Vazquez Flying High in Bronx

Call it corny or what you will, but there's a rhyme and a reason behind Javier Vazquez's early success for the New York Yankees.<br> <br> Sure, Vazquez is blessed with exceptional talent and three great pitches that he can throw for strikes in any count and any situation. But there have been pitchers – Jeff Weaver, anyone? – who have entered the New York picture with a solid mound arsenal and watched as their confidence dwindled down to a dust bunny.

After six seasons in Montreal as the Expos' go-to guy in the rotation, Vazquez is comfortably adjusting to life under the halogen Bronx lights. The righthander notched his third win as a Yankee Friday night, holding the Kansas City Royals to two runs in eight innings, striking out five.

There's no great secret, Vazquez says. It's just a matter of not taking all of these New York distractions – the raucous crowds shaking the building, the hordes of media clogging the clubhouse arteries at all hours, the tempting and incessant nightlife of the Big Apple – too seriously.

"Baseball is fun. It's a kid's game," Vazquez said.

That simplistic approach is paying dividends, not only for a 27-year-old righthander who figures to get his first serious taste of a September pennant race, but also for the Yankees.

The face of New York's pitching staff has shuffled dramatically since this point last season, but with continued performances like Friday's, Vazquez will heal Yankees fans' broken hearts over Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells in a hurry.

Vazquez steamed through a mostly unfamiliar Kansas City lineup – Desi Relaford and Benito Santiago were the only recognizable batters to Vazquez, a career National Leaguer before this season – and took a perfect game into the fifth inning until Ken Harvey reached the righthander for a solo homer.

After fans in the left-field stands tossed Harvey's round-tripper back onto the field, Vazquez settled right back into form, stingily holding the Royals to just one more hit – Mike Sweeney's double leading off the seventh – until turning the game ball over to Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Vazquez needed just 91 pitches to coast through eight mostly undramatic innings, making it look easy on a calm, pleasant evening at the Stadium.

"I can't say it was a surprise to me," manager Joe Torre said. "He tends to his business and he certainly was sharp. He doesn't seem to be bothered by anything."

"He understands what it's all about," added catcher Jorge Posada. "In Montreal he was the guy who everyone talked to. It's kind of neat here (for Vazquez) to be under the radar a little bit.

Whereas pitchers like the beleaguered poster boy for Bronx failure, Weaver, have shied away from interacting in the clubhouse camaraderie, Vazquez has assimilated. Perhaps it's his humble, unassuming nature, or the professional coolness with which he goes about his day-to-day business.

Regardless of the reason, in the Yankee puzzle, Vazquez fits.

"Since the moment I got in here, everybody's been great," Vazquez said. "We've got a lot of great guys here in the clubhouse who have made me feel welcome."

That comfort level is encouraging, considering the fact that Vazquez could play a huge role in any regular-season and October success the Yankees are to experience this season.

The rest of New York's staff is a question mark, with Mike Mussina lacking ‘ace' qualities thus far, Kevin Brown's track record pockmarked with red injury flags and both Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber delivering huge question marks to a muddled rotation picture.

That's fine, Posada says. In a big must-win game (and no, there are none in May), the ball would be secure in the grip of Vazquez's right hand.

"You can see it in his eyes," Posada said. "His attitude gets a little bit better every time out there."

Good news for the Yankees. Bad news for the rest of the American League.

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