Since the start of the Yankees’ dramatic turnaround this month, 26-year-old left pitcher Sean Henn has seen almost no action.
This is not a coincidence.
“Everybody here has tasted winning before,” said Henn, a long reliever, in a clubhouse interview prior to New York’s ninth straight victory on Thursday. “The clubhouse is filled with perennial all stars and future Hall of Famers.”
Prior to June, Henn had been getting regular work bailing out the aging starters in the Bronx, appearing in 16 games through May 10. New York, plagued with a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness, has run through 12 different starting pitchers already this season, losing half of them to the disabled list. Even their recently signed savior Roger Clemens had to delay his comeback start because of something called a “tired groin.”
But then in June, something clicked for the Yankees, who are the oldest team in baseball. So far, they’ve gone 11-2, on the strength of solid starting pitching and clutch hitting from their star veterans. They’ve averaged an obscene seven runs per game this month, and outscored opponents 92-51.
And guys like Henn, who has made just one appearance in June, have gotten to sit back and watch.
So can it last, this amazing resurgence built on the backs of geezers?
Certainly, any roster stocked with as many former stars as the New York Yankees is certainly capable of playing spectacular stretches of baseball. Lesser teams have done it—the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won 12 in a row a few years ago en route to a last-place finish. The 2001 New York Mets rallied from a mid-August record of 54-68 to go 25-6. The 1987 Milwaukee Brewers began the season at 13-0, but lost 12 straight a month later. None of these teams had the number of players with the past success of those on the 2007 Yankees.
But those Yankees are old.
A player’s peak, according to conventional baseball wisdom, is from 27-31. It simply becomes harder for the older player to hit that curveball as consistently, and his hot streaks are not as hot, and fewer in number. The days a pitcher has his best stuff become less frequent.
The Yankees, meanwhile, started the season with just two regular players under the age 33, and they have seen plenty of downward sloping performances already. Designated Hitter Jason Giambi, 36, is unlikely to help the team this season, between his heel injury and the specter of suspension by Major League Baseball for his impolitic admission of steroid use during an interview last month. His replacements have been uninspired, and based upon their numbers, unenhanced.