If you were one of the 40,075 fans at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, you probably thought you showed up to watch a late June game.
Sorry. Wrong! Saturday was Opening Day II for the Yankees.
With Mark Teixeira’s return to the lineup for the first time since June 3, the Yankees had the entire band back for the first time this season since . . . feels like spring training.
It’s not just the lineup we’re talking about. Remember, on the real Opening Day, the Yankees did not have the suspended Aroldis Chapman, who saved Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the awful Twins.
Just as they did on the real Opening Day, the Yankees started Saturday at even with a 36-36 record. Now they are one game over .500 — 1-0, if you will. (Even if you won’t. It’s my column.)
The Yankees have five weeks before the Aug. 1 trade deadline to demonstrate whether they are the playoff-bound team Brian Cashman thought he put together or a meandering sub-contender.
Buyers or sellers? It will be decided in the next five weeks. The Yankees have no more excuses. They have no key players on the disabled list and can fire up the unbelievably powerful bullpen trio of Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller-Chapman whenever they have a chance to win.
“We’re confident in our team and we’re confident we’re going to start playing better baseball,” Brian McCann said. “We all believe in this team in here. I believe our best baseball is coming.”
Now, any win is like a tasty fish: you don’t throw it back. But the Yankees barely eked out a victory against the worst team in baseball on Saturday. The go-ahead run didn’t score on one of the Yankees’ 10 hits, but on an eighth-inning error by Minnesota shortstop Eduardo Escobar on a potential inning-ending double-play ball hit by Starlin Castro.
Teixeira had a chance to drive in the go-ahead run one batter earlier, but he struck out with runners on first and third and none out to cap an 0-for-3, one-walk return.
Carlos Beltran, the Yankees’ best player this year, had tied the score at 1 with a two-out RBI single in the fifth. Michael Pineda gave the Yankees six superb innings, allowing only a second-inning home run by Brian Dozier, before Betances-Miller-Chapman took over.
“I think we have a great team,” Chapman said through a translator.
No doubt they do — when they are playing the Twins, who fell to 23-51. It’s the rest of the schedule the Yankees have to master before Cashman decides to tear it down or build it up at the deadline.
So which is it going to be?
“I can’t see the future,” Beltran said. “I can just tell you about what I see right now, and right now what I see is we have a good team. We just need to be consistent. I know that sounds cliché, me saying ‘try to be consistent,’ but that’s the reality right now.”
The reality is that the Yankees aren’t jumping for joy over being on the correct side of .500. They’ve been there before and have slid back. They haven’t been two games over .500 since they were 4-2.
Maybe you’d like them to be all “We’re gonna go out and kick some butt now that we have everyone healthy! Look out, American League! And select National League teams during interleague play!”
But that’s not how baseball works.
“We’ve had this conversation like maybe four or five times this year,” Beltran said. “Right now, honestly, what we want to do is be consistent. Honestly, I think the .500 thing is something that we’re not putting attention [on]. We just want to play consistent baseball.”
Then now is the time to consistently bring it. Five weeks. No excuses.