Drive for No. 27 begins
Yanks bring confidence, loaded lineup into October
NEW YORK -- When the season started back in April, the Yankees and their modern-day Murderer's Row were expected to score 1,000 runs and blow their opponents away on a nightly basis.
Injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield tempered those expectations, but the Bombers managed to survive without their corner outfielders, winning the American League East for a ninth consecutive season.
With another October in front of them, the Yankees are whole once again, as Matsui and Sheffield have rejoined the lineup -- one which now also features Bobby Abreu, who was acquired at the trade deadline.
When the Yankees hit the field on Tuesday, they could be sending out the following lineup: Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Sheffield, Matsui, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano.
Not too shabby.
"Looking at the names in the lineup -- and the names that aren't in the lineup -- it's something you dream of," said Johnny Damon, who recently joked that teams might pitch around the No. 9 hitter (Cano) to pitch to him. "Everyone is an All-Star. Wow. I've never seen a lineup like this; it's pretty special."
"Our leadoff guy has 24 homers, our second guy is hitting .338 and our ninth guy is hitting .340," Mike Mussina said. "Everyone in between can hit 30 homers; that's not a bad group to be playing with."
Is this the best offensive lineup ever assembled? On paper, it certainly has the potential to be, but every player in the Yankees' clubhouse knows that to be considered truly great, they will have to deliver the franchise's 27th World Series title.
"This is what we were talking about at the beginning of the year, and Abreu wasn't even on the team," Giambi said. "You look up and down the lineup, it's an All-Star roster. But there are no guarantees in the playoffs, because good pitching can stop good hitting. It's going to be a lot of fun to see what we can do."
For each of the past 11 Octobers, Yankee Stadium has been open for business. This year's American League East title will extend that to 12 consecutive years in which postseason baseball will be played at the House That Ruth Built.
For the second straight year, the Yankees drew more than four million fans to The Stadium, so the sellout crowds will make it feel like every other game played there this season.
The Yankees are hoping to add to their impressive postseason history in the Bronx, where nine of the franchise's 26 World Series titles have been clinched. The last one came in 1999, when the Bombers completed a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves.
The fans -- particularly the "Bleacher Creatures" in right field -- are a part of the action, getting the night started with their daily roll call. If you've never seen this ritual, pay close attention to each player as his name is called by the Yankee faithful.
"If your opposition doesn't pitch well," Joe Torre said, "we can do some damage."
Of course, the same can be said for the Yankees, who will throw Chien-Ming Wang and Mussina in the first two games at Yankee Stadium, then Randy Johnson in Game 3 on the road.
For the second time in four years, the Yankees were ousted in the Division Series last fall against the Angels, ending their postseason before it really had a chance to begin.
"We just got outplayed by a hotter team last year," Giambi said. "Not necessarily a better team, but a hotter team. Hopefully we can do better this year."
Despite the quick exit, the Yankees insist that last year's results aren't a motivating factor this time around.
"You forget real quick," Posada said. "You have to play so many games to get here, so you look forward to October instead of looking back. You're happy to be there, because it takes a lot to get there."
"If we had won last year, we'd want to win just as much this year; one has nothing to do with the next," Jeter said. "You have to be able to separate the years. You want it to last longer, and you never forget losing; it's something that doesn't just go away overnight. We want to win for this season, not to make up for last year. We can't change that."
Of course, Jeter is searching for a ring for his thumb, having already won four championships during his first decade in the Majors. Players such as Mussina, Giambi and A-Rod are looking for their first World Series title, and they believe that this year's team has the tools to deliver the goods.
"This is the most complete team I've ever been on, top to bottom," said Giambi, who has been to the postseason in each of the past seven years. "With Johnny at the top of the lineup, [Scott] Proctor and [Kyle] Farnsworth bridging the gap to Mariano [Rivera]; just every aspect. Offensively, it's by far the best I've seen."
"There's just something about this group of people; I think we feel better about ourselves as far as preparation, guys getting a chance to rest a little and being motivated," Mussina said. "It's a confident group of people; we were missing two of our bigger guns for most of the year, and we found players who could help do the job. Now, everybody is back again. We like our makeup and what we've done. We just feel like we're going to keep playing well."
Two years ago, the Red Sox ended their 86-year championship drought. Last October, the White Sox put an end to their own 88-year skid. The Yankees' six-year championship skid may pale in comparison to those two, but in the Bronx, it feels like an eternity since the Yanks have been the last team standing.
"Every time we've gone to the playoffs, we've felt pretty good about ourselves," Jeter said. "I thought we were going to win every time, but it didn't happen. I felt good about the last five teams that went into the postseason, and I feel good about this one."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.