Springtime was not kind to New York’s baseball teams. For the Mets and Yankees, April and May brought not hope, but dismay. Both teams looked as if they would be lucky to finish the season without losing more games than they won. Injuries hurt—Alex Rodriguez, Phil Hughes, Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez all went down early in the season—but more than anything else, the teams looked sloppy and apathetic.
Now, in midsummer, the bad old days of spring have been banished. The Mets are in first place in the National League East as of July 29. The Yankees are in third place, just three games behind this year’s surprise team, the Tampa Bay Rays, in the American League East.
This welcome turn of events didn’t just happen. It took some gutsy decisions in the Bronx and Queens, along with that invaluable but increasingly rare virtue, patience. Panic-stricken fans who demanded drastic changes have been proved wrong—both of these teams have been carefully constructed and built to win. Neither team had to trade their top prospects to rent a high-profile player for the season. All they needed was a spark.
The Yankee spark came from their current and future ace, Joba Chamberlain. When the Yankees moved him from his spot as a setup man for Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera, some saw desperation in the eyes of Yankee management. Instead, the move has turned out to be one of the shrewdest the team has made in some time. Mr. Chamberlain has excelled as a starting pitcher, adding much-needed depth to the Bombers’ rotation.
The Mets made their big change not on the field, but on the bench. After the team followed up last season’s catastrophic collapse in September with a spring of poor play, manager Willie Randolph was given his walking papers. It was not an easy call, because Mr. Randolph is a popular figure in New York. But the move seems to have paid dividends. Slugger Carlos Delgado has had a month to remember in July, and pitcher Mike Pelfrey is performing like the star the Mets always insisted he would be—even when fans were screaming that he be traded.
Both teams, then, embraced change but mixed in a little wisdom as well. The Yanks redesigned Mr. Chamberlain’s role, but they haven’t traded Mr. Hughes or Ian Kennedy, another promising pitcher, to obtain the services of a veteran. The Mets changed managers, but they, too, resisted calls to get rid of Mr. Pelfrey and Mr. Delgado. Credit both organizations for not responding to fans and commentators who demanded wholesale changes.
So now we get to watch significant baseball in the dog days of summer. And we hope, with fingers crossed, that the final seasons of Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium will end not in September, but late October.
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