Yankees' lead grows, but so does concern

ON THE AL EAST

August 25, 2002|By Joe Christensen

As the Boston Red Sox fade, the New York Yankees are pulling away in the American League East, but the goal in the Bronx is always the World Series, and there is growing concern that the Yankees don't have a healthy enough pitching staff to make it.

This past week, closer Mariano Rivera went on the disabled list for the third time this season and second time with a strained right shoulder, so the Yankees faced the serious possibility of going through the playoffs without him.

"On a daily basis, we're not expecting him to be here," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "If he shows up, we're a better team. But we're not counting on him returning."

Since 1997, pretty much any time the Yankees gave a lead to Rivera in the eighth or ninth inning, they knew the victory was theirs. He converted 23 consecutive save opportunities before the Arizona Diamondbacks did the unthinkable in Game 7 of last year's World Series.

But with his shoulder injury remaining a mystery, Rivera flew to Alabama this past week for an examination by orthopedist James Andrews, who agreed that it was nothing more than muscle irritation.

Still, the Yankees are taking no chances of doing long-term serious damage.

"We'll hold him out as long as we have to," Torre said. "Even if it's into next spring."

For now, the Yankees are back to relying on Mike Stanton, Steve Karsay and Ramiro Mendoza. The Yankees went 9-5 the last time Rivera was on the DL for a shoulder injury and didn't blow one save opportunity.

But the Yankees will be relieved if Rivera can come back.

"I'll be there," Rivera said.

Boston's slide

Fans at Fenway Park let out their frustration Tuesday night, when the Red Sox took a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Texas Rangers and fell to 11-20 in one-run games. Boston players could hardly blame their fans for booing.

"I think everyone on this team is frustrated," Red Sox right fielder Trot Nixon said. "It's to the point where I'm sick to my stomach when I go to the plate sometimes."

The Red Sox are 1-5 in extra-inning games. The Orioles, by comparison, are 9-2.

"We've just been awful," said Boston outfielder Johnny Damon.

Last year, with 40 games to play, the Red Sox were 67-55 and only five games out of first place. This year, they were 70-52 and eight games behind the Yankees.

Everywhere but in the standings, the team can see progress. With new ownership, with new manager Grady Little, and without disgruntled Carl Everett, the Red Sox are much more at peace.

"I don't know what else to tell you," pitcher John Burkett said of the team's difficulties after last Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins. "There's only so many things you can say, especially with my vocabulary."

Soriano eyes 40-40, MVP

Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano became the first second baseman to reach the 30-home run, 30-stolen base plateau last weekend, and he continues to thrust himself into the MVP race along with teammate Jason Giambi.

Another Yankee making a push is Bernie Williams, who is hitting a torrid .406 since the All-Star break.

Soriano, 24, is having an amazing sophomore season, though. His 44 doubles are the most by a Yankees right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio's 44 in 1936.

"There isn't much that Sori can't do," Giambi said. "I mean, he's got so many tools. I'd love to see him win [the MVP award]."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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