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1 New York Yankees They may be getting long in the tooth, but these Bombers still have their bite

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

1 New York Yankees They may be getting long in the tooth, but these Bombers still have their bite

Joe Girardi, New York's big-game catcher for four seasons, was
on deck when Chad Curtis ended Game 3 of the 1999 World Series
with a 10th-inning home run. The 6-5 win put the Yankees one win
away from sweeping the Braves. When Girardi went home that
night, the first thing he said to his wife, Kim, was, "Honey, I
think I just played my last game for the Yankees." He was right.

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

Girardi, who would become a free agent after the Series and sign
with the Cubs, intuitively knew he wouldn't catch Roger Clemens
in Game 4, even though he had started all of the Yankees'
previous 11 postseason games except for the four times Orlando
Hernandez pitched. Manager Joe Torre likes to have Jorge Posada
catch Hernandez, partly because Hernandez, who speaks little
English, can communicate with Posada in his native Spanish tongue.

"If it was two [games] to one, I'd play," Girardi said during
spring training, as he recalled his conversation with Kim, "but
the Series looked like it was pretty much over. So I figured Joe
would give Jorge a shot."

Game 4, which New York won 4-1 to wrap up the Series, was the
night Posada's training wheels came off. Torre wanted Posada,
his catcher of the future, to get the confidence boost of
catching a World Series clincher, especially after what had been
such a mysteriously poor season for Posada that the Yankees had
ordered him to get his eyes checked. (They were fine.)

Whether New York becomes the first team since the 1972, '73 and
'74 Athletics to win three consecutive world championships
depends largely on whether age catches up to the veteran-heavy
Yankees. It also depends heavily on whether Posada, who turns 29
in August, turns out to be as trustworthy as Girardi, not just
for one night but for a full year, including October. New York
has no viable backup if the answer is no.

The switch-hitting Posada had to rally just to bat .245 last
season. After 939 major league at bats, he's a career .252
hitter, including .225 against righthanders. More alarming for
the Yankees has been his erratic play behind the plate,
especially in the first half of last season. The pitching
staff's confidence in him was shaken last season by his 17
passed balls. When asked to explain his defensive troubles,
Posada says, "Every night I thought I had to go 4 for 4 with
four home runs and 10 RBIs. Of course you can't do that, but
when I didn't hit, I lost concentration."

Except for 24-year-old rookie lefthander Ed Yarnall, who figures
to be the No. 5 starter, the staff that Posada will catch is
burdened by many well-worn odometers. Hernandez, who claims to
be 30 but is thought to be a few years older, threw 214 1/3
innings last year. That was a 22-inning jump on his 1998 season
and, he has said, more than he ever threw in Cuba. David Cone,
37, threw six innings or fewer in 16 of his 31 starts last year.
He opted not to throw over the winter and then opened spring
training by lobbing his fastball 82 mph. The former workhorse
has downshifted into an energy conservation mode in his career's
twilight years.

Clemens, also 37, fights time with a more aggressive attitude.
He lost 15 pounds over the winter, unleashed 70 pitches in his
first spring start--twice as many as most pitchers--including
one that went 97 mph. Clemens also exercised between spring
training innings, ran four seven-minute miles a day and threw
twice between starts, the second time at 55 feet "just to lock
in the muscle memory."

"I don't make any concessions to age as far as my stuff goes,"
says Clemens, who's coming off career-worst marks for ERA (4.60)
and walks per nine innings (4.3), which he partly attributed to
a bothersome hamstring injury. "I can still reach back and hump
it up there in the upper 90s whenever I want to. I'm still a
power pitcher."

Age also has become an issue for rightfielder Paul O'Neill, 37,
and, to a lesser extent, third baseman Scott Brosius, 33.
O'Neill's average dropped 32 points last year. He had more
opportunities to drive in runs than major league RBI champion
Manny Ramirez of the Indians--New York leadoff batter Chuck
Knoblauch and No. 2 man Derek Jeter reached base a combined 602
times--but he drove in fewer runs (110) than the Royals'
Jermaine Dye (119). Brosius's average dropped 53 points, mostly
because of a .188 funk after July while he endured the fatal
illness of his father. "The Yankees are vulnerable, more so than
the last couple of years," says one AL G.M. "You look at the age
on their staff, Knoblauch has throwing problems, O'Neill may be
in his last year and they lost Girardi, which was a big blow."

