|Can Joe Girardi manage through this Yankees slide?. (Getty Images)|
BALTIMORE -- The Yankees say this will make them better.
Funny, a year ago the Red Sox were saying the same thing. We know how that worked out.
The guess here is that it works out a whole lot better for the Yankees, who exhibit few signs of being capable of a Red Sox-level collapse. Yes, their 10-game division lead disappeared completely a couple of times this week, but they're not doing now the things the Red Sox did then.
They lost two games this week at Tampa Bay, but they didn't get swept. They couldn't finish their comeback Thursday night against the Orioles, but they bounced back with an 8-5 win Friday to take back the American League East lead.
"That was a crushing loss [Thursday] if you're weak mentally," Russell Martin said. "I don't feel like we're weak mentally."
Twice this week, the division race has been tied. Twice this week, the Yankees were back on top a day later.
You could argue that it shouldn't be this close, and you'd be right. You could ask how the Yankees could start a lineup Friday where the fifth through ninth batters were hitting anywhere from .186 to .233, and I wouldn't have an answer for you.
But to say that the Yankees are in real trouble? It's hard to agree with that. Not yet.
The Yankees have their issues, as colleague Jon Heyman pointed out earlier this week. Those issues remain.
But with Alex Rodriguez back in the lineup (he homered Friday), with Mark Teixeira expected back Saturday (for the first time since Aug. 27) and with Martin reappearing offensively (seven RBI in the last four games, which is more than he had in April, May or August), the Yankees look more solid than the standings would indicate.
"I think we're in a good place," Rodriguez insisted, after saying that the tightening of the division race was "the best thing that could have happened to us."
I'm not sure I buy that last part, just as I didn't buy it last year when Terry Francona said that "we'll meet this challenge, and it'll make us stronger."
Looking back at the stories from the middle of last September, I see that the remaining schedule was said to favor the Red Sox over the Rays. Well, good, because the remaining schedule now favors the Yankees over everyone.
The games Saturday and Sunday will be their last against the second-place Orioles. After Sunday, they'll play just two series against teams with winning records, both at home, against the Rays and A's.
After this weekend, they may not play any more games in a "playoff atmosphere" until the real playoffs begin.
Friday's atmosphere at Camden Yards wasn't as electric as Thursday's, and Friday's crowd included a few more Yankee fans. And Friday's game, with the Yankees going in front 7-0 by the fifth inning, and then holding on through an Oriole comeback in the sixth and seventh, wasn't nearly as compelling.
As close as they still are in the standings, these teams come at this series and this month from opposite directions. The Yankees, of course, are supposed to win the division, and win in October, too. The Orioles, who haven't been in games like this in 15 years, can succeed by just getting to the playoffs, or even by just getting close.
Theoretically, the Yankees should feel a lot more pressure.
"I think the toughest thing to do in professional sports is to win when you're expected to win," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Friday afternoon.
You can see his point, but it's also easier to win when you expect to win. And the Yankees still, at this point, fully expect to win.
They fully expect to be playing next month, so they can say what Martin said Friday.
"I just think this gets us ready for what's ahead," he suggested. "This is a great series. This is like the playoffs here.
"You've got to embrace the adversity, or you're going to be miserable."
By this time last September, the Red Sox were just getting going on a 1-6 trip to Toronto and Tampa Bay that made the coming collapse begin to seem possible.
It was at the end of that trip that David Ortiz said, "At this point you panic. . . . Of course you're freaked out."
The Yankees don't have anyone who talks like Ortiz. They're more boring, but perhaps steadier, as well.
Perhaps it would be different if they'd fallen behind in the division race. Perhaps it will be different by Sunday afternoon, if the Orioles win the next two games to finally push the Yankees into second place.
Perhaps, but probably not.
"It's September, sure, but there are still a lot of games to go," said Phil Hughes, Friday's winning pitcher. "We have to play well this whole month. You can't put too much on any one game."
This is a much more interesting September in the AL East than we expected, much more interesting than it probably should be. But it's not Red Sox, Part II, a year later.