Yankees trying to brew winning formula Forget O's, N.Y. aiming to generate momentum, resolve pitching woes

Sidelight

September 12, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The New York Yankees have no illusions about winning the American League East race, but that doesn't mean that what transpires during their four-day visit to Baltimore is of no long-range importance.

Quite the contrary.

Manager Joe Torre is busy trying to reformulate the winning chemistry that carried the Yankees to a world title last year, and that effort will get a major boost if things go well here this weekend.

The emphasis last night was on left-hander Andy Pettitte, who returned to the mound five days after being hit on the thumb and in the face by a line drive off the bat of Cal Ripken in the second game of last week's four-game set in New York. He responded, allowing just one run on five hits over seven innings in the Yankees' romp.

Today, it will shift to right-hander David Cone, who will pitch in simulated action to see if his sore shoulder has healed sufficiently to allow him to return to the rotation next week.

Torre hopes that having both of them back will pull the club's fragmented pitching staff back together and take some pressure off left-hander David Wells, who has not pitched well with the weight of the team's recent slump resting on largely on his durable shoulder.

"If that happens, David is going to be better, too, because then we won't be holding our breath and waiting to see how he pitches," Torre said. "He's been out there trying to hold up the club."

The Yankees' postseason prospects depend heavily on all of them, but Cone's workout today could be huge. If he gets through it without incident, he'll likely make his first start in a month on Tuesday.

Cone has been sidelined since Aug. 19 with a sore shoulder. He tried to throw a simulated game last week in Philadelphia, but cut the workout short when the pain returned. He received a cortisone shot the following day and has reported steady progress since.

Pettitte suffered bruised thumb when he reached up to deflect Ripken's line drive in his previous start, and had some discomfort throwing his breaking ball during a workout earlier in the week, but he survived a rocky first inning last night to settle into a pitching duel with former teammate Jimmy Key.

With the Orioles taking an 8 1/2 -game lead into the series with 19 games to play, the series holds no do-or-die significance for either team. Still, Torre said yesterday that the time is drawing near when the Yankees must begin to win regularly if they hope to enter the playoffs with any kind of momentum.

"I think it's important," Torre said. "You'd like to be able to do that get there on a little bit of a roll and then maintain it in the postseason."

That's what the Yankees did last year when they outlasted the Orioles in the division race, then dispatched the Texas Rangers, Orioles and Atlanta Braves to win their first world title since 1978. This year, they will have to take the back road into the postseason, but a strong performance this weekend would go a long way toward repairing any of the psychological damage the Orioles might have done by winning seven of the first eight head-to-head meetings.

"It's important psychologically for us," Torre said. "If Baltimore continues to dominate us, that would create a psychological advantage for them, knowing that they can handle us. We need to feel better about ourselves."

Torre again shot down the notion that the Yankees will be happy to take the wild-card berth and avoid a first-round meeting with the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees apparently will draw the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series, but that -- according to the Yankees manager -- will be no picnic.

"There's no break," he said. "You have to play your best. I don't know of any pushovers."

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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