It’s been pretty clear in the first two weeks of the season that many of the newcomers to the lineup have stepped up to help the Yankees withstand a few key injuries, but what may go unnoticed is how many of these guys have also played big roles behind the scenes. Some of the veterans who are new to team seem to be having a positive influence on the clubhouse, and they’re handling playing in New York — and all that comes with it — very well. Here’s my story from today’s paper.
By Vincent Z. Mercogliano
NEW YORK Just two games into the season, the sky was falling in Yankeeland.
The Yankees had dropped consecutive games to the hated Boston Red Sox, and many of the concerns about an offense that was perceived to lack punch seemed to be coming to fruition. Now having won five of their last six games, there is a much different mood in the Yankees’ clubhouse.
Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are still out with injuries, but the production from newcomers such as Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner has ensured that this lineup continues to be a force.
“I think it comes natural for them, because I think they’ve been in those positions before,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You think about Vernon, he was a star in Toronto. You think about Hafner, he was a star in Cleveland, so these guys are used to performing at a very high level. Youkilis was a star in Boston, so it’s not surprising, but I appreciate what they’ve done. I can tell you that.”
Coming into Sunday night’s game, the three Yankees that have held down the middle of the order were each hitting at least .303. Youkilis, Wells and Hafner have combined to hit eight home runs, as the Yankees lead the American League with 19 long balls.
“I think that’s why (general manager Brian Cashman) brought us here,” Wells said. “Veteran guys, guys that have been through ups and downs and have seen the best and worst of this game, to be able to come here as a group and help each other, help this ballclub to be where we are right now. We couldn’t ask for more than that. We need to continue to be consistent with our approaches, continue to improve in different areas until we start getting bits and pieces of this puzzle back.”
While the newest Yankees have been swinging the bats well, they have also made their presences felt in the clubhouse. Without some of the familiar faces that have been the voices of the team for so long, guys such as Youkilis and Wells haven’t been shy about being outspoken leaders.
“I think you’re talking about high character guys,” Girardi said. “They’re guys that have been calming forces in a clubhouse over the years, guys that have played at a high level, guys that have played in the American League East, been in championship series; so I’m not really surprised. It wasn’t like we brought up four rookies or four one-year players in a sense and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to play an important role. You have to go out and do the job and we want you to represent the club.’ ”
Lyle Overbay is another first-year Yankee who has filled in admirably for Teixeira at first base, but Girardi has also been impressed with a player that has been up-and-down in the Yankees’ system. Russell Martin’s decision to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason left a void at catcher, but Francisco Cervelli has seized the opportunity. He came into Sunday’s game hitting .348.
“Cervi has done a great job,” Girardi said. “Did I expect him to step up? He’s worked his tail end off – he really has. You look at what he did last year when he went down in a tough situation, he worked really, really hard. I’m not really surprised, and I appreciate the effort that he has given us and what he has done to get back here.”
Associated Press photos