7/25/2008 02:45:00 AM

Come On...You Didn't Write Them Off Did You???

Posted by Mark McCray |

Mike Lupica/New York Daily News:

A sweep this weekend doesn't win the Yankees the AL East or settle anything with the Red Sox and Rays, because nothing gets settled in baseball the last weekend of July. It would just feel as much of a shot to the heart as the Yankees have thrown at Boston since they swept them in that five-game series two years ago.

Two of three at Fenway, where the Red Sox are 36-11 this season, would feel big enough in Boston, don't worry. But a sweep would make the Yankees 59-45 at the end of the weekend and the Red Sox 60-46. And even though the schedule favors the Red Sox the rest of the way - especially in September - it would feel as if the Yankee season were starting all over again.

The Red Sox are vulnerable right now, more than they were last season, even if their record is just 2-1/2 games worse than it was one year ago. They are vulnerable even getting David Ortiz back, finally, vulnerable on the road and vulnerable in their bullpen and with Manny Ramirez doing crackpot things again. That is why, even with the run the Yankees made at Boston last season, the sides look even again.

The Red Sox have been a rotten road team this year. They have lost five three-game series on the road this season and there have been stretches when the Red Sox lineup, especially with Ortiz out for a long time, has looked as helpless as the Yankees look sometimes.

Only now the Yankees are starting to hit a little, have won these six games in a row, even with Posada hurt and Matsui hurt and Damon hurt. Despite all the gloom and constant doom about their prospects, they have turned themselves into one of the best stories of the baseball season and come into this series against the Red Sox as hot as, well, the Mets. Also written off around here.

"Our pitching is going to be better than you think," Yankees' special adviser Gene Michael said one day in April. "Wait and see."

Now the pitching is better than anybody thought it could be. That includes all those cockeyed optimists who expected big things this season from Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. The ace of the staff is now Mike Mussina, who has become as much a pitching star of the season as anybody in the sport.

They have stayed in there with him and Pettitte and Joba, Ponson, and Rasner--and without Chien-Ming Wang.

And at least so far Joe Girardi, has done something Joe Torre hadn't done for a long time-- assemble a bullpen that is more than Mo Rivera.

The Yankees are in the game even though A-Rod has dominated the tabloids more than American League pitching and Robbie Cano is just now starting to hit. Just to have the Yankees be where they are right now going into Boston makes this one of the most surprising Yankee teams in a good long time, makes them look like the toughest rich kids going.

There are still holes in the batting order, still questions about how Ponson and Rasner hold up, still questions about whether or not Brian Cashman will make some kind of major play at the trade deadline, something more than Richie Sexson.

But these Yankees make a move now and their new manager will bring them to August with as much a chance to win the East as anybody. It does seem they have been chasing the Red Sox for years. They have certainly been chasing them the last two years. This is a good time to catch them.

In a fascinating pennant race, maybe the Yankees are the most fascinating team...


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