Commentary

Watch out! The Yankees are coming!

Mojo is back in the Bronx, and the Bombers look to bring it to Tampa and beyond

Updated: August 23, 2013, 3:32 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Of all people, David Ortiz is making like Paul Revere, yelling up in New England, "The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!"

Ortiz thinks the big, bad beast from the Bronx is awakening. He must see what we all see. A confident, must-watch team has replaced the undermanned, boring one of the season's first four months. The Yankees are now true playoff contenders.

Meanwhile, intentional or not, Ortiz threw a brush-back pitch at his own teammate Ryan Dempster. Ortiz called Dempster a "great guy," but said Dempster's focus was off when he intentionally hit Alex Rodriguez on Sunday at Fenway.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCatalyzed by Ryan Dempster's drilling of A-Rod last Sunday, the pinstripes have new life in the Bronx.

Ortiz thought Dempster should have concentrated on winning the game, not settling scores. Big Papi sounded worried about the unintended consequences of Dempster's decision.

"You saw how the game ended up," Ortiz told USA Today Sports. "CC Sabathia was throwing 91 [mph] and started throwing 96. Alex later hit one way out there. You're talking about a good team that you can't wake up. But we learn from our mistakes."

The scene Sunday had a shade of 2004 to it -- and maybe Ortiz knows it. During the '04 season, A-Rod got in a fight with Jason Varitek and a struggling Red Sox team won 46 of their final 66 games and broke an 86-year jinx. No one is predicting that type of run here, but there is a mojo about this Yankees team all of a sudden.

Meanwhile, A-Rod has silenced his lawyers and is instead putting the focus on baseball. In the Yankees' 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, he made the key defensive play of the game, a backhand stop with the bases loaded that began a 5-5-3 inning-ending double play in the fifth. At 38 with two bad hips, he also stole a base.

On the mound, Andy Pettitte pitched six strong innings as the Yankees swept the Jays to move their winning streak to five.

When Big Papi's hypothesis was floated at Rodriguez, he fouled it off because it was too close to his no non-baseball-questions edict to offer a substantive response. Instead, he emphasized the Yankees' need to have a "laser focus" during each of the final 35 games.

"I just know that we feel pretty good, but we've got to keep getting better," said Rodriguez, in suit and tie in the postgame locker room after the long day that included a three-hour, 32-minute rain delay. "We've got a lot of work to do."

The Yankees are just 3.5 games back in the wild-card race and six behind Boston in the division, with a remaining schedule that puts their fate in their hands. In the final 35 games, 20 are against the teams ahead of them in the AL East, beginning with three big ones in Tampa this weekend.

The other 15? They are all against last-place teams, including six more against the Jays, against whom the Yanks are now 12-1 in 2013. Can they go 25-10 to give them that magical 93 wins manager Joe Girardi believes will get them to the postseason?

With so many successful veterans in the Yankees clubhouse, players believe the answer is yes.

"We knew this was going to happen," Pettitte said following his second straight win after going winless for five starts (0-3). "It was just a matter of when."

Suddenly, it is about baseball in the Bronx, and the Bombers are a must-watch again. On Wednesday, with Ichiro Suzuki reaching hit No. 4,000 (counting both his Japanese league and major league hits), the YES Network picked up its second-highest rating of the year, behind A-Rod's return earlier this month. There is an energy and excitement to this club these days that was absent for the first four months.

The returns of Alfonso Soriano, A-Rod and Curtis Granderson -- and maybe soon the rehabilitating Derek Jeter -- have made the Yankees' lineup deeper. With Pettitte coming around, the Yankees just need Sabathia to find his form consistently, joining Hiroki Kuroda (who goes Friday night) and Ivan Nova to form a formidable starting staff. The bullpen continues to be a strength.

Rodriguez declined to say how he felt about his buddy Big Papi's support in the Dempster drilling. Instead, the focus is on baseball.

"Every game is precious, and we just want to keep taking small bites at it," A-Rod said.

They took four more against the last-place Jays. Now, they will try to take some bigger ones against the Rays.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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