NEW YORK – There are no crises quite like New York Yankees crises, here in the Bronx, here in October, here under the rigid gaze of their aging, cranky owner.
They are, almost always entirely self-inflicted, whether trundling downward from a speakerphone in Tampa or rearing up from an imperfect roster or a frayed hamstring, and the same sorts of things other franchises in other towns live with daily, just not as loud.
It only plays better here, over and over. If it looks ridiculous and sounds worse, wrap it in pinstripes, call it a Sunday and play ball.
So, in the throes of a throwback rant from George Steinbrenner, on a day when the manager gamely fielded questions of his imminent unemployment 2½ hours before the first pitch of a potential elimination game, at a time of pressing questions regarding Roger Clemens' hamstring and Alex Rodriguez's bat, normalcy returned to Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees slugged, the Yankees pitched, the Yankees won a playoff game, if for no other reason than to start it all over again the next day.
At the end of another overwrought cycle, Derek Jeter shook his head.
"You start thinking about all these other things," he said, "that's when it gets complicated."
When it was pointed out that the Yankee way is always complicated, he grinned and said, "Pretty much. There's always something going on."
By the sounds of it, Joe Torre's job is in no less jeopardy today than it was Sunday, that 8-4 win against the Cleveland Indians suspending the turmoil but probably leading to more, because as long as there are Yankees toiling beneath stately facades, there will be more.
The locals have answered the formation of Red Sox Nation with Yankees Universe. Guess who gets to play God?
It's not Joe Torre.
"It's an emotional day because losing is no fun in the postseason," Torre said near the end of it. "It's like everything's going 200 mph.
"As far as the comments from Mr. Steinbrenner, I mean, I don't want to say you ever get used to it. But you work here, you understand the pressure everybody's under to win all the time. … I understand the requirements here. But the players are human beings. And it's not machinery here. Even though they get paid a lot of money, it's still blood that runs through their veins."
Also, their blood that runs in the streets if two more wins don't come, along with a pint or two of Torre's. The owner appears to have awoken from whatever took him away, and with vengeance on his mind. He was said to have watched the game from his suite, but never ventured into view. Instead, the private, open-air box behind home plate held a dozen or so well-dressed folks, none of whom held "Joe Must Go" signs.
Torre said none of his players mentioned anything. There was no Win for Joe rally, no Hit for Joe plan. But, they did have 11 hits, three more than in the first two games combined, and they did wait out Jake Westbrook until his sinker came up, most dramatically resulting in Johnny Damon's three-run homer in the fifth, all of which covered for Clemens limping off the mound in the third inning. It seems unlikely Clemens would pitch again this postseason, meaning his career could be over, you know, until The Boss comes calling next May.
Against an Indians' team that will pitch Paul Byrd on Monday night and still have C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona rested and ready for a Game 5, the Yankees stared right through the Defcon 2 scenario and played their best game of the postseason. They enjoyed a swarm-free Joba Chamberlain outing, preceded by the most critical 3 2/3 innings of Phil Hughes' rookie season. Rodriguez had two – two! – hits, the ballpark sang along with Ronan Tynan, and Torre was still there at the end, tapping fists in a win.
"These guys understand," Torre said. "They understand what happens here."
Other than the 20 outs it bled from the bullpen Sunday, the Clemens injury should have no great impact on the rest of the series. Indeed, if they add another arm – Chris Britton, for one – and deactivate Clemens, the Yankees could be even better prepared if a slugfest or extra innings come. The woeful lack of middle-relief or set-up arms – Chamberlain pitched two innings with a five-run lead and Kyle Farnsworth pitched none – is much more likely to undo the Yankees, rather than Torre's ability to manage or not manage.
Still, Clemens' exit was dramatic.
He carried his glove from the mound with all the dignity one could bear in such a situation.
The crowd responded with a mix of anger and sympathy, boos for the 2-0 – soon to be 3-0 – deficit, cheers for the way he pitched for 24 seasons (if not really for this one) and for giving it a shot on Sunday night.
It was not blown kisses in Florida. Nor was it a triumphant announcement from the owner's box.
This was a 45-year-old man, a 354-game winner, who was just average in Yankees Part II and having trouble holding his body together.
His last pitch struck out Victor Martinez. The fastball was the last of 59 pitches, the final 30 or so in pain rating somewhere between hot-poker bad and get-this-pit-bull-off-me bad.
He hobbled down the stairs into the dugout, and did not acknowledge the few pats on the back or words of encouragement as he shuffled gingerly into the tunnel.
"I'll know more tomorrow," he said, and repeated it several times.
Asked if it crossed his mind that it might have been his final appearance in this or any other ballpark, Clemens said, "No. No."
So, the Yankees avoided elimination. They watched one of their future Hall of Famers limp away, maybe forever. They saved their manager's job. Their owner left quietly.
A pretty full day, all in all. Maybe they can do it again in another 24 hours.
"We all love Joe Torre and we'd love for him to win another championship," Damon said. "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."
- Joe Torre