ESPN.com - MLB Playoffs 2002 - Playoff defeat likely to lead to big changes
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Saturday, October 5
Updated: October 7, 1:50 AM ET
 
Playoff defeat likely to lead to big changes

By Sean McAdam
Special to ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If you listened closely over the weekend, over the din of the suddenly raucous Edison Field, you could almost hear the New York Yankees' biological clock ticking.

If you looked closely, through the sea of red and the parade of rally monkeys, you could almost see them getting old before your eyes, like a character in a science fiction film.

The end of the road came Saturday, when the latest Yankee Dynasty, the greatest run of any post-free agency team, came to a sputtering stop.

David Wells
David Wells gave up 10 hits and eight runs in less than five innings.

Maybe the beginning of the end came in Game 3 of the Division Series a year ago when they needed Derek Jeter's extraordinary presence of mind and athleticism to rescue them from certain doom. Maybe when Jeremy Giambi forgot to slide, he only slowed down the Yankees' slide from the top of the baseball mountain.

Given a second chance, the Yanks got all the way to the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series before losing to Arizona. That loss was painful enough for the Yankees and their fans. This loss, in which the Yankees didn't even get to a decisive game, will not be excused.

Pitching had always driven these great Yankee teams, but not this October. In four games, the Angels scored 31 runs, or just under eight per game. Yankee pitchers allowed the Angels to hit at a .376 clip. Perhaps most significantly, the Yanks didn't get a single quality start from any of their starters.

No Yankee starter got through the sixth inning; only Roger Clemens got into the sixth inning, a marked departure from playoffs past when David Cone or a younger Orlando Hernandez would give them quality innings -- and plenty of them.

Age is certainly an issue. Roger Clemens is 40, David Wells is 39 and El Duque is 37 if he's a day. Mike Mussina will turn 34 over the winter, but is coming off a strangely inconsistent season. Andy Pettitte, the only pitcher for whom it can be said to be in his prime, has suffered from chronic (and ominous) elbow troubles the last few years.

Then there's the issue of the bullpen. Without Mariano Rivera for large chunks of the second half, Joe Torre had to rely too heavily at Mike Stanton, whose odometer has turned over more than once. And absent the dominant Rivera of Octobers past -- and the option to bring him in for a multi-inning save -- the Yanks saw their invincibility stripped away.

"The pitching staff of any ballclub usually makes you or breaks you," said general manager Brian Cashman. "This time, it broke us."

Derek Jeter (.500, eight hits, two homers, six runs scored) and Bernie Williams (.333), playoff-tested reliables, were their usual selves and first-time Yankee Jason Giambi (.357) passed his initiation. But Alfonso Soriano was a non-factor, hitting just .118 while striking out four times.

"I'm convinced," said a longtime American League scout, "that the whole 40-40 thing in the final week screwed up Soriano for this series. He was trying to hit that 40th homer and he went back to overswinging, the way he did (before)."

There were defensive gaps, too. Giambi failed to come up with some tough chances on the line, plays that his predecessor, Tino Martinez, would probably have handled. Soriano let a ball through his legs in Game 4, then failed to corral a shallow pop-up in the outfield in the big fifth inning.

"We just didn't pitch as well as we normally do," concluded Cashman. "And the defense wasn't very sharp. The fact of the matter is, the Angels were a better team."

It falls to Cashman now to clean up the mess -- if a 103-win season and another division title can be considered a mess.

"You're never satisfied unless you get to the World Series when you play for or manage the New York Yankees," said Torre.

The first order of business, as absurd as it may strike some, is whether Cashman will be given the opportunity to remain on the job. Until owner George Steinbrenner signals otherwise, Cashman's three-year deal, signed last year, isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Time and again, Steinbrenner made the point this season that Cashman and the rest of his braintrust "assured" the owner that they were good enough to win it all.

Now that they haven't, an examination of the front office is likely. This marks two straight years that the Yanks have fallen short of their ultimate goal, and if the first miss could be considered a fluke, then this one won't be shrugged off quite so easily.

Jeter, asked to make a comparison between the last two postseasons, wouldn't bite.

"If you lose, you lose," he said. "I don't care how close you come."

Steinbrenner is likely to be more discriminating. It's hard not to detect a pattern of slippage on the part of the Yankees. Get to the World Series and lose one year; fall two rounds short the next.

"Whatever you want to call it," said Cashman, "we had higher goals set than this."

Perhaps the Yankees made so many changes -- five of the nine everyday position players -- that this group needed more time to learn how to play together, and more important, how to win together in the postseason. It's unlikely that rationalization will soothe Steinbrenner, who is more likely to begin fixing things with his checkbook -- and fast.

So much for the theory that the onset of a luxury tax might rein in Steinbrenner's spending this winter. The Boss should be more determined than ever to reload.

Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza are eligible for free agency. So too is Robin Ventura. Then there's the complicated contract of Roger Clemens, who stands to make $10.5 million whether he pitches or not.

What the Yankees need is to get younger in their starting rotation, but this winter's most attractive pitching free agents (Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux) are all, to varying degrees, beginning the final stretches of their careers.

"Twenty-nine teams every year try to achieve a World Series and fail," Cashman said. "We're in that group of 29 right now."

For the Yankees, baseball's most consistent winners, that's unfamiliar territory. Repercussions can be expected.

Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.





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