NEW YORK -- David Cone's start today in the New York Yankees' home opener against the Texas Rangers is critical, and not just for the 37-year-old who is hankering to make amends for getting clobbered last week in Anaheim.
Cone's outing is crucial for the entire staff because, though the Yankees are 3-3 entering the game, the starters may be entering a crisis zone. Any idea that the Yanks' starting pitching -- which everyone around the team acknowledges is the backbone of their championships -- has pitched well so far is pure fantasy.
Orlando Hernandez is the only starter who pitched well on the Yankees' West Coast trip. He went 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts, allowing three runs and 12 hits in 14 innings, and showed that he might be baseball's best at getting out of jams.
Roger Clemens has done nothing to suggest that his age (37) won't continue to be a question all season.
He was erratic in his first start, even though he only allowed three unearned runs. He pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and walked five. Sunday, more Yankees misplays hurt him, but he also couldn't get out of the snags the errors caused. While the Yankees insist that Clemens has pitched well, both Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre said that Clemens often tries to do too much when he gets into trouble.
"I'm pleased with where his arm is," Stottlemyre said. "[Sunday], I thought he was throwing the ball well. Things haven't really fallen into place for him, though, and he manufactured trouble with walks."
Andy Pettitte's back stiffened on him Friday against the Seattle Mariners and he left after five innings. He had allowed five runs and seven hits already, anyway. Perhaps more troubling, he and Jorge Posada, finally the team's No. 1 catcher, didn't click. Pettitte said afterward that he and Posada weren't communicating as well as they had in spring training and had different thoughts on how to pitch different hitters.
"It's going to take awhile," Yankees catching instructor Bob Didier said. "It's early in the year. They'll work it out.
"The variable is the hitter. In spring training, you're not worrying about the hitter," Didier added. "That comes into play. It's thinking together. That's the biggest part of a catcher's work."
So now it's up to Cone, who got bombed for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings in his start against the Angels, to provide the Yankees with some pitching answers.
"Believe me, I can't get out there on the mound again quick enough," Cone said. "For obvious reasons. I probably tried to do too much last time. The human element came into play when I got too pumped up. Physically, I couldn't have felt better."
Cone and Posada both said the right-hander's pitches were zig-zagging around the strike zone, just not in it. Even the Angels confirmed that Cone's stuff was good. It just wasn't good enough to dispel the questions that will chase Cone after every poor start -- can he still do it, is he getting too old?
"Down the stretch last year, those bothered me," Cone said of the questions. "Now, I'm better about it. I anticipate those types of questions and I understand that some of them are valid.
"It's also my job to tell you that I feel great."
Now can he give the staff a lift?