Commentary

Yankees' fireworks blow your minds

After perfect comeback, it's easy to forget why the Bombers were forced to rally

Updated: April 22, 2012, 12:50 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- At approximately the same time that a pitcher in Seattle was completing a perfect game, the New York Yankees were on the opposite side of the country, beginning a perfectly exhilarating comeback.

In fact, the last pitch of Philip Humber's masterpiece over the Mariners coincided almost precisely with Nick Swisher's grand slam against the Boston Red Sox, the blow that signaled that a wild game at Fenway was certainly not over, but in fact had only just begun.

The last time the Yankees overcame a 9-0 deficit to the Red Sox, they did it as a birthday present to Derek Jeter, who turned 13 the day the team he would one day captain overcame Roger Clemens to win 12-11 in 11 innings at Yankee Stadium.

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher, Derek Jeter
Elsa/Getty ImagesHey, look at us! The outburst by Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter and the offense overshadowed the Yankees' shortcomings.

That one is long-forgotten -- the 1987 Yankees were eminently forgettable, finishing up in fourth place at 89-73, nine games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers and 12 games ahead of the even more woeful Red Sox.

The memory of this one may stick around longer, especially if the Red Sox remain in the death spiral they have been in since the start of this season and the Yankees continue to play the way they did in Saturday's 15-9 victory at Fenway Park.

Then again, it may only be remembered for the underlying problems obscured by the dazzling offensive display.

In this nearly four-hour slugfest, the culmination of a day that started badly, the Yankees showed many of the qualities that have enabled them to average 98 wins a year for each of the past three seasons.

Whether it's because of an indomitable belief in themselves or a desire to fatten their stats, they never take a game, an inning, an at-bat off, even when the cause seems hopelessly lost, as it most certainly did after five innings, when they trailed by nine runs and had managed just three hits off Felix Doubront.

They were in that hole largely because of Freddy Garcia, who turned in the most ineffective performance of a most ineffective season so far, allowing five runs before he could even get six outs. Then, Clay Rapada and the normally reliable David Phelps allowed four more.

Just keep chipping away, they told themselves, and maybe something good will happen. And as often happens in this ballpark, something did.

Mark Teixeira homered off Doubront in the sixth, and although Boston still held an eight-run lead, it was enough to convince the hapless Bobby Valentine to yank his starter after 99 pitches and entrust the final nine outs to his bullpen.

Then, it was Swisher with his grand slam, and Teixeira with a three-run shot, this one batting left-handed, and after a half-hour of nonstop raking suddenly there was a seven in the box for the seventh inning and a 9-8 game on the ancient scoreboard.

Therein followed an even longer eighth inning in which former Yankee Alfredo Aceves, forced into the closer's role after an injury to Andrew Bailey, couldn't throw a strike, and when he did someone punished it. Seven more runs crossed the plate, four of them on two-run doubles by Swisher and Teixeira, and the Yankees had themselves a rousing victory, the Red Sox one more crushing defeat.

It was certainly one to remember, but not one that should make us forget what else is going on here.

Namely, that Freddy Garcia can probably no longer be counted on in the rotation. Add that to the subpar performance of Phil Hughes so far, the fact that Hiroki Kuroda has not yet been the pitcher they thought he would be, the shoulder injury to Michael Pineda, which has not improved and may in fact be worsening, and the fact that Andy Pettitte may no longer be a luxury in the rotation, but a necessity, and what happened in Fenway on Saturday afternoon can look a lot better than it actually was.

Because the truth is, the Yankees' offense, as potent as it is, will not always have the luxury of hitting in the "lyric little bandbox," or against the Red Sox bullpen, which surrendered 14 runs, 13 of them earned, in 1 2/3 innings. And despite Valentine's brave talk, the Yankees won't get to face too many more teams as dispirited as the Red Sox have appeared so far this weekend, a club that seems to be forever looking over its shoulder for a disaster to befall it.

They will not always be able to overcome as bad a start as Garcia gave them Saturday, and unless he gets his act together in a hurry -- and the same goes for Hughes and Kuroda and even CC Sabathia, who has been more gutsy than good so far -- there won't be too many nights as uplifting as this one.

The odds are Sabathia will return to his typical form, but who can be sure that Hughes, who looked so good this spring, is really any better than he was last season, when he spent three months either on the DL or in the minors trying to locate his misplaced fastball? So far, he hasn't shown it.

Same for Kuroda, whose array of pitches seemed a lot more dazzling against NL lineups than it has against AL lineups so far. And while it would be foolish to bet against Pettitte, a bulldog with a proven track record in money games, even the most ardent Yankees fan would have to agree that what he is trying to do -- returning from retirement -- is difficult, and perhaps even unlikely.

Those realities, harsh as they are, did not disappear in one four-hour, 33-hit, 24-run display of the kind of baseball unique to this ballpark, and so far this season, sadly typical of the home team, which lost even worse on Tuesday, 18-3 to the Texas Rangers.

The Red Sox could hardly have gotten off to a better start than they did on Saturday, punishing Garcia and Rapada and Phelps and stifling the Yankees' bats to where even their increasingly restless fan base was beginning to feel comfortable with their prospects for the day.

But when a team is going as bad as Boston is, it takes only a small crack to bring the whole fašade down. The small crack was Teixeira's home run. The wrecker's ball was Swisher's grand slam. The rest was just a cleanup job by one team that knows how to win over a team that seems to have forgotten how.

On a day that started out very badly for them, the Yankees wound up looking great, even historic, by nightfall.

But the offensive fireworks they created, dazzling as they were, were also blinding, and as all fireworks do, they left a smokescreen behind.

That smokescreen may hide the problems that still linger below the surface, but it can't cure them.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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