David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Derek Jeter looked relaxed in his travel suit, shirt collar open, with no tie. It would be a comfortable train ride back to New York, made much easier by yesterday's 13-3 win over the Orioles.
"Considering we lost two of the first three, it was huge," Jeter said, "because that's the best we could do. To be honest with you, I thought we played pretty good."
Now the Yankees are finished with Baltimore for the regular season, and knowing that, they hope to leave some of the weekend's drama at Camden Yards behind them, too. After Saturday night's mayhem, with Joe Girardi berating a reporter and Mark Teixeira verbally attacking the umpires, Sunday provided a needed cooling-off period.
Short of a clubhouse-wide yoga class, thumping the Orioles was the next-best thing to help dial back some of that building tension. When that was suggested to Jeter, however, the shortstop chalked up the simmering tempers to the rigors of the club's recent schedule, which included the just-completed 10-game stretch against the Rays and Orioles.
"You're assuming there was stress," Jeter said, smiling. "Yeah, guys were upset [Saturday]. But we've played some tough teams and sometimes you're going to get beat."
The Yankees could afford to be more philosophical as they dressed to leave Baltimore with a one-game lead in the American League East. It may seem like the tiniest of margins, but they've been in first place, either tied or alone, every day since June 11. The thought of relinquishing that with only 22 games left is not something any Yankee wants to entertain.
"It just shows our character," said Teixeira, who had to sit out the series finale after aggravating his sore left calf. "It just shows our heart. We have a group of guys in here that want to win very badly."
For the Yankees, the issue hasn't been so much the desire as it has been the performance. But in splitting these four games with the Orioles, they appear to have made some progress on the latter front. Alex Rodriguez missed a third home run in as many days by roughly a foot, but with the long single, he's batting .308 (8-for-26) with eight runs, two doubles, two homers and six RBIs in seven games since coming off the disabled list Sept. 3.
Rodriguez even had some fun with Jake Arrieta after the Orioles reliever nailed him with a pitch in the seventh inning, which could have been delivered as payback for the pitch from CC Sabathia that broke Nick Markakis' left thumb and ended his season Saturday night. On his way to first, A-Rod scooped up the baseball -- something rarely done -- and flipped it back toward Arrieta, who watched it land behind him on the fringe of the mound.
Curtis Granderson stung the Orioles later that inning with a two-run single, another highlight from his three-hit, five-RBI afternoon off the bench. With Teixeira's status in limbo -- he's scheduled for an MRI Monday -- the Yankees could use a bounce-back month from Granderson, who entered Sunday hitting .125 (6-for-48) with 18 strikeouts in his previous 15 games.
Joba Chamberlain also was a pleasant surprise, striking out four in 12/3 innings and possibly giving Girardi another high-leverage bullpen option to think about. The only regular the Yankees still are waiting on is Nick Swisher, who went 0-for-4 and is hitless in his last 28 at-bats -- not long after a 19-game stretch in which he batted .378.
Swisher has got to start chipping in if Girardi plans to stick with him in the No. 2 spot. And if the Orioles have taught the Yankees anything during this season-long cat-and-mouse game, it's the importance of rosterwide contributions.
"There's not one magic bullet to save you," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "This is the epitome of a total team game."
Showalter's plucky crew now is in the Yankees' rearview mirror. Out of sight maybe, but hardly out of mind. And after appearing on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the Yankees looked more refreshed after Sunday's rout. Even for September, this was a wide-sweeping mood swing for one 16-hour stretch.
"I've said all along this was a resilient team," Girardi said. And on this occasion, he wasn't yelling.