Advertisement

Yankees Making It Difficult : Baseball: They are losing precious ground in the AL East heading into series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

NEWSDAY

What they needed was another of those miracles, and it wasn’t there. It wasn’t in their gloves and it wasn’t in their bats.

What they need now is -- well -- as Manager Buck Showalter, trying not be appear crestfallen, put it, “I wouldn’t go into the numbers.”

It wasn’t in their Destiny Sunday. After all, who of us can expect one of those things two days in a row? But maybe. It was fun thinking of the New York Yankees as Destiny’s Darlings, like the New York Mets of ’69, when it was said that God had taken an apartment in Flushing. There are currently short-term rentals available in the Bronx.

Maybe their raving finish Saturday would spur them to heights Sunday. They joked about how the world turned for them Saturday, how Don Mattingly came to bat to win the game in the last of the ninth, and his son Preston in the family room was rooting for him to get hit by the pitch. “So I wouldn’t ground out and end the game,” Mattingly said.

Advertisement

They chattered about how close Mike Stanley had come to a grand slam that would have yanked around Thursday night’s loss. They were stirred and ready to take Destiny onto the field.

It was fun. It was a good feeling with Frank Tanana pitching, recently rescued from the Mets. It was a good feeling to send outfielders after shoestring catches with no fear of failure. It was no time to play timid.

“I thought it certainly was going to be a boost for us,” Tanana said. “I had a feeling we’d jump off to a good start. I’d like to get 10 (runs); I’ve never lost with 10.”

No. If the Yankees are going to be Destiny’s Darlings, they have to catch the ball better. If Tanana is going to be a whirlwind help for them, they’ll have to give him more help. This time when the intruder went on the field in the eighth inning, he was just another empty-headed fool when what they needed was another Joe Page.

Advertisement

All the while, the Toronto score was leering down at them from the scoreboard, and building -- 2-0, 3-0, 6-0, 10-0. And the Yankees were falling behind, 1-0, 2-0, 4-1, and ultimately, 8-3. Now the Yankees have fallen four games behind, too distant to spook the Blue Jays with the pitter-patter of Destiny’s little feet, and reality is a problem.

“This is sports; there is no reality in this business,” Mike Gallego, the stubborn fireplug at second base, insisted. “How many people thought we lost yesterday? That’s not the regular world out there on the field; this is sports.”

It’s the way to look at it. It’s what Tanana has learned over 21 years in the big leagues and why they got him from the Mets. They got him after the clock struck 12, but that’s reality.

They got him because he knows how to change speeds and he isn’t afraid to throw his breaking ball on the first pitch or at 3-and-oh -- and because he remembers 1987, when he was pitching for Detroit. He remembers that the Tigers went into the final week “three or four games” behind Toronto, and “they lost five or six in a row, we caught them and passed them.”

Advertisement

The detail of his memory is not as important as the idea of it. The Tigers did pass the Blue Jays. Tanana is 40 years old, four years older than his manager. He’s been around the block. He’s the kind of pitcher whose value is a sound game almost every time and rarely a dazzler. His value would have been greatest over five or six starts.

But Gene Michael -- faced with Melido Perez’s injury and ineffectiveness, and the prospect of Domingo Jean, Sterling Hitchock and Mark Hutton in the rotation from the last week in August -- wasn’t able to get a deal together until Thursday. By that time, the three emergency rookies had started six times and Tanana had time for three chances.

Before he’d had time to decide whether the team that Destiny blessed Saturday was “they” or “we,” the Yankees wasted the first of them as if he were still pitching for the Mets. He’d paid his toll on the Triborough Bridge and gave them all they could have hoped for, and more than they should have expected.

“I try to get them to hit it on the end of the bat or on the handle, never on the sweetspot,” Tanana said after he had done just about that. One time he even hit the bat on a check swing and Mattingly, the hero of the last episode, made an extraordinary desperate run from deep and wide of first base to make a diving catch of a low foul pop.

Advertisement

Except that by that time the Red Sox already had two runs they shouldn’t have scored and were to get two more that shouldn’t be blamed on Tanana.

He deserved credit. With bases filled in the third he got John Valentin to hit a gentle skimmer to shortstop for the third out, but Randy Velarde muffed it. In the fifth, Wade Boggs juggled an inning-ending double play, then Valentin homered.

They still had one more chance to ride on the back of Destiny. When the Yankees filled the bases in the eighth, Mattingly came to the plate to a crescendo of cheers. And struck out. Destiny doesn’t shine on the same player’s britches every day.

“If you got to depend on fate or emotional things, it’s too long a season to depend on that for success,” Showalter said.

Advertisement

Of course, by that time neither Joe Page, nor Sparky Lyle nor Rich Gossage had come across the outfield grass, only the copycat fool. And Steve Farr, Paul Assenmacher, Rich Monteleone, Steve Howe and Domingo Jean had inflated the Boston lead beyond a rally by mere mortals.

Showalter saw enough of it, wherever he’d been after being ejected in the fifth inning. “I don’t think that’s something you need to know; it wasn’t in the dugout.” It wasn’t as much fun as it had been before the game.

Now the mathematics are brutally frank: If Toronto is 6-7 in its last 13 games, the Yankees must win nine of 11, and they’ve won five of their most recent 11.

“It’s a grind,” Tanana said. “You don’t get so excited when you win and so down when you lose. At the end you can afford to get high or low. At the end you finish where you deserve. In baseball nobody slips in the back door. You’ve had your chance.”

Advertisement

So on the wall behind Showalter’s desk is his poster reminder. It portrays a frog with its legs dangling from the beak of a pelican. “Don’t ever give up,” the slogan says.

And never accept reality.


Advertisement