The Yankees appear
headed for a turbulent off-season in which next to nothing can be ruled out,
even the firing of manager Joe Torre and a trade of Rodriguez, though A-Rod has
been firm in saying that he will not waive his no-trade clause. What Detroit
exposed as New York's most pressing need, however, is the infusion of young
power arms. The losing starters in Games 2, 3 and 4--Mussina, 37; Randy
Johnson, 43; and Jaret Wright, 30--had only 10 strikeouts combined against a
team that had whiffed more than every other AL club except Cleveland.
Up until Zumaya
brought the intensity of his fastball and demeanor to Game 2, New York had
played 58 postseason games at Yankee Stadium under Torre and lost only one of
them by one run (Game 1 of the 2003 World Series) while winning 13 by that
margin. "I really wanted to pitch at Yankee Stadium," said Zumaya after
the 4--3 win, nursing a Corona (or "Mexican champagne" as he called it)
and a right eye reddened with blood from a broken vessel caused by a
particularly violent sneeze. "I told Justin before the game, 'Get me a lead
and I won't lose it for you.'"
Detroit's momentum at home the next night, pitching what may have been the game
of his life--no easy feat for a guy with a 1994 perfect game to his credit.
Winless against the Yankees for 13 years and winless in his nine career
postseason appearances, Rogers pitched with unprecedented will, animation and
velocity all the way into the eighth inning of a 6--0 shellacking, the worst
shutout loss in New York's 335 postseason games.
All season the
young Detroit starters have taken their cues from Rogers, who regularly
counsels them in the clubhouse and on the bench. Verlander marvels at the
veteran's attention to detail, citing, for instance, a Rogers admonition to
keep his eye on the catcher's discarded mask on foul pop-ups. If the ball
should take the catcher back in the direction of his mask, an alert pitcher
will pick up the mask to avoid the possibility of the catcher's tripping on
between Rogers and the young pitchers he has mentored goes well beyond age. The
rest of the Tigers' postseason starters--Verlander, a Detroit first round pick
in 2004; Bonderman, an Oakland first-round pick in '01; and Nate Robertson, a
Florida fifth-round pick in 1999--are classically groomed power arms. Two of
them, Bonderman and Verlander, were in the majors by age 22.
contrast, didn't play baseball for his Plant City, Fla., high school team until
he was a senior, and then only as an outfielder. Impressed by his arm strength,
Texas took him in the 39th round of the 1982 draft and converted him into a
pitcher. Rogers, however, was so raw that the Rangers had to teach him how to
pitch out of the stretch. He logged seven years in the minors and then four
more as a reliever in the majors before he became a full-time starter at age
28. Rarely cracking 90 mph with his fastball, Roger earned a reputation over
the years as a craftsman who changed speeds and could throw a biting curveball
in almost any count. In recent years, however, Rogers has shown improved
velocity while enjoying some of his greatest success. He has won 49 games over
the past three seasons--the best three-year stretch of his career.
After Game 3, in
which he surprised the Yankees with his velocity and flummoxed them with
dive-bombing curveballs, an emotional Rogers admitted he never wanted to win a
game as badly as he did that one. His young students made sure to take notes.
"Seeing him go out there with that intensity, it was unbelievable,'' said
Bonderman, who needed only 40 pitches, all but eight of them strikes, to set
down the first 15 hitters on Saturday. "I just wanted to go out there and
try as hard as I could to do the same. How can you not feed off of
Oakland buzzed through its series thanks to young power pitching. Indeed, six
of the top 19 AL strikeout pitchers under 30 are in the ALCS: Bonderman,
Verlander and Robertson for Detroit, and Dan Haren, Barry Zito and Joe Blanton
for Oakland--and that doesn't even include Rich Harden, the A's nominal ace who
missed much of the year with an elbow injury and is now the team's fourth
boasts its own reformed and humbled veteran who assumed a leadership role. Like
Rogers, A's DH Frank Thomas, 38, underwent a transformation with his new team.
The White Sox happily shed the free agent Thomas last winter, with Guillen and
Chicago G.M. Kenny Williams insulting him as a poor clubhouse influence on his
way out the door. Thomas, who sat out Chicago's title run last season with a
broken left ankle, limped around last year's winter meetings in Dallas trolling
for a job. One of his stops was to Oakland's hotel suite, where he met with
G.M. Billy Beane and his assistant, Dave Forst. "The first thing I noticed
was that he was in better shape than he had been for years," Beane says.
"After listening to him, after he got up and left the room, Dave and I just
looked at each other like, Wow. This guy has something to prove. You could see
how determined he was. That's what got the ball rolling."
The Twins briefly
showed interest in Thomas, but, he explains, "I wanted to get as far away
from Chicago and the Midwest as I could." He signed with the A's for
$500,000 guaranteed, with another $2.6 million in incentives. "We figured
if he could play 115 to 125 games, Beane says, "he'd hit 25 home runs and
drive in between 80 and 90 runs."