10/01/2002 8:07 pm ET
MLBeat: Battle of the closers
Angels bring Percival to rival Rivera
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- For the first time since 1998, the Yankees are facing a postseason opponent with a ninth-inning weapon to rival Mariano Rivera. While New York's opponents are forced to make adjustments to keep Rivera out of a game, Anaheim's Troy Percival is giving Joe Torre and the Yankees something to think about as well.
"We want to keep their closer out of the game, especially in our ballpark," Torre said. "They could use him in a tie game, but more times than not they won't use him like they would at home. That's part of what we want to do, to keep him out of the game."
Percival was 40 of 44 in save opportunities this season with a 1.92 ERA. The right-hander is making his first postseason appearance after eight seasons and 250 saves with the Angels, but Torre doesn't think that the lack of experience will affect him.
"He's capable," Torre said. "He hasn't had the experience, but he certainly is intimidating. He has that look coming in, he's very aggressive and goes after you. He's overpowering. He's a throwback to the old days."
One of Percival's four blown saves this season came on Aug. 3 against the Yankees, when Bernie Williams hit an eighth-inning three-run home run to tie the game at 4. Anaheim went on to win the game 5-4.
The Angels haven't had a look at Rivera this season, as the Yankees' closer was on the disabled list both times the teams met. He doesn't think that Percival will have any problems in his first playoff test.
"He knows what his job is -- go out there and get three outs," Rivera said. "Even though he hasn't been in the playoffs, he knows what to do."
As for Rivera, Torre said that while he would like to try to limit him to pitching only in the ninth inning, he couldn't guarantee that he would be able to do that.
"You never know if you'll need a closer tomorrow, so you can't worry about the next day," Torre said. "When I say I want to keep him out of the eighth inning, I'm not sure I'll be able to do that. I'd certainly like to have that approach, but the game dictates what we feel we should do."
Nick at night: Torre said that first baseman/DH Nick Johnson would be in the lineup for Game 2, though he didn't say at which position it would be.
Johnson traveled with the Yankees last season throughout the postseason, but was not on the active roster. Torre feels that the experience of last fall should help the 24-year-old not be overwhelmed by the October atmosphere.
"He knows what goes on now," Torre said. "Last year, we came very close to putting him on the World Series roster. He played most of the year for us, so he's had enough games now to understand that he's part of the mix."
Valentine's day: Bobby Valentine was fired as the manager of the Mets on Tuesday, losing his job after a last-place finish in the NL East. Torre, who managed the Mets from 1977-81, said that getting fired is all part of being a manager.
"That's the perils of our job. Eventually it's going to happen, especially when there are high expectations and things don't happen," Torre said. "It's the highs and the lows. The highs are very high, as we both experienced a couple of years ago in the World Series, and when things don't go too well, you get fired. We've both been fired by the Mets now."
The potential candidates to replace Valentine could include Yankees coaches Willie Randolph and Lee Mazzilli. Randolph has interviewed for six or seven jobs in the last eight years, and will interview with Detroit president Dave Dombrowski on Wednesday for the vacant Tigers managerial position.
"I've been doing this for six or seven years. I just hope to get an opportunity. Everyone knows who I am and where I am, and if they want me, they can give me a call and I'd love to talk about it," Randolph said. "I haven't talked to the Mets, but that would be a great situation for me and my family."
Mazzilli, who played for the Mets from 1976-81 and 1986-89, said that he wasn't thinking about his future as long as the Yankees were in the postseason.
"I'm wearing a Yankees uniform and my focus is on the playoffs and try to win the World Series," Mazzilli said. "All I can do is wait for the right time and place."
Torre said he hopes that his coaches are considered for managerial jobs this off-season, not that he wants them to leave his staff.
"I'd like to believe that every coach I hire has the ability to manage," Torre said. "I want the coaches on my staff to have their own minds, not just to say yes. I'd certainly like to see them considered, but whether I think they should be or not is not my place to say."
Robin Ventura, who played three seasons for the Mets under Valentine, said he was caught off-guard when he heard about the move.
"I was surprised. He's a good man," Ventura said. "He was a good manager when I was there. I enjoyed playing there, but I can't say anything about this year."
Torre doesn't think that Valentine will be out of baseball for long.
"Bobby is a good baseball man," Torre said. "He'll resurface somewhere, and I'm sure it will be a good job."
Left-field limbo: Juan Rivera is the Game 1 starter in left field, but Torre wasn't committal as to who would be out there in Game 2. Rondell White, who played left field for most of the season, was the DH in Game 1. Nick Johnson will likely DH on Wednesday, leaving one spot for White and Rivera.
Rivera got the nod for the opener because of his defensive prowess and strong arm. White has been solid in the field, but his arm strength falls short of Rivera's.
"Defense is important," Torre said. "You don't have the luxury like you do over a 162-game schedule where you can say, 'We'll give him another week.' If you think there's a reason to change, you change. The game will pretty much dictate what happens tomorrow."
Shane Spencer could be a factor as well, though his recently injured left hamstring may prevent him from starting in the outfield. Spencer started in left on Sunday, playing five innings.
"He showed me enough the other day to put him out there, though I'm not sure I'd start him, because I don't know if he's worth nine innings right now," Torre said. "But if we ran into a situation where I wanted to pinch-hit for Rivera, he could play a number of innings."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.