Commentary

Yanks finish road trip by beating Rays

The Yankees went 4-2 against Red Sox and Rays to start the season; now they go home

Updated: April 11, 2010, 9:44 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The inside of the bubble-top high above Tropicana Field looks exactly like a circus tent. Rigging wires dangle and criss-cross and four suspended catwalks ring the inside of the dome, their diameters decreasing as their height above the field increases.

And when a pop fly off the bat of the Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria climbed high enough to scrape the second catwalk on its way down Sunday, sending the Yankees' infielders scurrying around underneath it like clowns scrambling out of a Volkswagen, the drunken ballet was accompanied, appropriately enough, by the reedy sound of a circus calliope.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonJoe Girardi was confused by the umpires' call on the popup, but it didn't matter in the end.

The scene around the Yankees has often been likened to a circus, but never have they looked more like the cast of one on the field than at the moment the ball dropped to the infield dirt for a comical single.

For most of the rest of what looked beforehand like a hellish opening road trip, the Yankees have looked more like the Ballet Russe. Or, at least, like a very good baseball team. Maybe even a better team than the one that won the World Series last year.

After opening on the road against the Rays and the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees bring their circus home to the Bronx with a 4-2 record.

That includes two wins they weren't able to get until early August of last year -- namely their first two wins over Boston. And aside from Friday night's 9-3 beating by the Rays, a loss for which the pitching of Javier Vazquez was largely responsible, the Yankees looked far superior to Tampa Bay, a club expected to rebound from an off year in 2009 to regain its 2008 American League championship form, especially in their respective bullpens.

On paper, things don't get appreciably easier this coming week, when the Los Angeles Angels come to the Bronx for the first three games at Yankee Stadium this season, beginning with Tuesday afternoon's home opener. But, with the exception of opening night at Fenway Park last Sunday and Friday night's debacle here, the way the Yankees have played so far indicates their series with the Angels is more likely to resemble last year's ALCS.

"This was a good road trip,'' manager Joe Girardi said. "It was a tough trip to start with, two teams in your own division who are very good and you win both series. I don't think you can ask for much more than that.''

It should make for a happy homecoming on Tuesday, beginning with the pregame distribution of World Series rings by Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, who between them own a couple of fistfuls of championship rings. "I'm juiced,'' said Nick Swisher, who juiced an Andy Sonnanstine pitch into the right-field seats in the eighth inning to provide the final run of the Yankees' 7-3 victory on Sunday. "I'm ready to get home, coming off a great road trip like this. To win these two series, it just shows where our focus is.''

For a team barely five months off a ticker-tape parade, the Yankees certainly played their first week as if they hadn't had one in a long time and were eager to get back.

After getting blitzed by David Price and the Rays on Friday night, the Yankees got a near no-hitter from CC Sabathia and 10 runs from their offense on Saturday, and after a shaky start, seven strong innings out of A.J. Burnett on Sunday. The Rays got two quick runs off Burnett in the first inning on two singles, a pair of stolen bases and a groundout, but after visits to the mound by Jorge Posada and Dave Eiland, Burnett (1-0) settled in to retire 14 of his next 16 batters before Longoria's unorthodox single gave the Rays a sixth-inning threat.

"I thought the ball was foul," Girardi said. "They have some interesting ground rules here.''

Burnett, who has been known to get rattled in unusual situations -- and some not-so-unusual situations -- issued a walk to load the bases, but then got B.J. Upton to ground out to end the threat. "I really didn't have my best stuff,'' Burnett said. "Just one of those days, but Jorge did a good job of keeping me in the game, pumping me up, telling me my stuff was better than I thought it was.''

The Burnett-Posada détente was just one positive sign coming off the first road trip. Curtis Granderson, the team's new center fielder, comes to Yankee Stadium off a terrific first week both at the plate (.348 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBIs) and in the field. Nick Johnson, the new No. 2 hitter, hasn't hit much (.136) but as expected has a decent on-base percentage (.367). Robinson Cano, the new No. 5 hitter, is hitting .360 with a team-leading six RBIs.

And just wait until Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez start to hit. Plus, they've got Andy Pettitte, who turned in a sparkling performance against the Red Sox Wednesday, pitching in the home opener.

"We're looking forward to getting home, sleeping in our own beds, playing in our own ballpark,'' Girardi said. "Right now, things are going very well for us.''

After a 4-2 opening road trip, the Yankees are coming home. Send in the clowns.

Postgame notes: Teixeira "celebrated'' his 30th birthday by going 0-for-4 with a walk and three strikeouts, two of them looking. … Swisher said he switched from his normal 31-ounce bat to a 34-ounce bat for his final at-bat of the day -- and belted a home run with it. "I just felt like I was out in front of everything all day, so I thought, 'What the heck.' Who knows, maybe I'll use it all the time now." … Joba Chamberlain, who hadn't pitched since striking out Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew back-to-back to end the eighth inning of the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday, gave up one run on two hits in the eighth inning Sunday.

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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