I hate being in second place.

Hate it more than losing two straight to a team with the second-worst record in all of baseball.

Hate it more than seeing Kevin Millar brought in to pinch-hit, and then striking out.

Hate it more than seeing a ninth inning rally that gets you jumping up and down on the coffee table and waking up the kids and you don’t even care because this is the type of pulled-from-your-ass win that can turn a team around and set off a vicious ten-game win streak but then you watch helplessly as Dave McCarty lofts a harmless fly ball that is out number three and it’s over and it’s gone and there’s nothing you can do to get it back and before you know it, you’re on the kitchen floor, freebasing Ovaltine to kill the pain. Really hate that.

Most of all, though, I hate watching the Yankees pulling ahead of us.

It’s five and half games now, kids, and the Bombers show no signs of slowing down, despite their injuries and question marks.

You felt it, didn’t you? You knew it was weird when people-who-should-know-better were counting New York out after the Sox swept up in the Bronx. You laughed and cheered and said, “Man, we sure made them look silly,” but deep down inside, you knew. You knew that it would be near impossible to keep a line-up like that down for long. You knew that Jeter would begin hitting again. You watched Vasquez and, even as we were beating him, had visions of his nastiest stuff shutting us down in late September. You saw A-Rod and Sheffield and Bernie and Giambi and Posada and thought, “deargodalmighty, don’t let them all get hot at once.” Because that would hurt. And it does.

And now we’re further behind them. Watching taillights fade.

Don’t get me wrong; there are good things here. Far too many to surrender a season so early in the game. Trot is back, and hitting home-runs no less. Nomar is back. Planet Pedro appears to have found its axis. Youkilis continues to show promise. Damon is hitting. Manny is still very much the machine. Millar is… er… uh… Damon is hitting!

Simply put, there is much baseball to be played, and anything can happen between tonight’s game and the close of the 2004 campaign. But unless we can beat the teams we’re supposed to beat — like the 2004 Colorado Rockies — it’s going to be another “summer of second place.”

And, man, do I hate being in second place.