Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Twisting In The Wind In The Bronx

NEW YORK _ Let the fallout begin.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knew it had already begun before the ink even dried on the obituaries being written today about the American League wild-card winner's quick demise in the 2007 postseason.

So, too, did Joe Torre, whose quivering voice and request for privacy around his home spoke volumes about the death-row vigil that is now officially under way when it comes to his 12-year run in the most thankless managerial job in baseball.

Torre and Cashman may not want change. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner will insist on it, though, especially since he so publicly and humiliatingly tied Torre's future to the success of the American League Division Series now since lost to the Cleveland Indians.

This time around, though, so, too, may some of Steinbrenner's veteran players will have a say in that change. A-Rod can opt out. Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada can test the free agent market.

And as Rivera said dispassionately in the quiet of the Yankees' clubhouse following the team's 6-4 loss, "this is business." And if it is the business of the Yankees to do things such as dismiss a Torre, the all-star reliever and future Hall of Famer said, then it will be his business to explore his options, too.

"They had a chance and they didn't do nothing with me," Rivera said of his failed efforts to enter negotiations with the team on a new contract during the season. "So let's see what's out there."

Nothing personal, Rivera insisted. And yet ... just ask him about the team's decision on Torre and what that might do to his own thought process.

"Like I said before, I'd have to sit down and think about that," Rivera said. "I'm proud of my teammates. I'm proud of my manager. I thank God for the opportunities I've had here. But we will see. Nothing against the organization. Nothing against the New York Yankees. But this is a business."

Yes it is. It is also a business Steinbrenner obviously feels has stopped giving him worthwhile return on his billion-dollar investment over the last half-dozen years. For while the Yankees kept their playoff run alive for a dozen years on Torre's watch, the team has not won a world championship since 2003, a lifetime in Yankees years.

Winning but one game in the best-of-five series against the Indians won't salve the owner's angry mood. Cashman's dour mood suggested as much.

"Cleveland earned the right to go forward," said Cashman said. "At the same time, we earned the right to go home," he said of the team that proved so potent during the regular season but hit only .228 in four games in the series.

Now the rebuilding not only will begin, but, in many cases, must.

Will that begin with Torre's ouster?

"I don't know why they would [dismiss Torre]," Rivera said quietly, obviously a man too young to remember the bad old days prior to the Torre era when Steinbrenner changed managers like other owners changed socks.

Torre, for one, tried to put the best face on his thankless situation.

"I'm not going there," Torre said when asked to speculate on his fate. "This has been a great 12 years. Whatever the hell happens from here on out, I mean, I'll look back on with great, great pleasure."

Cashman was non-commital, befitting his place in an organization where the real power resides in the Boss's Tampa headquarters.

"All decisions about next season we're going to have to focus on a lot sooner than we'd hoped," Cashman conceded. But as to whether any have been made he would not say. "I've not started ... we've not started on '08."

Not with the wounds of a disappointing end to 2007 still so fresh.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Rocket Exits, Perhaps For Good

NEW YORK - It took the Yankees only four brief paragraphs to bring to an end the latest, and perhaps final chapter, of Roger Clemens' baseball career.

The 45-year-old future Hall of Famer, betrayed by Father Time and a troublesome, lingering hamstring injury, was removed from Game 3 of the American League Division Series after allowing Cleveland three runs on 2 1/3 tortured innings Sunday. Today, Clemens was removed, again, this time from the team's postseason roster, replaced by 37-year-old reliever Ron Villone.

Both moves, necessitated by Clemens' concession that he was not physically capable of performing.

The move seemed to signal the beginning of the end, if not the end itself for Clemens, a stark realization when it comes to an iron man who seemed intent on pitching forever in order to build onto the already astounding totals of 354 big-league victories and 4,672 strikeouts.

Should the Yankees advance past the Cleveland Indians and on to the American League Championship Series, neither new major league rules nor the injury will permit Clemens to go with them, manager Joe Torre said.
And if the team advances, further still, to the World Series? Well, the rules would allow for Clemens' reinstatement, but ...
"We don't know if he'll be alright," said Torre. "We hope we have an opportunity to find out. At least that keeps him from having to make a decision about the next round."

Thing is, Torre didn't sound any more hopeful about the Series than he appeared convinced that Clemens would ever pitch, again, period.

"I don't want to think that way," the manager said. "Obviously we'll take whatever it is when we get there. And Roger will certainly be honest with us. He's always been that."


NEW YORK - If and when Joe Torre leaves the Yankees' managerial position, a refreshingly honest era occupied by a concise, direct, conscientious pro will come to an end. And the New York sports scene will be all the poorer for it.

Today, Torre, for a second straight day, graciously and openly faced questions about the ultimatum from George Steinbrenner that coldly greeted him Sunday. You know the one: down 0-2 in the best of five division series, Torre was publicly, bluntly told he needed his team to defeat the Cleveland Indians in three straight games or his job was gone.

Not surprisingly, Torre's first concern was his players. No, he said, he did not think that the ultimatum had upped the pressure on the team, or provided the motivation that led to an 8-4 victory in Game 3 Sunday night.

