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Yankees’ encore awaited

    New York returns 21 of 25 members of last year’s world championship team, and it adds five-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 1999


TAMPA -- Five months after a World Series sweep of San Diego, the question is, what the Yankees will do for Act II?

Some people, that is, who are not on the team.

“Our goal primarily to get back to the post-season and just see what happens,” pitcher David Cone said. “It’s just a matter of whatever it takes to get us there.”

Manager Joe Torre speaks in terms of trying to put last season, which the Yankees finished 125-50, on the mantel and forgetting about the number of wins.

“We have to make sure we’re not in competition with ourselves,” Torre said. “We have to compete with our competitors; our record is secondary.”

But perhaps shortstop Derek Jeter best summed up the team’s main theme.

“We can’t try to duplicate last year’s accomplishments, just last year’s success,” Jeter said.

The Yankees’ chances of bringing home a 25th world title look good on paper.

Exhibit 1: New York suddenly has found itself with four players fighting for the chance to play leftfield: veteran Darryl Strawberry, recovering from colon cancer but entering the season with 332 career home runs; Chad Curtis, who reported to camp 17 pounds lighter; Shane Spencer, who was called up at the end of last season and hit 10 home runs in his first 67 at-bats; and Ricky Ledee, a left-handed hitter with speed who is quite possibly the best defensive player for Yankee Stadium’s huge leftfield.

The most likely scenario is a three-man platoon with Strawberry filling in as DH.

Exhibit 2: The Yankees’ middle infield consists of arguably the top shortstop in the majors and one of the most consistent second baseman.

Jeter, who hit .324 last season, has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. He has been dubbed by the notoriously harsh New York media as “untradeable.”

The other side of that double-play combination is Chuck Knoblauch. In Knoblauch’s first season in the Bronx he adapted to the environment and became one of the most dependable hitters on the team.

Exhibit 3, and probably the most important : pitching.

Sure the Yankees traded fan favorite and prototypical New Yorker David Wells, author of last year’s perfect game and post-season hero. But in a case of the rich getting richer, they got a five-time Cy Young Award winner and easily the most dominant pitcher the past decade: Roger Clemens.

With a starting five of Clemens, Cone, Hideki Irabu, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez, don’t look for New York to lose many head-to-head pitcher’s duels. The rotation embodies the spirit of the team with its tenacity and focus.

“We don’t take losing very well,” Strawberry said. “We got into the mode of not wanting to lose any game. If we lost one game we were devestated.”

 

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