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Season of discontent looms for Yanks

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – Maybe Roger Clemens was the only one who remembered to look at the side of the old building in the Bronx on Saturday afternoon.

Maybe he was the only one willing to admit there was more to think about inside that old building than a Sunday evening game against the Cleveland Indians, and a reasonably reliable hamstring, and Alex Rodriguez's latest oh-fer, and whether any of them could hit Jake Westbrook after failing to hit C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.

The New York Yankees will play to extend their American League division series. They could also be playing to extend an era of familiar players and a predictable formula, one that used to work and now comes close, but doesn't.

Their championship years are painted in pinstripe blue, 26 in all, three stories above the ground.

"Driving into the stadium today, you see '2000' on there," Clemens said. "And it's been seven long years. You know, that's what the goal is here. Very high expectations. And you either like that or you don't."

The Yankees are hoping he does, and has enough sturdy body parts to make the difference.

He's what they've got left, along with Phil Hughes in the bullpen in case Clemens' left hamstring doesn't hold, and a flyer on returning Jason Giambi to the lineup, and the hopes that the old ballpark has some favors left in it.

It'll surely help that the next two Indians pitchers won't be finishing in the top five of the Cy Young ballot, but, again, neither will Clemens, who has not pitched since Sept. 16, and has pitched just that once in a month.

Either way, Clemens said, "It's always a privilege."

If that sounds a little like a farewell, we've stopped guessing along with Clemens, but he might not be the only one practicing. And that is why the Yankees' final game of this season, whether that's Sunday or on the day they paint "2007" on the side of Yankee Stadium, could be the start of something completely new.

Contracts are running out all over the place; Joe Torre's, Mariano Rivera's, Jorge Posada's, Clemens'. In the 2008-is-optional category: Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu.

"This game, you know, I've been in it all my life," Torre said. "The fact of the matter is you just bury yourself in it. When you look up when it's all over with, you see where you are and what you've accomplished and what you didn't accomplish, and what you're sorry about, and what you're happy about. And then you evaluate. But, we have a lot of work to do.

"As I say, my job is to have these guys concentrate on tomorrow and not look beyond that, because we can only control what we're in the process of doing."

The task always seems larger here, the consequences more extreme, an 0-2 hole deeper.

As such, Torre confirmed he was pondering lineup changes, probably meaning Giambi in at DH and Hideki Matsui out, and probably not meaning A-Rod batting eighth. He would only commit to Clemens' start and nothing beyond that, casting some doubt as to whether he'd give another shot to Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed eight runs and got 14 outs in Game 1.

A-Rod, of course, doesn't have a hit in the series, so one fewer than Derek Jeter and even with Jorge Posada. As a team, the Yankees are batting .121 and they've been out-hit, 23-8.

As a reminder of just how ludicrous that is, when the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles last Saturday they had eight hits … in the fourth inning.

"Well," Torre said, "put Alex in the group with everybody else. I don't think it's fair to single him out.

"Sometimes they're not going to pitch to him. Sometimes they have to pitch to him and they're making pretty good pitches on him. He's fouling off his pitch and stuff like that. I think everybody is trying a little bit too hard."

Toward that end, Doug Mientkiewicz has taken it upon himself to loosen his childhood pal, Saturday sending him text messages intended to lighten the burden.

"He's been through this before," Mientkiewicz said. "We just need him to be him, and then let everybody else do our own thing…. I believe in him probably more than anybody else outside his family. So, I've seen him do it before. He'll do it again. … He's going to come through. I promise."

If the season is going to settle on the shoulders of Rodriguez and Clemens, that's not unfair. If it is going to require some subtle work from Jeter and Posada, that's not unfair, either.

The Yankees are their team, certainly for now.

Clemens gets the ball one more time. A-Rod gets the cleanup spot one more time. Torre runs it all, one more time.

Beyond that, nothing is certain. Not even Game 4. That's a lot to consider.

"We've done it before," Pettitte said. "So, I mean, I feel like we can do it. My mind will not allow me to go there and say that we're not going to pull this series off."

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