Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Like 1978, Yankees Lurk Behind Red Sox

It was 29 years ago today.

The Yankees found themselves 14 games behind the Red Sox in the old AL East. They were sitting at a very un-Yankee-like 47-42, while Boston was tearing up the league at 61-28. Then, a few days later, Yankees manager Billy Martin popped off to the media about owner George Steinbrenner and outfielder Reggie Jackson, saying, "One's a liar and the other's convicted."

Steinbrenner, the latter, didn't appreciate his personal demons being dredged up in the media. He fired Martin and replaced him with the decidedly less flamboyant (and abrasive) Bob Lemon.

From that point on, the Yankees went on a second half charge that I still haven't seen anything close to being repeated since. Not even the Twins' relentless pecking away at the Tigers' lead last year compares.

The Redd Sox clung to a four-game lead when the Yankees visited for four games, beginning September 7. It was known as the Boston Massacre -- advantage Yanks. New York demolished Boston by these scores: 15-3, 13-2, 7-0, and 7-4. They had now caught the Red Sox -- making up the 14-game deficit in 53 games. You know the rest. The Yankees won the division in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. The Bucky Dent game.

There is no manager firing this season (not yet, anyway), but the Yankees are lurking, just as they did in 1978.

A couple of weeks ago the Yankees were 13 games out of first place. They were an under-.500 team with rumors swirling about the fate of manager Joe Torre. And again the Red Sox were running away with the division. Not even the Wild Card, were the Yankees in contention for.

Have you checked the standings this morning?

The Yankees are creeping over .500. They're 47-44 -- 5-1 since the All-Star break. The Red Sox lost last night, so their lead over New York is now eight games. Normally a healthy margin in mid-July. But the '78 Yankees were six games worse than that, and they came all the way back. As for the Wild Card, the Yankees are seven games behind Cleveland.

It's not likely, granted, but it's also not inconceivable that the Yankees, still a talented lot, can catch the Red Sox in the final 71 games of the season. Boston has 69 remaining.

The Yankees of '78, though, had far superior pitching than the 2007 version. No question about that. And they had the clutch-hitting Jackson and the eerily calm guiding hand of Lemon, the new manager. Under Bob Lemon, the Yankees finished 48-20 -- nearly .700 ball.

But the 2007 Yankees are not beyond a second half comeback. They've been scuffling along all season, but maybe they're poised to put it all together and give the Red Sox a run for their money. Already the lead has been shrunk from thirteen to eight.

Don't count them out, those Yankees. They lurk, and you can bet the Red Sox -- and their fans, especially -- can feel the breathing against their necks, however faint.


Post a Comment

<< Home