Joe Torre is ready to embark on his 10th season with the New York Yankees, an eye-opening, almost unimaginable tenure as the manager of baseball's most demanding team.
When Torre and his club take the field on Sunday night against the Red Sox -- the defending World Series champion Red Sox -- it will mark the first game for New York since the ALCS, when the Yankees dropped four straight games after taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
As Torre prepared for the final days of spring, he sat down with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand for a candid one-on-one conversation about the Red Sox, the rivalry and what lies ahead for the two clubs.
MLB.com: What is your most vivid memory of the ALCS?
Torre: I guess Trot Nixon making that catch on (Hideki) Matsui in Game 5. When that ball was hit, I thought, 'This is the game.' He made a hell of a play, and when you realize that they sometimes take him out for defensive purposes, that's not a good sign. Maybe that's the way it was supposed to happen.
MLB.com: What is your favorite thing about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?
Torre: The players get juiced up for it. It's different than (playing against) the Mets. When you play in the same league, there's something more at stake. It sort of reminds me of the old days when I played, where it was war-like -- not to the point where you want to hurt somebody, but you knew how important it was to win. That's the passion that's great about this game. To the novice, baseball looks like a slow game, but what bubbles inside is what this game is all about.
We're always keeping an eye on the Red Sox and they're always keeping an eye on us, but we both have to make sure that all of a sudden Baltimore or Toronto don't go running by us. If Baltimore can pitch, it could be interesting, because they may score more runs than both of us.
It's a great stage. That's why I'm a little surprised that they piled it all into Opening Day and made it bigger than it really should be. You don't need it to be that big. It's not the postseason; it's one of 19 games we play. To me, Opening Day would sell out and it would be exciting without wasting one of the other exciting days on April 3.
MLB.com: What is your least favorite thing about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?
Torre: Maybe trying to make more of it than it is. It's always a little frightening when the fans get carried away. Things get ugly and people get hurt. It's not that way on the field, even though last year and the year before, we had a couple of confrontations.
There's a great deal of respect that these clubs have for each other, and that should be the overriding factor. It's a tough competition, but you understand that if they beat us, they also worked hard to get there.
MLB.com: Do you like playing the Red Sox 19 times during the regular season, or does it almost feel like too much?
Torre: I don't like playing anybody 19 times during the season. They're trying to make the division games more impactful, but to play each other at the end is more of a necessity than playing 19 times.
Back in 1996, we beat Baltimore 10 out of 13, but when we had to play them in the ALCS, it was scary. The problem with the schedule is that we play everybody else no times, so when you go to a city once, you're at the mercy of the weatherman. I'm sure there's something in between that they can deal with.
MLB.com: As a manager, do you have the same excitement as a fan does for a matchup like Randy Johnson and David Wells on Opening Night?
Torre: I don't think the same as fans do, because they're reading what you write. Not to say that's wrong, but that's how they get a feel for it. We have to look at it as a ballgame, one we have to win. You're really not allowed to sit back and be a fan, because then you're not doing what you should be doing.
Think back to the one with (Pedro) Martinez and (Roger) Clemens (in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS), that was supposed to be the prize fight, the tale of the tape. Roger got his butt kicked in the first inning and ended that fight real quick.
The excitement with these two groups of fans, I'm not sure what to expect this year, because they won. There's no curse. I don't know what it means, except it's hard to think it's going to be the same.
MLB.com: What kind of encore can the Yanks and Sox give the fans after going seven games in the ALCS the last two years?
Torre: The only thing I can tell you is that it's worth the price of admission. For me to try to predict what is going to happen, I'd be so far off and yet so close. Everything is going to be passionate, exciting and unpredictable.
The only thing you can predict is that it's going to be unpredictable.
MLB.com: Looking back, the way your pitching staff was spent, was deciding a Game 7 starter for the ALCS last year the toughest decision you had to make all year?
Torre: No, it really wasn't. It seemed that way because of the result. It was either Kevin Brown or Javier Vazquez, and both of them pitched before the second inning was over, unfortunately. Neither of them did well, but it wasn't a tough decision, because those were my only two choices in my mind.
There are no easy decisions. Things fall into place for you, and the toughest thing is probably talking about something that was a no-brainer when you made a decision, but having to explain why it didn't work. When Jeff Weaver came in for relief on the road in Game 4 of the (2003) World Series, who else were we going to use?
I had no problem with what he did, which is why I felt bad with the way everybody else perceived it. The only thing they remember is that he gave up the home run (to Florida's Alex Gonzalez). He's the eighth hitter and (Weaver) has 3-2 on him, so you want to make him hit the ball. I'd rather that than if he had walked him. The most frustrating thing for me is to try to explain things like that.
MLB.com: What do you expect from Randy Johnson this season?
Torre: I think he'll be dynamite once we get the initial stuff out of the way, and he's certainly going to get a trial real quick about what it's like being a Yankee -- what it's like playing against the Red Sox.
He doesn't have the same fire in his belly against the Red Sox as the rest of us who have been here for eight, nine or 10 years. He doesn't need it. He has an automatic fire in his belly, and I think once he settles into pitching for the Yankees, which is a different experience, he'll be who he is.
He may have some jitters on Sunday night. I assume he's going to have some jitters. The fans will love his passion. Fans in New York love that fiery, animated kind of guy. He's going to give them every bit of it.
MLB.com: Which hitter on the Red Sox makes you most sick to your stomach when he comes to the plate with the game on the line, and why?
Torre: David Ortiz. I got questioned last year, 'Why didn't you walk him? Why didn't you walk him?' I don't have a reason why I didn't walk him. He's so good, and even when you pitch him real well, he'll get a bloop single to center field.
He's probably the one we haven't been able to solve, not that we've solved Manny (Ramirez) -- or (Mark) Bellhorn, for that matter. Bellhorn can strike out four times in a row, then hit a three-run homer. Johnny Damon is probably the most unpredictable; he can be explosive any time. Varitek has had his share of beating our brains out, too.
But Ortiz, unless you're very precise with him, he's very hard to deal with.
MLB.com: How much does having a captain like Derek Jeter with such noted leadership skills help ease your job?
Torre: You trust him. He's got a calm about him, and I know he says I have a calm about me that other players look to, which is fine and I hope that's the case. But I think any time there's a tendency for guys to doubt themselves, they've watched this guy either from their own bench or another bench and they see how special he is.
One player who has been here the past few years told me, 'I always thought Jeter was a good player, but you don't get a real taste of what he is until you're here with him.' That's probably the highest compliment he could get paid by one of his teammates.
MLB.com: Will you give any of your newcomers advice about playing in the rivalry, or will you let them figure it out for themselves?
Torre: I tried that last year and it didn't work. I'll probably just let it play out.
MLB.com: How much respect do you have for what Terry Francona has done with the Red Sox?
Torre: I recommended Terry for the Philadelphia job when he got that one. I played with his dad, so I know where Terry came from. I know he was frustrated last year. I remember walking on the field one day when we had a rain delay and we talked a little bit.
He held it together. It's not an easy job, especially when you had players who were used to doing things in a certain way. I thought he did a good job of establishing who he was while allowing his players to play.
MLB.com: Do you ever play the 'what if' game and think about what it would have been like if A-Rod had gone to the Red Sox and not the Yankees?
Torre: I don't think that would have made any difference, because they wouldn't have had Manny, and that's a push for me. I think A-Rod helped us more than he would have helped them, because of who they wouldn't have had if he was there.
MLB.com: Which player on the Red Sox would fit in best with your club?
Torre: They've got a couple of them. Tim Wakefield and Johnny Damon -- in spite of his hairdo.