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Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

Yankees Give It a Mediocre Effort

October 23, 2003|Ross Newhan

MIAMI — It was earlier this year that a New York Yankee special advisor and resident legend named Reggie Jackson asked shortstop Derek Jeter to autograph a jersey on behalf of a charity auction.

"I told him to sign it Mr. October II," Jackson said Wednesday.


The original Mr. October anointing a successor.

"I don't know if I'd describe it as anointing," Jackson said. "I'd say that I was confirming what Derek already is. When you talk about the great clutch hitters, you have to mention his name. When October gets here, he definitely raises his level of play. He continues to graduate."

Another Mr. October then?

"I like to think of him as the Lone Ranger," Jackson said. "He's always there when you need him."

Well, always is a big word, and Jeter, who had three hits in Game 3 of the World Series and has a record 120 postseason hits, would concede that he looked more like an April fool than Mr. October in Game 4.

Then again, he wasn't alone.

On a memorable night, the Yankees proved again that $180 million doesn't always guarantee success.

In fact, all they are guaranteed now is Game 6 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.

The possibility of a sweep on the Florida Marlins' turf evaporated in Game 4 amid a series of fruitless at-bats by some of their most celebrated hired guns.

They came back from a 3-1 deficit behind a dogged effort by Roger Clemens in the final start of his Hall of Fame career to forge a 3-3 tie in the ninth inning only to lose, 4-3, in the 12th.

A walkoff homer by Alex Gonzalez on a plate splitting fastball delivered by the seldom-used Jeff Weaver, in his first appearance of the postseason, got the Marlins even in the best-of-seven Series at two wins apiece.

Bernie Williams, something of a Mr. October himself because he now holds the postseason home run record, delivered a double and three hits for the Yankees, but there continued to be some missing bats in the New York lineup.

* With Jeter going one for six and grounding into two double plays behind him, leadoff man Alfonso Soriano was also one for six and is three for 18 in the Series with eight strikeouts in a continuation of his pitiful postseason.

* Jason Giambi, batting behind Jeter on a night when the top three hitters went four for 18, was two for six and is three for 14 in the Series with four strikeouts.

* Jorge Posada, batting sixth behind Williams and Hideki Matsui (who were on base seven times), was one for four and is one for 11 in the Series with four strikeouts.

* Aaron Boone, the Game 7 hero in the American League's championship series against the Boston Red Sox, went hitless in four at-bats (with a sacrifice fly) and is two for 16 in the Series with five strikeouts.

The killer for the Yankees on a night when they left 11 runners on base came in the 11th.

They had the bases loaded with one out when Boone, who had grounded out with a runner at third and two out in the ninth, struck out against Braden Looper, and John Flaherty, the reserve catcher, popped out.

"That was a great opportunity for us," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. Looper "certainly did a heck of a job."

Somewhere, of course, the Boss, George Steinbrenner, may have been less impressed with Looper than simmering over the continued ineffectiveness of almost half his lineup.

Wasted was a two-run, pinch-hit triple by Ruben Sierra in the ninth and a big-time relief stint by Jose Contreras, who had the Marlins swinging at air while throwing high 90s heat.

The Yankees used 19 relief pitchers this year in a search for some continuity and consistency in getting the ball to closer Mariano Rivera.

Weaver, who was once considered a candidate for the No. 5 starter role, had imploded so badly in a failed effort to retain that candidacy, he hadn't been used since Sept. 24.

"We were just looking for some length there," Torre said.

Well, Weaver got him through the 11th flawlessly before Gonzalez opened the 12th with his rocket over the 330-mark near the left field foul pole. Rivera, having pitched two innings in Game 3, was watching from the bullpen, as much a Mr. October as Jeter.

The Yankee closer has nine World Series saves and 30 in the postseason, both records.

The original Mr. October wasn't shy about putting a moniker on Rivera as well.

If Jeter is the Lone Ranger, he said Rivera is Cool Hand Luke

"He's way ahead of everyone else and in a world of his own," Jackson said. "He talks slow, walks slow and throws hard."

Jackson's labels are harmless fun. It's the Boss' potential sticks and stones that hurt more.

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