George Steinbrenner showed remarkable restraint Tuesday night for a man with a $200 million payroll and an itch only winning can scratch. He resisted the urge to go volcanic. He never called Joe Torre and reminded the manager that a one-day respite from defeat wasn't what he had in mind when he accused his New York Yankees of grossly underachieving over the weekend. Steinbrenner dismissed the loss to lowly Tampa Bay without comment, giving his New York Yankees the silent treatment, keeping his seething to himself.
Who knows? Maybe the Boss finally came to his senses. Could be it dawned on him that throwing a tantrum 12 games into a baseball season is more than a bit silly, kind of like one of his similarly driven NFL counterparts, say Jerry Jones, turning into a full-fledged alarmist in the third quarter of the season opener. Perhaps he ran his finger down his Ritz of a roster and realized there's a better chance of Nebraska floating away than there is of the Yankees going full-season flat and withering into irrelevance.
The Yanks are going to win a lot of games, probably their customary 100, once they hit stride, which suddenly appears imminent. They hung 19 runs on the Devil Rays Monday in breaking a four-game losing streak that had roused the Boss's ire. Wednesday night, they rebounded from their subsequent loss to the Rays by pillaging the Toronto Blue Jays, 11-2, in the first of their two-game set at the Rogers Centre. It was their best all-around performance of the young campaign, an emphatic answer to their owner's quick-trigger tirade.
This is what Steinbrenner had in mind when he opened the vault yet a little wider last offseason. Carl Pavano, one of his ace pitching acquisitions, was masterful in winning his first game in his fourth start as a Yankee, allowing one earned run over eight innings, stifling the Jays on seven hits while walking none. He accomplished what Jaret Wright couldn't do in Monday's 19-8 win over the Devil Rays, allowing the dugout to relax with a big lead in hand.
"This was so much easier to watch because no matter how many runs we scored, no matter how long he was sitting down, he went out there and was in command, and that was so important for him," Torre said.
"I kept the mistakes to a minimum," Pavano said. "You love to see runs early and know you got something to work with. But I still have to keep aggressive. You shouldn't let it affect how you go after hitters."
Torre reveled in the routine nature of the victory, only New York's sixth against nine defeats. He approached Randy Johnson, who'd paid dearly for a couple of fat offerings in losing a pitcher's duel on Tuesday, and promised he'd have games like this, be granted the luxury of operating on cruise control.
"I called Randy over. I said, 'This is what we're talking about. No one makes a big deal out of one bad pitch if you get in a game like this,' " Torre said. "The game (Tuesday), he's pitching, it's one of those tight ballgames and every single pitch means something. I was happy the way he pitched. But when the result isn't what it should be or you want it to be then all of a sudden everything's magnified."
A shuffling of the batting order has rejuvenated the offense, particularly Alex Rodriguez. Early last September, Torre inserted A-Rod into the No. 2 spot behind Derek Jeter with productive results. But there was no carryover effect this season, no continuation. Rodriguez was in a funk, batting in the low .200s with runners in scoring position. Four games ago Torre dropped him to fifth, a spot more suited for a free swinger, for a home run hitter susceptible to the strikeout.
Rodriguez has begun to flourish in the four games since the switch. He drove in the game's first run by doubling off the wall in New York's three-run second. He drew a pair of walks, one of them forcing home another run in the Yanks' four-run fourth. He's 8 for 19 with nine RBIs since dropping to the five hole.
When A-Rod is hitting, producing in key situations, a sense of comfort spreads over the rest of the lineup. Catcher Jorge Posada had been struggling mightily, batting .234, still looking for his first homer. He followed A-Rod's lead, going 3 for 5, driving in four runs, three of them on that long-awaited first homer, a three-run shot to right in the sixth.
"I've been working hard, trying to stay behind the ball," Posada said. "I'd been jumping at the ball. When you stay short, good things happen."
Blue Jays starter Ted Lilly had nothing Wednesday. The Yanks wisely laid off his trademark curveball, sitting on a fastball that had no jump. They'll get a different look tonight from Gustavo Chacin, the Jays' funky Venezuelan left-hander who's off to a 3-0 start with a glittering 1.42 earned run average.
A week ago the Yanks might have had cause to fret. Surely the Boss would have been gnawing at his fingernails in anticipation of the worst. But it could be Steinbrenner is about to get exactly what he paid for.
As Torre said, "This is the kind of offense we can throw at people."