David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Remember when losing Michael Pineda was supposed to cripple the Yankees' rotation? What about the panic at the sight of Mariano Rivera on crutches knowing he was through for the season? Or the devastating effect Brett Gardner's absence would have by making the lineup one-dimensional?
Somehow, despite all the hyperventilating, the Yankees still had the best record in the majors (45-28) when they woke up yesterday morning, with a comfy four-game lead over the Orioles in the American League East. And that's not likely to change much, even after the team was forced to put both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte on the disabled list with injuries of varying degrees.
It's quite a blow to absorb. There's no question about that. But let's step away from the ledge for a second and take a look at the immediate fallout. Sabathia was diagnosed with a Grade I adductor -- or groin -- strain, the least severe, and is expected to miss two starts before he returns after the All-Star break in mid-July.
"We should be OK," is how manager Joe Girardi responded to the news when he made the announcement around 11:30 Wednesday morning. Four hours later, Pettitte was struck on the lower left leg by Casey Kotchman's one-hopper and X-rays revealed a fractured fibula that is likely to keep him off a major-league mound for roughly two months.
That was enough to get general manager Brian Cashman to hold an impromptu news conference after the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Indians, which also happened to complete a three-game sweep.
"Well," Cashman deadpanned, "we won."
A bit of gallows humor is expected from the GM on a day when he loses the top two pitchers in his rotation. Giving up is not. The Yankees' immediate fix is to call up righthander Adam Warren (5-5, 3.86 ERA) from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for tomorrow night's start against the White Sox and schedule Freddy Garcia for Monday in Tampa Bay.
But their best insurance policy to cover the losses of Sabathia and Pettitte is already in place. The Yankees' offense, ranked first in the majors in home runs (117) and second in OPS (.789), has enough artillery to blast their way through this difficult stretch. Overall, they're averaging 4.80 runs per game; the Rangers are No. 1 with 5.26.
Robinson Cano's go-ahead homer Wednesday was his seventh in 10 games and 18th of the season. He's now becoming impossible to pitch to again. This month, he's batting .345 (30-for-87) with 10 homers, 18 RBIs and 20 runs scored. The Yankees improved to 45-15 when hitting at least one home run; they are 1-13 otherwise.
"I feel like this team is put together really well," said Nick Swisher, whose 46 RBIs lead the club. "I don't care if we win 28-27 or win 2-1. The biggest thing you got to remember is bring to the party what you can."
Another antidote for an ailing rotation is a sturdy bullpen. The Yankees' relievers entered Wednesday with the fourth-best ERA (2.80) in the majors and they filled in adequately after Pettitte was forced to limp off in the fifth inning. It wasn't always pretty -- Rafael Soriano walked in a run in the ninth before closing his 17th save in 18 chances. But the Yankees seem to find a way, and they anticipate that will continue.
"You can't replace those guys," catcher Russell Martin said. "But I don't think we go into a game thinking about who we have on the DL and thinking about how many runs we have to score. We just go out there and play baseball."
More often than not, the Yankees still are going to do that better than other teams, whether it's blitzing them with the long ball or having Girardi dialing for his favorite bullpen matchups. It's not great timing, as the Yankees must wrap the first half with the White Sox, Rays and Red Sox. But like every other crisis, they expect to get by this one, too.
"Hopefully we'll have some meaningful games to play in October," Cashman said. "Obviously we've got to win games -- a lot of games -- between now and then. But [Pettitte] certainly will be fresher than he would have been. So we'll try to look for positives in the negatives."
Getting to October isn't going to be a problem for the Yankees. And when they do, what happened Wednesday won't feel like such a big deal anymore.