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Same Yankees?

New York attempts a three-peat after backpedaling into the playoffs.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


Any questions about the Yankees' problems and vulnerability going into this post-season were eliminated in the past couple weeks.

They simply became fact.

Having said all season they wanted to win a third straight World Series in the worst way, the Yankees apparently are taking themselves literally. They open the playoffs in Oakland tonight in the worst slump of any team that has gone to the post-season, having lost seven straight and 15 of their past 18, being outscored 137-56 in that stretch.

"This is different than anything else I've ever had to deal with," manager Joe Torre said. "It's just weird."

The Yankees have some legitimate flaws, and they know it.

Some of their key players, such as Paul O'Neill, David Cone and even Roger Clemens, are showing their age. Their middle relief is flammable. Their roster is not well-structured, with too many designated hitter types, such as Jose Canseco, Glenallen Hill and David Justice. Left-hander Denny Neagle appears to have lost his winning edge and his confidence. Their once-ideal patience at the plate has given way to costly over-aggressiveness, ruining the rhythm of their offense.

But the Yankees figure they have one thing going for them no other team can match, at least not until they meet up with Atlanta: experience.

The Yankees know what it's like to be in the playoffs, and they know how it works. They have won 22 of their past 25 post-season games, and their players have a combined 628 games of playoff experience compared to 30 for the A's.

"Every year is different, and this year obviously has been tougher," first baseman Tino Martinez said. "Our goal is to get in, and we know that anything can happen once you get in.

"We're not any less confident; we still feel we have a great chance to win. Once you get in you just have to play good games one after another consistently, and before you know it, you win again."

Even the A's, as brash and cocky as they are, acknowledge the Yankees could have an edge. "There's a mystique about the Yankees; they've been here before," Oakland's Ben Grieve said. "I'm not saying that's going to intimidate us; it's just the way it is."

The Yankees are counting on their starting pitching to get them going. Momentum in a short playoff series can be gained as quickly as it takes to win the opening game, and the Yankees will send Clemens to the mound against Gil Heredia.

"It's an honor to pitch Game 1, no matter how long you've been in this game or how much you've done," Clemens said. "It takes on importance in a five-game series, because you hope to get some momentum going, especially when you're starting in someone else's stadium."

If Clemens succeeds, the Yankees are confident they'll get that winning feeling back.

"I still feel very comfortable with our team," pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "I feel our pitching is better then anybody else in the league, which is the way it's been since I got here."

The Yankees have had an interesting season, marked by distractions involving pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre's health; potential trades for Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa; the in-season additions of Justice, Canseco, Hill, and Neagle; the final-month slump; and the intense scrutiny of principal owner George Steinbrenner.

"It's definitely been a different year," reliever Jeff Nelson said. "A lot more ups and downs than in the past. This year we have had the least amount of wins that we've had since I've been here. The other teams have made changes so they have a chance to compete and keep up with us, and they've done a great job. It's definitely different for us."

- Staff writer Mike Readling and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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