By George, a kinder, gentler Boss

October 18, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

BOSTON -- Andy Pettitte stands as proof that New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner remains as impatient as ever, but now defers to his baseball people instead of acting on each and every impulse.

Steinbrenner backed off trading Pettitte in July only at the urging of manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman, who pointed to the left-hander's track record as a big-game performer.

All were vindicated last night when Pettitte unfurled his latest postseason gem, allowing only seven hits in 7 1/3 innings to defeat the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, 9-2.

Pettitte is still only 27, and he's now 6-4 in 13 postseason starts, with an October resume that includes the World Series clincher over San Diego last year and the ALCS clincher over the Orioles in 1996.

So, why is he the subject of trade rumors every season? Torre said one reason is that Pettitte is a finesse pitcher who seems more expendable than a hard thrower. But Steinbrenner's eternal restlessness can not be discounted.

The bottom line, however, is that the Yankees kept Pettitte, who is now 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA this postseason. And their refusal to trade such an important part of their re cent October success reflects Steinbrenner's growth as an owner.

If Steinbrenner can learn from his mistakes, why can't Peter Angelos?

Hands-off, the Boss isn't. In fact, it would be a stretch to say that he now trusts his baseball people. He trusts them, but always with an implied threat. He trusts them, so long as they are right.

It's a kinder, gentler Steinbrenner, but not too kind, and not too gentle. Still, with the Yankees now one victory away from their third World Series appearance in four years, who can argue with his management style?

Last night was a game the Red Sox had to win -- trailing three games to one, they now need to beat the Yankees three straight, including twice at Yankee Stadium.

But in its own way, the game was equally important to the Yankees, who began the night needing to win two of the next three, or be left with the possibility of facing Pedro Martinez again in Game 7.

Don't let the score deceive you -- the Yankees entered the inning leading only 3-2. Their six-run ninth was largely the product of two Boston errors and a grand slam off Rod Beck by pinch-hitter Ricky Ledee.

At that point, this compelling, hard-fought series turned ugly, with the Fenway Faithful reacting to two questionable umpiring decisions -- one in the eighth, one in the ninth -- by showering the field with debris.

Torre pulled his team from the field, called the display "inexcusable" and "disgraceful" and criticized Red Sox security for showing "no class." Steinbrenner accused Red Sox manager Jimy Williams of provoking the crowd by throwing his cap. Umpire Tim Tschida admitted he blew it by calling Jose Offerman out for running outside the baseline.

It was the second time this series the Red Sox were victimized by a blown call in the late innings of a close game. But on a night the Sox made four errors, they had little reason to complain.

Boston disintegrated even before closer Mariano Rivera recorded the final five outs to extend his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 38. Pettitte never let up, shutting down a team that had scored 45 runs at Fenway in its three previous postseason games.

"That's pretty much the way he pitched every time he has had to pitch a big game," Torre said. "He was something. This ballpark is tough to pitch in. He got in jams, he got out of jams. He's such a good guy to go along with everything else he's been through. It was an emotional game for us."

Pettitte echoed his manager.

"It was a very emotional game," he said. "I felt I was in trouble every inning. Their fans were really into it. It was kind of tough to control your emotions. But overall, I felt great. I felt I was getting a lot of ground balls. Most of their hits came on ground balls through the infield."

The Yankees needed such a performance from Pettitte, because, for the most part, they still aren't hitting. They entered the game batting only .221 in the postseason. Before last night, they had scored only 14 runs in five games since their 8-0 victory over Texas in Game 1 of the Division Series.

They got a boost last night from designated hitter Darryl Strawberry, who hit a towering homer off the right-field foul pole with one out in the second. They also got significant help from the Red Sox, whose four errors increased their series total to eight, tying an LCS record.

The Red Sox do so many things well, but defense remains their glaring weakness. They had the third-highest error total in the AL this season. And they've now committed 11 errors in nine postseason games.

Against Pettitte, they could not afford such lapses. The five-year veteran, a homegrown Yankee, has been in a groove ever since the passing of the July 31 trade deadline. He went 9-4 with a 3.84 ERA in his final 15 regular-season starts, and carried his revival into the postseason.

"I said it 100 times -- I don't really feel that the trade deadline was affecting me," said Pettitte, who was 5-7 with a 5.59 ERA in his first 16 starts. "I felt like mechanically and mentally I was a little beat up. I didn't have a lot of confidence."

Both Torre and Pettitte credited pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre for helping rebuild Pettitte's mechanics, but last night's victory was the result of a team effort, from the owner on down.

Steinbrenner was right to trust his baseball people. His baseball people were right to trust Pettitte's history. And as usual in the postseason, Andy Pettitte made everyone look good.

Pub Date: 10/18/99

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