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Banging a U-turn in Boston?

Beating Sox may have gotten Yankees going

One team, two seasons.

They have been the Sybil of the American League.

The "bad" Yankees had their day. The "good" Yankees have taken over.

We know that the nine-game winning streak went from June 5-14, and began in Chicago, and that the Yankees are 13-3 since May 30.

But when exactly their season turned from rags to riches is subject to debate. If you ask the Yankees, the overwhelming response is that it happened against the Red Sox.

Was it the 0-and-2 pitch that Alex Rodriguez lofted to right for a game-winning homer against Jonathan Papelbon on the cold, rainy night of June 3? Did that propel the Yankees and send the Red Sox reeling? Or was it just that series in general, with the Yankees taking two out of three?

For Joe Torre, it was even earlier than that -- as far back as the May 21-23 series vs. Boston at Yankee Stadium.

"We took two out of three, and we realized at that point, 'OK, we're going to be OK,' " said Torre. "I think we convinced ourselves. We knew there was more to us than what we had shown. We're going to handle this and work our way out it."

They've also added Roger Clemens, and their rotation finally has some order. In the nine wins from June 5-14, the starters were 6-0 with a 2.98 ERA, averaging 6 2/3 innings. The bullpen is no longer being overworked. Mariano Rivera went nine straight appearances without allowing a run.

The lineup has three potential MVP candidates in Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. Bobby Abreu has started to hit. Hideki Matsui is hitting his stride after being injured in spring training.

Johnny Damon is healthier (despite an abdominal strain that kept him out of Friday's lineup) and is now the full-time DH. Miguel Cairo has instilled energy at first base. Melky Cabrera has brought youthful enthusiasm to center field.

The Yankees seem looser and far more confident. That was clear when they jumped up and cheered when Curt Schilling lost his no-hitter in Oakland.

"Curt's not the most popular guy," said a Yankee player, "but I think it was mostly because we felt Oakland might come back to win that game. I think too much has been made of that."

Maybe. Maybe not. It seemed like a rallying cry.

Rodriguez was proud of that hit in Boston, which ended a series in which he was ridiculed by Boston fans for three days.

"That was a big hit," he said. "A big situation against a great closer under the rain in the cold weather. The last thing I expected was to hit a home run. I've had about 300 career at-bats at Fenway, and I think that's the second home run I've hit that way."

For Posada, it's been a trying season sorting out his starters and relievers. The Yankees have already used 22 pitchers.

"We're more consistent than what we've been," Posada said. "We've stabilized to a certain point, yeah. Knowing who's going to pitch every fifth day makes a little difference."

As for Clemens, Posada said, "He brings a lot more than pitching. Everybody sees what he's about and everybody around him seems to be better."

"I think Roger has given us an emotional boost," said A-Rod. "The contribution you will see will take time to really sink in for our young guys. It's got to be phenomenal for the young guys. It would be like me playing with Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. I'd be lining up to ask them question about hitting, so I think our young guys are in great position to look at his work ethic, look at his workouts, look at the way he handles every situation and apply it to their work."

Damon thinks the Yankees had no choice but to be better.

"We just knew we couldn't keep playing as badly as we were," he said. "We were dealing with some injuries and we still are. I think the Red Sox series helped, but I think we were ready to break out of it.

"If we stay the course and look at the big picture and not try to get this done quickly, I think we'll be all right."

While the good times are here, Posada feels it's important to remember the "bad Yankees."

"We haven't forgotten the way we started," said Posada. "We can't forget that struggle. How hard that was. How badly we all felt.

"I think it's important to compare now and then. We don't want to go back to that. That wasn't fun for anyone. We have to avoid those pitfalls. And I think we will."

Future isn't now for Glavine

Tom Glavine said he can't take it "five starts at a time" That's the number of wins he needs for 300. When it finally happens, you can bet Glavine will exhale and be able to enjoy the remainder of his career.

"I'm not saying it's weighing me down," said Glavine, who took the loss for the Mets yesterday at Yankee Stadium. " I just hate to jump ahead of myself.

"I know the 300 is in front of me, but I'm worried about 296 and then 297. I know if I pitch well, that means the team is going to win. We need to win right now. For me, that's the most important thing.

"I want the 300 because it's a great honor and great number, but if I'm struggling to get it, it means our team is struggling."

Glavine said Yankee Stadium is a place where he's always enjoyed playing. He's pitched playoff games there and experienced the agony of defeat when the Yankees beat the Braves in the 1996 and 1999 World Series.

When he was growing up in Billerica, did he ever join in the vulgar Yankee chant at Fenway?

"I'm sure I did," said Glavine, "but I know I never said it in front of my parents. They would have washed my mouth out with soap."

Glavine has not committed to pitching next season for the Mets. He wants to be a full-time dad and be around for his children's sporting events the way his father Fred was for him.

"I think about it all the time," he said. "Some days I lean one way, other days I lean the other way. It's not going to be decided right now. It's going to be decided when the season is over and I can just pull myself away from this and look at things like I need to.

"My family will have a big say in what happens. If they want me to keep pitching and I feel I can still pitch at a high level, then maybe that's the decision I make. I think it's tough for everyone who loves this, who was fortunate enough to do this for a living, to walk away."

After hitting bottom, Young is back on top of things

A few questions for Dmitri Young, who last June pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence in relation to an incident with his former girlfriend. He spent 30 days at an alcohol and drug rehab center. Young was released by the Tigers last September and is now with Washington, hitting .343.

Can you describe what it's been like to go from being out of baseball to being one of the top hitters in the National League?

DY: "It's been a lot of hard work. I was determined to show people I could still play if given the opportunity. I was asked to go down to the minors with the Nationals and start with the minor league prospects when Jim Bowden gave me the opportunity to play again, and I had to prove myself. I got to spend time with the kids down there and I fell in love with baseball all over again because I just saw the purity of the game down there and what it was like coming up and all of the things I had taken for granted."

