Yankees await Steinbrenner's reaction
by Jerry Crasnick
NEW YORK—The weather analogy is strained, but awfully fitting for an occasion such as this, so let's dispense with it right off the top.
After incurring billions of dollars in cleanup costs and residual heartache from four hurricanes, could the state of Florida be ready for a George Steinbrenner-led assault on Tampa in response to the Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series?
Steinbrenner lives to make history in a grandiose fashion, not watch his storied franchise be an accessory to somebody else's dream-come-true. So after the Yankees staged the biggest collapse in postseason history, it had to gall him to no end to wake up knowing his team hadn't won a title since 2000. Even worse, he now has to call both John Henry and Larry Lucchino his daddies.
Steinbrenner is a little like the Loch Ness monster; the less you see of him, the larger he looms in your imagination. He failed to appear in the New York clubhouse after Boston's 10-3 ALCS clinching victory, but he was there in spirit.
All you had to do was check out the tired eyes, strained visage and hang-dog expression of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who'll have to answer to the Boss' rage shortly in Tampa.
But what the heck. If bridges, apartment complexes, office buildings and groves of palm trees could survive the recent run of Florida storms, Cashman will probably make it. He is, after all, under contract through 2005.
"I can't worry about stuff like that," Cashman said from a deathly quiet New York clubhouse. "I'm comfortable with the decisions I make at the time I make them, and then you hope they work out and help put us on top. I'm signed through next year, and I expect to be here."
Cashman is highly regarded throughout the industry because he's smart, hard-working, generally makes good decisions and has been able to maintain a human side while absorbing the bulk of the Steinbrenner-related abuse. But he'll be a convenient target as the Yankees reflect on what went wrong in 2004.
For starters, Cashman is sure to take a flogging for countering the Red Sox' acquisition of Curt Schilling last winter with December trades for Javier Vazquez and a washed-up Kevin Brown, as well as signing Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill to back up Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.
While we're at it, Steinbrenner might also bring up the fact that Jason Giambi's seven-year, $120 million deal doesn't look real good in hindsight.
Don't be shocked if sometime soon, someone points out that Cashman went to high school and college in the Maryland-Washington, D.C., area, and that the relocating Expos are looking for a general manager. It's just a thought.
Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield won't pay for the Yankees' loss in any significant way, but they bear a fair chunk of the blame. In the final four games of the Boston series, they hit a combined .088 (3-for-34). A-Rod also lost style and sportsmanship points for trying to slap the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove while running down the first-base line in the eighth inning of Game Six. On the positive side, Sheffield's wife gave a rousing rendition of the National Anthem before Game Seven.
Rodriguez remains a terrific player, but he took his knocks this year for his difficulties hitting in the clutch. And it has to amuse the Red Sox that after their attempts to acquire A-Rod last winter, they beat his team and he remains the best $25 million a year player never to appear in a World Series.
A-Rod's arrival coincided with the unofficial end of the Yankees' mystique-and-aura era as we know it. Losing to Josh Beckett on three days' rest in the World Series is one thing. A colossal gag against the hated Red Sox is something else entirely.
"It hurt to watch them on our field celebrating," Rodriguez said. "Being up on them 3-0 and not being able to put up the knockout punch . . . that hurts."
The Yankees set a record with 61 come-from-behind victories during the regular season, but that merely showed their offense was potent enough to overcome some lousy pitching. Manager Joe Torre's team ranked second in the league to Boston with 897 runs scored, but was only sixth in ERA at 4.69.
Torre has always pointed out the Yankees' postseason success is predicated on pitching. But when you substitute Vazquez, Brown and Jon Lieber for Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells, perception just doesn't equate with reality anymore. Even though the Yankees won 101 games this year, their pitching wasn't going to scare anyone in October.
So how will the Yankees address the deficiency? Maybe they'll try to hit the Red Sox where they live by pursuing Pedro Martinez. Maybe they'll go after Eric Milton, a former Yankees farmhand who's currently the best lefty on the market.
It might depend on how much money Steinbrenner feels like spending after going all-out for Astros center fielder Carlos Beltran. If history and the Yankees' $184 million payroll this year are any indication, Steinbrenner won't be holding any bake sales to raise cash.
The only certainty is, some new players are on the horizon. "There are always changes," Derek Jeter said. "This is New York."
In 2001, Curt Schilling coined one of the more memorable phrases in recent postseason history when he observed that the blinding light of pinstripes and tradition isn't enough of an excuse for a serious ballplayer to accept a loss to the Yankees.
Mystique and aura, Schilling told the world, are just dancers in a nightclub. Then he went out and won the co-MVP award with Randy Johnson in the Diamondbacks' seven-game World Series victory over New York.
The Yankees have since gone down to the Angels in the playoffs and the Marlins in the World Series, and now they're bystanders to the frivolity in Boston, of all places.
"It's like the lottery," Cashman said. "You have to be in it to win it. We've been in it and been on the good side, and now we've had our fair share of bad sides as well."
Steinbrenner, unbeknownst to him, was a post-game presence in the Boston clubhouse after Game Seven of the ALCS. As the Red Sox cavorted like frat boys, outfielder Trot Nixon grabbed a bottle of champagne and yelled, to no one in particular, "Where's George at? Where's Steinbrenner at?"
The Boss was nowhere to be found on the night of the Yankees' big humiliation—on Mickey Mantle's birthday, no less. But there's no doubt where he's headed. The New York brass will meet soon for some serious analysis in Florida, and fun is not on the agenda.
Jerry Crasnick is a contributing baseball writer for ESPN.com. You can contact him by sending e-mail to [email protected].