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Can Yanks win season-long home run derby?

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Three fewer homers were hit in the second Phillies-Yankees game than the opener. And yet the four long balls launched yesterday were more informative about just what a pinball arcade the new Stadium is. Why? "The wind was blowing in," Joe Girardi said. And even that did not stop the ball from going out. It appears nothing will. Two aces go today — Cole Hamels vs. CC Sabathia — and they are next up in trying to stop the ongoing home run orgy at the Bronx Zoom. Many worries have been expressed about the new Stadium, including too many unfilled seats. But know this — whoever shows up for the game is going to learn to stay to the end. Forget the concept of a comfortable lead in this place. Not when homers are this easy to come by, especially to right field. For the first time in this new building, Alex Rodriguez capitalized on a porch that not only is short, but appears to come with a magnet for baseballs. He hit a two-run, opposite-field blast with one out in the ninth inning off Brad Lidge to tie the score and also raise the total number of homers hit in the Stadium to 86 in 22 games. That is a pace of 317 homers, or 14 more than the record 303 hit in Coors Field in 1999. At least that facility was a mile high. The exact reason for the Bronx barrage is not yet fully deciphered. Is it enhanced wind currents or smaller dimensions or shorter fences? Baseball detectives remain on the case. For now, the Yanks will try to win at home on the power of their offense and the mental strength of their pitchers. Because as mighty as this version of the Yankees is — and it is darn mighty — this is a two-way street. While the Yanks have hit the most home homers in the majors this year (44), they also have given up the most (42). Maybe the Yankees can win this muscular battle. After all, not every opponent will offer the might of the Phillies and the Yanks just might be getting even stronger soon since the currently injured Jorge Posada and Xavier Nady both looked good in pre-game batting practice. However, a price is going to be exacted on the pitching staff in rising ERA and diminishing self-esteem. This group is going to have to convince itself that the only stat that matters is wins, and do everything possible to minimize damage by issuing fewer walks and finding the resolve to move forward after yet another demoralizing long ball. Andy Pettitte did that yesterday. He allowed a second-inning solo shot to Raul Ibanez and, after walking the hard-to-walk Pedro Feliz, Pettitte allowed a three-run, fifth-inning homer to John Mayberry Jr., his first-ever hit.
But Pettitte then retired nine of the next 10 men he faced and stretched through seven innings. He did not earn the win, but more of an assist as he kept the Yanks close enough for Derek Jeter's solo homer in the sixth and Rodriguez's dramatic drive in the ninth to forge a tie. And later in the ninth, for the third time this year, Melky Cabrera delivered a walk-off hit and the Yanks won 5-4. Pettitte's no decision came with the reassertion about life in his new park: "Anything up here that a guy gets a barrel of a bat on is going to be a homer," he said. That is going to be a tough way for Yankees pitchers to live, with just about every mistake being unpardoned. But there is no escape, at least not in 2009. This is the $1.5 billion shooting gallery they have been sentenced to. "You are going to give up cheapies," pitching coach Dave Eiland said, "but you can't let that affect the next pitch or the next hitter." Instead, the Yanks are going to have to cope with a Stadium on steroids — good for hitters, a nightmare for pitchers. In the end, it very well could be that the mental strength of the Yankees pitchers is going to be much more important than the brute strength of the lineup.
Tagged: Yankees, Phillies, CC Sabathia, Raul Ibanez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, Xavier Nady, Cole Hamels, Melky Cabrera, John Mayberry

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