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Same as ever in New York

The Yankees are in the pennant chase, as usual, but then again New York is not a "usual" baseball market.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees did more than earn a few nice trophies when they won the past three World Series and four of five. They earned themselves mighty lofty expectations as well.

Expectations that tend to turn what would be a strong season for most teams into a campaign filled with trade rumors, talks of a team that has lost its competitive edge and even a little bashing by its owner.

Now imagine if they weren't in second in their division, four games behind the Red Sox, and nine games better than .500 after Friday night's 6-3 win against the Rays.

Such is life for a team which has won 526 games in the past 51/2 years.

"I think we're compared to ourselves all the time and we've got a lot to live up to because of what we've accomplished," manager Joe Torre said. "There is some responsibility that goes along with doing well. That's one thing I like. I like the fact that we are under pressure all the time as opposed to winning last year and just celebrating that fact."

Nowhere is the pressure greater to win than New York and it's beginning to show this season.

Two weeks ago principal owner George Steinbrenner named four players who weren't living up to his expectations this season, including first baseman Tino Martinez and shortstop Derek Jeter, who signed a 10-year, $189-million contract before the season.

Martinez is hitting .251, has been the subject of trade rumors and there is talk of the team promoting Nick Johnson from Triple-A Columbus to replace him at first base. Jeter, a career .322 hitter, is hitting .285 and entered the game with 13 hits in his past 61 at bats.

David Justice, whom the Yankees acquired last year for added power, is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin and is hitting .245 with 10 home runs.

The Yankees reportedly are looking for help for a beleaguered bullpen whose latest folly was the inability to hold a five-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday night in Detroit.

Add it all together and it would seem the Yankees are dreadful, fighting with Tampa Bay for the bottom of the AL East. Instead they're in prime position for a pennant march or possibly a wild card and a chance at a fourth world championship in a row.

"Last year was same thing," Torre said before the game. "We had about a .500 record going into the All-Star break. I thought we had something going last week and now we've lost two in a row. It's frustrating but you've got to fight your way through it."

Torre likes to see his team face adversity, saying it makes you stronger when you have to fight for something. He said winning is just a little bit better when you have to work hard to win games, rather than just reel off win after win as the 1998 team did on the way to 114 regular season wins.

"There's a lot of hard work involved, how to handle stress and how to handle losing and all that stuff," Torre said. "That's when you really earn your stripes and become a good team, when you learn to handle adversity."

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