Beware: the Boston Plague has hit New York.
Has food lost its flavor? Is sleep restless and fitful? Do you pace during games, check scoreboards obsessively, or suffer bouts of nausea and despair? Has the gnawing doubt that a run of improbable success quelled momentarily bedevilled you once again?
Alas, with September approaching, the plague has attacked with a vengeance. A trip through two cities haunted with the ghosts of morbid Octobers past has weakened the immune system and invited the infection.
For now, the Yankees have returned home bruised, humbled, and wearied. Though not yet beaten. One month remains. But to survive through September and to salvage the season, the Yankees will have to gather their strength, regain their form, and summon reserves of gut and grit and will to mount one last and final flourish.
But first, they have to man the barricades against an old enemy, poised with confidence, fierce with swagger, free of worry, and hungry for revenge. A Scarlet Letter still adorns their cap and a centennial malice still fills their hearts. Boston has not forgotten the coup de grace New York delivered last August, nor the countless times before then, and will be eager to repay it.
How quickly the roles reverse. Just one year ago it was not the Yankees, but the Red Sox injuries, mismanagement, and unfulfilled expectations plagued. Josh Beckett hadn't realized the potential his acquisiton promised. Age had sapped David Wells and Curt Schilling of the efficacy their names and numbers heralded. And a middle-relief corps stocked with young, overused arms couldn't quite translate onto the mound the buzz generated in the bullpen.
To be sure, the Red Sox bats, on Manny a night, had redeemed them. Oritz's MVP-caliber, late-inning heroics carried the team into August and with the dreadlocked, RBI Machine behind him, the two formed the most lethal tandem in baseball. But at the trade deadline, Cashman outmanuevered his rivals and the Yankees acquired Bobby Abreu, the final ingredient a Red Sox team dependent on offense so desperately needed.
Then the rash of injuries arrived to rob Boston of a post-season and to propel Red Sox management to emabrk upon the type of gluttonous off-season spending spree usually confined to New York. They bought a shortstop and left-fielder. But it was the hundreds of millions spent to corner the market in Japanese arms which reversed Boston's fate. With Okajima bought and Matsusaka delivered, the Red Sox, for the first time in 12 years, seixed the AL East balance of power.
It's an old and simple lesson Boston and New York's eternal battle teaches. '77 and '78 imparted it; '86 - '90 affirmed it; '96 - '03 reinforced it. '07 merely follows the arms race's iron law. That is, the war is decided before the battle is fought. Sure, proficient and powerful bats will bludgeon many an opponent. But over 162 games, the best starting pitching staff wins. PERIOD. And this honor, for now, belongs to Boston.
What's bizzare, actually, is how closely the Yankees have come to resemble their offensive-laden rival's of yore. More specifically, how reminiscent the Yankees' 07 season has been to the Red Sox's of '06. The freakish rash of injuries. The mighty offense led by an MVP candidate. The erratic, ever suspect bullpen. The aged starting rotation. The promising trade that never quite materialized. The callow pitching talent prematurely thrust into a playoff run. God only hopes the '07 Yankees don't reenact its final chapter.
The Wild-Card is still within the Yankees' reach. However, the Yankees will have to hold their own against the Red Sox, stifle the Mariners, and against the Royals, Devil Rays, Blue Jay and Orioles, duplicate their July success, for the playoffs to be within their grasp.