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Said another teammate, "I think he ought to get his eyes checked. I'm not kidding. I don't think he's seeing the ball."
And another: "I honestly think he might be afraid of the ball."
Every clubhouse has a unique current, like that of a river, with a temperature and a pace that can be felt only by wading into it. The A's, taking their cue
from general manager Billy Beane's shorts and flip-flops, play as if it's Friday happy hour. The Atlanta Braves, eschewing the clubhouse stereo, have a self-assured, nine-to-five approach. The Yankees, the last baseball bastion in which beards and individualism are verboten, foster a Prussian efficiency.
The old guard with connections to New York's four championship seasons from 1996 to 2000-Torre, Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada and outfielder Bernie Williams-almost never talks about individual numbers because stats are incidental to the team's mission: winning the World Series. Those title teams talked about "passing the baton"-taking a walk or moving a runner over out of confidence in and respect for the next hitter. Reliance on one another is what mattered. That is still the covenant of the Yankees, though perhaps not as sublimely executed.
One day last month, wading into that current, I asked Rodriguez whom he has relied on most during his difficult summer. He first mentioned Cynthia.
But to whom has he turned on this Yankees team?
He looked down and thought in silence. Ten seconds passed.
Finally he said, "Rob Thomson." Thomson is the team's special-assignment coach who throws batting practice.
"And Mo. Mariano is the best. Those three."