NEW YORK – The Cleveland Indians, a bit player in their American League division series until Monday night, threw themselves at each other near the mound at Yankee Stadium, delighted to leave the whole thing behind.
They'll go play the Boston Red Sox starting Friday night, meaning, if we are to believe George Steinbrenner's threats, Joe Torre, for one, is out of a job. Also, Alex Rodriguez is on the clock, and the Yankees have a roster to rework.
The Yankees' defiance held up for one game, when they squared their shoulders and spit in Steinbrenner's eye. Sadly for them, there was still some pitching and hitting to do, neither of which went too well in Game 4, when Paul Byrd – yes, Paul Byrd – ran them off for five innings with mid-80s fastballs.
Maybe Steinbrenner will reconsider. Hell, maybe he won't remember saying it and everybody can keep showing up to work. It seems doubtful, though. No one from Steinbrenner's camp – not one of the Steinbrenner sons, not the team president, no one with an ounce of consideration for Torre's 12 years of service and dignity – telephoned Torre with encouragement after Steinbrenner's public promise to can him, Torre said Monday afternoon. The silence, one can only assume, suggests compliance, even agreement.
"This ballclub," Torre said, "they have a great future."
Not we. They.
"This has been a great 12 years," he said. "Whatever the hell happens from here on out, I mean, I'll look back on these 12 years with great, great pleasure, based on the fact that I'm a kid who had never been to the World Series. … The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you."
Staring out over the top of the delirious Indians, the last of his players having passed into the tunnel and out of the season, Torre might have recognized that he brought this on himself. He made managing in New York look too easy. He solved problems and soothed egos and made sense of the irrational. He neither coddled nor whipped, but let play Steinbrenner's bankrolls and whims, along with some very fragile rosters.
The owner and his lieutenants have forgotten, perhaps, that the 20 years prior to Torre produced a dozen or so managers who made the job appear exceptionally difficult, even in victory, and the next dozen are as likely to repeat that than not.
Whatever. It's their pinstripes, their image, their landmark franchise.
Someday, they'll remember the old stadium and the chants that poured from the stands as their manager made two trips to the mound in the eighth inning. Maybe, from his office behind the curtains on the loge level, Steinbrenner could hear them.
"Joe-oh Tor-ee! Joe-oh Tor-ee!"
An hour later, Torre grinned. His voice thinned. He didn't want to cry.
"You can feel their heartbeat," he said. "Not hear it, you can feel their heartbeat."
In the middle of Yankee Stadium on an unseasonably warm October evening, there were 25 guys who wouldn't give much thought to Torre, or A-Rod, or the pending free agencies of Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, or what all of this might look like come April. And there was no more heartbeat to feel, outside of their own.
While the Yankees began to look tired and overmatched (they've lost four consecutive playoff series, starting with those four consecutive losses to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS), the Indians have been reborn. After a season of 96 wins and their first postseason series victory in a decade, they rolled on the infield grass and shouted and celebrated their youth, their future.
"This is what you dream of," center fielder Grady Sizemore, said. "You want to play in the postseason."
They'd vanquished 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang for the second time in five days. They'd gotten big hits, made big pitches, became the better team. They were poised and game. They hung over the dugout rail for every pitch.
They are more like the Yankees used to be. The Yankees used to pitch themselves to World Series. Now they pitch themselves out of them, and into another winter of uncertainty.
Rodriguez stood in front of his locker, his fourth season ending like the previous three. He has 10 days from the end of the World Series to declare his intention, in or out. He hit a home run in the seventh inning, but still lost 6-4, still went home the best regular-season player in the game, still went home early. The RBI that came with the home run was his first in the postseason since 2004.
He was asked if this was his last game for the Yankees.
"I don't know," he said. "I haven't really thought about it. It's been all baseball for eight months. It's just a tough time to reflect right now."
His eyes were bloodshot.
"It's been a tough ladder for me," he said, meaning the fall and climb from MVP to target to MVP. "It's too bad it has to end like this. … The reason I came to New York first and foremost was to help this team win a championship. I must say, I have failed at that."
Rodriguez and Torre did not walk out together, though it would have made for great symbolism. Torre will hear of his fate, presumably, in the coming days. Rodriguez has perhaps a month to decide whether to opt out of his contract.
He would not commit to returning to the Yankees, but he did call Torre "the best manager in the game," and he did not exclude Torre's presence here as a factor in his decision.
"I wish Joe the best," he said. "I wish things work out for him."
The rest of them? It'll need time. For the moment, the Yankees watched the Indians play better baseball, watched them move on to the Red Sox, watched them do what the Yankees used to do, seemingly so long ago.
Rodriguez pursed his lips.
"You just feel like some day you're going to be on that end," he said. "You know?"
- George Steinbrenner
- Joe Torre