For N.Y., it's season, not series, on line

All-or-nothing mentality adds to pressure with Yanks needing games 6, 7

Baseball

October 25, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The end of another all-or-nothing season is at hand for the New York Yankees.

It could be over tonight, if Florida Marlins ace Josh Beckett can crank up one more big game on short rest. Or it could end tomorrow night, with a climactic Game 7 at sold-out Yankee Stadium and, perhaps, another world championship for the most expensive baseball team ever fielded.

The Yankees can only hope to push the 99th World Series to the limit and take advantage of their superior pitching depth. But there are deeper, darker undertones to the final stages of this Fall Classic.

There is no honor in second best when you've spent the kind of money that volatile owner George Steinbrenner has spent to build the new Yankees dynasty.

Manager Joe Torre has been there before. He won four world titles in five years and still found himself answering a lot of tough questions when the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The tension increased after the Yankees fell out of the postseason early last October and two wild-card teams ended up on the big stage. The whisper campaign started early this season. No title this year. Maybe no Joe next year.

It must be nice to be so jaded - and we're talking both the Boss and the spoiled Yankees fans - that three playoff rounds don't mean anything if they aren't followed by champagne and ticker tape. You'd think they'd be tired of parades in Manhattan by now. Don't they have enough traffic already? How can anyone even imagine that the manager's job might be in jeopardy when Torre has reached the World Series six times in the past eight years? The answer: Counting World Series appearances instead of World Series rings is loser talk in the Big Apple.

"Is it fair?" Torre said the other day. "I think it started probably with Babe Ruth, for crying out loud. We have won 26 world championships. The Yankees have been in many, many World Series. They were the standard that everybody was measured by.

"It's just something that's happened, and we've spoiled the fans. That's fine. I think it's a good type of pressure. The downside is, obviously, you have to be almost perfect to get it done because it's never easy to go three different levels of the postseason and be able to come out on top. But it's a hell of a challenge."

Everybody knows that, but this might be different. The Boss hasn't celebrated a world title since 2000, which has got to feel like a very long time after trouncing the Mets in the Subway Series.

No, the Yankees have got to win or something has got to give. It won't be pretty.

There are going to be big changes either way. The Don Zimmer fiasco is just simmering, and could portend a power struggle between Steinbrenner and Torre even if the Yankees win two straight and make all good in the pinstripe universe.

Roger Clemens is retiring. David Wells probably is leaving. Jeff Weaver may have to sneak out of town. Slugger Jason Giambi has been subpoenaed in a steroid investigation. And then there are the guys facing charges for that bullpen fight in Boston.

Of course, the club has more pressing concerns right now. Giambi had an MRI on his sore knee yesterday. He's expected to play tonight, but he will undergo surgery after the Series.

Leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano is so discombobulated that Torre isn't sure he can start him anymore. The bullpen is stretched thin. It's getting harder and harder to believe this is a $180 million team.

Still, there is a certain swagger that attends everyone in a Yankees uniform, and Andy Pettitte - tonight's starter - calmly proclaimed yesterday that everything will be OK.

"I think just over these years that we've been here on this run, I think we've kind of grown accustomed to pulling off a lot of heroics here," Pettitte said. "We really feel like the game's always ours until that last out has been made. ... I just think we've created a whole lot of confidence in our fans and in the clubhouse and around our team that we're going to find a way to pull it off.

"Hopefully, we can do it again."

It's all about perspective, though that is a commodity that is never in great supply in the stands - or the owner's box - at Yankee Stadium.

"Our backs are against the wall," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, "but they've been there before. I'd like to think if you asked anybody in spring training, if we had a chance to have a Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, World Series, Pettitte going for us, Mussina after that, we'd take it. I'd rather be up 3-2, but that's not the case."

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