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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?

Andy Pettitte
Andy Pettitte was shelled in his last start -- one of seven straight losses to finish the year.

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 enthusiastic A's?

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 potential casualties.

  • 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.

    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

    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 September 6.

    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 be.

    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 better.

    Bob Klapisch of the Bergen (N.J.) Record wrote his "Baseball in the Big Apple" column regularly this season for ESPN.com.

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