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Grand Yankee

Brooklyn-Bred Joe Torre steers the Yankees to a world championship, overcoming personnel troubles and personal trauma.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 6)

Even some good deals they made--the Yanks picked up Darryl Strawberry from the Northern League and got Cecil Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for Ruben Sierra--didn't stop the bleeding. The game has always been about pitching and if you don't have enough of it, August will find you. After a loss to Seattle on Aug. 28, the lead was just four games over Baltimore. What looked like a summer breeze was turning into a fall to forget.

When he was a broadcaster with California, Torre remembers visiting with Yankees manager Billy Martin during the game. "Billy had a cigar going all the time. But he had it hidden. I mean, it wouldn't be in the dugout, but in the runway. He'd get it off a shelf, puff it, put it back, go back out to the dugout." Torre laughs. Did Torre think of smoking between innings in the runway? "I probably would have bitten it in half," he snaps.

But while a tension convention might have been building in the clubhouse, the Yankees saw no fright in their skipper. "There are times as a baseball person when you say, 'This is the day the food table goes flying,'" says public relations director Cerrone. But with Torre it never happened.

"To me the last thing you want to do is panic," Torre says. "Because if the players sense that you're worried, they're going to be worried. And I didn't want that to happen. It was a really tough run."

Broadcaster Kay remembers the time well. "There was a palpable sense of nervousness around, but nobody was panicking," he recalls. "Torre called the team together and said, 'We are going to win this, don't worry about it.' "

Says Torre, "The only thing we kept reminding ourselves is that we were in better shape than anyone else. And they kept their heads. We had enough veterans on the club and they didn't panic."

Then Charlie Hayes, acquired from Pittsburgh on Aug. 30, drove in three runs the following day to help beat the California Angels. But a bigger, more unexpected boost was coming. Nearly four months after his arm operation, David Cone took the mound on Sept. 2 in Oakland and silenced the Athletics' big bats, nearly pitching a no-hitter in a 5-0 victory. The Bronx Bombers' lead dwindled to two and a half games on Sept. 10, but then the Yankees won five straight and split a crucial four-game series against Baltimore at Yankee Stadium in mid-September. They clinched the division title at home against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 25 and finished at 92-70, four games ahead of Baltimore.

In the playoffs the wins seemed to come easier than in August and September. The Yankees lost the first game to Western Division leader Texas. But falling behind no longer scared the Yankees. They rallied to win three consecutive games, including the last two in The Ballpark in Arlington. Again, it was the Yankees' bullpen that triumphed while the Rangers' pen surrendered leads in all three losses. Juan Gonzalez, the league's most valuable player, had a stellar series, bombing five homers.

Against Baltimore, the same lose-one-and-rally-later pattern seemed about to emerge when the Yanks were saved by a 12-year-old boy from New Jersey, Jeff Maier, who interfered with a fly ball in the eighth inning of Game 1. Umpire Richie Garcia clearly missed the interference and called it a home run. That tied the game at two and Bernie Williams ended it in the 10th inning with a home run off of Randy Myers. The Yankees lost Game 2, 5-3, and again had to go to the opponent's park, having squandered their home-field advantage. But again they swept the Orioles on their own turf.

In all, the Yankees had played nine games in Camden Yards and had won every one. The Yankees shut down a team that had hit 251 homers during the regular season, shattering the previous record of 240 set by the 1961 Yankees. But against Yankees pitching the Baltimore bats were strangely impotent, even in the close confines of Camden Yards. One Baltimore beat writer labeled the Orioles "Tin Men," implying they lacked heart.

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