- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

NEW YORK Mauled at the Metrodome, Torii Hunter had seen enough of the New York Yankees.
"They're like Tyrannosaurus rex," the Minnesota Twins star marveled. "Get them out of here. I'll get them a cab."
A month into the season, that's becoming a familiar refrain throughout the majors.
After a wobbly spring that worried some of their fans, the Yankees have bolted to the best record in baseball, and the best franchise start in the 100 seasons since they switched their name from the Highlanders.
Their power is imposing. Their rotation with Mike Mussina already 5-0 and Roger Clemens closing in on his 300th career victory is even more incredible.
"This year, it's like a tornado when we come to town," new Yankees reliever Chris Hammond said. "You better watch out or you're going to get wiped out.
"It seems like whenever we leave a town, there's a quote in the newspaper that says, 'I'm glad the Yankees are gone.'"
Or, as Twins pitcher Rick Reed told reporters last Monday after New York shelled him for a career-high 11 runs: "I'd like to give you my glove and let you try to face that lineup."
A lineup, by the way, that's mostly been minus Derek Jeter. And one that includes a slumping Jason Giambi and a still-adjusting Hideki Matsui.
Not that it's mattered. Going into Saturday, the Yankees had hit more home runs (45) than the Detroit Tigers had scored runs (43).
And when Alfonso Soriano again came through in the clutch, hitting a go-ahead double in the 10th inning Saturday night at Texas, the Yankees ballooned to 20-4 before losing to the Rangers 10-7 yesterday.
No wonder the great Sandy Koufax felt compelled to recently pick up the phone and call his old buddy, Yankees manager Joe Torre, to tell him that Soriano had the quickest wrists he'd ever seen.
The Yankees' pitching probably caught Koufax's attention, too. New York's rotation was 16-0, the best start in modern history, before Andy Pettitte lost at Anaheim last week.
In fact, the Yankees' great beginning has turned into the standard by which other teams measure themselves. That's what Kansas City's Ken Harvey thought after his home run beat Toronto on Saturday and gave the surprising Royals a 17-4 mark.
"That's a Yankees-type start," Harvey said.
It's also drawn comparisons to what Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell and the Tigers did in 1984, rolling to a 35-5 start and going on to win the World Series.
Of course, Torre has seen plenty of outstanding ball since settling in next to Don Zimmer on the Yankees' bench. His teams have won four World Series championships and came within a double-play grounder of another title.
Now, his latest club is on a record-setting pace, even without ace closer Mariano Rivera.
"It would be nice to win 150-155 games, but it's not going to happen," Torre said.
Instead, Torre and the Yankees would gladly trade all of that for 11 victories in October.
"We won 103 games last year, and we reached all of our goals until the postseason and we flopped," Torre said. "We are trying to be as good a team as we can as often as we can."
Last season's playoff crash against the eventual champion Anaheim Angels somehow may have sparked this run. It certainly spurred owner George Steinbrenner to criticize Jeter in the winter and rattle the coaching staff.
There have been plenty of bumps on and off the field since the start of spring training, not that the record reflects it.
David Wells was fined $100,000 for writing an autobiography the Yankees found unflattering. Rivera has been on the disabled list with a right groin strain after hurting himself on his final pitch in an exhibition game. Setup man Steve Karsay also is injured.
Then Cuban ace Jose Contreras, whose $32million, four-year contract helped push New York's payroll up to around a whopping $150million, was ineffective and sent back to the minors. The way Contreras' demotion was handled upset Torre, whose decision was overruled by Steinbrenner.
In the meantime, the Yankees have continued to win big.
Mussina is the first Yankees pitcher to win his first five starts since current pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre in 1969. Clemens is up to 297 wins and could wind up trying for No.300 back at Fenway Park.
Jeff Weaver has moved right into the rotation and Wells and Pettitte are always consistent.
"We've got a long season to go. The month of April is not the entire season," Mussina said. "We are going to try to maintain that and keep going right through this month, get some momentum rolling into May. Just try to keep it going."
More good news for the Yankees and their fans: Rivera is set to return this week when New York opens a six-game homestand against Seattle and Oakland.
Plus, Jeter's recovery is ahead of schedule. The star shortstop is batting 1.000 this season he doubled and walked before getting hurt. His wit is pretty perfect, as evidenced by a recent talk with his manager.
"He said, 'You guys really miss me,'" Torre said. "I told him I have to have a meeting every day just to keep these guys from getting down. He almost hung up on me."



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