No Help From Javier

I hate when the Yankees have off days, especially when they are running on all cylinders and playing like they might never lose again. But without Yankees baseball on Monday, I got a chance to watch the Mets begin a stretch of games that will ultimately determine whether or not Jerry Manuel will have to file for unemployment, as well the debut of the Mets’ chosen one: Ike Davis.

The first round of the Survivor-like battle for immunity between Jerry Manuel and Lou Piniella went to Manuel, as Ike Davis made a seamless transition to the bigs by sending a message to Daniel Murphy that he either needs to learn a new position or find a new line of work. Like a veteran, Davis let a changeup makes it way outside the zone against Randy Wells in the second inning before picking up his first hit in majors in the same at-bat. And then against left-hander Sean Marshall, Davis jumped out of the way of two epic breaking balls before picking up his second career hit and first career RBI. In one night, Davis basically matched Mike Jacobs’ numbers through the first two weeks of the season, and instilled some hope and confidence into Mets fans.

I am as far away from being a Mets fan or liking the Mets as I am from becoming a member of Red Sox Nation, but for some reason I like Ike Davis. This will probably change by Friday since Mets fans will likely start debating if Davis is better than Mark Teixeira, but until then, I’m an Ike Davis fan.

Why is this a big deal? Because I’m not a fan of any Met, but there is something about Davis that makes him a likeable player and personality even though he is part of a cast of unlikable characters. I’m not going to go pick up a “Davis 29” shirt today, I’m just saying that I am pulling for him to do well.

For at least one night, Davis helped remedy the Mets’ problems at first base and he gave a fan base that is ready to jump ship a reason to stay onboard a little longer. In a season where conflict has found the Mets like a season of The O.C., Davis has emerged as the one bright light capable of providing some relief for Mets fans and an alternative to the liquor cabinet for the time being.

On the other side of town – the winning side – the Yankees’ are currently harboring the anti-Ike Davis. While the Mets have found their one flicker of hope on a team of turmoil, the Yankees have one thorn in the side of their plans to run away and hide in the AL East.

The Yankees have played 12 games this season, and at least every person on the roster has helped contribute to the Yankees’ nine wins except for Javier Vazquez. For a guy who was expected to flirt with a 20-win season in the Bronx in his second go-around with the Bombers, the second verse has started the same way the first one ended.

When the Yankees traded for Vazquez, there were three questions that he needed to answer during his second chance in pinstripes:

1. Could his success in the NL translate to success in the AL?

2. Could he leave the past (2004) in the past?

3. Could he handle the pressure of pitching in New York this time since he couldn’t the first time?

So far we’re 0-for-3 if you’re scoring at home.

Yankees fans spent the winter believing in a changed Vazquez, a pitcher who was supposed to be much different than the man who helped contribute to the biggest stain in franchise history. Instead Vazquez’s two starts have been an extension of the 2004, while the rest of the team tries to extend the 2009 season.

If you were to play the word association game with “Javier Vazquez,” the first thing that comes to mind is Game 7, but 2004 would also be an acceptable answer. Will there ever be a day when I hear “Javier Vazquez” and don’t immediately think of his ill-fated attempt to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in Game 7? I don’t think so. But it doesn’t mean he can’t begin to rewrite the story of his time with the Yankees.

I have been torn on whether or not is it fair to get on Vazquez after just two starts or roughly 6 percent of what will be his regular season body of work for the year. Part of me thinks it’s a bit insane to expect perfection in baseball and the other part of me thinks that Vazquez needs to do something to prove he won’t be a glaring hole in the rotation between Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. The difference between Vazquez failing in the Bronx and getting booed and a big-name free agent failing and getting booed is that Vazquez has a history in New York. And the only thing to judge him by is his one year in New York, which everyone is trying to put in the back of their minds, but he keeps bringing it up to the front.

The thing that Vazquez enthusiasts and non-Yankees fans don’t understand is that the only body of work that matters for evaluating Vazquez is what he has done with the Yankees. No one in the Bronx is impressed by what he did with the Expos, Diamondbacks, White Sox or Braves, or how he dominated the National League in 2009. So when he gets lit up by a limping Angels team and outpitched by Joel Pineiro’s sinker at home, no one is going to be forgiving because he won 15 games for the Braves last season, simply because no one cares. Yankees fans are going to judge him based on how he performs in New York, and if his performance deserves some April Bronx cheer, so be it. It’s deserved.

For anyone else in baseball on any other team in baseball, their third start of the season in April would be exactly that. But after laying a pair of eggs against the Rays and Angels, and being the only unproductive piece of the Yankees so far, Vazquez’s starts against the A’s and Angels are getting the attention of October starts. No one is worried about Mark Teixeira getting a hit once a week or Nick Johnson taking called third strikes like a hobby (though that’s getting annoying), but everyone is worried about Javier Vazquez because he has done nothing in the past to prove he can bounce back from adversity.

There will be a sense of urgency in each of Vazquez’s two road starts in order to get him right before the Yankees return home, because the closer the Yankees get to returning home and the farther Vazquez is removed from being who he was last year, the louder the boos will be in the Bronx. If Vazquez is going to be bad against the A’s, he better be outstanding against the Angels. If he ends up back in New York still winless at the end of the month, he better be on the disabled list because the last place he is going to want to be in the world is on the mound at Yankee Stadium pitching for his first win of the season after a month of action.

At 9-3 with series wins over the Red Sox, Rays, Angels and Rangers, there should be little to nothing to complain about with the Yankees and their best start to the season in seven years. Tight now Javier Vazquez is the “little” something to complain about, but he can change that on the West Coast, 3,000 miles away from where one pitch from over five years ago still defines his Yankees career.

It might only be his third start of the year, but it’s time Javier Vazquez proves his worth to Yankees fans. There is just no way he can return home without having already done so.