Yanks meet, but not with success Torre chat fails to stop club's sixth loss in row

September 07, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- It's still over.

The New York Yankees held another team meeting yesterday, then went out and suffered another in a long series of discouraging losses. The slump goes on. The division title -- which manager Joe Torre so gracefully conceded last weekend -- isn't even a consideration anymore.

Now it's just a matter of making sure that the Yankees don't self-destruct and blow their comfortable wild-card lead.

"It's like looking for a job," Torre said yesterday. "People keep saying no until eventually somebody says yes. The only thing you can do about it is to keep grinding and keep going out there."

That's what he told his players before yesterday's 4-1 loss dropped the Yankees 9 1/2 games behind the Orioles in the American League East. In his second meeting in less than a week, he lectured them on the importance of continuing to do the little things that it takes to win.

He just forgot the cardinal rule of managerial speechmaking: Never call a motivational team meeting before your fifth starter is scheduled to pitch, especially when he's matched against one of the hottest pitchers in the game.

The Yankees didn't have much control over the outcome yesterday, losing their sixth game in a row. Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson pitched one of his best games of the season and No. 5 Yankees starter Ramiro Mendoza pitched just well enough to come out on the short end of it.

The matchup isn't much better today, when right-hander Mike Mussina takes the mound for the Orioles against embattled Yankees left-hander Kenny Rogers. New York could be on the verge of falling to 0-8 in head-to-head competition against one of the teams it hopes to face in the American League Championship Series.

"We're not embarrassed," Torre said. "You're embarrassed when you don't care. When you go out there and go through the motions. We're not doing that. As far as sending Baltimore a message, we need to worry about ourselves."

Torre was staying right on message. He told his players a week ago that they should concentrate on winning as many games as possible to assure that -- whether they challenged the Orioles in the AL East or not -- they would get a chance to start over in the postseason.

"We don't feel overmatched," he said. "If we meet in the postseason, even if they were to beat us in every x [regular-season] game, I still don't think we have to take a back seat. But we need to win. We haven't won in a long time. We need to put something together and worry about Baltimore later, rather than worry about the psyche of it all."

That's what he has been trying to get across as the Yankees have sunk deeper and deeper into this late-season trough. They lost for the ninth time in their past 10 games yesterday, but remain six games ahead of the Anaheim Angels in the wild-card race.

"We have the capability to play with them [the Orioles]," said pitcher David Cone, who has been sidelined throughout the slump with a sore shoulder. "We are not at the top of our game. We're not at full strength. But that may not be the case when we face them again."

Cone, who continues to be a vocal team leader even as he struggles to get back to the point where he can lead by example, prefers to view the club's recent reversal of fortune in the most positive light possible.

"We've lost nine of 10, but you look up at the scoreboard and Anaheim really hasn't put any pressure on us," he said. "Maybe we're getting a mulligan here. If we get to the playoffs and turn things around, nobody's going to care about this."

They know, however, what a boost it was to enter the postseason last year with a 10-3 regular-season record against the Orioles. Even if they can shake off the ill effects of this year's one-sided season series, they cannot prevent the Orioles from carrying a psychological advantage into the postseason.

"They know we have a good team," argued shortstop Derek Jeter. "I don't think that anybody over there thinks we're an automatic win for them. They know we have a good team and we know they have a good team."

NOTES: Cone threw off the mound for 13 minutes before yesterday's game and seemed upbeat about his chances of returning soon. He has been out since Aug. 19 with a sore shoulder, and suffered a setback earlier in the week, but said yesterday that he was throwing "free and easy."

"Today was definitely a step in the right direction," Cone said, "but the only way to really tell is to get on the mound and get a hitter in the box. That's what I tried to do Tuesday and that's when I really felt it."

Cone will throw again when the Yankees get to Boston. He has not ruled out pitching against the Orioles at Camden Yards next weekend, but that appears unlikely.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte, who was injured on Friday night when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Cal Ripken, apparently

had improved mobility in his bruised left thumb yesterday. Pettitte is listed as day-to-day, but may have to miss his next scheduled turn.

The Yankees already are doing without starting catcher Joe Girardi, and backup Jorge Posada was hurting after suffering a bruised hand blocking a ball in the dirt on Friday night. The club has called up Mike Figga from Triple-A Columbus to provide some depth at the position.

Even though Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu gave up nine runs (six earned) in a relief appearance on Friday night, manager Joe Torre said that he felt it was a step in the right direction.

"He threw the ball pretty well," Torre said. "His good fastball was back. He could have come away a lot better if we had caught the ball behind him."

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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