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Yanks reluctantly begin offseason
10/21/2004 11:11 PM ET
NEW YORK -- A handful of Yankees players and coaches returned to the scene of the crime Thursday, stopping by Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers and say some goodbyes for the winter.

Less than 24 hours after dropping the decisive game of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night, manager Joe Torre spoke in detail about his thoughts on the series, from what went right to what went wrong, as well as everything in between.

"I can't come out and do anything other than compliment the Red Sox on doing it to us," Torre said. "Sure, it got away from us because we had the best opportunity for three or four days to put it away. But these guys came ready to play and it wasn't good enough, so there's nothing we can do."

Torre said that losing Game 7 against Boston wasn't nearly as tough as losing Game 7 in Arizona during the 2001 World Series, since his team was never really in the game Wednesday.

   Mariano Rivera  /   P
Born: 11/29/69
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Instead, he compared Game 4 of this past series to that fateful night in Arizona, as Mariano Rivera was unable to close out the series, suffering just the fourth blown save of his brilliant postseason career.

"We had a one-run lead going into the ninth in Game 4. That's still a situation I'm satisfied with, especially with our bullpen," Torre said. "Then we had a two-run lead going into the eighth inning of Game 5. That's our strength; we just weren't able to close the deal."

Torre joked that despite his constant criticism of the Division Series' best-of-five format, he wishes that the ALCS was the same, since his team managed to win the first three games before dropping the final four.

"We lost two emotional games in Boston, and we seemed to force it after that," Torre said. "They're so talented up and down that lineup, that when they get on a roll, they can do some things. That's what happened. It's like a runaway snowball going down the hill."

When asked what he thought was the turning point in the series, Torre asked reporters their opinion before unveiling his. Some guessed the Tony Clark double that bounced into the stands in Game 5, which would have scored Ruben Sierra if it stayed in the park. Others said Dave Roberts' stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4, which set him up to score the tying run. One even went so far as to guess Johnny Damon's grand slam in Game 7, which gave the Red Sox the comfortable cushion they would enjoy all night.

None of those fit the bill for Torre. For him, it was Trot Nixon's diving catch on a line drive hit by Hideki Matsui with the bases loaded. New York had just taken a 4-2 lead against Pedro Martinez on a bases-loaded double by Derek Jeter, and, two batters later, Matsui was up with the bases juiced again, ready to break the game open.

"We had Pedro on the ropes after going ahead, 4-2. He was 2-1 to Matsui with the bases loaded and he hit a line drive to right-center field," Torre said. "Then someone who they normally take out for defense made a diving catch. That sort of sits as not a good sign. That was a key to me. That game is broken open at that point in time."

Of course, the Yankees had several chances to claim the series after that, but hindsight is 20-20.

"Boston played very well, they pitched very well out of the bullpen," Torre said. "We had opportunities, we just didn't cash in."

As players taped up boxes and bid each other farewell until February -- or longer, for those who may not return to the Yankees in 2005 -- they thought about what could have been had New York not become the first team in history to lose a series after winning the first three games.

   Jon Lieber  /   P
Born: 04/02/70
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R

"It probably won't hit me until I get home," Jon Lieber said. "We came up short, big time. I don't think there is anybody more disappointed than the guys who were in this locker room last night."

"I think we had all the pieces to win," said Orlando Hernandez through an interpreter. "What we needed was to combine everything, but we couldn't combine all of the aspects of the game into one game."

"It's a credit to them," said Tanyon Sturtze. "They did an outstanding job to come back from three games down. It takes a special team to do that."

Hitting coach Don Mattingly said he was proud of his players, defending his team's offensive struggles over the final four games of the series. In those games, Gary Sheffield went 1-for-17 while Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-17.

"I don't care if you're Barry Bonds or the last guy on the roster, there are going to be times when you struggle. That's just the way baseball is," Mattingly said. "When a guy is hitting .640 for the first few games of a series, he probably isn't going to hit .640 for the whole series. This isn't Little League."

The Yankees will be back in 2005, ready to get their revenge on the rival Red Sox, but the winter will be a long one for the Bronx Bombers.

"This is an Ali-Frazier type of deal," Mattingly said. "These are two heavyweights. We got knocked down last night, but we've got to get back up and figure out what we did wrong."

Torre will spend the next two months at home, then head to Hawaii for the month of January. When he comes back, he'll be ready to go, as his Yankees take aim at an eighth consecutive AL East title and a return to the World Series.

"During some of these games, I was thinking about being on a beach somewhere," Torre said with a grin. "I was excited yesterday, and as long as you're excited, it means something to you. It's still important to me."

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

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