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Bernie heats up in fall's chill
10/15/2004 11:02 PM ET
BOSTON -- In the heat of October, it is easy to forget the chill of May.

With Bernie Williams again commanding a fall stage, the doubts of spring resonate hollow.

Williams heard a lot of skepticism when, at 35, he came out of April with a sub-.200 average. He was supposed to be worn down, worn out, done.

The rebuttal came in spurts the remainder of the season, and now comes the exclamation.

This is Bernie's time. After a forced pause due to Friday night's rained-out Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, he will resume taking aim at the Red Sox and at some vaunted postseason records.

"We tend to focus a little bit more," Williams, speaking for all veterans, said of the transformation that occurs when September morphs into October. "Just the atmosphere ... everything seems to be electrified and magnified.

"Every pitch counts. Every at-bat counts. I think we focus a little bit more. Not that I don't focus during the season, but it seems to bring out something special in me."

Williams, playing in his eighth League Championship Series, is one good at-bat away from a couple of distinguished career records.

With 43 hits, he is two shy of the LCS record held by Pete Rose. And Williams' next RBI will tie David Justice's LCS record of 27.

Another guy with a pretty good track record is asked whether he sees a little of himself in Williams, and Reggie Jackson answers, "I'll consider it a compliment for you to compare me to him."

"He's been a great postseason player," said Jackson, who has enjoyed seeing someone he first watched in 1993 grow into a Yankees menace. "Bernie's become someone very special. There were a lot of concerns about his game earlier. No one's saying anything now."

When you contemplate the current holders of the postseason records Williams is chasing, the first thing that leaps out at you is that both set the standards at multiple spots -- Rose with the Reds and Phillies, Justice with the Braves, Indians and Yankees.

Williams is pure pinstripes. His first postseason, 1995, was also the Yankees' first in 14 years. He belongs to the shrinking core that defines the Joe Torre Era.

Bernie, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada. The four cornerstones of the Yankees' world.

The most conspicuous agents of success -- and the most visible culprits of failure. Each plays his team statesman role differently, but with equal responsibility.

"My role has been just to be myself, just try to push the game as I have all these years," said Williams, a natural introvert who acknowledged that "most of the burden of being vocal in the clubhouse has fallen on Derek."

"I try to lead by example, try to show them the way that we play the game within the organization," Williams continued. "My role hasn't really changed that much: Just being myself."

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The only thing Bernie could lead following Friday night's postponement was the parade back on the team bus.

The Yankees came to New England planning to quickly finish off the Red Sox, and all of them hope the day's delay won't cool that fervor.

One thing about a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series: Game 3 is documented as pivotal.

In baseball postseason history, a dozen teams have come back to win from an 2-0 deficit. But 3-0 is terminal: No team has returned from that.

"Our attitude is, we can't let our guards down," Williams said. "We have to go out and think that it's still, you know, a tight series. Now we are in a position that we can strike and try to put the killing blow on the situation and that's not going to be easy.

"We just have to make sure that we keep our momentum going for the next couple of games and try to play the best we can, and try to take them as soon as we can."

Taking them is good. Taking them for granted is something that won't happen under Williams' watch.

All the antics of Idiots Inc. do not distract the Yankees.

"Part of the reason that we have been successful is that we respect our opponents," Williams said. "We do not underestimate them.

"Those guys, they might be joking around all the time, but that team is no joke. They come out to play."

Such an effort has been made to portray them as emotional opposites that the Yankees are standing up for their party points.

"We have a lot of fun," Williams said. "We just don't let a lot of people see it. But within the confines of the team, we joke around and we try to have a good time.

"We try to savor the moment because we feel very fortunate to be in this position.

"A lot of people take for granted that we'll be here; it's not easy to be in this position year-in and year-out."

Once you get into the position, producing is even harder. Doing so, at every opportunity, is hardest of all. It also is a Williams trademark.

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

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