Yankees headed to Colorado with good vibes and plenty of wonder
This is the 20th anniversary of the Rockies’ inaugural season, one Yankees manager Joe Girardi remembers fondly. Girardi was an original Rockie, hitting .290 in 86 games while sharing catching duties with Danny Sheaffer (and, for a few games, current Mariners manager Eric Wedge) in 1993, and he spent three years in Colorado before coming to New York in 1996.
Although they weren’t terribly successful, Girardi looks back fondly on that 1993 season, and said Sunday that Denver will always be one of his favorite road trips.
“I always enjoy going back there; being part of that organization at the beginning was a very enjoyable time in my life, getting the fan support that we had and playing in Mile High Stadium and then moving over to Coors Field,” Girardi said. “The people were great to me there and I have family there, so I’m looking forward to it.”
In talking about his time in Colorado, Girardi noted some synergy, in that the first pitchers the Rockies faced at Coors Field was a then-rookie lefty named Andy Pettitte, who at age 40 is still going strong and started for the Yankees on Sunday.
There were several big names on that first Rockies team; managed by ex-Yankee Don Baylor, the team featured a budding star in Vinny Castilla, a veteran slugger Andres Galarraga, a future Yankees hero Charlie Hayes – who led the team in home runs – and, for a handful of games, a 37-year-old Dale Murphy in the final season of his near-Hall of Fame career.
Of course, that team also featured another budding star in outfielder Dante Bichette, who quickly became one of Girardi’s best friends. Now the Rockies hitting coach, Bichette is still close with Girardi – who named his son Dante – and could one day see his son, Dante Jr., play for “Uncle Joe” in the Bronx, so there will surely be some good-natured rivalry when their two teams meet.
Of course, he’s surely also told some of his hitters how to handle some of the Yankees’ staff as well. They won’t see Pettitte, but will see Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, and CC Sabathia over the three-game set, and Girardi knows pitching will have to be a big factor for the Yankees in this series especially.
Pitching in the thin air in Denver has a mystique all its own, and of the 10 who are most likely to see time, that mystique is new for most; Kuroda is a veteran of Coors Field (but is 1-2 with a 6.85 ERA in his four starts there), but Sabathia has just two starts there (and none since 2003), Phelps has never pitched there at all, and many in the now-young bullpen have little to no experience there – but if that mystique isn’t an issue, Girardi won’t help facilitate any uneasiness by addressing it.
“Some of our guys have been there and are familiar with it…but I don’t like putting a thought in someone’s head,” Girardi said. “If I don’t hear them talking about it, and I don’t see it affecting them, why would I ever put a thought in someone’s head? I think our guys will handle it fine, and if I see that they’re not, then I’ll say something.”
In addition to that mystique, the Yankees and Girardi have to be mindful of the interleague challenges of not only playing in an NL park, but also doing so with the present roster. The Yankees are gelling and finding ways to win even with now 10 players on the disabled list, but they may be without Eduardo Nunez for some or all of the and will likely see DH Travis Hafner, who is second on the team in average, home runs, and RBI, limited to pinch-hitting duty because of the team’s desire to keep him from playing the field.
In a season of flux, Girardi was asked Sunday if he thought he has had to manage “more” this season than ever before, and his answer gave a little insight into the mindset that has helped Girardi be so successful over the years.
“I don’t know. There are some different things that you have to think about every day anyway,” he said. “Your lineup’s not quite as set, like your rotation and bullpen are, and we’ve had to deal with injuries where people have had to step in before; maybe not this many at one time, but I consider it a day’s work, I don’t consider it any different. I think in baseball, every day presents its challenges, and that’s kind of how I look at it.”
And, through it all, the Yankees (and no team, for that matter) will get no sympathy for their hard times, so as Vernon Wells put it, they still just have to go out and do their job.
“It’s starting to get out of control now; at first I was like, ‘okay, a few injuries, it’s normal,’ but each week, something new,” Wells said Sunday after Nunez left the game with rib cage tightness. “It’s not what you want obviously, but we’re not going to make excuses. We’ve still got to go out and win games no matter who’s in the lineup or who’s on the mound.”
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