Role Players Help Yankees Surge Into First

NEW YORK—No organization may ever again simultaneously produce four players like the Yankees did with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.

All four stars played their part in helping New York climb to the top of the American League East standings in mid-June—but only with an assist from a few of the decidedly dimmer lights in the system.

When Posada missed almost a month with a fractured right foot, Francicsco Cervelli stepped in and caught 10 straight games. While he didn't hit for power, he hit .415 with runners in scoring position, handled pitchers well and showed an above-average arm.

When Alex Rodriguez suffered a groin injury, missed four mid-June games and returned as the DH, Ramiro Pena and Kevin Russo filled in at third during a Yankees 4-0 run.

When versatile middle reliever Alfredo Aceves went down with a lower back problem on May 8, righthander David Robertson stepped into the void.

"Guys have definitely stepped up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Cervi has done very well catching and offensively when he has played. Pena has had big hits and good at-bats when he played, although I know the average may not indicate that.

"Some of his starts, he has had a couple of RBIs to put us ahead in games. Russo has done a good job.

"Our guys have come up and filled in very nicely. A lot of times, that's how you get a shot in this league."

None of the aforementioned have a high profile or is projected as a star:

• Pena, a 24-year-old switch-hitter, signed out of Mexico in 2005. He excels defensively on the left side of the infield.

• Russo, a 20th-round pick in 2006 from Baylor, mans second and third base while supplying contact-oriented offense.

• Cervelli, 24, signed out of Venezuela in 2003 and waited patiently for his chance to back up Posada on a full-time basis.

• Robertson, a 17th-round pick from Alabama in 2006, earned Girardi's trust last season when he fanned 63 in 44 innings.


• When big league pitching coach Dave Eiland took a leave of absence to address  a family matter on June 4, the Yankees replaced him with bullpen coach Mike Harkey. Short-season Staten Island manager Josh Paul replaced Harkey.

• The Yankees signed their first-round pick, prep shortstop Cito Culver, for roughly $954,000.