David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - Before Monday night's game, Joe Girardi had to discuss how he planned to juggle four outfielders, whether or not Phil Hughes will bounce back from his previous disaster and guesstimate the number of "bullets" left in Mariano Rivera's 43-year-old right arm.
Buck Showalter? His slumping Orioles had to send out Freddy Garcia to face the first-place team in the American League East. Beyond that, the manager would cross his fingers and hope cozy Camden Yards could maybe play big for an evening.
It didn't, especially for the Yankees, who hit four homers -- one each by Robinson Cano (of course), Travis Hafner (yup), Lyle Overbay (sure, OK) and David Adams (wha?) -- in their 6-4, 10-inning win.
The point is, plenty of teams have problems. But everything is relative, and any of the issues troubling the Yankees at this point don't really seem like that big a deal by comparison. Just ask the Orioles, who survived Garcia, only to have Jim Johnson -- the guy with 51 saves last season -- blow his third straight chance by giving up Hafner's bomb with one out in the ninth.
The Yankees have no worries there with Rivera, and seemingly few others at the moment. With Overbay, there's little reason to get worked up about Mark Teixeira, who appears to be as close to returning to the Yankees as you or me, even after all the excitement Monday about his at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa. And Adams, he's basically a catch-all on the left side of the infield, subbing for Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis -- three players so far off in the distance that they feel like foggy memories.
"I think there were so many question marks -- how we were going to put it together, where guys were going to hit in the lineup, who was going to fill in for this guy," Girardi said. "I just think it kind of stabilized itself.
"It's kind of normal now. It's the normal baseball season. It's the grind. You're going through it every day. Guys are playing every day. It's a lot less questions now."
Not exactly. There still are questions. But for the Yankees, the focus has shifted almost entirely away from Tampa and zeroed in on more immediate concerns, such as why Girardi chose to sit Vernon Wells for Monday's series opener and play Ichiro Suzuki instead. The answer was a basic one, citing the success of lefthanded hitters against Garcia while also expressing the need to give Wells a breather.
"I got four outfielders," Girardi said. "It's something that I'm going to have to manage a little bit. Vernon's the one that hasn't really had any off days. Sometimes when you give a guy two days in a row, it can really refresh him."
Curtis Granderson started in left and moved to center for the bottom of the eighth when Brett Gardner was replaced after striking out in the top half. Wells went to left after entering as a pinch hitter, doubled home the go-ahead run in the 10th and scored on Hafner's single. But such maneuvering is easy compared with distributing starts to players accustomed to full-time duty. And with Hafner back, that takes away the DH in most instances. "Things usually work their way out," Girardi said. "So I expect it to work its way out. And we'll just go from there."
Just like the pitching staff, presumably. David Phelps has not only taken over Ivan Nova's spot in the rotation, he's been an improvement, and he's likely to hold on to that job even after Nova and Andy Pettitte return from the DL. Entering Monday night, the Yankees' team ERA of 3.53 was second only to the Rangers (3.49) in the American League.
That's where Showalter pointed when asked Monday about his former team's success. At first, he dismissed a question that suggested the rejuvenating power of the pinstripes, responding that he wears the "orange and black" of the Orioles now. But Showalter also brought up spending money -- in general terms -- and how they do things differently in Baltimore.
Not mentioning the Yankees by name, of course. But no matter what's going on in the Bronx, or who's playing there, Showalter always is paying attention. And his Orioles still have some catching up to do.