By defeating the Red Sox, 8-3, on Wednesday night, the Yankees won an important series, and guaranteed that Curt Schilling's next game blog could not possibly be self-congratulatory. The same Yankees who could not solve Julian Tavarez on the previous evening pounded Schilling from pillar to post for 12 hits in six innings.
The longer-term view was not as happy. The Yankees are 21-24 and still 9 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. If that's all the bad news there was for the home team at Yankee Stadium, that would already be a gigantic bad-news surplus.
The Red Sox are 31-15, which is baseball's best record. You can repeat the words "it's early" until this becomes a mantra, but it's already late enough that the distance between these two teams resembles a chasm more than a crack in the sidewalk. This Boston club, even with its most effective starter currently on the shelf, has pitching depth, and does not have the apparent vulnerability of some of its predecessors.
That's the long-term difficulty for the Yankees, but the bad news on Wednesday was largely internal. There was the matter of designated hitter Jason Giambi, who had recently made a semi-confession of his steroid sins in a USA Today article. On Wednesday, it was reported -- first by the New York Daily News -- that Giambi had tested positive for amphetamine use under Major League Baseball's testing program.
This, Yankees manager Joe Torre told a large assemblage of reporters, would not be a distraction.
"Are you kidding?" Torre said. "With all these people here every day?"
His point was easily taken. Every day is loaded with potential distractions for his club. And his hitters were obviously not distracted against Schilling. But if the Giambi matter is not a distraction, it is also not good.
Giambi is a large and generally genial fellow who has been a prodigious slugger. He is still large and generally genial, but he is not a slugger at the moment. He is also not particularly capable of playing first base on a regular basis. He is showing, at age 36, signs of wearing down physically. He is still capable of drawing an inordinate number of walks, but he has only two hits in his last 34 at-bats.
There have been reports that the Yankees have been searching for a way to void the remainder of Giambi's contract, which runs through 2008. There have also been reports that the Yankees have been interested in trading him. Giambi has a no-trade clause, but when you combine the steroid semi-confession with a possible failed amphetamine test, what you have is a player who is not at all tradable.
No National League club would be interested in Giambi, in any event. The American League market for aging, high-priced sluggers with public records of taking banned performance-enhancing substances also will not be particularly bullish.
There won't be much of a market for Carl Pavano, either. The semi-official end to a major miscalculation was acknowledged on Wednesday when New York general manager Brian Cashman informed the media that Pavano would likely be undergoing Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his elbow.
When the Yankees signed Pavano to a $39.95 million, four-year contract before the 2005 season, many people in baseball fell somewhere between surprised and astounded. Pavano was coming off an 18-victory season with the Florida Marlins, but his career was speckled with trips to the disabled list. The notion of a long and lucrative contract for him seemed more like a wish than a plan.
The surgery, with its requirement of extensive rehabilitation, might very well mean that Pavano will not pitch for the Yankees again. He has started a total of 19 games for them, only two since mid-2005.
If Pavano does not pitch again for the Yanks, that would mean that over the four years of his contract, he would have earned more than $2 million per start. Compare that with Roger Clemens' forthcoming, $28 million, prorated deal. The Rocket's deal was widely reported as being lavish. Still, given reasonable health, Clemens will earn less on a per-start basis than Pavano.
Pavano's career has not exactly been a blessing to the Yankees, but the record will show that he has provided steady employment to several physicians. He has had injuries to his back, shoulder and buttocks, in addition to his elbow. This does not take into account the two ribs he broke in an auto collision, an injury he initially concealed from the team.
After Pavano finishes his rehabilitation, someone will pay him to pitch again. He'll only be 33 in 2009, and he'll be really well rested. But that someone won't be the Yankees, and the amount paid won't resemble $40 million.
The Pavano contract was a major mistake. For a franchise with fewer financial resources, this kind of deal could be crushing. The Yankees will survive and move on, sadder but presumably wiser.
The silver lining around this particular cloud is that now, at least, the Yankees won't have the burden of planning on having Pavano's services and then never actually having them. And injuries to Yankees starters have given opportunities to a new generation of promising pitchers. True, two of those pitchers, Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner, suffered on-the-job fractures after being hit by batted balls. But somewhere out there, in the future, this could all work out for the best.
That's generally the outlook the Yankees have taken for the 2007 season. The recent past hasn't offered much in the way of encouragement, so turning the page seems like the next reasonable step.
"We're playing for our lives right now," Alex Rodriguez said. "There's no room for distractions."
There is no room for anything other than winning at this point. The outlook is severely difficult, but not impossible. Giambi once came back from looking like he was cooked to hit with authority. Perhaps he has another one of those returns remaining in him.
Clemens is on the way, and the pitching in the post-Pavano era should eventually be healthier. The outlook is not hopeless. But this is not an issue-free operation. No more substance-related developments regarding active members of the roster are needed. What are needed are more games like Wednesday night, which saw a combination of hitting, pitching and defense. Those are needed, more often and soon.
Michael Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.