The baseball season constantly catches you off guard, doesn't it? A simple Shin-Soo Choo grounder to the right side sets Bartolo Colon running toward first base yesterday afternoon. In a blink, after taking the relay from Mark Teixeira for the out, Colon is limping toward the dugout.
So now the Yankees find themselves facing another crisis point in what has been an extremely challenging homestand, let alone the 2011 season as a whole.
The Yankees won their second straight game, 4-0 over Cleveland at Yankee Stadium, but neither the victory nor another hit-by-pitch episode couldn't detract from the biggest news: Colon, the most shockingly good performer on any team this season, will almost certainly go on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a strained left hamstring and figures to miss at least a few weeks.
"It's not what you want, that's for sure," Joe Girardi said, following the game. "He's pitched extremely well."
Said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman: "The bottom line is, we're going to fill that hole, and whatever we do, we've got to make sure that it doesn't hurt. We will find someone to plug that hole, and plug it effectively."
Really, if Cashman and the Yankees wanted to take the full-bore optimistic view, they could appreciate that they received two elite months, including Saturday's winning performance, from someone who reported to spring training with zero expectations. From a guy who had been a virtual baseball ghost for the five previous seasons.
It doesn't work that way, of course. When you invest in a jalopy and it turns magically into a sports car, you want to keep driving the sports car. You don't smile and say, "Oh, well!" when the sports car breaks down.
Say what you want about Colon's controversial surgery from last year -- Major League Baseball won't come up with anything on that -- but the 38-year-old was on a pace to match his 2005 excellence that won him the American League Cy Young Award
Said Alex Rodriguez, who took a Mitch Talbot sixth-inning fastball to the left side, prompting home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna to immediately eject Talbot: "Bartolo has thrown the ball like a legitimate No. 1 starter in the American League East. Unbelievable."
The best bet to replace Colon, short-term, is one of three righthanded starting pitchers -- D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps or Adam Warren -- performing well for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barres; my bet is Phelps gets the first shot, then Warren, if necessary. Hector Noesi, impressive in relief, will be back on the roster Sunday and will try to help out the bullpen.
The trade market for starters looks to be absolutely brutal, headlined by the likes of Houston's Brett Myers and Washington's Jason Marquis. Maybe a contending team will fall apart by July 31 and offer up a better asset. Or maybe the Yankees will find a match with Atlanta for Derek Lowe, whom the Braves would deal for a major-league piece on offense. That could require a three-way transaction.
These are your Yankees. They knew it was going to be a tough road once both Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte said no thanks to their money. They got a huge contribution from Colon, and maybe he'll return just as good down the road. A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova have contributed as much as anyone reasonably could have anticipated.
The burden shifts to someone else to keep it going. "Obviously, we're hoping for the best," Teixeira said, speaking of Colon. We'll see what surprises the baseball gods have in store for Sunday.