Describe your lowest moment.

DY: "I knew I had to get my life in order. The best thing I ever did was go through the alcohol rehab. I spent weeks in court over the domestic issue. I wasn't able to see my kids. In November I was diagnosed with diabetes and I was rushed to the hospital because my blood sugar had hit 893.

"At that point, one of four things could happen. I was going to have a stroke, I was going to have a heart attack, I was going into a coma, or I was going to die. I never knew I was a diabetic, but they put me on medication and it wound up explaining a lot of things to me."

I guess it's true that you have to take care of things at home before you can straighten out your life.

DY: "No question about that. I wasn't even looking at baseball. I was looking to figure out my life and what I had been through and done to myself and people around me. Once I felt I had a handle on those things, I realized how much my family meant to me, I started to think about baseball again."

Are you still bitter the Tigers released you and you missed out on their postseason last year?

DY: "I was, but I've let that go. That's negative energy and I don't spend time on negative energy. I'm looking to the future and just enjoying each day and being the veteran leader on this team and teaching the younger guys."

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. A recurring dream of a reader: Barry Bonds hits Ted Williams's red bleacher seat this weekend; 2. Unforgettable few days for umpire Ron Kulpa, who called Curt Schilling's one-hitter and Justin Verlander's no-hitter; 3. Could Jacoby Ellsbury be far away? If he is, here are three guys I'd rent for half a year: Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, and Dave Roberts; 4. Cubs pitchers really dislike throwing to catcher Michael Barrett; 5. The Dodgers project Bill Mueller as a terrific hitting coach. Personally, I would have promoted Mike Easler from Triple A Las Vegas to replace the fired Eddie Murray; 6. (bonus) Hanley Ramirez 13, Mike Lowell 12. Errors.

Don't look back
Johnny Damon on Jason Giambi's possible suspension: "I've always been a firm believer. Never go back to whatever guys have done in the past. It's kind like the guys back in the late '70s who did cocaine and everything. What do you do, go back and slap them on the wrist again? A lot of guys are just going to realize you can't open your mouth; unfortunately, it's getting to that point where guys can't be honest about what they might have done."

Closer didn't get close
Two winters ago, Billy Wagner would have welcomed a call from the Red Sox, until Theo Epstein began trying on gorilla suits. "I wouldn't have signed with them under those circumstances," said Wagner. "But I always wanted to play for the Red Sox. I would have enjoyed that, but they didn't call me until the day I signed with the Mets and it was too late by then. And then Theo comes back! Oh well, that's the way it works. They've done pretty well with Jonathan Papelbon anyway."

Seattle swagger
The Mariners aren't so bad after all. After three straight last-place finishes and with manager Mike Hargrove and GM Bill Bavasi's jobs hanging by a thread, the Mariners are contenders for at least a wild card. "It's been great to watch this," said former Sox coach John McLaren, now Hargrove's bench coach. "I said back in spring training that I thought we had a chance to be really good. We're playing with a lot of confidence. A real confident swagger has returned." What's also returned is the possibility that Ichiro Suzuki could re-sign after he becomes a free agent. Now the question is, can they back up the Brink's truck?

Angels have angles
The Angels have an interesting roster move coming up when infielder Maicer Izturis comes off the disabled list. There's speculation they might send Shea Hillenbrand packing. Another possibility is to option infielder Erick Aybar to the minors. But the Angels like Aybar. The third option would be to outright 27-year-old outfielder Nathan Haynes. But he's out of options and would likely be scooped by another team. Haynes was hitting .391 in the Pacific Coast League when the Angels brought him up May 27.

Don't hold your breath
First of all, the Braves probably won't trade free-agent-to-be Andruw Jones because they're in the race. And while Torii Hunter would pay his own way to Boston, that's not the case with Jones, who hates the cold and isn't so fond of our fair city. He told this reporter in spring training, "No, I don't want to play there." Later, I asked him to elaborate and he said, "I was only kidding. You never know." Jones would surely veto such a deal.

One and done
Talk about snakebitten. Houston's Brad Lidge took his demotion from closer to set-up man in classy fashion. He threw 11 consecutive scoreless innings over 10 games and allowed only two earned runs over 25 1/3 innings since April 22. So what happens in his first game back as closer? First pitch. Home run. Tie game. Blown save.

Hoping to hit on something
In the pitching-rich NL West, both the Padres and Dodgers know they need a hitter in the middle of the order if they hope to pull away. They have tried to solve the issue from within, the Dodgers with James Loney and Matt Kemp, two of their top prospects, and the Padres with Double A third baseman Chase Headley (.357 average and .433 on-base percentage at San Antonio). The Dodgers would use Loney or Kemp in a deal for a power-hitting third baseman (Lowell, Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen). But the Padres, who struck out 66 times over a six-game stretch last week, will have to give up one of their bullpen guys, Cla Meredith or Scott Linebrink.
Location, location, location
One guy pitching coach Leo Mazzone simply hasn't been able to get to the next level in Baltimore is the talented Daniel Cabrera. The 26-year-old righthander continues to make the same mistakes with location. Over his last 14 starts, he's 5-7 with a 5.16 ERA, while last year after 14 starts he was 4-5 with a 5.13 ERA. "If you had to go on our stuff and potential, you'd be hard-pressed to find too many guys in either league above Cabrera," said an American League pitching coach, who doesn't think Cabrera suffers from the old "million-dollar arm, 10-cent head" syndrome. "He's still at the stage where he tries to throw everything by you and throw it the same way. When he really learns to pitch, you're going to see a guy who could be dominant for 10 years."

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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