YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


OK, Now We'll Find Out How Good Yankees Are

October 10, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

CLEVELAND — One hundred fourteen wins?

Try 114 pounds.

In an irony that Clevelanders are finding as delicious as a pirogi, what the New York Yankees proudly paraded around all season has now been strapped to their backs.

Try 114 pounds, constricting their swings, restraining their windups, knocking their knees.

One week after winning more games than anyone in the annals of the American League, the Yankees are discovering history to be about as fun as trigonometry.

Certainly, a kid named Bartolo Colon pitched a nice little game against them here Friday. And yes, plain-looking Jim Thome provided two more reasons--each longer than 350 feet--to start considering him among the special.

But this 6-1 Indian victory in Game 3 of the American League championship series, this two-games-to-one Indian lead, this river littered with Indian momentum . . . this is mostly about the Yankees.

Finally confronted with the high price of their wonderful regular season--you will win the pennant, you better win the World Series--the Yankees are suddenly unwilling or unable to pay up.

What happened to them on a cool, whoop-filled evening here Friday is best described in a line from their team anthem, "New York, New York."

The part where it goes, "I'm leaving today."

The Yankees didn't as much lose to Colon as flee from him.

Andy Pettitte didn't as much get hammered by Indian hitters as sprint from them.

Two more days of this and they're going to wake up in a city that hasn't slept, all right.

Here's hoping Chuck Knoblauch hasn't already sold the rights to Thursday's apology.

"Don't make more out of this than it is," Yankee third baseman Scott Brosius said. "We still have a long way to go in this thing."

Um, no, in April when you lost four of five games to start the season, then you still had a long way to go in this thing.

That was the last time this Yankee team has even remotely faced a big game. Now they face two in two days.

In April, they were trying to salvage the start of a season. Now they are trying to salvage a legacy.

The last time they trailed a team was April 21, the day they took first place for good in the AL East.

Now they trail the Indians by one game in the second week of October.

This is at least 114 pounds.

"You hate to say we're putting too much pressure on ourselves," Pettitte said late Friday. "But we might be pressing."

As he spoke, the Yankee clubhouse in the bowels of Jacobs Field provided the illustrations.

Players sat around with their heads slumped, silently eating a postgame meal of spaghetti. Do you know how hard it is to silently eat spaghetti?

In the trainer's room, one particularly injured Yankee sat with his head down, his feet swinging. Guy by the name of Steinbrenner.

David Cone, the most honest of the lot, was tiptoeing out of the joint when asked if the pressure was getting to them.

"I don't know," he said quietly. "I don't know."

The answer could be found in the previous three hours on the field.

The normally unflappable Pettitte gave up four home runs in a game for the first time in his life. But at least those were strikes.

Before the fifth-inning barrage, he threw first-pitch balls to nine of 19 hitters.

On Thome's first home run, he started him with a 3-and-0 count. On Mark Whiten's homer in the fifth, he started him with two balls.

"I wanted a big start, the team needed a big start . . . " Pettitte said.

They could have also gotten that start from the offense, which scored 25 more runs than anybody else in baseball during the regular season.

But the only excitement occurred when--and you knew this was going to happen--Indian fans gave Knoblauch a standing ovation when he came to the plate in the top of the first.

"I didn't pay any attention to that," he said.

Nor much of anything else after his leadoff single led to the Yankees' only run.

In the second inning, with runners on first and second and the Yankees having a chance to rattle the impressionable Colon, Knoblauch couldn't even put the ball in fair territory, ending the inning with a foulout to the catcher.

Not that it was anything new. Since their five-run first inning in Game 1, the Yankees have scored four runs in 29 innings. During that time they are four for 35 with runners on base.

Tino Martinez, their best power hitter over the last two years? Hitless in 13 at-bats in the series.

Paul O'Neill, the man Manager Joe Torre calls "a warrior"? Mostly howling at the moon, with three hits and one RBI in 13 at-bats.

And Shane Spencer? Just call him The Unnatural. He has one hit in 10 at-bats with three strikeouts.

"We aren't kidding ourselves here," Torre said during the Yankees' final visit to Anaheim this summer. "We know there are two seasons. And we know we will be judged by how we do in the second one."

It is a season that suddenly could have only two games remaining. And the first--tonight here in Game 4--will be started by a postseason rookie named Orlando Hernandez.

Working on 14 days' rest.

"Something has got to change for us," O'Neill said.

Either that, or everything will.

Los Angeles Times Articles