THE WORD of the day in the New York Yankees' clubhouse was "perspective." At least it was early in the day.
"I've always believed that people around me become a little more antsy at times like this," Joe Torre said in the dugout before yesterday's game against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
He quickly amended himself: "When I say people, I just mean people, not bosses I'm talking about. I don't want to give you that idea," and he grinned, knowing the "boss" he referred to is the one with a capital "B."
So no, Torre and his four World Series rings are not on the hot seat. Not yet. The Yankees lost one yesterday that even he acknowledged was "ugly," and it's sure to be described in even harsher terms on the back pages back home this morning. But Torre knows by now that understanding the calendar is as important as understanding his players.
It's not that they don't understand that in the home clubhouse. It's that it just doesn't matter right now. The Orioles know something more important than today's date. They know that even when the season is exactly 2 weeks old, there's never a bad time to beat the Yankees, and there's never a meaningless win against this team, and - well, let B.J. Ryan, one of the stars last night, tell it.
"You can say it's early or late or whatever," Ryan said. "But it doesn't matter if it's now or in early September. You take as many [wins] as you can get right now."
That means that it's safe to celebrate the Orioles having the Yankees in the rearview mirror, by three full games. The Orioles are 7-4 and have beaten the Yankees (4-7) four of five times and won two straight series from them.
And it's a sure thing that a lot of Orioles fans were checking the late scores last night to see how Toronto, in front of the Orioles by a half game after last night's 8-0 victory, fared in Texas.
And it's just a sure thing that fans to the north (or, chances are, the ones sitting right next to you at Camden Yards yesterday) are screaming for somebody, anybody, the manager or the Boss, to do something. If not for Fan-Gate 2005 at Fenway Park a few days ago, the screams would have started even earlier.
That's what happens with two franchises with perspectives that are worlds apart. Crazed headlines aside, Torre and the Yankees still know that they can brush off a slow start, even if they don't acknowledge it as a slow start, because they've done it before. They did it last year, in fact; they started 5-6 and were two games behind the Orioles. See how that turned out.
These Orioles, though, knew they needed to get off to a good start, if only to prevent any possible Lee Mazzilli Watch from getting under way. This start is more than good. And last night's game was the best sign yet that this could be the start of something even better.
Mazzilli, who does not have a Watch going, was calm in the face of the potential frenzy in town. He was asked if the win, and the roll his team is on, was "exhilarating." "Oh, ho," he said, cracking a brief smile, more out of disbelief. "I don't know. It was exciting, I'll tell you that."
Then he told a little more. "When you look across the field at that team," he said, "and you give them a couple of breaks, and you stay in there, that tells you something. It tells me something about this team that we came back."
Eyes were rolling and mouths were forming the words "Here we go again" throughout the ballpark during the Yankees' seventh, when a manageable 3-2 deficit ballooned to 6-2, with Steve Kline on the mound amid another round of fumble-itis by his teammates, looking as if they owed him an apology instead of him owing them.
And just as suddenly, in the bottom of the seventh, the eyes and mouths were shut by the Orioles' bats, their heads and their unexpectedly reliable arms. It all came together when it seemed least likely that it would. That it happened against the Yankees made it even sweeter.
They almost had no business doing what they did last night, just as they've had no business having Bruce Chen beat Carl Pavano the night before, and no business beating up on Randy Johnson, and no business getting so much out of Jay Gibbons in the No. 9 hole, and no business having the best leadoff hitter in this game (Brian Roberts over Derek Jeter?) and no business surviving the slow starts of Sidney Ponson, Melvin Mora and Rafael Palmeiro.
This win really did tell us something - that these Orioles might do this more often than not this season.
Meanwhile, down the hall, Yankees starter Mike Mussina dubbed it "the worst loss of the year."
That horrible, 11-game "year." Horrible from that side of it, at least. From the other side, it looks beautiful.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site, time: Camden Yards, 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Kevin Brown (first start of 2005) vs. Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (0-1, 9.72)