NEW YORK - When the New York Yankees traded Randy Johnson last winter, the idea was to become younger and more fiscally prudent, not to lose 8 1/2 games in the AL East standings. But here the Yankees are, one game under .500 despite a six-game winning streak.
They’re in need of starting pitching, fighting not for the division lead but for wild-card positioning in a season that has been one bad hop after another.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez may have yelled “I got it” while running the bases in Toronto two weeks ago to distract Blue Jays infielders on a pop-up, but in truth, the Yankees never have had it this year until this current streak.
“They got off to a slow start … for us, the slower the better,” Boston manager Terry Francona said Sunday.
“The more ground they have to make up, the better.”
The Yankees’ season has been more about treading water. Injuries decimated their starting rotation, and they have had to deflect a series of distractions that began in spring training when George Steinbrenner’s former son-in-law and CEO-in-waiting, Steve Swindal, was arrested for driving under the influence.
Swindal was quickly removed from the line of succession, but Rodriguez succeeded him in the tabloids, first with his record-setting home run barrage in April and then with his questionable antics both on and off the field. Those included that inappropriate “I got it” that incurred a rebuke from manager Joe Torre, a high slide that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia questioned, and his choice of off-field companions.
First the pitching. Chien-Ming Wang opened the season on the disabled list, Mike Mussina has seldom shown his form of old, Carl Pavano is out for the year and the younger generation — Phil Hughes, Darrell Rasner and Jeff Karstens — has suffered debilitating injuries while pitching.
The Yankees used 10 different starters in their first 30 games, a major league record, and the starters were so spotty that closer Mariano Rivera had only five save opportunities in the first seven weeks, converting three. He had three save chances against the D-Backs in the 2001 World Series.
“Whenever I see the scoreboard, it seems like it is 7-6,” D-Backs left-hander Doug Davis said. “Now with Roger Clemens, that might help them out.”
Clemens, who created a stir when he jilted Houston to join the Yankees, won his first start Saturday.
He announced he would be returning to the Yankees while leaning out of a press-box window in the seventh inning of a game May 6, a public display that was roundly applauded. Others have not been so positive.
When the D-Backs were here to play the Mets two weeks ago, the New York papers had a field day with A-Rod’s association with a woman who is not his wife.
“Stray-Rod” screamed a headline in the New York Post as the pair were photographed walking together.
“The Curse of the Bimbino” read one in the New York Daily News, which also printed a picture of Boston fans donning women’s masks with blond hair during a weekend series at Fenway Park.
It is part of baseball as a Yankee, as is the constant speculation about the job status of general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre.
“We’re public people,” Torre said. “And people seem to think that (off-field activity) should be interesting to people. I think when you get into that area, yeah, it’s over the line.
“When you are in New York, there are so many things that you talk about on a regular basis in addition to baseball.”
Despite all the distractions, Rodriguez leads the majors with 24 home runs and 64 RBIs, catcher Jorge Posada is second in the AL in hitting, shortstop Derek Jeter is above .300 and right fielder Bobby Abreu has 19 hits in 38 June at-bats.
Asked if the Yankees are starting to come around, Francona said, “I hope not, but they are probably too talented not to.
“That’s a pretty dangerous lineup. It’s like every team, if they pitch … And sometimes when they don’t pitch, they can still wear you out. They (hitters) can make you throw some pitches, now.”
The D-Backs understand the Yankees they will face today are better than their record would indicate.
“It doesn’t matter. Look at their lineup. Look at the pitchers — Wang, Mussina, (Andy) Pettitte — that we are facing. Come on. They’re good,” outfielder Eric Byrnes said.
Infielder Orlando Hudson had the prevailing wisdom.
“It’s always a good time when you play them, but it is never a good time to catch them,” he said.
Diamondbacks at Yankees
4:05 p.m. today