Bam-Tino revives Yanks' year

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

They were officially pronounced dead and buried.

They were going to finish further up the American League track than George Steinbrenner's Kentucky Derby entry.

His pre-race favourite Bellamy Road was a distant seventh.

His pre-season AL East favourites, the New York Yankees were 11-19 when they awoke on May 7. The only reason they wouldn't finish seventh was because the division has only five teams.

The Yanks went into last night's game in Seattle trying to sweep the Mariners for their 11th consecutive win. New York had five wins against the Oakland Athletics and five against Seattle, before the Mariners ended the streak with a 7-6 victory last night.

What happened to the best team money can buy?

When the Anaheim Angels eliminated the Yankees in the 2002 AL Championship Series, catcher Jorge Posada said "we didn't have enough Yankees."

Whether that was a shot at Raul Mondesi has been debated. There was never any debate as to which departed ones Posada was talking about: Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius, who both retired, and Tino Martinez, who moved on as a free agent to the St. Louis Cardinals to make room for Jason Giambi.

Now 37, Martinez is back and he's as much a reason for the turnaround as the Yanks' starting rotation righting itself. The Yanks had hoped to void Giambi's contract for steroid use and sign free-agent Carlos Delgado. When that didn't happen they signed Martinez for $3 million US.

Old bones or not, Martinez is filling right-field seats with baseballs at home and on the road.

"Tino has had more lives than the Bee Gees," Atlanta Braves broadcaster Don Sutton was saying the other day. The Martinez swing has been smooth as Frank Sinatra's voice.

During the 10-game win streak -- the Yanks' longest in seven years -- they had scored 71 runs. Martinez, who didn't play last night, had driven in 19 and scored 13 times. He's hitting .343 (12-for-35) with a double and eight homers.

Martinez hit solo homers to right field off Danny Haren of the Athletics in the second and fourth innings on Sunday. He hit a three-run homer to right off Athletics reliever Tim Harikkala on Saturday.

Martinez got the Yankees rolling by homering in five consecutive games.

He homered to right off Joe Blanton in a 5-0 win over Oakland, as New York's Mike Mussina pitched a complete-game shutout May 7.

The next night he hit a three-run homer to right against reliever Kiko Calero in the eighth inning of a 6-0 win over the A's.

Martinez homered to right, this one a two-run shot off Gil Meche, in a 4-3 Yanks win over Seattle.

Next, Bam-Tino went deep, again to right, for a two-run, third-inning homer against Aaron Sele as the Yanks prevailed 7-4.

Then, he hit a three-run, fourth-inning homer to right off reliever Matt Thornton in a 13-9 Yankee win over Seattle.

Mussina, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Chien-Ming Wang, filling in for the injured Jaret Wright, each had two wins apiece during the streak.

Mussina had a complete-game shutout, while Carl Pavano and Brown had combined on shutouts.

Martinez arrived in New York in 1996 and was asked to replace folk hero Don Mattingly. He helped the Yanks win four World Series.

After that, replacing Giambi has been easy.


Photos