Torre shakes up Yankees' lineup

Knoblauch dropped to 8th, O'Neill from 3rd to 5th

June 09, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Yankees set an American League record with 114 regular-season victories last year. Now, they're having trouble living up to one of the greatest single-season performances in baseball history.

"I think it's official," said right fielder Paul O'Neill. "We're not going to do what we did last year."

Everything is relative, of course. The Orioles would love to be playing .580 ball and sitting within spitting distance of first place in the American League East, but the Yankees even spoiled themselves. By their self-imposed high standards, they have been struggling, and their lackluster performance in Monday night's loss to the Philadelphia Phillies prompted manager Joe Torre to shuffle his starting lineup for Phillies ace Curt Schilling last night.

Regular leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch was dropped into the eighth spot in favor of former Oriole Tony Tarasco and O'Neill was dropped from third to fifth. Torre characterized it as a "change for the sake of making a change," but he clearly is concerned about the change in chemistry from last year to this season.

"We're all scuffling a little bit to get things right and we're all over the place," he said.

There's no question that O'Neill's appraisal is accurate. The Yankees entered last night's game a solid 32-23, compared to 42-13 at the same point last year. They are on pace to win "only" 96 games.

Still, Torre's main message during a postgame meeting on Monday night was to keep everything in proper perspective.

"I want them to try to make sense of this," he said. "We're a half-game out of first place. It's not as ugly or desperate as people here might think."

Torre is a fountain of perspective. He was a star-quality player before he became a successful manager. He knows what it's like to be measured by an unrealistic standard because he did it to himself after batting .363 on the way to being named National League Most Valuable Player in 1971 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It's so normal for a player to do that," he said. "I went through it in 1972. I was finally reminded by Bob Gibson that .280 was a lot closer to my lifetime batting average than .360. It's a lot of pressure to play under."

So, Torre endorsed O'Neill's "official" announcement, hoping that the entire team now realizes that the goal is the AL East title, not a repeat of last year's amazing performance.

"That's good," he said. "All we have to do is get to the point of playing well. We just haven't played well for an extended period yet. The ingredients are there. Nobody loses it overnight."

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