It was with incongruous gravity that infielder Luis Sojo proclaimed himself "happy to be here" upon his arrival at the New York Yankees' clubhouse last Friday night. On his ride to the Bronx from Newark Airport he had survived the impact of a large chunk of metal that appeared to fall out of the sky and that smashed into the front end of his hired car on the New Jersey Turnpike, disabling the vehicle.
"I was lucky it didn't hit a window or the windshield," Sojo said. "Whoa. Almost dead my first day in New York."
Sojo, whom first-place New York had claimed after he was waived by the Seattle Mariners, arrived at Yankee Stadium without a scratch, though not in time to save his place in the lineup. He was pulled from a start at second base because the driver of the car sent to rescue him got lost on the way to the ballpark, causing Sojo to arrive only a half hour before the game.
Happy to be here? The same sentiment applied to lefthanded pitcher Graeme Lloyd and utilityman Pat Listach, who also joined the club last Friday alter the Milwaukee Brewers traded them to the Yankees for outfielder Gerald Williams and pitcher Bob Wickman. At about the same time Sojo was marooned on the Jersey Pike, the plane carrying Lloyd and Listach encountered a problem as it prepared to touch down at New York's LaGuardia Airport: Another plane was taxiing on the same runway. "We had to pull up quickly, circle around and come in again," Lloyd said.
Just one more day in the life of the Yankees. Half the team seems to have narrowly avoided some sort of catastrophe, and all the comings and goings give, the clubhouse the look of a subway stop at rush hour. The Yankees have used 47 players this season, two shy of the franchise record. Their rosier in last weekend's three-game series against the Oakland A's included nine players who were not with New York as recently as the Fourth of July, including two former home run champions—first baseman-designated hitter Cecil Fielder and outfielder Darryl Strawberry.
The hyperactivity has made the Yankees seem like a team stuck in quicksand: The more moves they have made, the deeper they have sunk. As they entered the Oakland series, the Yankees were 18-21 since July 13, and they had watched a 12-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East shrink to five in a New York minute—or in 22 games, to be exact. Gotham shuddered at the thought that the Yankees might become the eighth team in history to spit up a lead of at least a dozen games. That dishonor roll includes a club dear to Yankees fans' hearts: the 978 Boston Red Sox, who could not hold a July 20 lead of 14 games over New York.
The Yankees allayed their fans' fears, at east temporarily, by taking two of three games from the A's. Given the team's turnover of players and its recent pitching woes, the Yankees were happy to be here: six games up, with 32 to play. The Orioles slipped a game further behind last weekend by dropping two of three at home to the California Angels. That also left Baltimore one-half game behind the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card race. Meanwhile, the previously forgotten Red Sox beat Seattle twice in a three-game series in Fenway Park last weekend, moving them 3½ games out of a wild card spot and nine games behind New York.
Of course, the Yankees do have one major addition forthcoming. "David Cone," New York manager Joe Torre said before last Friday's game, "is the final piece."
Cone, the Yankees' ace righthander, is scheduled to rejoin the rotation no later than Sept. 6. Four months ago he underwent a vein graft to repair an aneurysm in his throwing shoulder, which was expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. A dramatic turn of events? Ho-hum. Welcome to the club.
The other grateful souls happy to be in the New York clubhouse include pitcher Wally Whitehurst, who before joining the Yankees last Thursday had been out of the big leagues for two years (and had been sent to Triple A Ottawa by the Montreal Expos 15 minutes before the first pitch this season); Strawberry, who survived drug and alcohol abuse, house arrest because of a tax felony, a child-support lawsuit and a stint in the Northern League earlier this season; and Fielder, who endured one of the most chilling ordeals in baseball: playing for the Detroit Tigers.