A 10-game win streak here, a six-game win streak there, and they were back in the game. Then they showed up at Angel Stadium Thursday having won 14 of their past 19 to pull within a half-game of the Red Sox in the ultra-competitive AL East. “We think pretty highly of ourselves right now,” said Yankees manager Joe Torre. And the world is round. The Yankees have managed most of this turnaround while three-fourths of their rotation has been on the disabled list. Managed it while leading the majors in runs scored. Of course, when you have a record $200 million payroll, you should be able to do something well. No one in baseball history has done more right than the Yankees, who have won a record 26 World Series. Which, truth be told, would be the main reason everyone East of New Jersey would rather get a call from the IRS than suffer through another Yankees world championship. On the road, they are a remarkably consistent draw. Yankee fans are traditionally almost as vocal in Anaheim as Angels fans. If fans aren’t cheering them, they’re mentioning something unpleasant about a family member. Yankees always hear something. “I enjoy it,” said shortstop Derek Jeter. “You see it when you’re at home, and the people love you. And when you’re on the road, you can feel people don’t like you.” Sometimes at “the cathedral” the fans can be so enamored with the local heroes as to make it difficult even for others in pinstripes. Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler, Steinbrenner’s first bonus baby, remembers the devotion Yankees fans had for second baseman Willie Randolph. When Hudler, also a second baseman, was called up and first walked into Yankee Stadium, he was greeted by a fan who screamed: “Hey, Hudler, you bum, you’ll never take Willie’s job.” Alex Rodriguez, generally considered the best overall player in the game, had a strong first season with the Yankees last year (.286, 36, 106). Yet he owns a record $252 million contract, and because his season wasn’t absolutely staggering, he heard his share of New York criticism. Some whispered the greatest of insults, that he wasn’t a true Yankee. That Yankees’ love/hate thing? “I fit right in,” Rodriguez said. “I think my contract was great preparation for anything.” This season he leads the AL in home runs (27), is third in RBI (78) and sixth in batting average (.311). This is far from a perfect Yankees team. Starter Carl Pavano remains out, starter Jaret Wright could be out for the year and ex-Dodger Happy Boy Kevin Brown is back but struggling (4-6, 5.91 ERA). Middle relief, as witnessed in the Angels’ 6-5 comeback Thursday, looms as a potential Achilles’ heel. But it should be painfully clear to the haters that the Yankees also one game back of the Twins for the AL wild card are not going to suddenly roll over and become the Kansas City Royals. Those struggles from the beginning of the season are becoming smaller in the rear-view mirror. “When you have high-profile players, like we do, they’re used to performing well,” Torre said. “You nudge them along. We had more meetings in the first few months than we’ve had in most entire seasons.” Abhor them or adore them, with the Yankees, it seems you can never simply dismiss them. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. He can be reached at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more