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Jewish World Review June 12, 2000 / 9 Sivan, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Consumer Reports

For starters, Yanks
up in arms & age -- WHO'S NEARLY 75 YEARS OLD, has six Cy Young Awards, a won-loss record of 5-11 this season, and an earned run average of 5.27 so far this season? Roger Clemens and David Cone, that's who.

Cone is now 1-6 on his own, an ERA of 6.49. Clemens is 4-5, with an ERA of 4.18. We hear a lot of reasons for these numbers, and the fact that Clemens is now 18-15 as a Yankee. We hear excuses for both of them. But both of them need to do a lot more, so the Yankees can start looking more like the Yankees. Lately they just look like another contender in the American League.

It is not just Clemens and Cone. They are just the most famous Yankee aces, on a staff filled with them, a staff that has spoiled us. El Duque Hernandez is 5-4, and that includes a four-game losing streak when everybody except Reggie Miller hit him. Andy Pettitte is 5-2, with an ERA of 4.56. Ramiro Mendoza is 5-3 and 4.15. This is supposed to be the best starting rotation in all of baseball, and that includes the Braves without John Smoltz. The record for Joe Torre's five big starters is 20-20, with an average ERA of 4.61.

It is a good thing Jeff Nelson is 6-1 out of the bullpen and Mariano Rivera, despite a few wobbles, is still a joy to watch and the champ of the ninth inning. This week the surprise pitching star for the Yankees, Jason Grimsley, got thrown into the rotation and gave the Expos only one run while he was out there. The way Grimsley pitched is the way we expect the real starters to pitch, starting any time now.

We have heard about how Clemens and Cone just make a couple of bad pitches here and there. We have seen both of them change the way they set their hands before delivering the ball, right before being told these new deliveries would cure everything. Clemens hooks it up with Pedro Martinez, and Torre says: this is it, no kidding around this time, Clemens is back, don't worry about Clemens anymore. The next start, Clemens is completely ordinary against the Braves. Of course people talk about Derek Jeter's error afterward and how Clemens was better than his numbers, mostly because Clemens has more of a support system than Bob Knight does with the Indiana trustees.

It must have been Jeter throwing that three-run homer to Brian Jordan after the Yankees kicked the ball around. Cone's arm is supposed to be healthier than it has been in years. Maybe so. And maybe Vladimir Guerrero's home run has finally stopped rolling somewhere near Nova Scotia.

The Yankees have great pitchers, famous pitchers. Class pitchers. Who are getting old. Which means they aren't sure from start to start what kind of stuff they are going to have. Clemens is 37, Cone is 36, and no one is ever going to know how old El Duque is. Things happen to aging pitchers. They become consistently inconsistent. They make mistakes with location they never made before. They can't always do what they want to do when they want to do it. At the end, Sinatra didn't go near certain notes in signature songs. It happens.

It doesn't mean the Yankee starters are going to be .500 the rest of the way. They're not. Each one of them has shown flashes of old brilliance across the first third of the season. Then they say everything is fine, when it's not. It's there on the mound for everybody to see.

We hear about left field being a problem. Ricky Ledee gets knocked all over the place, as if he is suddenly as important as Jeter or Bernie Williams. We hear about Chuck Knoblauch's throwing. We saw what happened to the Yankees when Jeter sat down for a while. We hear about designated hitter. We read and hear about all these thumpers the Yankees are going to bring in. And they could use more hitting to round out the batting order. But if they need to outscore everybody, then they are no different from anybody else in their division, in their league and in baseball.

They had a real bad May, not just because it was their first losing month in years, but because they have looked ordinary. It starts with starting pitching. Cone looked lost against the Expos from the time Guerrero jumped him in the first inning Monday night. As marvelous as Clemens looked against Martinez, he is behind in the count too often, he too often lacks command of his pitches. The Yankee announcers especially wear you out with how he is the Clemens of old when he does produce a big game. More often than not, he just looks like an old Clemens.

For all the talk about another hitter, the possibility exists that the Yankees might need another pitcher, someone like Brad Radke, as much as anybody else does. Ledee will be fine in left field if left alone. You know the Yankees will get a solid designated hitter sooner or later. But know something else: They're not going to win if they don't pitch better, which means the way Grimsley and the bullpen did in Montreal.

The Yanks are still the champs. They went into Atlanta and won two of three from what has been the best team of this season, and might have won all three if Shane Spencer had a little more stick against John Rocker. But they come out of a soft part of their schedule with the record they have and the record their starters have. Now there isn't another soft schedule for them until after the All-Star break.

You know what 20-20 from your starters makes you? The Cleveland Indians.

JWR contributor Mike Lupica is author, most recently, of Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America. To comment, click here.


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