Monday, October 9|
If Yankees crash and burn, the Boss will fume
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com
We stop. We blink. We ask out loud: Are these really the Yankees,
staggering into the Division Series with a seven-game losing streak and no
explanation for what's gone wrong?
The world champs are October's greatest mystery -- poised and mature, and
with a proven postseason legacy, but overwhelmed since September 13 by bad
pitching, invisible hitting and the fear that a five-year renaissance is
about to end.
Of course, Joe Torre is right when he says Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte
and Orlando Hernandez are capable of ending any slump, even this 3-15 beast -- easily the worst of any team entering the postseason.
But what if the Yankees' starting pitching can't save them?
What if the Bombers are actually beaten by the younger, hungrier, more
Oh, make no mistake, it'll be an ugly winter in the Bronx. George
Steinbrenner didn't let his payroll swell to over $100 million, only to see
his team humiliated by a small-market, $32 million club like Oakland.
In fact, the upheaval could be even more radical than in 1995, when the
Yankees blew a 2-0 lead in the Division Series to the Mariners, losing three straight in the Kingdome. That cost Buck Showalter his job, which should tell you how deeply the wound cut.
So who'll be held responsible if the Yankees evaporate? Here's a list of
General manager Brian Cashman. Steinbrenner will somehow blame his bright, young
GM for Denny Neagle's mediocre performance since being acquired
from the Reds. Cashman will take the heat for Jose Canseco's .203 average in
September. And it'll be Cashman's fault that the Mets clinched a playoff spot
before the Yankees.
|Andy Pettitte was shelled in his last start -- one of seven straight losses to finish the year.|
You get the point: Steinbrenner's wrath can't be reasoned with, and
Cashman no longer even tries. It doesn't matter to the Boss that Cashman has
won two World Series in his first two years on the job, and nearly every
trade he made this summer paid a dividend, particularly acquiring David Justice.
All Steinbrenner really cares about is finding someone to blame and he'll
start with the easiest target.
Paul O'Neill. The 37-year-old right fielder will likely not be re-signed
in the event of a Division Series loss, as club executives will turn their
gazes to free agent Manny Ramirez. O'Neill was putting the finishing touches
on a respectable, although less than breath-taking season, but was hobbled by
a hip injury in the last few weeks and didn't have an extra-base hit after
As a result, O'Neill finished at .283, the lowest in his eight years with
the Yankees, and the third straight season his average has declined.
Denny Neagle. The left-hander has begun talks about a new contract, but
pitched so poorly down the stretch, Torre decided to use a three-man rotation
against the A's, skipping Neagle in the fourth spot.
After winning eight of 10 decisions with the Reds, Neagle was only 7-7 with
a 5.66 ERA with the Yankees. The Bombers may be more inclined to chase free
agent-to-be Mike Mussina, or perhaps try to make a blow-away offer to Mike
Hampton, who's said to be ready to leave the Mets.
Tino Martinez. The popular first baseman's numbers have been in steady
decline, and his .258 average was his lowest since 1992. Martinez, who hit
44 HRs in 1997, totaled only 16 this year and was under 100 RBI for the
first time since 1994.
Martinez is under contract for one more year, but because the Yankees
picked up his option for 2001, Martinez no longer has a no-trade clause. He's
the first to admit, "If we don't win another World Series, I'm probably gone."
He's probably right. Steinbrenner has had a long-standing obsession with
Mo Vaughn, and might find a way to make a deal.
David Cone. The right-hander finished his year so dismally, it's unlikely
the Yankees will re-sign him under any circumstances.
Jose Canseco. There's probably no room for such a one-dimensional player
in 2001, despite his charm and friendly nature. Canseco didn't hit enough HRs
(only two in 59 at-bats in September) and was too great of a liability in the
field. The Yankees will instead make room for the younger, more mobile Shane
Spencer, who's recovering from knee surgery.
Chuck Knoblauch. Steinbrenner all but accused the second baseman of
faking a forearm injury last month to avoid more throwing errors. The gulf
between the two has never been wider.
Joe Torre. No, not even the Boss could get away with firing Torre, who's
become somewhat of a cult hero in New York. But with only one year left on
his contract, Torre could learn first-hand just how meddlesome the Boss can
Put it this way: If the Yankees can't get past the A's, Torre's
job description will change dramatically in 2001. And we don't mean for the
Bob Klapisch of the Bergen (N.J.) Record wrote his "Baseball in the Big Apple" column regularly this season for ESPN.com.
Bad, bad and worse
The Yankees finished with seven straight losses, getting outscored 70 to 14. Orlando Hernandez has been the only starter to pitch five innings:
Sun.: Orioles 7, Yankees 3
El Duque: 6 IP, 7 H, 5 runs
Sat.: Orioles 9, Yankees 1
Cone: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 runs
Fri.: Orioles 13, Yankees 2
Pettitte: 1.1 IP, 6 H, 9 runs
Thur.: Devil Rays 13, Yankees 2
Clemens: 4 IP, 7 H, 6 runs
Wed.: Devil Rays 11, Yankees 1
Neagle: 3 IP, 3 H, 5 runs
Tue.: Devil Rays 2, Yankees 1
El Duque: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 run
Mon.: Tigers 15, Yankees 4
Gooden: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 5 runs