Yankees must find strength in adversity

08/23/2012 10:42 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Derek Jeter is cognizant of the fact the Yankees still control their own destiny.(AP)
It turns out Derek Jeter was half right. Last Friday the Captain refused to declare dead a Red Sox team going down in flames, citing the Yankees’ 21-21 record on May 21 that had many shoveling dirt and rocks on them before Memorial Day.

“Our team, the first 40 games, people said our season was over with,” Jeter said. “Anything is possible. Right now we need to worry about ourselves.”

Where Jeter was wrong is that the Red Sox, a team now six games under .500, are all but officially finished. He also knew the Yankees had a lot more work to do with the surging Rays and stubborn Orioles nipping at their heels. Since the All-Star break, the Yankees are 20-19. The Rays are winners of 16 out of their last 21 games. Just like that, an AL East lead that was 10 games on July 18 is down to three, the lowest it’s been since June 25.

While the Yankees were 23 games over .500 on the 18th and sit at 20 on this date, it’s proof that leads of all shapes as sizes are delicate. You can’t fault the Yankees for the unbelievable roll the Rays have put together – for the second season in a row – but when you’re victims of a three-game sweep coming off a 5-2 home stand, that’s a problem, one Jeter and Co. are putting in perspective.

“This one’s over,” Derek Jeter said after the White Sox’s 2-1 win on Wednesday sealed the sweep. “Like I said, you don’t look at the standings in April, May, June, July, August. I just never have. I think it’s too early. We still have 30-something games. It would concern you if you’re chasing somebody and you don’t have the chance to play them, because then you don’t control it. But we play everyone. It’s going to be tough, but all the teams that are close to us, we play. And if we win, we win.”

Jeter cranked his third home run in three games and went 6-for-14 in the series, but that effort along with Phil Hughes’ excellent seven innings pitched went to waste. To say that the Yankees need an off day following 20 straight days of baseball is a severe understatement. New York went 11-9 and saw its lead cut by 3.5 games. Joe Girardi said he won’t “jump off a bridge.” He recalled when his 1996 team’s 12-game lead on July 28 was sliced to 2.5 on September 10 and ended up World Champions.

"That's baseball," Girardi said. "It's what you go through. You know that the season's not over after 120 games, it's not over after 140; you have to play 162. We're going to play the teams that we need to win against. That's the bottom line. We still have the lead."

As a matter of fact, this may be the best thing for the Yankees. The 1998 team is a notable exception, but you rarely want a team cruising into the postseason with a comfortable lead, for it runs the risk of losing an edge and realizing peak performance has passed you by. What could make or break the Yankees’ postseason hunt is a stretch of 10 games – seven on the road – against the Orioles, Rays and the O’s again beginning on August 31. Both have played the Yanks tough, with the Birds 5-6 and the Rays 7-5 against the Bronx Bombers.

Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men's souls.” There are greater problems in the world than the Yankees’ current tribulations, but Paine also wrote, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” To reduce and frame this into a baseball perspective, who said the Yankees’ march to another October quest was ever preordained? If they fatten up this weekend against the woeful Indians, they will again set themselves up for potential success and potentially become better off the experience.

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