Tough times for Yankees

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

NEW YORK -- How did it come to this?

A year ago was bad enough.

George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, saw Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria circle the bases and jumping on home plate an hour after the Marlins eliminated the Yankees.

This was worse.

There, in front of the third-base dugout at Yankee Stadium, the Boston Red Sox danced, celebrated and spritzed champagne.

Fans leaned over, banged on the facade and chanted, 'Let's go Red Sox.'

The Marlins were one thing. This was far worse.

Sox players, fans, wives and executives dancing at Yankee Stadium.

And on the birthday of hall of famer Mickey Mantle of all days.

"How many times have we walked out of here unable to hold our heads up high?" Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin said while standing on the grass.

If you told us the American League championship would go seven games, we would have believed you. We would have believed Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez winning the first two games. We believed the Sox had better pitching.

But once it got to 3-0 Yanks, especially when New York was three outs away from sweeping the Sox with Mariano Rivera on the mound, it appeared all but over.

Hold the elevators.

DOWNHILL

"We lost two emotional games in Boston and we seemed to force things after that," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It was like that runaway snowball that rolls downhill and turns into a mountain."

How did it come to this?

Many reasons.

Rivera worked the eighth and then walked Kevin Millar to open the bottom of the ninth in Game 4. Pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second and Bill Mueller squared to bunt on the first pitch. Thinking Mueller would bunt, Roberts to third, Rivera threw the next pitch.

His best pitch? Well, Mueller lined it through the box to tie the game.

We remember after the Sox were edged 19-8 in Game 3, manager Terry Francona saying: "When we win Game 4 it will be because of Tim Wakefield, he sucked up some outs and allowed us not to use Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke."

We chuckled.

Yet, the Sox bullpen was a reason for Boston getting off the mat to win Game 4 in 12 innings. How did it come to this?

Derek Jeter hit a three-run double to put the Yanks up 4-2 in Game 5. After that Alex Rodriguez was hit with a pitch and Gary Sheffield walked. Hideki Matsui then lined what looked to be a drive for extra bases, but right fielder Trot Nixon made a sliding catch or else its 7-2 Yanks and it's over.

How did it come to this?

The Yanks came home to see Curt Schilling, with blood oozing from his right heel, stifle them.

With two runners on and moving, Tony Clark, subbing for the injured John Olerud, struck out.

How did it come to this?

"We broke down, from the offence to the bullpen to our starting pitching," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

Cashman was asked to name his biggest off-season acquisition in April. His answer wasn't Rodriguez or Sheffield.

"Getting Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown," Cashman said as replacements for Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. In Game 7, Brown allowed five runs in 11/3 innings. Vazquez came on with the bases loaded. One pitch later, he was out of the jam: Johnny Damon hit the first of his two homers.

Rodriguez, Sheffield and Matsui were 24-for-43 (.558) with four homers and 18 RBIs in the first three games. In the final four games, the threesome went 8-for-53 (.109) with one homer and two RBIs.

After scoring 19 runs in Game 3, the Yanks managed 13 runs in the final four.

Rodriguez asked into this rivalry, didn't deliver and then claimed he was one of "25 guys." Sure, and all the others make $25 million US per season, too.

Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Rivera are the only regulars from the early years of this dynasty.

"In my career we've given some pretty good blows to other teams," Williams said. "It's tough being on the other side of the coin."

The biggest comeback in team sports is also the biggest collapse in team sports.

The Yankees have not won a World Series since 2000 when they beat the New York Mets.


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