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No slippage

Yankees ready to bull their way into another World Series

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Posted: Saturday October 09, 1999 10:19 PM

 

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Even before the championship banner was hoisted at Yankee Stadium on opening day, a shadow fell across a team that had enjoyed a season like no other in baseball history.

With the club in spring training, updates on pitchers and catchers gave way to grim medical reports. In quick succession, the Yankees learned that one of the greatest of them all, Joe DiMaggio, had died. And just two days later, their manager, Joe Torre, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

This came with the Yankees still dealing with Darryl Strawberry's colon cancer and legal problems.

"Nobody feels like we're snakebit," World Series MVP Scott Brosius said. "After all, it's kind of hard to feel sorry for yourself when you finish with the best record in the league."

Brosius had a burden of his own this year. The third baseman's father, Maury Brosius, died of colon cancer at 55 on Sept. 12.

Three days earlier, the Yankees lost another one of their Hall of Famers, Catfish Hunter, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease. They had seen him in spring training withering away and, after his death, wore black armbands to honor him - those armbands were right below the No. 5 on the left uniform sleeves, remembering DiMaggio.

"We don't expect bad things to happen, but we're not surprised anymore when they do," first baseman Tino Martinez said. "It's almost like we're numb to it."

Through it all, the Yankees kept winning. They didn't exactly reprise last year's record 114-win season, but won the AL East.

New York was on the brink of making it back to the league championship series, taking a 2-0 lead into Game 3 of the best-of-5 first-round matchup against the Rangers at Texas.

Even when everything seemed to be falling into place for the Yankees, a bump came along. They got a scare in Game 2 against Texas when bench coach Don Zimmer, who served as interim manager for 36 games while Torre recovered from surgery this spring, was hit in the head by a foul ball of Chuck Knoblauch's bat.

As it turned out, Zimmer avoided any serious injury and returned to the bench, but shortstop Derek Jeter said it was just another chance for the Yankees to prove they could keep their focus.

"Obviously, you're going to think about things like that," Jeter said. "But one thing we're good at is blocking it out and playing through tough times."

Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said the first month of the season could have been the key to the Yankees' whole season, because playing without Torre prepared them for the adversity that they would face later. Stottlemyre also said that the way the team responded to the distractions makes this year's success "even more satisfying than what we did last year."

"We've had a lot of things to deal with and battle past, but we've rebounded pretty well," Stottlemyre said. "I think that starts with Joe, because he was still leading us while he was absent through Zimmer. To survive that was crucial to us."

Now, the Yankees believe that the lessons learned during their difficult season can pay dividends in the postseason. After all, explained pitcher David Cone, a team with a history of playing amid distractions is less likely to fold under the pressure of the playoffs.

"I think it works to our advantage," Cone said. "Everything we've been through makes us a better team, and we're a close-knit group that's been through a lot together."

And even without a record-setting win total or a smooth ride to the pennant, these Yankees are primed to win a second straight World Series title, and their record 25th overall.

"If we end up at our ultimate goal, it will be every bit as sweet as it was last year," Brosius said. "Actually, it will maybe be even sweeter because we had to dig down so deep."


 
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