05.28.05

Roberts On The Unit’s Moaning

Posted in Baseball at 11:35 am by

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Randy Johnson’s recent quote that he was brought to New York to give the Yankees a chance to win in every game, but I’m surely not alone in thinking the Unit’s new employers had slightly higher expectations. Though the Yankees won last night, Johnson continued to struggle and were it not for the Village People reject coaching 3rd for Boston, his line for the evening would’ve been far worse. From the New York Times’ Selena Roberts.

With his fabled status as the Big Unit downgraded to the Big Mediocre, Johnson didn’t exactly bully the Red Sox. He gave up 9 hits and 3 earned runs – a number that could have easily doubled in the sixth.

Johnson was dizzied from absorbing five consecutive sharp hits – including a double – but was freed from the wrath of the Stadium crowd when Boston’s third-base coach, Dale Sveum, mindlessly waved two runners in a row to their doom at home.

Sveum (above), as much as anyone, spared Johnson from an even deeper position as the Yankees’ old man out.

“He struggled,” Manager Joe Torre said. “He had good stuff, but he had to work hard every inning.”

Out of character, and perhaps out of self-preservation, Johnson was more upbeat than Torre about his effort because of one powerful thought: His velocity was back.

“I was pleased considering my velocity was up 4 or 5″ miles an hour, Johnson said.

If nothing else, this feel-good version of Johnson is a good step in Yankee relations. For weeks, he has moaned about not getting enough work in spring training and whined about receiving an extra day of rest.

At 41, you would think he’d be pleased with more naptime. After receiving a three-year Yankee investment of $57 million – including a contract extension and payment to the Diamondbacks to complete the deal – you’d think Johnson wouldn’t fuss so much about his new employers.

With such petulance without production, Johnson has squandered some of the awe his teammates showed him upon his arrival as the Yankees’ answer to the magic that Curt Schilling worked for the Red Sox last year.

It is one thing to be a surly superstar with a 2.40 earned run average, but it is another to be a clubhouse annoyance with performances that fail to inspire tolerance. This may not matter on the verge of June, but a continuation of Johnson’s act could dog the Yankees if they have to pursue the Orioles into August.

The Yankees can’t afford a malcontent, a misfit ace. The issue has already surfaced on the field. In one unforgettable sequence at Shea Stadium last weekend, Johnson’s frustration distracted him after he gave up an unthinkable double to reliever Dae Sung Koo.

A play later, Johnson failed to cover home plate after catcher Jorge Posada had thrown to first on a bunt, allowing Koo to sneak around third and score with the plate unattended until it was too late.

Normally, such a mistake might go without assigned blame, but Posada quickly pointed out Johnson’s blunder, one hint of possible friction between the two. It has not been easy for Posada to decode the confusing grumbles and groans of Johnson.

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