Back to reality for Yankees

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

Everybody likes to see the town bully get a dose of humility from time to time.

Baseball's version of that theme involves the Yankees taking it on the kneecap from such powerhouses as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and, of course, the Blue Jays.

That's one of the reasons why the first three weeks of the baseball season have been somewhat pleasurable in places other than the Bronx. We've all been getting our jollies watching the best team money can buy struggle to get out of the gate.

Reality will strike soon enough. Perhaps it already has, if last night's Yankees laugher over Toronto is any barometer. But it has been fun while it lasted.

Boss Steinbrenner has delivered his strategically timed message of outrage, conveying an appropriate loathing for the kind of baseball the Yanks have been playing. He chewed out his team in a prepared statement delivered by his PR man, prior to a two-game set at home against the Rays. Now, of course, he had to be thinking the pinstripers were going to take Tampa apart anyway, so why not get a little bit of the glory for himself.

So the Yanks tonged on Tampa 19-7 in the opener, then threw up all over their own shoes the next night, losing 6-2. Not what George had in mind but a delightful result in all precincts outside of Manhattan.

A 5-9 start isn't exactly what anyone in New York had in mind, especially with a $200-million US payroll. That figure is never far from any Yankees critic's mind because it is so outrageously much more than any other team in baseball would or could spend. Blame has been lavishly apportioned, from the bottom to the top.

Let's be serious, though. It wasn't going to last. The Bombers made it look easy against the Jays last night. Then again, maybe the Jays made it look easier than they should have.

Toronto starter Ted Lilly was less than precise and he doesn't have the kind of stuff or heat to confuse a lineup like the Yanks possess without hitting his spots. It didn't go well.

POOR NIGHT FOR CAT

Neither did it go well for left fielder Frank Catalanotto, whose adventures in left field contributed to an early 3-0 New York lead, as the Bombers pelted him with frozen ropes he couldn't corral. The capper for Catalanotto came at the plate in the third when he struck out, then took catcher Jorge Posada's throw right in the helmet as Posada tried to throw out Russ Adams as he tried to steal second base.

But the Cat could have played like a Gold Glover and not have been able to make a difference to this inevitable outcome. Eight walks issued by Blue Jays pitching is more to the point.

Truth is, the Yankees are one good week away from being where everyone always expects them to be, up at the top of the East Division, grappling with the Boston Red Sox. There is some question whether they can take it all the way with a less-than-dominant pitching staff, but that's an argument that will be waged several months down the road. In the meantime, if George decides he needs more pitching, he'll get more pitching.

Earlier this week, Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella, who operates with a payroll of $29 million and whose team is destined to be buried deep in the American League standings, pointed out the futility of it all in a conversation with the New York Daily News.

"What does the Unit (Randy Johnson) make, $16 million?" he asked. "My entire rotation makes $3 million. My highest-paid pitcher is my closer (Danys Baez, at $3.7 million) but we haven't been able to get him a save opportunity yet."

Tampa's plight is extreme, but you could point out the dramatic inequities from now until next week on 20 or more big-league teams in comparison to the Yanks.

Sooner or later, the Bronx Bullies will start playing up to their paycheques. In recent years, October -- the only month that matters in New York -- has been their most troubling time. For most of the remaining 29 teams in baseball, October remains a cheque returned, marked NSF.


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