"It's tough enough to win when you're all pulling the same thing in the same direction," Torre said prior to Game 4. "But when you have people saying, 'well, we have to win this game because the manager's job is in jeopardy' - that's nuts.

"Now you're trying to make something that's important more important and that shouldn't be the case."

As for his feelings on Steinbrenner, Torre remained in character, as he has for a dozen years in baseball's toughest venue. "The first thing you have to understand is he's the boss," said Torre. "I think that when you come in and understand that, then it;s a matter of understanding he's entitled to say what he wants. He owns the team. He can be as critical or as complimentary as he wants to be any time he wants to be that."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Winning One for The Skipper

NEW YORK - It may look trite in print, but there was no mistaking the sincerity when Johnny Damon, the hitting hero of the Yankees' 8-4 playoff win over the Cleveland Indians, said the winning was done to stave off the firing of a beloved manager.

"We all love Joe Torre," said Damon of the Yankees' skipper who awoke this morning to the news that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said he'd be fired if the Indians defeated Torre's team in the best-of-five AL Division Series. "we'd all love for him to win another championship."

Damon's three-run home run, pivotal in the win, kept that possibility alive as the Yankees pulled back from the brink in a series they now trail, 2 games to 1.

"We all get to play for him at least one more day, and hopefully long after that," said Damon.

Torre, somewhat bemused by the attention brought by Steinbrenner's threat before the game, seemed more emotional - and grateful - after the victory. "It's an emotional day because losing is no fun in the post-season," said Torre. "... As for Mr. Steinbrenner, I don't want to say you ever get used to it. But you work here, you understand the pressure everybody's under to win all the time.

"The only thing I try to do is allow my players to roll the dice out there and play. because every time we go to the postseason there's nothing that's going to satisfy anybody unless you win the World Series. And that's very difficult. Those are very difficult situations for the players to play under.

"I understand the requirements here, but the players are human beings and it's not machinery here. Even though they get paid a lot of money, it's still blood that runs through their veins. And my job is to try to get them to be the players they are by, you know, allowing them to understand that the best effort you can give is all you can do."

For Hughes, Future is Now

NEW YORK - The present giving way to the future was planned as an off-season ceremony by the Yankees. Then and only then was The Empire supposed to ready for the likes of Roger Clemens and, who knows, Mike Mussina, to give way to Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain.

Last night, The Rocket took perhaps his most serious obvious step towards Cooperstown and away from a leading active role in the Bronx when he broke down after lasting only 2 1/3 innings as a starter in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against Cleveland.

Clemens gutted it out as long as he could, testament to his Hall of Fame makeup and pedigree. But he allowed two runs before he left and cast in doubt any further assignments coming his way should the Yankees continue on in the postseason. By departing when he did, Clemens also allowed Hughes an opportunity to seize the moment.

The kid did. After allowing the one run he inherited in the third to score on a Jhonny Peralta double in the third, Hughes bowed his back completely. He wound up stranding Peralta by inducing the previously sizzling Kenny Lofton to fly out. Then followed scoreless innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth, a dazzling performance that took the frenzied home crowd the rest of the way in terms of envisioning how bright this young man's future might be.

For Hughes came on and provided the salve the Yankees desperately needed - 3 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only two strikeouts and striking out four. In that span, the Yankees awoke, overcame a three-run deficit and went on to win their first game of the series, 8-4.

Not bad for a guy who's used to plying his living as a starter, and one who's got all of 72 2/3 regular-season innings in at the big-league level.

"That kid's got a live fastball, tough breaking ball, started mixing in a changeup a little bit," impressed Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Posada did a good job with him. (And) if you talk about the difference between Roger and him, and just the way they pitch threw us off a little bit. But the kid showed a lot of poise. He did a good job."

"He looked like a seasoned pro out there," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I can't say more than that. He was happy to give you the innings, and when you looked into his eyes, it wasn't a surprise."

"My job was really just to keep the damage to a minimum, to try to keep us where we were at," said Hughes, 5-3 in 13 games as a starter for the Yankees this season.

Joba Rues

NEW YORK - A funny thing happened on the way to the Yankees' first postseason win of 2007 - Joe Torre acted not only like a man fighting to save his career, but also like a manager freed of the weight of protecting a precious asset, freed to let it fly, tomorrow be darned.

How else can you explain Torre's absolute shredding of whatever was left of the so-called Joba Rules, the commandments chisled in stone by Yankees management during the season once phemon prospect Joba Chamberlain was called to the majors?

You remember the rules: kid pitches an inning, gets a day off, pitches two, gets two off, and so on and so forth. Tonight, not only did Torre bring Chamberlain into the seventh inning of a game the Yankees led by a comfortable five runs. He left the kid on the mound for two full innings, something you figure fries the kid for at least one more game - the critical Game 4 the Yankees will need to win to keep their pennant hopes alive.

