Yankee Stadium brings out best and worst in players

Yankees third baseman Chase Headley (12) is greeted
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Yankees third baseman Chase Headley (12) is greeted by catcher Francisco Cervelli (29) after hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, July 27, 2014.(Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since ...

The theme of the week at Yankee Stadium has centered on what a nirvana the place is. Players arriving from Arizona, San Diego, the minors and other corners of limbo feel like they have sipped from the fountain of youth and discovered the cure for male-pattern baldness.

Chris Capuano, who made a solid first Yankees start yesterday, was the latest to feel like bursting out, singing, "If I can make it there, I'll make anywhere," just as Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley have felt since being rejuvenated in pinstripes.

But here is the flip side (to borrow an old phrase) to that happy tune: There is a whole lot of pressure that goes with the pleasure of playing in New York, New York.

Watch out for that welcome mat, there's a trap door underneath.

Take it from Brian McCann, who continued his resurgence with a two-run home run against the Blue Jays at the Stadium Saturday. He rounded the bases to a roaring ovation. Then, after he flubbed a pivotal play at first base in the top of the seventh, he was greeted with a sharp sarcastic cheer when he cleanly fielded a ball in the top of the eighth. So what, that he's a catcher who last played first base on a teenage travel team? Tough luck. You give up the right to excuses when you put on the Yankees uniform.

For his part, and to his credit, McCann has only great things to say about having moved here from Atlanta. Remember how he vigorously disagreed with comments by his former Braves coach Terry Pendleton that New York is too much for him. McCann, who has hit nine of his 11 home runs at home, spoke Saturday of the good feelings he has here: "You get to watch Jeter do his thing every day, and Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki. You see what they do to prepare for a game, it's pretty special."

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To be sure, a Yankee doesn't have to have skin as thick as he used to, in the days when Ken Clay was said to have "spit the bit," Jim Beattie was called "gutless," Dave Winfield publicly decried as "Mr. May" and Hideki Irabu was likened to a "fat toad" (to borrow more old phrases). Oh, those were the days. We can only imagine the quips George Steinbrenner would have made about McCann. He might cleverly have recalled that Beltran (batting .227 despite going 2-for-3 Saturday) ended a New York playoff series with a bat on his shoulder.

Even though there is no dynamo like The Boss around, there still is pressure in the air. Joe Girardi knows it, having played in the crucible of Yankee Stadium and the cocktail-hour ambience of Wrigley Field. He understands the adrenaline that Headley, McCarthy and Capuano feel.

"You're fighting for something in the months of July, August, September. I think that gets people excited. But it's also being part of the New York Yankees, this organization. There's a lot of tradition here, there have been a lot of great players here. The fan support we get is great. So I think they get excited about all those things," the Yankees manager said. "As long as they don't get caught up in expectations . . . "

Lots of luck on that. New York is a great place to play, and a tough place to play. Consider the Blue Jays, who finally won a game in the Bronx Saturday after 17 fruitless tries dating back to their 8-5 victory on Aug. 29, 2012. Winning pitcher Drew Hutchison said, "No, no, same hotel, same route. We just won today. But teammate Dan Johnson, who had four RBIs, said, "We tried anything, just to change the feeling, the mojo here."

The mojo has been terrific for the new Yankees so far. They will need a heck of a lot of effort and luck to keep it going . . . or else.

As for that refrain, "If I can make it there," sometimes that can be a big "if."

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