By Sweeny Murti
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0-3. Panic in the streets? Maybe. Panic in the clubhouse? Not quite.
The Yankees clubhouse was not a particularly fun place to be this weekend. A walk-off loss on Opening Day when the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time, of course), Mariano Rivera, was the goat, blowing a one-run lead in the 9th. Losses Saturday and Sunday sent the Yankees to their first 0-3 start since 1998.
The 1998 Yankees had some reason to panic. George Steinbrenner was on the prowl then. Joe Torre had the audacity to follow up his 1996 championship with a first-round playoff loss in ’97 and then a dreadful half week of baseball to start the ’98 season. There was actually talk of whether or not Torre could survive as manager.
Obviously that worked out okay. Joe Girardi was on that team, the one which started 1-4 before a historic run to 114 regular season wins and a World Series championship. I’m pretty comfortable telling you this team won’t win 114 games, but I wouldn’t say a World Series is out of the question.
It helps that The Boss isn’t around to make this into a bigger story. Certainly, if he were, this morning’s tabloids would have some headline-grabbing snarl from George about how his team had to shape up or ship out. And as 1:00 p.m. rolled around, a statement from The Boss’ PR men would certainly hit the email inbox with a missive that only sounded right when set to the theme from Patton.
Hal Steinbrenner isn’t like his dad in that respect. He’s a little more level-headed about the 162-game season. There is still some urgency. The Yankees don’t want to fall too far behind. But this is no longer 162 one-game seasons, as Brian Cashman has stated on many occasions. The Yankees are allowed to work through the ups and downs and streaks of a baseball season, that in the end will result in 90-95 wins, perhaps more. No, they aren’t off on the right foot. But they aren’t in panic mode.
It was even evident listening to Girardi’s postgame sessions that he is taking these losses in stride too. He still hates to lose, make no mistake about that. But his face doesn’t turn shades of red and purple when answering questions about managerial chess or about sluggers who have gone cold 12 at-bats into the season. He has learned, at least for now, what his predecessor did–the calmer face you show the owner and your fans watching on TV, the easier it is to keep your players on the same even keel.
Girardi still has fire and emotion. But his control of it after a series-opening three-game sweep by a division rival told me that there was little reason to think anything was seriously wrong.
After Sunday’s loss I approached one Yankee in private and said, “Wow, how good was Hellickson?” I was told, “He was okay…but if we take swings like that the rest of the year, we are going to dominate.”
The Yankees know they hit into Joe Maddon’s defensive secondary (as A-Rod put it) and their constant shifts. One Yankee after another kept referring to how well they were swinging this weekend and how they took a good approach at the plate and have to continue to do the same thing. They were upset at losing, but they weren’t discouraged or frustrated to the point where they thought they were doing something wrong.
The Yankees believe they hit into a lot of bad luck this weekend, particularly on Sunday. Whether you believe that or not isn’t the point. The fact that the Yankees believe that is the point. They are going into this next series with Baltimore confident they are ready to do some damage. And if they believe that, then they are going in with a much better attitude than a team that has lost three straight and wonders if its ever going to catch a break to win a game.
No, these Yankees won’t win 114 games. But they won’t lose 114 either, despite what some fans might think after the first three games.
Are you starting to panic, Yankees fans? Sound off in the comments below…