This afternoon’s game started out so promising. Derek Jeter homered; Xavier Nady homered; and Moose was rolling. It was then that I went to the gym.
When I returned home, the Mariners had a 4-2 lead, Phil Coke was in the game and the New York Yankees with their $208-million payroll were staring at the inevitability of fourth place. The last 2.5 innings of the game today seemed like a mere formality. The Yanks, after their pair of early-game home runs, couldn’t do much of anything against the Mariners, and they limped out of Seattle losers of two of three and three of four, overall.
The dual stories today focus around Mike Mussina and the AL East standings. In losing today, Mike Mussina fell to 17-8, but he didn’t really pitch poorly. In six innings, Mussina showed great command of the strike zone, throwing 73 or 107 pitches for strikes, but two of those pitches — one to Adrian Beltre with a runner on and another to Jose Lopez — were too good. Seven hits — two home runs — and one walk resulted in four Mariners runs. Moose struck out seven, but he didn’t get the win.
With four starts left, Mussina is going to have to earn 20 wins. He’s going to face the Rays, the White Sox, the Blue Jays and Red Sox. Three of those teams are bound for the playoffs, and all four, as of this writing, have better records than the Yankees. The magic number 20 won’t come easy for Mussina.
Meanwhile, the Yankees, whose bats were silent against the likes of Ryan Feierabend, have to face the reality of fourth place right now as they journey south from Seattle to Anaheim, a city in which they haven’t enjoyed much success. In stark contrast to the Yanks’ fortunes, the papers in south California tomorrow will be filled with stories about Joe Torre’s first-place Dodgers. How ironic.
At some point soon, we’ll talk about injuries and an under-performing offense. We’ll talk about trades that weren’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t have been made. We’ll talk about where the Yankees are going, where they should go and where they shouldn’t go. For now, we just have to know that, on September 8, for the first time since Danny Tartabull drove in nine runs against the Orioles, the Yankees will start the day in fourth place. I don’t think anyone really saw that one coming.