Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bob Klapisch: For Yanks, it’s becoming quite embarrassing

Bergen County Record

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Darrell Rasner, who left the game because of an injury, delivers a pitch against the Mets in the first.

NEW YORK -- Every day another perfect storm of bad baseball swallows up the Yankees, driving them further down in the standings, pushing the Joe Torre era ever closer to the brink of extinction. It's an embarrassing time to be wearing pinstripes, although you wouldn't know it being in the clubhouse where oblivion prevails.

No one lost his temper after an ugly 10-7 loss to the Mets on Saturday. No one addressed the 10½-game deficit that's all but ending the Yankees' season before Roger Clemens gets here. No one even had the guts to state what everyone on national television could see for themselves, that Robinson Cano's obsession with being flashy and cool resulted in three costly errors and, with it, a series defeat to the Mets.

Instead, Brian Cashman adopted an oft-used defensive posture, insisting whatever's wrong with the Yankees is his fault. The general manager is nobly protecting Torre, but in this case, neither man was responsible for the seventh loss in the last nine games.

David Wright celebrates his first-inning two-run home run against the Yankees with Endy Chavez (No. 10) at Shea Stadium.

Blame it on bad luck: Darrell Rasner will be out for three months with a fractured right index finger after being struck by Endy Chavez's line drive in the first inning.

Blame it on Mike Myers and Luis Vizcaino, who allowed 14 of the 23 batters they faced to reach base while the Mets were running out to an 8-2 lead.

Blame it on Cano, who couldn't remember the last time he'd played so poorly in the field – making an errant throw on Shawn Green's grounder in the first inning, dropping Jose Reyes' grounder in the third and flinging the ball into right field, off his foot, after diving for Julio Franco's grounder to his left.

Robinson Cano loses the ball as he tries to throw to first to get out the Mets' Shawn Green in the first inning.

All day, it seemed, the Yankees were being ridiculed from the stands, where Mets fans reveled in the decline of this American League powerhouse. They roared as a leaping Johnny Damon inadvertently boosted David Wright's fly ball over the center field wall, turning a great catch into a two-run homer.

They snickered as Vizcaino's first warm-up toss went sailing to the backstop. And the real image of Yankees pathos was Cano, flat on his back, flinging the ball backward in the eighth inning. As Mets manager Willie Randolph politely put it, "He [Cano] was just out of sync" all day.

The crazy part of Cano's unraveling is that he actually boosted the Yankees with a home run in the second inning. But he killed a sixth-inning rally by grounding into a double play and, representing the tying run, he struck out in the ninth, feebly waving at a Billy Wagner fastball.

It's been that kind of season for Cano, whose .242 average is down 100 points from 2006. He admits, "I'm swinging at everything" as pitchers continue to expand the strike zone on him. Cano is still considered one of the farm system's crown jewels, but members of the organization have worried since the day he arrived that, sooner or later, his cockiness would haunt him.

Robinson Cano drops an easy grounder hit by Jose Reyes for an error in the second inning.

"Someone needs to wake him up," is what one insider said recently. If looks count for anything, Cano appeared to have learned a lesson from Saturday's debacle: He appeared shocked, if not embarrassed, and said, "I don't want that to happen to me ever again."

But Cano's self-realization didn't address the Yankees' larger malaise, which has reached catastrophic proportions. The situation has become so desperate, Torre was forced to remind reporters of the Giants' comeback in 1951 and the Yankees' own resurrection in 1978 as proof that nothing is impossible.

Of course, Torre is no dummy: He knows that for every late-season miracle there are hundreds of teams that never emerge from the rubble. An 10½-game deficit is, realistically, a death sentence for a club that has no spark, no real leadership and no hope on the horizon.

Is Clemens your idea of a savior? His return to the Stadium will be stirring, but what the Yankees really need is life from their fossil-like outfield. They need Alex Rodriguez to hit meaningful home runs again, and they need the kids – Cano and Melky Cabrera – to stop thinking that looking good has greater currency than playing hard.

Of all the indictments the Yankees have absorbed lately, none was more damning than the one from Paul O'Neill, who said on a YES broadcast this week, "A team can get used to winning and it can get used to losing. This team looks like it's gotten used to losing."

Yankees pitcher Mike Myers delivers a pitch during the second inning against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Torre exhaled long and slow when told Saturday of O'Neill's comment. The manager leaned back in his chair and said if the Yankees were tanking, it still wasn't obvious to him.

"I don't want to sense that," Torre said. His good nature won't allow him to. The manager will continue to believe in his players, right until the day he gets fired. Trouble is, the soldiers in his clubhouse are no longer named O'Neill and Tino and Bernie, along with Jeter and Posada. Instead, Torre's final legacy is being shaped by washouts like Bobby Abreu and, apparently, Damon and Hideki Matsui, too.

Maybe that explains Torre's calm as his team fades to black. What's the point of getting in anyone's face when the Red Sox keep winning and the Yankees make it feel like 2008 can't get here fast enough?

* * *

Clemens debuts

It was a relatively good outing for Roger Clemens on Friday night at Legends Field, where he allowed just one run in four innings. The more important numbers, however, came from the radar gun, which say the Rocket topped out at 91 mph, and averaged 90. That's a significant drop-off from his best stuff.

Put it this way: Clemens used to throw his splitter at 90 mph.

Obviously, it's unrealistic to think the 44-year-old Clemens will ever throw that hard again, which puts greater emphasis on his other pitches, primarily that splitter. He'll need it to survive in the American League East, which is notoriously unkind to non-hard throwers.

Clemens has the ability to out-think hitters and he obviously has enough self-confidence. But attitude can take you only so far. At 90 mph, the Rocket will need to be almost perfect to fulfill his Yankee mandate. Which is another way of saying, the Yankees are crossing their fingers tightly.

A's pound Zito

While we're on the topic of diminished stuff, it doesn't go unnoticed that Barry Zito hardly has been the pitcher the Giants thought they were getting for the $126 million they're coughing up. The left-hander was nuked by Oakland in a 15-3 loss Friday, a performance that included Zito's seven walks. He has a 5.13 ERA, including 28 bases on balls in 541/3 innings.

The problem? His fastball, which has been leaking velocity for years, is no longer a reliable out pitch. That means Zito has had to increasingly use his formidable curveball to get him out of trouble. But the arc of that pitch is enormous; the slightest misalignment of Zito's mechanics makes it impossible to throw consistent strikes, hence the uptick in walks.

All of which reasserts the age-old adage, be careful what you wish for. The Giants' enormous offer made it impossible for the Mets to tempt Zito during free agency last winter. So far, the Mets look smart for not overbidding.

Guillen's verbal tirade

This just in from the who's-really-surprised department: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen unleashed a profanity-laced outburst on a Chicago radio show Friday morning after the host questioned why starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski wasn't in the starting lineup against the Cubs.

Guillen, who was listening to the show in his car as he was driving to Wrigley Field, called in and exploded on host Mike North. Obviously, this isn't the first time Ozzie's mouth has made news, nor will it be the last.

The White Sox repeatedly have tried to contain their volatile manager, to no avail. Ozzie himself knows that sooner or later, he'll reach the tipping point and get himself fired. Arguing with a radio host isn't enough to warrant disciplinary action, but Guillen is a step closer to his inevitable unemployment.

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