The good news for Chamberlain is that his first inning was a breezy 1-2-3 frame. The next, though, was a puzzlingly long, arduous three-hit, one-run, six-batter adventure that infused a laugher with mystery and some mild discomfort among Empire citizentry.

Oh, Torre warmed up a couple arms in the eighth, including that of the venerable Mariano Rivera, who, like Chamberlain, had previously pitched in Game 2 on Friday in Cleveland.

But no one came to rescue Joba, or spare his arm. Quite obviously, this outing wasn't about saving Joba. It was about saving the team from the stark possibility of turning to pitchers of lesser talent, something that bit the Yankees badly in the first two games - losses - of the best of five series.

So, Joba, and the rest of the Empire got a taste of a different reality. Chamberlain is here to take care of today. Tomorrow, Torre will think about, well, tomorrow.

As for next year, heck, that will likely be some other manager's concern, anyway, if Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is true to his threat to fire Torre should the Yankees wind up with anything less than a pennant.

Sounds of Silence

NEW YORK - The silence was deafening, even before the full house at Yankee Stadium went silent with each run scored by the Cleveland Indians tonight.

For the mellifluous voice of Bob Sheppard, the public address announcer who's calls of the lineups in over a half century of Fall Classics at the Ballpark in the Bronx did not greet the faithful tonight when the Yankees hosted Cleveland in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Sheppard was absent due to a broncial infection. So, for the first time in 122 Yankees' post-season home games, someone other that The Voice manned to P.A. mike.

Sheppard's phenomenal run, which included 62 home games during 22 of the Yankees' World Series appearances, was as familiar an October fixture in the Bronx as Yankees' pinstripes.

A combination of eloquence, class and precision, Sheppard chronicled the Series appearances of the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Tony Gwynn, to name but a few Hall of Famers.

Sheppard, in his 57th season as the Yankees' public address announcer, began his postseason streak on Oct. 4, 1951, in Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Giants. That debut followed by one day the Giants' famed playoff game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in which Bobby Thomson hit the "shot heard 'round the world" off the Dodgers' Ralph Branca.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here's the catch

PHILADELPHIA - The Colorado Rockies, winners of 15 of their last 16, including Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, don't think it a coincidence that Yorvit Torrealba has backstopped the winning streak.

"He's got a real good feel for our staff," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said of Torrealba after the catcher anchored a 4-2 victory thrown at the potent Phillies by starter Jeff Francis and three relievers.

"Every time he comes out to the mound, he's got something good to say," said Francis, who needed a pick-me-up visit in the fifth after yielding consecutive home runs to Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell, shrinking a three-run lead to one. It's not always serious, but that's the kind of catcher he is, a good leader. (And) he does our homework more than we do."

"He's very efficient with a pat on the back or a smack on the backside," Hurdle said of the catcher who's now started 11 of Colorado's last 13 games. "There's only a three-foot difference but a whole lot of dynamics change when he goes out there. It's not always giggles when he goes out there. A lot of times it is a smile, a reassuring hand. Other times he'll just go out there and bite a little bit and get their attention."

The Learning Curve

PHILADELPHIA - Neither the Colorado Rockies or the Philadelphia Phillies boast much playoff experience, so there was a lot of learning on the job in evidence in Game 1 of their National League Division Series today.

Cole Hamels, the starter and losing pitcher in the Phillies' 4-2 defeat, admitted to absorbing a couple needed on-the-go lessons, especially in a pivotal three-run Rockies' second inning.

"Going out there, I know I can throw either off-speed or fastballs, but they were laying off the off-speed stuff when I had two strikes on them and swinging at them the first two strikes," said the lefthander, who was among eight Phillies in the starting lineup playing in their first post-season game.

Hamels, 15-5 this season, saw the major blows in the second inning come on a leadoff triple by Todd Helton and a followup RBI double by Garrett Atkins.

Much of the remaining damage was self-inflicted. For Hamels, very much out of character, issued three walks later in the inning, one of which was drawn by rookie of the year candidate Troy Tulowitzki with the bases loaded.

"That's what I learned a little too late to my liking, to go after them with a fastball, and it showed in the third (scoreless), fourth (scoreless) and fifth inning (scoreless) that I was capable of doing that. ... But I need to do it a little bit sooner," said Hamels, who went on to retire 15 of the last 16 Rockies he faced in his 6 2/3 innings of work.

Lesson No. 2? Well, let's just call it a wardrobe malfunction.

Hamels shed a sweat soaked sleeve from his left arm, but not until after the fateful second inning. "I don't want to use that as an excuse," Hamels said. "... (But), you know, it's just something where it was definitely hot out and having, just that preparation, with the understanding that when it gets hot, I'm going to sweat a little more and when I was throwing my changeup, the sweat was dripping down in my hands ... I wasn't able to get a good grip."

Hamels proceeded to change the sleeve that protects his tender arm often after the second inning. Next time he'll be even better-prepared, he vowed.

"I talked to some guys about it. They explained to me whey with outfits that stretch and fall down a little bit more, that's why they cut them so short," he said, a wee bit sheepishly.