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Something about Yankees

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NEW YORK -- The Yankees understand that this is the last stop on the train's run. They understand that when they take the field next April, Manny Ramirez or Mo Vaughn, Mike Mussina or Sammy Sosa, Johnny Damon, Craig Biggio or Curt Schilling will be wearing that uniform.

"We all know the speculation that goes on," says Paul O'Neill. "That comes with playing here in New York. It's not that we ignore it, but we are so used to it we don't take it in. We have the ability to focus on what lies in front of us. Now, it's the Mets."

They know that this is hardly the best of the five Yankee teams in this remarkable run. No Yankee team in a full season ever won as few as the 87 games this team won and made it to the World Series.

"In some ways, this season is the most satisfying because of all we've been through," says Tino Martinez.

Derek Jeter agrees. "I think all that we've battled through pushes us harder," he says. "But then, we know that we can't walk out and expect to win. We understand that. We understand that we could have lost against Oakland or Seattle, that they are very good teams, but we had something down deep we could get to."

And so, with the outs ticking down in Game 6 of the ALCS, Jeter was able to come up with an unforgettable at-bat against Jose Paniagua -- against whom he was 0-for-5 with five strikeouts -- bouncing a a single through the hole to set the table for the whole David Justice-Arthur Rhodes matchup.

Joe Torre faces some treacherous situations in the Series:

  • Chuck Knoblauch says his elbow is no better than it was two months ago. He is clearly worried about another public trial at second base.

  • Torre clearly has lost confidence in Denny Neagle's ability to throw strikes, and may start David Cone in Game 4, because he trusts his heart.

  • Torre also grapples to find anyone to pitch out of the bullpen in the sixth, and is being forced to go to Mariano Rivera for unfamiliar frequency of multi-inning saves.

    When Lou Piniella said one difference in this Yankee team is that "it isn't as deep," he looked at a roster with Randy Choate, Jason Grimsley, Luis Polonia and Chris Turner.

    The numbers speak, because run differential does tell you how much a team dominated its league:

    Yankees Run Differentials
    2000 +57
    1999 +169
    1998 +309
    1997 +203
    1996 +75

    1999 AL Run Differentials
    Chicago +139
    Oakland +134
    Seattle +129
    New York +57

    The Yankees won the fifth-most games of any AL team. It is fair to say that had they played in the West or the Central divisions, they would have scrambled to make the playoffs and couldn't have had their starters lined up for the postseason. Think of how fast that Oakland series might have been over had the A's been able to go with Tim Hudson/Barry Zito in Games 1 and 2.

    Let's face it: The Yankees played in the weakest of the three American League divisions:

    +/- Games Over .500 By Division
    AL East -12
    AL Cen +10
    AL West +23
    NL East -9
    NL Cen -54
    NL West +42

    The Yankees were fifth in team wins in AL, ninth in wins in the major leagues. Their starters' ERA was 4.87, and they were sixth in runs scored in the AL, sixth in ERA, fifth in slugging, seventh in errors.

    And here they are, playing in the World Series.

    There are a lot of reasons why the Mets should beat them: the dominance of Al Leiter and Mike Hampton against left-handed batters (Leiter's .118 average against left-handed hitters is the second-lowest of any starter in 25 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and his OPS by lefties was a ridiculous .438, probably the lowest); the superiority of bullpen depth with Turk Wendell and Glendon Rusch in front of John Franco and Armando Benitez; and the fact that Bobby Valentine has been as brilliant a postseason tactician as we've seen in a long time.

    But there's something about these guys, from O'Neill to Tino, Bernie Williams to Jeter to Rivera to Andy Pettitte to Jorge Posada to now David Justice, that makes you hear "Keep This Heart in Mind" (Bonnie Raitt version, please) every time they walk on the field. The best proof is this number -- when the Yankees have trailed after six innings in the past five postseasons, they are 13-12.

    Huh? Teams usually lose those games 90 percent of the time, much less against playoff-caliber teams (incidentally, they've blown just one such lead in five Octobers). There's a toughness, but there's also a constant respectfulness that doesn't want anyone to dance on their grave. They've won, they've won tough and they've won respectfully, and it's hard to think of Mets fans rubbing their faces in the dirt.

    To be fair, these Mets, too, are special. And they really know what it's like to be told they are losers because they didn't beat the Braves. They have endured so many tough games and situations the last two years they have developed an immunity to pressure.

    There are some scenarios to watch:

  • Knoblauch's throwing.

  • The ability of the Yanks, who were 22-24 when left-handers started against them, to generate offense against Leiter and Hampton.

  • The youth, exuberance and inexperience of the Mets outfield of Jay Payton, Timo Perez and Benny Agbayani. Perez is not going to get a strike until he shows that one walk in 41 postseason plate appearances is meaningless.

  • The Yankees' ability to get leads on Bobby Valentine's system of Todd Zeile going back and forth off first. The Yanks were 2-for-7 stealing in their interleague series against the Mets and some scouts thought some of the Yankee runners were confused.

  • Timo should be prepared for Pettitte's move to first and know that they don't call balks.

  • Benitez's knee. The dominant closer has been hurting and it could affect his velocity.

  • The whole Roger Clemens headhunter thing. Whose head will it be in? Probably not Roger's.

  • Yankees' scouts feel Mets' shortstop Mike Bordick has aged, that his feet and his arm aren't the same.

  • David Cone. If he ever won, Andrew Lloyd Webber should begin his adaptation of Roger Angell's book on Cone.

    Add everything up, and logic dictates the Mets will win this series. But this Yankee team, about 18 useable players deep, isn't going to leave this last waltz without an encore of "Keep This Heart in Mind."

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    Gammons: 2000 column archive
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