Bombers loaded for Series run

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

It's Tuesday.

That means the Blue Jays again will be playing for the first time this season against an American League East contender. A week ago today, the Jays visited Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox.

And like last week against Boston, neither Roy Halladay nor A.J. Burnett will see the mound.

Gustavo Chacin faces the New York Yankees' Randy Johnson tonight, and tomorrow afternoon Ted Lilly takes on Mike Mussina. The Yankees will go with their 1-2 punch, while the Jays hope all is well with Halladay and Burnett when both pitch against the Red Sox on the weekend.

The Yankees have a through-the-roof team payroll of more than $200 million US this season. Yet throughout the five boroughs -- Queen's, Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn -- there are youngsters born after Oct. 26, 2000 who never have seen the Yankees win a World Series.

They have to listen to dad and ol' grandpa spin tales about the glory years. Since closer Mariano Rivera got Mike Piazza on a pop-up in Game 5 at Shea Stadium to win the 2000 World Series, the Yankees have seen the Arizona Diamondbacks, Anaheim Angels, Florida Marlins, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox win the Series.

The Yanks Nation extends to northern New York, which means two things: The Jays will draw above their home average and parking prices will be hiked.

Of course, the Yankees have not been up the creek, having won the American League East from 2001-05, but standards are high. It's like Whitey Herzog, then manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, showed up in spring training of 1986, after losing to the Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of 1985 and fans said: "Tough year, Whitey."

And Herzog would reply: "If we can get to Game 7 of the World Series every year, I'll take my chances."

Expectations in St. Louis are not the same as in New York, where the Yankees are expected to win each year.

Manager Joe Torre sounded like about 20 other major-league managers this spring when he said: "We'll go as far as our pitching carries us."

The pinstriped rotation consists of Johnson, 42, Mussina, 37, Chien-Ming Wang, Shawn Chacon and Jaret Wright. Aaron Small (right hamstring) and Carl Pavano (bruised back) are working their way back, pitching yesterday in Tampa.

The question we asked most this spring when encountering scouts and baseball executives was: "Who has the better staff, the Red Sox or the Yanks?" Almost 75% of the people we asked answered Boston, which was the opposite of what we figured.

And here we are 12 games in and the Yankees lead the AL with an earned-run average of 3.84. However, that translates to a 6-6 record.

Torre has an everyday lineup that could have been seen at a past all-star game: Jorge Posada behind the plate, an infield of first baseman Jason Giambi, second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter; an outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Gary Sheffield, and Bernie Williams at DH.

If you are counting along at home, that's 43 all-star appearances -- led by Sheffield and Rodriguez with nine apiece. And if you are facing the Yanks ... good luck, they lead the AL in runs scored, averaging 6.7 runs per game.

The Yankees lineup is so good it can use its second-best leadoff man (Damon over Jeter) in the leadoff spot and play its best shortstop (Rodriguez) at third.

A year ago, on July 1, the Yankees were 39-39.

They can afford to be at sea level for a while and still win the division. It's the 0-for-5 October they are worried about.


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