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Yanks' success a collective effort
10/14/2004 6:15 PM ET
BOSTON -- When you think of the New York Yankees, the names that immediately rattle around the brain are obvious.

Derek Jeter. Bernie Williams. Jorge Posada. Mariano Rivera. The ones who have been along for a glorious decade, the ones who command big slices of the payroll and of the limelight, the ones Curt Schilling cited as "true Yankees."

Or Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield, relative newcomers who also shoulder a lot of the burden.

But when you closely examine the day-to-day triumphs of the 2004 team, perception and key performances don't always converge.

These Yankees are halfway through to another World Series appearance, due in large part to the roles played by players who, were this a Hollywood production, would be in the crowd shots.

"It's always been that way," said Jeter, the team captain. "Every year, we depend on a lot of players to contribute.

"That's how you're going to win, by relying on everyone on the team."

Doubtless it is true that Yankees success has typically been a collective effort. That's also true of other teams in a sport wherein a popular mantra goes, "Different day, different hero."

But the argument can be made that rarely have supporting actors taken turns in such meaty roles.

With the 2004 Yankees, the mantra turned into, "Another day, another lifesaver."

One day, it's Ruben Sierra snapping them out of an early-season sleep with a ringing pinch-double. Then it's Miguel Cairo stepping out from the shadows to command second base. And John Flaherty winning a Boston classic with an extra-inning hit.

In August, Tony Clark is hitting three homers in one game. In October, John Olerud is hitting a two-run homer to decide an ALCS game.

You will find the names of none of these men featured in a preseason analysis of the Yankees' prospects.

"Every year, it's a total team effort," said New York general manager Brian Cashman. "We have major injuries, and minor downtimes.

"We always have guys who are not expected to be, but become, major players."

If the Jeters and A-Rods define the Yankees, the Oleruds and Sierras define the Yankees' success.

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"It's nice to have depth in the mix," said bench coach Willie Randolph, who plays a large role in keeping part-time players sharp. "You need to have that, because injuries will always happen.

"Miguel has been a pleasant surprise and took over the job [after spending the season's first half sharing it with Enrique Wilson]. Ruben is just a professional hitter. Tony Clark put up some big numbers for us."

The Yankees are not bullet-proof. No team, across a 162-game season, is. But with such experience on stand-by, they are slump-proof.

"They're our safety net. They give Joe [manager Torre] options as games unfold," said Cashman, whose job obviously is to fill the bench with options.

"You see how the pieces fit. You want a mix of left- and right-handed hitting options. That's why I like switch-hitters," said the GM, who has five of them on the ALCS roster. "You want people who can add speed, or defense."

Olerud, whose late-July release by the Mariners could not have been better timed for the Yankees, whose Jason Giambi was diagnosed with a benign tumor a week later, couldn't steal a base if it came with a handle.

Otherwise, he was one of those perfect fits always on Cashman's radar.

"We felt he had a lot to offer," recalled Cashman, whose other option had been Fred McGriff -- himself released by Tampa Bay three days after Olerud. "He still had a lot of game left."

Olerud's game came alive in The Bronx. After hitting .245 in 78 games with the Mariners, the sweet-swinging lefty hit .280 in 49 Yankees games. In a hundred fewer at-bats in New York, he drove in four more runs than he had in Seattle.

That's why Jeter reacted to his huge two-run homer off Pedro Martinez on Wednesday, the difference in the 3-1 Game 2 victory, with a shrug.

"He's played well since we got him," Jeter said. "It definitely was a big hit for us. But I wasn't surprised."

According to Randolph, Jeter has a major role in the team-wide philosophy that enables the Yankees to click as a 25-headed force.

"We have the core players, like Jeter and Williams, who are the foundation," Randolph said. "And beyond them, everyone falls in line, and understands that we play professionally and we play to win.

"The way the veterans lead, it totally sets the tone."

The veteran starters rely upon, and appreciate, those sitting behind them. Nowhere is the relationship closer than behind the plate, where Jorge Posada and Flaherty have to be soul brothers.

"He's been a great help to me," said Posada. "We talk, often during games. He'll tell me some things he picked up about how their hitters are approaching whoever is pitching.

"You've got to have a guy like that. A good role player tries to help you, not hurt you."

Posada's ironman status leaves Flaherty few afternoons in the sun. Jorge started 126 games during the regular season, with the bulk of Flaherty's 35 starts coming in those day-after-night game situations.

Flaherty's production in the sporadic role -- he batted .252 and had a .989 fielding percentage -- blows Posada away.

"I don't know how he stays in shape. It's so difficult when you don't play much," Posada said. "I count on John to give a day of rest, and for him to always be ready and stay in playing shape ... that's tough."

And the Flahertys make the Yankees tougher.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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