|(April 18, 2017 - Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America)|
The Yankees' eight-game winning streak may have been benched the other night by chilly bats. But one game later they were right back at it with a vengeance, squaring up four dingers and unleashing nine runs in support of Masahiro Tanaka's strongest effort of the young season, with every bomber making a plate appearance coming away with at least one hit.
Another full-on gang-bang type team effort from the top of the order to the bottom of the bullpen that put their record at 10-5 which -- yeah, I'll say it -- is right back on pace with the 1998 Yankee team that won more games than any World Championship team in history.
Now, I'm not going to lay another holy-cow-anything-can-happen number on you like all those other references to the 1-4 starts the two teams share you've probably seen.
|April 17, 2017 - Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America|
I'm not hoping or wishing for anything more than a post-season berth in a rebuilding year. I'm not crazy or greedy. That would make for the happiest Halloween partying I can imagine. (A pair of six-inch platform sneakers for this 6'1" writer, an extra-long pair of pinstripe baseball pants, a #99 jersey liberally stuffed with fake muscle padding topped by my trusty retro Yankee cap and I'll be good to go. Here come da Judge!)
|April 18, 2017 - Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America|
Being the sucker for history that I am, I couldn't help but notice a quote by Starlin Castro in a NJ.com story yesterday that quickened the pulse of my Yankee Blue-blooded heart and made me flash back to the spark that ignited that magic '98 season.
Castro was asked, along with a bunch of other Yankees, how the team was winning like crazy without two of the team's most potent offensive weapons, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius (both of whom it should be noted are in full rehab mode and may be back with the club in time for the Blue Jays series in less than two weeks).
|Photo: Getty Images|
While all the other players who were interviewed largely side-stepped the missing duo angle of the question and responded with various versions of the stock we-don't-think-about-stuff-like-that-it's-just-a-next-man-up-thing, Castro opened the locker room door a crack to confront the matter of the lost players head on to reveal the truth: It threw the team for a loop at first. And then, when the team's hapless play quickly sent them tumbling from spring training champs to regular season clowns, their failure became their motivation to pull together and recapture their spring esprit de corps.
"We were feeling down in the beginning," he said" "We said, 'Wow, we had a really good spring training and now Tanaka is struggling, Didi and Gary got hurt. We started to think about and decided to forget about the past, forget about the first five games and just continued to play like we did in spring training. The whole team stayed together. We picked each other up and now ...If we can do that with those guys out, I think when they come back we're going to be even better. Me in particular, I feel pretty good and all my teammates feel pretty good, too. The starting rotation has been doing good ... the bullpen, too."
So a disastrous opener by the ace and the loss of two young marquee leaders combined to forge a double-edged sword of sorts for this team. One edge was cutting them to pieces in their heads under the bright lights on the field early on. But in the locker room, away from the lights and media, the other edge was honing a camaraderie born of frustration and grim determination day by day to the point that, by the sixth game according to Castro, a team decision was made to simply chuck the past poor efforts and re-start the season right then and there.
And ever since, winning has been pretty much what they do best.
If this season turns out to be something special, which it almost certainly feel like it must, that day in the locker room before game six may be looked back on as a defining moment.
This team doesn't have much in common with that history-making '98 Yankee team. But some things never change and that team had a similar moment before its sixth game when, after its own identically frustrating 1-4 start, they too came together and decided enough was enough.
As Tom Verducci recalled it in a story entitled "Skill made '98 Yankees great but chemistry made them historic," after losing four of their first five the media was already "into full blood thirst with reports that Davey Johnson was in line to replace Joe Torre as manager. Before the sixth game, in Seattle, Torre held a meeting in which he told his players he was disgusted with their play.
|Photo: New York Daily News|
"And then he asked if any of his veterans wanted to speak. Pitcher David Cone stepped forward. "Guys, we've got to get going," Cone said. "We've got to get it together as a team. And we've got to do it now or this whole thing could be dismantled because the owner will react."
"Then Cone riled the room by explaining how the Mariners had insulted them when Edgar Martinez swung from his heels on a 3-and-0 pitch in a one-sided game the previous night -- with no retaliation from the New York pitchers."
"We've got to get the emotion going here," Cone said. "We've got to look across the way and find something in our opponent we don't like. That team took us out in the '95 playoffs. I hate this place, the Kingdome. I left half my arm on that mound. I left a vein out on that mound in '95, and it pisses me off to see these guys walk all over us and us have no pride being the Yankees."
"With that, the greatness commenced. Eight batters into the game that night, New York led 6-0, on its way to a 13-7 win, the start of a 64-16 run -- the greatest 80-game stretch in Yankees history."
Granted, this would be a much more fun comparison to write if Girardi had told this year's team he was disgusted they had lost four out of five, and Tanaka had encouraged the team to hate their opponent through his interpreter, and Aroldis had urged retaliation on everyone who dared swing at 3-0 pitches much less connect for dingers.
But like I said, this team doesn't have much in common with that team so far.
Just four things, really.
1) Both lost four of their first five games.
2) Both had a discussion that enough as enough before their sixth game
3) Both won 10 of their first 15 games.
4) Both teams rely as much on chemistry and role players as they do on established stars.
And just for the record, my first choice Halloween costume was Ronald Torreyes.
But the sneakers kept falling off my knees when I walked no matter how much duct tape I wrapped around them.