That may be so, but New York is built for October. Any team that
knocks off the Yankees in the postseason will have to outpitch a
pressure-proof staff. New York's top three relievers, Jeff
Nelson, Mike Stanton and the incomparable Mariano Rivera, have a
1.10 ERA in 114 1/3 postseason innings. Its top four starters are
22-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 52 postseason games. "Yes, the age of
the staff is an issue," Cone says, "but I'll take our experience
factor any day."

--Tom Verducci

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE ACE HIGH The champs will duke it out with a staff led by Hernandez, who--no matter how old he is--has put on some mileage in recent seasons.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

around the HORN

OFFENSE
[4 1/2 stars]
DEFENSE
[3 1/2 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[5 stars]
BULLPEN
[5 stars]
MANAGER
[5 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics 1999 record: 98-64 (first in AL East)
(AL rank)

Batting average .282 (4) Opponents' batting average .255 (2)
Runs scored 900 (3) ERA 4.13 (2)
Home runs 193 (8) Fielding percentage .982 (7)

next up...

"Don't take this the wrong way," Yankees pitching coach Mel
Stottlemyre told lefthanded pitcher Ed Yarnall this spring, "but
you remind me of Sid Fernandez in a lot of ways." Like
Fernandez, whom Stottlemyre tutored with the Mets (1984-93),
Yarnall, 24, has a sneaky-quick fastball that doesn't light up
the radar gun but somehow ties up righthanded hitters. Like
Fernandez, the 6'3", 234-pound Yarnall has a body better suited
to the Krispy Kreme counter than the ball field. Like Fernandez,
Yarnall uses his heft to his advantage by hiding the ball from
the hitter just before releasing it. Yarnall's underwhelming
stuff and lack of athleticism might explain why he has been
traded twice (by the Mets and the Marlins). He does have a 26-9
minor league mark over the past two seasons and impressed
manager Joe Torre in a five-game cameo with the Yankees last
year. "What I saw was a guy who competed when he got into
trouble," Torre says. "He doesn't back down."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Joe Torre (fifth season with New York)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Chuck Knoblauch R 74 .292 18 68 28
SS Derek Jeter R 8 .349 24 102 19
RF Paul O'Neill L 111 .285 19 110 11
CF Bernie Williams S-R 25 .342 25 115 9
1B Tino Martinez L-R 100 .263 28 105 3
LF Ricky Ledee L 209 .276 9 40 4
DH Jim Leyritz* R 258 .235 8 26 0
C Jorge Posada S-R 122 .245 12 57 1
3B Scott Brosius R 190 .247 17 71 9

BENCH

OF Shane Spencer R 247 .234 8 20 0
OF Roberto Kelly[1] R 276 .300 8 37 6
C Tom Pagnozzi[1][2] R 394 .219 1 10 0
IF Clay Bellinger R 411 .200 1 2 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Orlando Hernandez 18 17 9 6.5 1.28 4.12
RH David Cone 70 12 9 6.2 1.31 3.44
RH Roger Clemens 30 14 10 6.3 1.47 4.60
LH Andy Pettitte 75 14 11 6.2 1.59 4.70
LH Ed Yarnall (R)[3] 143 13 4 6.3 1.33 3.47

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mariano Rivera 3 4 3 45 0.88 1.83
RH Ramiro Mendoza 124 9 9 3 1.36 4.29
LH Mike Stanton 200 2 2 0 1.43 4.33
RH Jeff Nelson 221 2 1 1 1.62 4.15
LH Allen Watson* 252 6 3 1 1.39 3.51
RH Jason Grimsley 268 7 2 1 1.41 3.60

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Combined AL and NL stats
[2]1998 stats
[3]Triple A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Yankees

"The Yankees are still the team to beat, but I see red flags on
their pitching staff.... David Cone can blow up at any time. Ed
Yarnall looks like a Triple A pitcher who might be good in an
emergency. Allen Watson has a bad shoulder, and Jeff Nelson has
had arm problems. Andy Pettitte seems to lose confidence. The
Yankees don't have anyone coming up behind long reliever Ramiro
Mendoza. Jake Westbrook, the 22-year-old righthander from the
Expos, doesn't impress me.... Chuck Knoblauch scares the hell
out of me at second base. He's afraid to throw the ball because
he doesn't know where it's going, so he backs away from the
sensational play.... I used to think Derek Jeter was right
behind Alex Rodriguez and Omar Vizquel as a defensive shortstop.
The more I see him, the better he gets. I've got to move him up
to the top of the list.... I don't think the Yankees have a good
defensive outfielder. Bernie Williams isn't much in center, Paul
O'Neill in right may be playing his last season and Ricky Ledee
isn't very good in left. Shane Spencer is a DH.