Events just turn worse for Yankees Losing streak, injuries build mound of frustrate

September 06, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees manager Joe Torre was right. He said last Saturday that it wasn't realistic to expect his club to catch the first-place Orioles, and he didn't know the half of it.

He didn't know that his team would fall apart, both literally and figuratively, over the next six days. The Yankees were swept by the last-place Philadelphia Phillies and swamped in the first two games of a supposedly crucial four-game series against the Orioles -- last night's 13-9 loss dropping them 8 1/2 games out of first place with just 23 games to go.

He couldn't have known that pitching ace David Cone would suffer a setback in his recovery from shoulder soreness, or that catcher Joe Girardi would be forced out of the lineup with a hand injury or that disaster would find another way to strike in the first inning of last night's defeat.

Right-hander Andy Pettitte, the club's winningest pitcher the past two years, was hit on the hand and in the face by a line drive off the bat of Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays, which revealed no fractures, but the incident delivered another gut shot to a team that is in the throes of its worst slump of the season.

"I couldn't believe it," Pettitte said later. "With everything that has happened with the team, you want to go out there and at least win the game. It's a shame things are going so hard. The team's down. We're going through a hard stretch right now."

Pettitte suffered a swollen lip and a badly bruised thumb on his pitching hand which could cost him a start, but Torre was just relieved that it was not much worse.

"It was frightening," Torre said. "We weren't sure [on the way out there] that it glanced off his hand. We're lucky that it was only a bruise on his thumb, but there is going to be some swelling It could have been a lot worse."

The Yankees still own the second-best record in the American League and seem certain to reach the postseason as a wild-card entry, but they are up to their pinstripes in peril.

Torre finally lost patience with the club's lackluster offensive performance and shook up the starting lineup last night, moving veteran Tim Raines into the leadoff spot and giving struggling veteran Paul O'Neill a night to clear his head. The Yankees responded with nine runs and 16 hits, but still came up short and suffered their fifth straight defeat.

"We made some changes," Torre said. "We moved some people around. You still have the middle of the lineup, but I gave Paul O'Neill the day off to get his mind clear."

Torre also wanted to take some pressure off Derek Jeter, who has been struggling at the top of the lineup. He originally moved him down to the eighth spot, but had to move him into the No. 2 hole after Girardi was scratched late yesterday afternoon with a finger on his left hand.

"Jeter has done good job as our leadoff guy," Torre said, "but he's gone into a little tailspin where he is not very selective. Now he's getting a little anxious. The thing about Raines, he has been a leadoff hitter for a number of years and he makes pitchers work a little bit."

Things just keep getting worse. The Yankees are facing the possibility that Cone could be lost for the rest of the season if he doesn't respond to the cortisone injection he received on Wednesday to alleviate inflammation in his pitching shoulder. Now, they also could be missing their front-line catcher.

Girardi was injured when a pitch glanced off his glove hand during Thursday night's game, but didn't think it was anything to worry about until his left index finger swelled badly yesterday. X-rays revealed a non-displaced fracture of the fingertip, which likely will keep him out for the remainder of the Orioles series. Torre just hopes that he isn't lost for much longer.

"It's a big loss if you lose Girardi, but we have to be professional and just do what we can," Torre said. "Sure, we're going to miss Joe if he's out."

Young Jorge Posada was inserted into the lineup for last night's game and the club made plans to recall a minor-league catcher to serve as a backup in case Girardi is lost more than a couple of days. The Yankees recently re-acquired catcher/DH Mike Stanley from the Boston Red Sox, but Torre said he is reluctant to put Stanley back behind the plate.

He might have to reconsider after Stanley hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning last night off Jesse Orosco.

The Yankees need every productive bat that they can wedge into the lineup to pull out of their ill-timed offensive slump, especially with the soft underbelly of their starting rotation -- young Ramiro Mendoza and struggling Kenny Rogers -- set to pitch the final two games of the series this weekend.

Torre tried to push the right buttons yesterday, but conceded before the Yankees took the field that it has become largely a waiting game.

"It seems like when the guys who are carrying your club go through a slump, the other guys just try to do too much," he said. "It happens. It's a long season and you just have to try and keep your composure during the bad times."

Owner George Steinbrenner hasn't been able to do that, judging from his appraisal of the team in yesterday's New York Daily News.

"If we win those games in Philadelphia, we'd be right with Baltimore," he said, "But unfortunately right now, we stink. We all stink. My ballplayers stink. My horses stink. I stink."

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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