Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
As August ends and September, the month of baseball miracles begins, the New York Yankees are perfectly poised for one of the great stretch runs in their history.
As the Yanks won their seventh straight game last night, gliding past the Baltimore Orioles, 6-1, the million [WORD ILLEGIBLE] world champions were racehorse expert.
The words "And here they come!" seemed to hang in the muggy Memorial Stadium air as if it were Laurel Raceway.
The Yanks, faithful to their ancient heritage, are once more mercilessly, almost drably, efficient. Watch out.
"No one thinks we are in a pennant race said a smiling Yankee Graig Nettles, "except us."
Since July 18, New York has inexciably ground down the Boston Red Sox lead from 14 games to 6 1/2.
More important, the Yanks have [WORD ILLEGIBLE] their athletic dellrium tremens since the day Billy Martin was forcibly retired as manager. New boss Bob Lemon has followed the simplest strategy: "Put our best team on the field the team I watched win the pennant in 1976 and 1977 - and leave them alone."
* Billy the Kid built a superb baseball machine with his crafty brain, then threw the monkey wrench of his combative personality into its gears. Now Lemon has those gears meshing and grinding again, as the Yanks have played 694 ball since that mid-July nadir, with a 25-11 mark under the laid-back Lemon.
Luck finally seems to have rediscovered the Yank dugout. "Our starting lineup's finally healthy," Lemon said.
Even scrawny Ron Guidry, odds-on to grab the pitching Triple Crown of wins, ERA and strikeouts, reported yesterday that he probably would not miss a turn after being smashed in the ankle by a flying bat the night before.
"I broke that left ankle three times as a kid," Guidry said. "I got skinny ankles like a racehorse. I figured if I'd broken it again, they'd have had to shoot me."
Last night the basic Bronx Bandits rode again. Gone were those finalday caricatures of the Martin era with Thurman Munson in right and Reggie Jackson on the bench.
Mickey Rivers, dancing off third with the game tied, 2-2, in the sixth, drew a pickoff throw from Scott McGregor.
Rivers kicked the ball out of Doug DeCinces' glove, then fled home to score the winning run in a cyclone of dust as the ball rolled no more than 20 feet from third.
The Yanks pressured the Orioles'miserable outfield defense all night and took extra bases sinfully.
Slew-footed Cliff Johnson precipitated an error on an outfield throw. Even slower Lou Piniella, who also hit a solo homer, challenged Larry Harlow's arm - and won - setting up an extra Yank run.
Now in overdrive, the Yanks seem capable of winning games in this economical 6-2 style every night.
The superb New York defense, made a half-dozen classy plays. The Yanks brilliant left-right relief pitching again shut the door. On Wednesday, Rich Gossage hurled the final two shutout frames. Last night, Sparky Lyle, given back some of his former bullpen status by Lemon, got the last seven Oriole outs to save Dick Tidrow's victory.
In Martin's last months the Yank lineup, shredded by dissension and jealousy, was catatonic, seldom showing the slashing attack of 1976.
Under Lemon, the Yanks are once again a probing, opportunistic offense with some raw power (Nettles and Jackson), some speed (Rivers and Willie Randolph) and a nucleus of superb hit-and-run-style hitters (Munson, Piniella, Chris Chambliss and Roy White). Last night the Yanks scampered, bunted and exploited as of old.
"Everybody on this team still isn't happy," said Nettles, referring to several quality players now consigned to the bench by Lemon's setlineup strategy", but it is time for serious baseball not bickering and we're buckling down.
"It we were 13 games behind, problems might surface. But we've got seven games left head-to-head with Boston and we're only six down in the lost column," Nettles said.
"If we put on enough pressure, they'll start to crumble."
Half of the Yanks' one major problems - starting pitching - was also on view here last night. Tidrow (6-9) and Jim Beattie (2-7) are two-fifths of New York's snaky rotation.
However, Tidrow did not allow and earned run in his victory. That good Yankee news, coupled with Catfish Hunter's current seven-game winning streak and Guidry's still being intact, cannot help New Englanders sleep these cool Cape Cod nights.
"And here they come" . . . into September - truly the cruelest month.