David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
In a little more than a week's time, the Yankees have transformed themselves from aging has-beens to, well, the Yankees again. Not the same faces we've come to expect over the past few years or so, but evidently still a dangerous team that doesn't appear anywhere near ready to roll over just yet.
"Obviously, it's different with those guys not being here," said Vernon Wells, whose .720 slugging percentage leads the team after Tuesday night's double. "But when you put this uniform on, it doesn't matter who's out there -- you're expected to go out and produce and compete. I think that's what drives a lot of guys once they put this uniform on."
The name on the front still says Yankees, or in this case, New York for the road grays, but you get the idea. Watching Andy Pettitte stare over the top of his glove at the Indians was a familiar sight, as was his dismantling of Cleveland's lineup for seven innings. After two starts, Pettitte is 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA, and as long as the 40-year-old can stay healthy -- a big if, by the way -- the Yankees remain formidable through the top three spots in the rotation.
With Derek Jeter absent, Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are the only core members left. Consider the last week, however, a useful exercise in character building. In dropping the first two games -- at home, to the Red Sox -- the newbies got their first taste of widespread panic in the Bronx.
Thursday's Pettitte/Rivera gem helped restore some santiy, but two more losses at Comerica Park in the ALCS rematch with the Tigers thrust the needle back into the red zone. Three days later, the Yankees have dusted Justin Verlander, scored 32 runs in three wins and leveled off at 4-4.
"It's been great," Joe Girardi said. "It's fun to watch."
And when the Indians pushed Tuesday night, the Yankees shoved back. Harder. After Cano smacked a two-run homer, his third in two games, Carlos Carrasco fired the next pitch at Youkilis' head. Fortunately, he ducked and took it in the shoulder instead.
Carrasco was subsequently ejected, and rightly so. But the matter apparently wasn't over to Youkilis, who got his revenge by proxy in taking Brett Myers over the wall in his very next at-bat. "Youk's tough," Girardi said. "We've seen Youk over the years. We know he's a tough guy."
With their captain out, Girardi's reshuffled roster can use some of that attitude, the kind that Youkilis once used to annoy the Yankees all those years in Boston. Cano also is displaying some of that swagger again.
The early results also have allowed Brian Cashman to sleep a little better. Girardi's nightly lineups may not be an accurate reflection of the Yankees' $228-million payroll, but at least they're not the pathetic bunch most people had imagined them to be. If the general manager's late-March repairs have something to do with that, he'll take it.
"I wouldn't say there's any satisfaction," Cashman said Tuesday, "because all that counts is the won-loss record. But it is important for the new guys to get off to a good start."
Not that Cashman doubted his new recruits, who had plenty of major-league experience -- and success -- before showing up in the Bronx. But the GM did bring up the "pressure points" created in the New York market -- TV, radio, newspaper -- that tend to squeeze even harder if a player begins his Yankees tenure in lackluster fashion.
In assembling this group, it's not like Cashman had much of a choice. Sizing up his roster this offseason, up until the final week of spring training, Cashman had holes to fill at third base, first base, leftfield and DH.
Eight games in, Cashman's on-the-fly makeover is very much a work in progress. But the Yankees are looking more like the Yankees in recent days, and maybe even turned down the volume on some of that early skepticism along the way.