When Vernon Wells thinks about hitting home runs, a treacherous tendency he believes eroded his approach and caused two rather lifeless seasons in Anaheim, Kevin Long will often scream at him from the dugout. "OK, dummy!" the Yankees' hitting coach might bellow toward the batter's box.
"And Vernon will look over and smile, because he knows," Long said over the phone, laughing.
Wells knows the progress he has made in becoming a respectable hitter again, his .286/.349/.510 start a small reward for his work. He knows how precious a sustained string of quality at-bats is, a string that snaps the moment he reverts to poor swing habits. He knows a team depends on him.
The Yankees have been struck hard by wretched luck. They've missed about 450 at-bats from Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Two starting pitchers -- Ivan Nova and forgotten Michael Pineda -- are sidelined. Kevin Youkilis aches and will sit for two weeks. Their catcher? Gone until June. The Bronx infirmary is almost out of beds.
But here the Yankees are, 17-11, one rung from the top of the AL East. This season has been about bailing water and, alongside Robinson Cano, it's been Wells and Travis Hafner (hitting .288/.409/.603) holding buckets in both hands. They've guarded the Yankees' offense, which desperately needs Wells and Hafner to continue raking in the absence of the known names.
Is there reason to believe they can?