After looking flat in the first two games of the AL division series, the New York Yankees’ offense is finally showing signs of life - and may be saving manager Joe Torre’s job in the process.
The Yankees try to continue their push to the AL championship series and even their best-of-five division series with the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
With losses in the first two games of the ALDS, New York owner George Steinbrenner said before Sunday’s Game 3 that Torre likely won’t return as manager unless the Yankees reach the ALCS for the first time in three years.
“His job is on the line,” Steinbrenner was quoted in Sunday’s editions of The Record of New Jersey. “I think we’re paying him a lot of money. He’s the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don’t think we’d take him back if we don’t win this series.”
New York responded by rallying from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Indians 8-4 in Game 3.
“This is a very uncomfortable time of year. It’s an exciting time of year,” Torre said. “You understand there’s no safety net.”
New York hopes to come back from an 0-2 hole - a feat it pulled off in a 2001 ALDS against Oakland. That team was one of four to recover from an 0-2 deficit in a five-game series since the postseason expanded in 1995.
The Yankees scored 968 runs during the regular season - 76 more than anyone else in the majors - but managed only four in the first two games of this series at Cleveland. New York batted .121 (8-for-66) in the losses at Jacobs Field, but had 11 hits - including its first back-to-back hits in the series - in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.
“We know what we have to do. We know who’s the boss around here, and we know how much we love Joe Torre,” said center fielder Johnny Damon, who hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fifth inning.
“We all love Joe Torre, and we would love for him to win another championship. I think Joe Torre is a guy who commands a lot of respect. He’s meant so much to the Yankee organization. And, you know, we get to play for him at least another day and, hopefully, longer.”
Damon had three hits and drove in four runs on Sunday, but has struggled against Cleveland’s Game 4 starter Paul Byrd (15-8, 4.59 ERA), going 3-for-19 (.158) lifetime.
Alex Rodriguez stopped his postseason hitless streak at 18 at-bats with a second-inning single and also beat out an infield hit. However, the New York third baseman is still just 6-for-54 (.111) with no RBIs in postseason play dating to a home run against Boston in the ALCS three years ago.
Meanwhile, Yankees captain Derek Jeter grounded into two double plays and was hitless in four at-bats on Sunday. Jeter is just 1-for-12 (.083) in the series, although he is 11-for-27 (.407) lifetime against Byrd.
The Yankees will send Chien-Ming Wang to the mound Monday on three days’ rest, hoping to push the series back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 5.
Wang, who went 19-7 with a 3.70 ERA during the regular season, was pounded for eight runs, nine hits - including home runs by Victor Martinez and rookie Asdrubal Cabrera - and four walks in just 4 2-3 innings of a 12-3 loss in Game 1 on Thursday.
“I’m not afraid of Wang pitching against Cleveland again,” Torre told the Yankees’ official Web site after Game 1. “He didn’t pitch his game tonight. You know, you win 19 games in this league, you certainly earn it. I’m certainly not going to shy away from him pitching again.”
This will be the right-handed sinkerballer’s first career start on three days’ rest.
Byrd finished the regular season with his most wins since recording 17 for Kansas City in 2002, but had his worst start of the season against New York, as he was tagged for seven runs and seven hits in a season-low two innings during an 11-2 loss on Aug. 11.
The right-hander has not defeated the Yankees since his first career start against them in 1999, going 0-4 with a 4.87 ERA in seven starts since then.
Byrd finished up this regular season in disappointing fashion, going 1-3 with a 6.83 ERA in his final five starts. In his final regular-season outing, Byrd gave up four runs and 11 hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-2 loss to Seattle on Sept. 27.
He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in five career games - three starts - in postseason play.
The Indians will once again try to secure their first trip to the ALCS since 1998.
“I feel like we made a statement in Game 1, and I feel like they made a statement (Sunday), especially being down 3-0,” Byrd said.