Commentary

Yankees to June: Please don't leave!

Injuries aside, month was magic for Bombers -- but repeating in July will be tough

Updated: July 1, 2012, 11:48 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- "What is so rare as a day in June?" the poet mused back in 1848.

"And why can't we have a few more of them?" wonder the New York Yankees as we head into July 2012.

Over the past 30 days, the Yankees have lost 40 percent of their starting rotation, including their ace. They were without their setup man for the first half of the month and their starting catcher for the better part of the past week. And we haven't even mentioned their Hall of Fame closer or their sparkplug left fielder, both of whom missed every one of those days.

[+] EnlargeMark Teixeira and Robinson Cano
AP Photo/Bill KostrounRobinson Cano's solo shot on Saturday afternoon was his 11th homer of the month.

Still they managed to win 20 of the 27 games they played this month, more than any team in baseball, and closed out June with a gem of a ballgame that ran shorter than your average Oliver Stone movie and was a heckuva lot easier to figure out.

The Yankees' 4-0 win over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday was a beautifully tidy affair, impeccably pitched by Hiroki Kuroda, who seems to have shaken off whatever was troubling him for the first six weeks of his Yankees career, and punctuated by three solo home runs, one by their leading slugger, Curtis Granderson, another by their player of the week, Dewayne Wise, and a third by their player of the month, Robinson Cano.

It was a game that made it easy to forget the horror that was Friday night, when they staked Adam Warren to a 4-0 lead, only to watch Warren and two relievers surrender 14 runs in the ugliest loss of the year, and the equally frightening prospect of facing the rest of the summer minus Andy Pettitte and at least half of July without CC Sabathia.

"We're not doing nothing different," said Cano, whose sixth-inning bomb off Jake Peavy into the second deck in right completed the scoring Saturday. "We're doing the same things but everything's clicking now."

Especially for Cano, who had one home run in April -- and not until the 12th game of the season -- but had 11 in June and, with 19 now, suddenly is moving in on Granderson for the team lead.

It hardly seems a coincidence that when the month started, the Yankees were languishing in third place, 1.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, and now with June in the rearview mirror, the Yankees are five games ahead of the division.

"Well, I think [Cano's] a big part of it," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's had some really big hits for us. He's been a force in the middle of our lineup. He's really starting to swing the bat, and it changes us, for sure."

The Yankees are going to need more Cano than ever with the loss of Pettitte for at least two months and Sabathia for as long as it takes a groin strain to heal. A similar injury sidelined Pettitte for two months in 2010, but Girardi said Sabathia's injury is "less severe and lower on his leg" and therefore should not require as much healing time.

The truth is, as well as Cano has hit this month, the team batting average actually went down in June, to .247 from .263 in May (and .271 in April), although their runs scored and home runs both went up.

Their situational hitting remained woeful -- .227 with runners in scoring position and .184 with the bases loaded -- and most of their other regulars (Derek Jeter, .239; Alex Rodriguez, .242; Mark Teixeira .228; and Granderson, .210) had a less-than-scintillating June.

June turned out to be such a good month for the Yankees largely because of their pitching, \mainly their starting pitching. Yankees starters went 15-4 in June with a 2.35 ERA.

Now with their two most experienced starters on the shelf and certain pieces of the bullpen beginning to falter, you wonder if the glory of June can carry them through the dog days of July and August.

By virtue of seniority and default, Kuroda becomes the interim ace of the staff now, and on Saturday he pitched like one, surviving a 26-pitch first inning in brutal 93-degree heat to complete seven dazzling innings, allowing no runs and just three hits and striking out 11, a number he had reached only once before in his big league career.

But the Yankees still don't know who will replace Pettitte -- after Warren bombed out on Friday, David Phelps will get the ball on Wednesday in Tampa Bay, and D.J. Mitchell joined the team Saturday morning from their Triple-A Scranton affiliate -- and despite their optimistic pronouncements, cannot say for sure how many starts Sabathia will miss.

"There's still a lot of pieces we can get clicking, including myself," said Granderson, who in the first inning hit his 23rd home run of the season, a number he didn't reach until July 4 of last season, when he finished with 41.

"There's a lot of baseball left to play. You can't get too down or too high after the first couple of weeks of the season. Hopefully we can have an even better month of July than we did in June."

The Yankees have shown the physical resiliency and mental toughness necessary to do that, from the pitching of situational relievers such as Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley to the clutch fill-in performance of Wise, who capped a huge week with a solo home in the fifth for the Yankees' third run of the game.

Wise started this week with a three-RBI day against the Indians on Monday, followed it with his hidden-ball-trick "catch" on Tuesday and even became an emergency relief pitcher on Friday night, posting the best line of any Yankees hurler of the game -- two-thirds an inning and no hits.

Wise's home run was one of three hits Saturday, matching his career high for a single game. "He knows his role here," Granderson said. "He comes in every day ready to play, and he never hangs his head."

Neither have his teammates, despite all the injuries and subpar early-season performances from players who were expected to carry them.

"Every team goes through it," Girardi said. "We just keep going, a day at a time. I think people realize that there's still a lot of talent in that room, and people have got to step up. Can't feel sorry for yourself, because no one's going to feel sorry for us."

For a month now, the Yankees haven't asked for any sympathy, or needed any.

But July is a longer, hotter month than June, and poets don't write about it.

It will be interesting to see a month from now whether the Yankees are happy to see it go, or if, like June, they would prefer it last forever.

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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