They were powerless to help
Yankee offense remains silent
NEW YORK -- Keith Olbermann, the long-ago Boston sportscaster who now anchors his own news show on MSNBC, was at Yankee Stadium with friends yesterday when he spotted Bob Kerrey, the senator from Nebraska who is a key member of the 9/11 commission. Olbermann suggested to Kerrey that when he finishes his current obligation, he consider investigating the disappearance of the Yankee offense. "That's a mystery, too," was Kerrey's response, according to Olbermann.
It is no secret that the enduring memory of the Red Sox' three-game sweep of the Yankees over the weekend will be the sight of so many pinstriped sluggers looking so pathetic all at once. After managing just two runs in each of the first two games of this series, the Yankees were shut out, 2-0, yesterday by Pedro Martinez (seven innings) and Scott Williamson (two), who allowed just one Yankee to advance as far as third base on a cool, drizzly day in the Bronx, where the mood of the 55,338 spectators was even more foul than the weather.
"It was a terrible weekend," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who if he has caller ID might want to screen calls from Tampa, where absentee owner George Steinbrenner spent the weekend in public silence, though he reportedly dropped a few dimes on calls blistering Yankee executives in the home office.
If Steinbrenner were to take his cue from his pal Donald Trump, he probably would fire his entire $185 million roster if he could.
Derek Jeter, pride of the Yankees, whiffed three times yesterday, extending his career-worst slump to 0 for 25. After striking out on three pitches against Williamson in the eighth, flailing away at a pitch far outside the zone for strike three, Jeter was booed louder than he's ever been booed at home, even if it fell short of the catcalls aimed at him in Boston.
"Here they were just boos," he said. "In Boston, it gets pretty nasty."
The Yankees had seven hits in an 11-2 blowout Friday. They had four in Saturday's 3-2, 12-inning defeat, none in the last six innings against four relievers. Yesterday, they had Alex Rodriguez's double and single, Ruben Sierra's double, and Gary Sheffield's single -- all the hits coming off Martinez, who never allowed more than a hit in an inning and had seven strikeouts, four called -- in being swept at home by the Sox for the first time since September 1999.
The Yankees, who had not lost the first two series against the Sox since 1988, batted just .199 (47 for 236) in losing six of seven to the Sox, three of four in the Fens last weekend. Rodriguez, who was held hitless in 16 trips in Boston until singling in his last at-bat on Patriots Day, had six hits this weekend, but he was the only Yankee swinging with authority.
Jeter was 4 for 31 against the Sox after wearing them out at a .394 clip last season. Hideki Matsui had a home run Friday night but went hitless in his last eight at-bats. Jason Giambi was 3 for 22, Sheffield 5 for 26, Bernie Williams 5 for 29 (0 for his last 11), and Jorge Posada 3 for 16 (0 for 6 over the weekend).
That derisive "1918" chant, so ubiquitous in Yankee Stadium? Dan Graziano of the Newark Star-Ledger suggested that at this rate, it will take on a new meaning this season: number of times the Sox and Yanks play (19), and the number of times the Sox come away a winner (18).
Last season, with Jeter out of action with a separated shoulder, the Yanks were 16-3 after 19 games. Even with a healthy Jeter and the addition of Sheffield and A-Rod, the Yankees' record today is 8-11. They're 4 1/2 games behind the Sox; the last time they were that far out of first place, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was May 10, 2002.
You have to go back to 1997, when they were also 8-11 and five games out of first place, to find a start this bad.
"I never envisioned our offense having these kind of problems," Torre said. "There's not a whole lot you can do. There's a human side to this game. I try to make things work for us, but right now we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves."
Eminent New York Times columnist George Vecsey posed the previously unthinkable to Torre: Any thought of sitting Jeter down?
"No," Torre quickly answered, then added, "but it's a legitimate question."
Last Monday, Jeter was struck on the left hand by a pitch from Bronson Arroyo, and wore a large icepack after that game. He insists the hand is fine, but ever since, his bat has been silent. He also made a throwing error yesterday, his third error in the seven games against the Sox, on a day that Posada dropped two pop flies (one deemed too tough to call an error, because he was reaching into the stands) and Matsui and Jeter let a fly ball fall between them.
All spring, Jeter had to listen to questions about how he would co-exist with A-Rod, who gets serenaded with "The Natural" at Yankee Stadium. But Jeter, a career .317 hitter who last season finished just behind batting champ Bill Mueller of the Sox (.326 to .324) could not have imagined having to endure the line of questioning he's hearing now.
"Yeah, it's surprising," he said of the failure of this modern-day Murderers' Row to have posted a better record to date, "but I wouldn't say it's unbelievable. If you don't play well, people are going to beat you."
It isn't likely to get easier any time soon. After a day off today, the Yankees play host to the Oakland A's, who will be throwing their three aces -- Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito.
The Yankees gave proper due to Martinez. "He doesn't throw 95 miles an hour anymore," Williams said, "but he has a certain number of bullets left in his belt, and when he wants to finish somebody off, he'll bust it out. He was very smart, throwing his curveball late in the game. Once he got hold of it, throwing it for strikes, you couldn't sit on his fastball. That was the story."
There was much talk in the Yankee clubhouse of remaining positive, and how this, too, shall pass. But Torre also noted that the air was thick with frustration.
"I'd be worried if they were having a good time," Torre said. "Sure, they get paid a lot of money, but they're also very proud individuals."
Torre said that in the past when his teams were scuffling at the plate, he'd throw batting practice.
"They called me the Slump Buster," he said, "but I'm not sure I'm still physically capable."
These are the times, Jeter said, when a player has to remain mentally strong. Easier said than done.
"This is not fun," Torre said. "This is not fun at all."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.