Commentary

Yankees win on a weird day in Bronx

On the surface, things look peachy with the Bombers, but they have some problems

Updated: May 2, 2010, 10:09 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- In one sense, it was a great weekend for baseball in the Bronx.

The Yankees won another series, their seventh series win out of eight played so far. They crushed the White Sox 12-3 on Sunday, to go along with a 6-4 win Friday, wrapped around the latest Javier Vazquez meltdown Saturday.

They got another gem of a pitching performance from Phil Hughes, their No. 5 starter, who would be an ace on at least half of the other 29 pitching staffs around the majors. Finally, Mark Teixeira is doing unto May what had been done unto him by April. Nick Swisher is heating up, Nick Johnson had a big hit, Brett Gardner drove a ball over the fence, and they even found an emergency third baseman.

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher
AP Photo/Kathy WillensNick Swisher hit one of the Yankees' three home runs Sunday.

But scratch below the surface, and what looks to have been an ideal three days of Yankees baseball might also contain some ominous rumblings, as preseason worries masked by early-season success come back to haunt them.

The day began with Curtis Granderson, the starting center fielder, hobbling around the clubhouse like a character from a '40s B-movie Western. Then came the bizarre starting lineup, born of necessity, with Alex Rodriguez on the bench, Johnson playing first base and Swisher hitting in the cleanup spot.

We had the manager before the game evading the truth on why A-Rod was sitting out. And we had the manager backpedaling, but still obfuscating, after the game regarding the same subject.

And when the final out was recorded, the Yankees had Mark Melancon on the mound, Ramiro Pena at short, and Francisco Cervelli -- yes, that Francisco Cervelli -- playing third base.

In the clubhouse after the game, neither Rodriguez nor Derek Jeter -- who would normally be available -- stuck around long enough to explain what had gone on. We were left with Girardi -- who earlier had said that A-Rod simply "needed a day" -- struggling to explain why he continued to insist that his third baseman was not injured when his general manager had already acknowledged that, to some extent at least, Rodriguez was hurt.

And, of course, the Vazquez issue lingers -- will he or won't he make his next scheduled start in the series opener against the Red Sox on Friday night in Boston? Vazquez's fate will be decided, we were told, after a bullpen session Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

None of this makes a whole lot of sense. For instance, Girardi said Sunday morning that Vazquez "had dynamite stuff" in the bullpen before he went out and got shelled by the weak-hitting White Sox on Saturday. But suffice it to say that, despite their successful weekend and a 16-8 start, not everything is as rosy as it appears.

"It's nice to win another series," said Hughes, who ran his record to 3-0 and dropped his ERA to a league-leading 1.44. "That was our objective going out there today, and we accomplished it."

To be sure, a lot of great things happened Sunday for the Yankees. Teixeira had four hits, to go along with the two he had in Saturday's 7-6 loss. After hitting .136 in April, he is now hitting .667 in May. Robinson Cano, the American League's leading hitter for the first month of the season, had another monster day in the fifth spot in the order, his three-run homer in the fifth inning cracking open the game. Marcus Thames, pressed into emergency duty in left field because of Granderson's injury, made a sparkling catch, not normally a strong part of his game. And Gardner, who hadn't hit a home run since last June 26 -- at Citi Field, no less! -- belted one that will be the talk of the Yankees' clubhouse until he hits another one, which could be a long time from now.

"It doesn't happen too often," Teixeira said. "And when it does, he stays excited for a while."

But considering Girardi's secrecy -- some might call it dishonesty -- regarding A-Rod's absence, it will be impossible to know until Monday afternoon at the earliest just how healthy the slugging third baseman really is.

"He's not injured; he's just a little bit stiff," Girardi maintained, even after being told that Cashman had told ESPNNewYork.com that Rodriguez "felt a little something on the basepaths Saturday."

"That doesn't mean he's injured," Girardi insisted. "He's played every inning of every game, and you're going to feel something. He will be back in the lineup tomorrow."

Granderson, of course, will not be. By Girardi's estimation, the center fielder is gone for "probably a month," which means Thames will be the regular left fielder against lefties, and the 35-year-old Randy Winn against righties. "It's what we have right now," Girardi said. "And it's what we'll go with."

Help, of sorts, is on the way in the form of Greg Golson -- currently hitting .260 with two homers and seven RBIs for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- who could be called up as early as Monday afternoon. But he, too, will be used only in case of emergency -- he is hitless in seven career major-league at-bats, with five strikeouts.

Suddenly, the roster that appeared rock-solid throughout April is beginning to look like what some feared it would back in March -- highly skilled but aging, and as such, injury-prone. Aside from Chien-Ming Wang, the Yankees suffered almost no important injuries during their 2009 championship season; already, they have suffered one we know of, and another we merely suspect.

But on paper so far, everything looks better than good. It looks great. The Red Sox lost again Sunday, and they sit three games below .500. The Rays can't possibly continue to play .720 ball. The Yankees, a game and a half back, are stalking Tampa Bay and have three games against the patsy Baltimore Orioles coming up next. The Yanks' Nos. 1, 3 and 5 starters are pitching as well as or better than any comparable three in baseball.

But the games aren't played on paper; they're played on the field, by human beings who, despite their paychecks and the numbers on their stat sheets, sometimes have physical and emotional frailties.

Some frailties were revealed this weekend in the Bronx -- which on the surface looked like a real beauty, but just below the skin showed some signs of wear.

POSTGAME CHATTER: Hughes gave the bulk of the Yankees' bullpen what it needed most, a day off. But Melancon, called up to fill Granderson's roster spot, almost made others have to work, allowing three runs on Paul Konerko's homer in the ninth. … Cervelli, who played a few innings at third base in spring training but had never played it in a major league game before, replaced Pena at third when Girardi gave Jeter the rest of the day off in the ninth. Cervelli did not field a ball but said he was ready to. "Every day, I take ground balls," he said. "I'm a good third baseman, but I like to catch better." … White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was ejected by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna in the seventh inning for taking up an argument that began between the ump and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "He was showing up my player," Guillen said. It was Guillen's 21st career ejection and his second of the young season. "When umpires start pointing their fingers at your players, you have to get ejected. I thought it was pretty weak." Guillen left at just the right time. Immediately after his departure, the Yankees tacked on five more runs to turn a one-sided game into an official blowout. … Johnson's two-RBI double in the seventh gave him his first runs batted in since he walked to force in a run April 17 against Texas.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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