Strangely, Evil Empire is not striking back

October 24, 2003|By Laura Vecsey

MIAMI - Fortysomething starter David Wells did not make it to the second inning. Another Yankee bites the dust. The Evil Empire is crumbling, except for that most pesky postseason Captain Crunch, Derek Jeter!

Somewhere in New England, Red Sox fans are laughing.

OK, they're not laughing, even at the notion that the Yankees lost their Game 5 starter to back spasms, that reliever Jose Contreras - the crucible of all that Evil Empire talk - faltered and the Yankees' bullpen and rotation are now in grave danger with the Yankees trailing this World Series, 3-2, to the Florida Marlins.

Roger Clemens in Game 7? If the Yankees get there.

Maybe that can help Red Sox Nation overcome its overwhelming sense of injustice that Aaron Boone has done nothing since being grabbed at the trade deadline except have two good swings this October, one of them that far-fetched, bases-empty homer that beat them in Game 7 and allowed the Evil Empire to advance.

Aaron Boone! Now look at him, skulking below the Mendoza line and booting more balls than Pele!

Despite what Boone did to them in his 15 minutes of fame, Red Sox Nation must take some solace in the events unfolding: The juggernaut is gimpy. The juggernaut has its head screwed on backwards. The juggernaut has a bullpen that, as a "bridge" to Mariano Rivera, is like the Bridge Over The River Kwai - after the explosives hit. The juggernaut is losing fortysomething starters to retirement and traction.

The Evil Empire is coming undone!

"Their backs are against the wall. We've got to get the job done or watch someone else celebrate on our field," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

It's so bad, there was even a fleeting urge to Grady Little-ize Joe Torre in the wake of the Yankees' 4-3 loss in Game 4, which took place sometime after the chariot turned back into a pumpkin, or was that a goat, as in Jeff Weaver, who everyone knew was going to give up the game-winning homer?

Still, all the reasons Little is being flambeed for not going to the bullpen in that fateful eighth inning in Game 7 of the ALCS are all the same reasons Torre's decision to go with Weaver in relief for Game 4 are defensible.

"Why else is he on the roster?" Torre asked rhetorically.

If you can't use Weaver in a 12-inning game, when can you use him? Never is a good answer, but Weaver cost the trade-happy Yankees Ted Lilly, a starter in Oakland who picked up the slack when Mark Mulder went down. So Weaver has to be on the roster.

Weaver woes. Boone woes. But that was only the beginning of the Yankees' river of tears.

(Cue the laugh track for all Yankees haters around the world.)

The Yankees showed up at Game 5 of this World Series - the pivotal game of this Fall Classic - with a few very interesting developments, and that was before the Wells/Contreras debacle that led to the Marlins' 6-4 victory.

Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano, who had been auditioning for the lead role in Clueless in October had finally, mercifully, been benched. At least he was until the Yankees were so desperate, they sent Soriano up to pinch hit - like that's what he needed. Strikeout No. 9 for the Series.

As a dynamic and vaguely unorthodox leadoff hitter, Soriano had been spiraling out of control for so long, Team Yankee had been performing triage as if the Yankees clubhouse were a M*A*S*H unit. Reggie Jackson, hitting coach Rick Down, Torre and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan all tried to help Soriano.

Nothing like having Hall of Famers and idols and an assorted Mr. October trying to rearrange your gray matter in the middle of the World Series. Not gonna happen.

With three hits in 18 at-bats (.167) Soriano had been killing the Yankees. Time for him to take a serious chill, before he started swinging at Broward County navel oranges or coconuts falling down from South Beach palm trees.

Biggest surprise of the night came a half-hour before the game, when the $120 million designated hitter - whose spine-breaking attempts to jack anything remotely near his wheelhouse out of the ballpark have been almost entirely futile - was scratched.

Where have you gone, Jason Giambi? The Yankees could not turn their power-starved eyes toward the left-handed slugger until his pinch-hit appearance in the ninth, when he promptly blasted a homer over the center-field wall. It's pretty clear that the balky knee that kept Giambi from starting at first base and whatever else might be contributing to his skittish and sweaty "work" at the plate has diminished his effectiveness.

And we thought it couldn't get worse than being served a subpoena to appear in an Internal Revenue Service investigation into a designer steroid investigation that could blow the cover on many pumped-up athletes.

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