NEW YORK -- So far, the New York Yankees' schedule has been a lot like the weather they have seen: mild and breezy. Things have been fairly fun in the sun out west, but now things get serious. The vacation is over. School's on.
The first-place Boston Red Sox are coming to town starting tonight and they're off to their best start since 1946, so the Yankees finally will get a real idea about where they stand. After playing 23 of 26 games against losing teams, the Yankees are looking at a real test, a real team.
Even if these new-style, low-key Yankees can't work up any legitimate hatred for the Red Sox (not even ex-Red Soxer Wade Boggs can), they do understand it is different facing Roger Clemens than Miguel Jimenez.
The Yankees and Red Sox both conquered the West (the Red Sox squashed it, going 13-2, including 11-0 against California and Oakland), but now they'll find out how they stack up against each other, which is all that really matters anyway.
Yankees ace Jimmy Key, who starts tonight against right-hander Aaron Sele, in his usual no-frills, no-bull manner, said about the Red Sox, "They're playing as good or better than anybody in baseball. . . . They're one of the teams we have to beat if we're going to win our division. We don't want to put a lot of emphasis on winning all three games, but we want to play well to show them we can hang with them."
The Yankees can't be certain what to expect, even from themselves. Twenty-six games in, their only winning opponent, the White Sox, beat them two out of three. Yes, they are 16-10, but it's a fairly hollow 16-10.
"I don't think we've played as well as we're going to or are capable of playing," manager Buck Showalter said. "I think we're capable of better."
Two questions they took into the season remain unanswered: Can they depend upon the bullpen? Will Jim Abbott and Melido Perez pitch to their ample abilities?
* The bullpen is looking a little leaky lately. Jeff Reardon blew Abbott's 5-2 lead in their 7-6, 13-inning defeat to the Angels late Wednesday night, capping a bad trip for the pen, which lost Steve Howe to injury and surrendered one big hit almost nightly.
* People are making a fuss over Abbott's low radar-gun readings (opponents say he's in the 85-86-mph range), but he's still 3-2 with a 2.87 ERA so he's compensating with better pitching. Perez looks better after shoulder surgery, and now the question is whether the toe he injured by angrily kicking a Gatorade container will affect his start tomorrow.