Originally created 04/27/04

A Bronx Bummer -



NEW YORK - Standing next to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman in an elevator, Reggie Jackson was startled by the silence.

"We're not going to a funeral, are we?" the Hall of Famer said.

No, but it sure seemed that way.

The Yankees had just been swept by the Red Sox, their $183 million assortment of prized players booed by fans.

Even popular captain Derek Jeter wasn't immune. Batting just .175 and hitless in a career-high 25 at-bats, he became a target Sunday, when Boston improved to 6-1 against the Yankees for the first time since 1913.

"The booing is directed at a lot of people, and it should be," Jeter said. "We haven't played well. It shows that people care."

Stars with startling salaries have gone to the plate with dead wood. Bernie Williams (.167) and Jason Giambi (.204) are in major slumps, and AL MVP Alex Rodriguez (.257) is just starting to battle out of his rut.

Mike Mussina (1-4) and Jose Contreras (0-2) have struggled on the mound, and there's no pitching depth to step in.

For now, George Steinbrenner maintains a public calm - unusual for the Yankees owner at times like this. While he issued an eloquent statement quoting a Broadway show tune after New York lost its season opener, Steinbrenner was more subdued Monday.

"I have a great manager in Joe Torre and general manager in Brian Cashman, and have confidence in both of them. It's in their hands," he said in a statement.

At 8-11, New York is three games under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 1997 - the last time the Yankees didn't finish first. Their 41Ž2-game deficit is their largest since May 2002.

And while they don't face the Red Sox again until June 29, Oakland comes to town Tuesday and will start Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, three of baseball's best pitchers. As Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra says, "It gets late early out there."

Jackson knows that, having played for the Yankees and now an adviser to the team who talks to Cashman.

"I don't think anybody's happy - that's from top to bottom," Cashman said. "Actually, I don't think, I know none of us are happy. We're frustrated. We're better than this. We all know it."

New York has a .217 batting average, lower than every other major league team except Montreal. The Yankees are tied with Cleveland with a major league-high 19 errors.

"There's frustration on everybody's face," Gary Sheffield said.

While New York has won six AL pennants and four World Series titles in eight seasons, Steinbrenner ordered an overhaul after last year's six-game Series loss to Florida. Just 12 players remain from last season's opening-day roster, and if the Yankees don't start winning, Steinbrenner could push for more changes, perhaps trying to acquire Montreal second baseman Jose Vidro or Seattle pitcher Freddy Garcia.

"It can be a snowball," said new hitting coach Don Mattingly, himself a former All-Star. "It's a tough cycle to get out of."

Yankees fans who pay $80 a game for seats by the dugout and $15 to watch from the upper deck don't want to hear any excuses.

"They want to cheer. They want excitement. They want Ws. They want hits," catcher Jorge Posada said. "I don't blame them. I'm upset. It's not a good thing. You understand we've got a lot of games left starting Tuesday, but we've got to turn this around fairly soon. We are going to come out of it."

A frequent phrase uttered in the Yankees clubhouse Sunday was "there's no magic wand."

"Right now, our biggest challenge is ourselves, not our opponents," Cashman said. "The biggest thing is stick with a game plan, and wrap our arms around each other and pull each other through this thing."