Yankees Go to Bat for Torre After Another Loss

Red Sox 7, Yankees 4

Yankees Go to Bat for Torre After Another Loss


Published : April 30, 2007 / The new York Times

The first thing Yankees players see when they open the main door to their spring training clubhouse is a sign that says “Accountability.” The sign is there on orders from George Steinbrenner, the principal owner.

If Steinbrenner had been in the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium yesterday, after another dispiriting loss to the Boston Red Sox, 7-4, he would have seen accountability everywhere.

Players said they should be blamed for the Yankees’ losing 14 of 23 games in April. General Manager Brian Cashman said it was his responsibility. Manager Joe Torre has said the same thing.

The question for Steinbrenner is what to do. Nobody discounts the possibility that Steinbrenner could fire Torre, who is in the last year of his contract and who was nearly fired last October after the Yankees lost to Detroit in the playoffs.

But if Steinbrenner did it, he would anger many of the players and threaten to poison an already sullen locker room. To the players, firing Torre would be foolish.

“It’s common sense,” said Derek Jeter, the captain Steinbrenner selected in 2003. “He’s not playing, that’s the bottom line. That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say. It’s unfair. It should stop. We should never talk about his job. He’s been doing a great job. He’s doing a great job this year.”

Jeter spoke sternly, with cameras rolling, and he said his message was directed at reporters. But if the organization asked him, Jeter said, “I’d say the exact same thing.”

Steinbrenner has made Torre’s status an issue by staying silent on his plans, not only to the public, but also to his confidants. The Yankees are off today, scheduled to fly to Dallas this afternoon for a three-game series against the Texas Rangers that starts tomorrow. For now, with no word from Steinbrenner, Torre still has a seat on the plane.

“That’s out of my control,” Torre said. “I do what I can do. If that’s what happens, that’s what happens. It’s certainly not something I’m thinking about when I’m sitting on the bench.”

Much of Torre’s thoughts yesterday were on Chien-Ming Wang, who was 19-6 last season but is now 0-2 in two starts. Wang’s specialty is ground balls, but David Ortiz smashed a homer into the third deck in the first inning.

From the bench, Torre noticed that the pitch did not move the way it usually does, down and away from a left-handed hitter. “It just stayed about belt-high,” Torre said.

That was a sign Wang’s sinker was affected.

In the third inning, Wang gave up another long hit, a leadoff triple to the gap in right-center by Coco Crisp. Álex Cora grounded out to score Crisp, and he hit the ball a lot deeper his next time up.

After the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third on a three-run homer by Doug Mientkiewicz, Cora struck in the fifth. Crisp was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, then Cora crunched a 2-0 pitch over the fence in right-center to put Boston ahead, 4-3.

Torre visited the mound with a trainer and Ron Guidry, the Yankees’ pitching coach. The nail on Wang’s right middle finger was split, horizontally, and Torre believed that caused Wang’s sinker to lose its action.

“It had to affect him,” Torre said.

Wang allowed four runs, six hits and three walks in six innings. He said he was not following through properly in his delivery, leaving pitches up in the strike zone. He had a bandage over his middle finger but said he would make his next start.

The Yankees never led after Cora’s homer. They scored only one more run, on a homer by Jeter in the eighth, after the Red Sox went ahead, 7-3. Scott Proctor and Sean Henn — part of a bullpen that has made a major league-high 96 appearances — allowed three runs.

“When you don’t execute, you have to pay for it,” Proctor said. “Regardless of how you’re used, it’s all about execution anyway.”

The Yankees have used at least five pitchers in each of their past 10 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest such streak in the majors over the past 50 years.

Torre has been desperate to find the right combination, with little success. In the five losses against Boston, the earned run average of the Yankees’ bullpen is 8.66. In those same games, Red Sox relievers have a 1.35 E.R.A.

Of course, the Yankees’ starters are also struggling, and several hitters — Johnny Damon, Robinson Canó, Bobby Abreu and even Alex Rodriguez — have gone cold.

Torre has handled teamwide slumps before. In 2005, the Yankees also started 9-14 but rallied to win the division. The team is in last place now, but it has won nine American League East titles in a row.

“We’re a direct reflection of our manager, there’s no doubt about it,” Jason Giambi said. “We’ve never really panicked. We’ve always been in there. I think Joe did an incredible job last year, with all the guys we had hurt.

“There’s nothing you can really do. We’re just not playing good baseball. We have some guys struggling offensively, some guys struggling on the mound. You’re not going to be a good baseball team when you’re playing a good team like the Boston Red Sox.”