By George, a kinder, gentler Boss


BOSTON -- Andy Pettitte stands as proof that New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner remains as impatient as ever, but now defers to his baseball people instead of acting on each and every impulse.

Steinbrenner wanted to trade Pettitte at the July 31 deadline, only to be talked out of it by manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman, who pointed to the left-hander's track record as a big-game performer.

All were vindicated last night when Pettitte pitched 7 1/3 innings to defeat the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, 9-2.

Pettitte is still only 27, and he's now 6-4 in 13 postseason starts, with an October resume that includes the World Series clincher over San Diego last year and the ALCS clincher over the Orioles in 1996.

So, why is he the subject of trade rumors every season? Torre said one reason is that Pettitte is a finesse pitcher who seems more expendable than a hard thrower. But Steinbrenner's eternal restlessness can not be discounted.

The bottom line is that the Yankees kept Pettitte, who is now 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA this postseason. And their refusal to trade such an important part of their recent postseason domi nance reflects Steinbrenner's growth as an owner. It would be a stretch to say that Steinbrenner now trusts his baseball people. He trusts them, but always with an implied threat. He trusts them so long as they are right.

For Steinbrenner, that still amounts to a kinder, gentler Boss. And with the Yankees now one victory away from their third World Series appearance in four years, who can argue with his new management style?

Last night was a game the Red Sox had to win -- trailing three games to one, they now need to beat the Yankees three straight, including twice at Yankee Stadium.

But in its own way, the game was equally important to the Yankees, who came to Fenway Park needing to win two of the next three, or be left with the possibility of facing Pedro Martinez again in Game 7.

Don't let the score deceive you -- the Yankees entered the ninth leading only 3-2. But the Red Sox disintegrated, with their defense faltering and Rod Beck allowing his second homer of the series, a grand slam by Ricky Ledee.

Torre summoned closer Mariano Rivera in the eighth for the second time in this series, and the closer got the final five outs to extend his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 38.

The Yankees needed such pitching, because for the most part, they still aren't hitting. They entered the game batting only .221 in the postseason. Since their 8-0 victory over Texas in Game 1 of the Division Series, they had scored only 14 runs in their last five games.

"This is pretty much what we do -- unfortunately," manager Joe Torre said before the game, laughing. "We're not a high-scoring team. That's why I've said for the last few years, that we can't go toe-to-toe with teams when you talk about outscoring somebody."

Still, the Yankees finished with the third-highest run total in the American League, behind Cleveland and Texas. They need more production out of Tino Martinez (.182 entering the game), Chuck Knoblauch (.190) and Paul O'Neill (.211). But Torre made one shrewd move last night, choosing Darryl Strawberry over the struggling Chili Davis as his DH.

Strawberry had hit a three-run homer against Texas to give the Yankees all of their runs in their 3-0 victory over the Rangers in the Division Series clincher. And Torre had a suspicion that he might come through again.

"The one thing that Darryl gives you is the threat of a home run," Torre said. "We may need a boom here tonight, and hopefully, he can do that."

Strawberry delivered with one out in the second inning, hitting a towering homer off the right-field foul pole. But the Yankees' offensive struggles continued. If not for four Boston errors, the score would not have been as lopsided.

The Red Sox do so many things well, but defense remains their glaring weakness. They had the third-highest error total in the AL this season. And they've now committed 11 errors in nine postseason games.

Bret Saberhagen, his right shoulder held together by staples, rubber bands and other assorted hardware-store items, pitched six terrific innings. But his failure to handle a routine throw from first baseman Mike Stanley in the fourth produced New York's go-ahead run.

The Yankees, by contrast, worked a crisp 8-6-2 relay after a double off the wall by John Valentin in the third, with strong throws by Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter nailing Jose Offerman at the plate.

That was Boston's last threat.

Pettitte allowed only three singles after the double by Valentin, the last of which came on a play in which Knoblauch bobbled a grounder and made one of his trademark poor throws to first.

Steinbrenner was right to trust his baseball people. His baseball people were right to trust Pettitte. As usual in the postseason, Andy Pettitte made everyone look good.

Pub Date: 10/18/99

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