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Torre's Plan: Let Veterans Swing Away

October 12, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

NEW YORK — Given a choice between history and tabloid hysteria, what is Joe Torre going to do but rely on his belief that the New York Yankees aren't finished, that amid all the scorn and scoreless innings, they will find a way to continue their postseason dominance?

Break up the lineup?

Ask Bernie Williams or Tino Martinez or Jorge Posada to bunt when finally, after 21 scoreless innings, the Yankees finally sustain one?

Look, he says, this is the team that has won three World Series in the last four years, been to the playoffs in each of the last five, and the fact is that "a lot of teams are sitting at home watching this stuff so I still have a great deal of confidence in this team, a lot of belief in these guys.

"These are the guys who have got us to this point again and these are the guys who are going to play. I can't be swayed by a slump, even if the slump lasts until spring. I mean, if I have them sitting on the bench, you don't know if they're going to get a hit, you don't know if it's going to last until spring."

It is still fall and suddenly a bit brighter for the Yankees, who were six outs from suffering a second consecutive shutout to the Seattle Mariners when the familiar names in the familiar lineup awakened October echoes and rewarded their manager's confidence with an eight-hit, seven-run eighth inning in a 7-1 victory.

Now, instead of heading to Seattle down two games in the American League championship series--what Chuck Knoblauch termed "a devastating prospect,"--they are even at 1-1 with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens set to pitch next and "we're going to have a very enjoyable plane ride," Knoblauch said. "We're riding high the way we broke it open today."

They broke it open against Arthur Rhodes, a pillar of the rebuilt Seattle bullpen, after John Halama and Jose Paniagua extended their frustration, scattering six hits over seven innings. From Halama's finesse to Rhodes' power proved to be to the Yankees' liking as the left-handed hitting David Justice doubled to open the assault against the left-handed reliever, the switch-hitting Williams singled, the left-handed hitting Martinez singled, the switch-hitting Posada singled and the left-handed hitting Paul O'Neill hit a sacrifice fly.

That 1-0 deficit had become a 3-1 lead with more to come, and Torre had resisted calling for a sacrifice bunt from Williams, Martinez and Posada in situations where advancing the runner might have been beneficial--even though the results were even more so--artistically and psychologically for the slumping Yankee hitters.

"Everybody with these bunt questions, it's driving me nuts," Torre said, bristling some, adding that how can guys who aren't asked to bunt all year suddenly be expected to lay one down, and why would he want to take the bat out of their proven hands? "These are the guys who knock in the runs for us. I know we have not scored a lot lately, but they are still going to get the nod from me, the opportunity to do what they do best."

Relief replaced a mounting anxiety in that eighth inning, Torre said, but as much as he believes in his proud team, as much as he has to, there are no guarantees with the 2000 Yankees. It was only two weeks ago that they closed the regular season with seven consecutive losses and 13 in their last 15 games. They survived a five-game division series against the Oakland A's but faced the Mariners on Wednesday batting .235 for the postseason, with only 19 runs in six games.

Still, the manager's only move was to drop O'Neill, eight for his last 61, in the batting order and place his faith in faith itself.

"When you look on the bench, who are you going to replace my guys with?" he said. "These are the guys you believe in, and the only concern I have is when they try too hard. In this game you have to be intense without being tense. It's a fine line."

So is stability in the Bronx. The Yankees know changes are coming. Among the regulars, right fielder O'Neill and first baseman Martinez could both be gone. George Steinbrenner has long been infatuated with Mo Vaughn, and the Angels will listen to offers this winter.

"Look," said Martinez, his future uncertain, "this team is going to be good for a long time--five years, 10 years--no matter who's here. I don't think guys are caught up right now in thinking about what may happen. We won [the World Series] in '96, lost in '97 and came back with pretty much the same team in '98 to have a great year and win the Series again. Things change, people change, but nobody is concerned about it and I don't think it's affecting our play. We had the best year we ever had in '98 and who would have thought we'd have traded David Wells that winter?"

The one constant of the current postseason, Martinez had three hits Wednesday, including that clutch single in the big eighth when the manager let his big hitters swing away and was rewarded in a way that he believes his big hitters are still capable of doing.

The credentials are there. Time will tell if they have expired or not.

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