Mark your calendar: It's October, Yanks' time

October 10, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - As it says on the Statue of Liberty, bring us your tired, your most tried and retread postseason baseball themes. So here come the Yankees.

Oh, those resilient men in pinstripes. Winning the games they must. Restoring order among the American League East power brokers and lowering the alert level in Boston, where Red Sox Nation really could not stomach a 2-0 lead coming home to Fenway, could it?

We'll never know now.

All over New England, tortured souls were put to agonized sleep last night by reliever Scott Sauerbeck, whose one-third of an inning produced one walk and one very big hit - a two-run double by Jorge Posada to ice another gritty Yankees postseason win.

Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a series. Either that, or we have the Yankees poised to prove the Red Sox are running on fumes. After all the free-agent signing and trade-deadline shenanigans between the warring rivals, the alleged coups by Boston's young GM, Theo Epstein, did little except procure a completely unreliable bullpen.

That is unless Derek Lowe could come on in relief, which he couldn't, since he started last night. He had a lot less of the electricity that he had in the Game 5 Division Series win in relief he scored over Oakland. Hence, runs scored by the old reliable Yankees, like Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter.

How many times can the Yankees play this tune?

Apparently, at least once more, which is why no one should call their cable TV operator or wonder if your digital feed was stuck on ESPN Classic last night. That only looked like one of those Thursday night reruns or a continuous feed from the Yankees' YES! Network.

No, that was reality TV last night, folks. The Yankees really did stage another one of those October standoffs, riding Joe Torre's favorite Yankee, Andy Pettitte, to a 6-2 win over the Red Sox. The lefty pitcher has been on George Steinbrenner's expendable list here and there over the years. He was almost dealt to Seattle and now, imagine this, Pettitte is a free agent the Yankees aren't saying they have to keep around.

At least Torre has been able to keep Pettitte in the Evil Empire this long. Every manager needs a security blanket. Torre leaned on Pettitte to set things right in Minnesota, after the Yankees dropped the Division Series opener against the Twins.

"Andy Pettitte fixed it. Nobody else fixed it ... " Torre said. "The important thing about Andy and my confidence in him started back in '96 when Baltimore was starting to cut the lead on us and he pitched a huge game here against them and won. He made a defensive play and did all those things."

This is just another one of those reliable ol' Yankee themes we've all heard so many times, like one of those late-night TV infomercials. This particular one stretches back to 1996, when the Yankees started this current reign. Pettitte, 31, came of age in that World Series.

"The one I keep referring to all the time is the Game 5 against Atlanta, beating them 1-0 in Atlanta. I can't tell you how important that was, especially for someone who had never played in the postseason. To watch someone at that young age like he did and keep his wits about him," Torre said.

"So I trusted Andy. And even through his tough times, you knew he was better than that. He struggled early this year, but you knew he was better than that. And when I send him out there, I trust him and I don't think I can pay anybody a higher compliment."

It didn't have to be this way. This did not have to turn into an instant replay of all those things we already know about Pettitte and Torre and the resilient Yankees and their October theme: We've got pitching. We've got experience. We know how to get this done.

So former mayor Rudy Guiliani clapped and the present mayor nodded and the Yankee crazies waited for the sound system to pound out another rendition of "New York, New York." The only question was: Liza or Frank?

Arrggh!

It didn't have to be this way. The Red Sox banged out six hits in the first two innings against Pettitte, who started off just as shaky as Mike Mussina had in the Yankees' Game 1 loss to the Sox. But this time, the Force was not with them. They were stranded and doubled up. They mustered no homers, no rallies.

And then Pettitte settled down - after a bit of dugout therapy from pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

"I just sensed he was a little more nervous, a little more tense that it was a big game. He gets himself wrapped up very tight, but I just made some suggestions that he stay within himself, focus, throw changeups and start using the two-seamer," Stottlemyre said.

And instead of beating himself, Pettitte beat the Red Sox.

Now it's all up in the air. The tired old themes were looking ripe for puncturing. The Yankees had been flummoxed by Tim Wakefield. The Red Sox had been brash and rude, stealing Game 1 and offering promise not only to Red Sox Nation, but everyone looking for a new twist. Now it's back to Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens instead of Martinez with a chance to crush the Yankees into an 0-3 hole.

Clemens can thank his fellow Texas workout buddy for keeping the story on track. The Yankees know the script.

So do we.

ALCS glance

Yesterday's score

New York 6, Boston 2 (Series tied 1-1)

Tomorrow's game

N.Y. (Clemens 17-9, 3.91) at Bos. (Martinez 14-4, 2.22), 4:18 p.m., chs. 45, 5

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