Notes: Torre's status on minds of many
Mattingly says skipper must be treated with utmost respect
NEW YORK -- The first wave of Yankees players filtered into the Bronx on Tuesday, the home clubhouse littered with cardboard boxes waiting to be shipped to destinations around the country.
Manager Joe Torre was not among those making the slow walk back to the office, having said his goodbyes after the Yankees' 6-4 loss to the Indians in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Instead, he opted to stay at his Harrison, N.Y., home. But the manager's uncertain status and his future were both topics heavy on the minds and hearts of those who did report.
"Everyone in this room unanimously feels the same way about Mr. Torre," said Yankees first baseman Andy Phillips. "We all love him and we all appreciate what he's given us. We appreciate the confidence that he's had in us all year. You want to return that favor."
Rookie outfielder Shelley Duncan, a lifelong farmhand in the organization who got the call to the Majors this season, said he finally had a chance to see what all the fuss was about.
"I always heard such great things about Joe from the guys that played for him, and I never knew because I was always a spectator," Duncan said. "But then I came up here, and you watch how Joe is with all the players on the team. You start to understand how special he is. He's like a father to all of us. He cares about us from deep down in the bottom of his heart. We know that, and he shows it."
Bench coach Don Mattingly, who was mentioned as an early candidate should the Yankees follow through with owner George Steinbrenner's stated intention to dismiss Torre now that the team has not made the AL Championship Series, said the 12-year Bombers skipper must be treated with respect, no matter what the final decision is.
"Anything less than that, for me, would be unacceptable, for him to be treated any other way than with total respect, because he deserves that," Mattingly said. "You don't hear him talk badly about the organization, you don't hear him talk badly about any members of it, you don't hear him talk badly about the game.
"You don't hear anything negative from Joe on those terms, and he's handled himself with class. When he took over, it's been nothing but class, and he needs to be treated with respect."
With the manager's office possibly facing a new occupant for 2008, pitching coach Ron Guidry said that he would love to come back if invited, and hopes that Torre is with him. But if not, Guidry would still like to continue the progress he has made with the Yankees pitchers.
"If someone comes in here and I'm asked to stay, I'd love to come back here," Guidry said. "Because of what I've seen this year, the pitching staff next year should be stronger because of the development of our young kids."
Phillips said that, in the immediate aftermath of New York's elimination, the players did not take it well. Torre addressed the club for perhaps the final time after Monday's game, telling his players how proud he was of them for battling back against heavy early odds.
"There were a lot of tears," Phillips said. "Every emotion that you can think of, guys were certainly visibly upset. There's no question it was emotional. You're kind of looking at everybody thinking, 'I can't believe this, after everything we fought to get back into this thing, that it's over.'"
What went Wang: With less than one day to reflect on his aborted one-plus-inning start in Game 4 of the ALDS, Chien-Ming Wang said that it would take him a while to fully digest the disappointment of losing twice in the series to the Indians.
Though Wang said that pitching on three days' rest had not been a problem, the Indians executed a solid game plan in laying off his trademark low sinkers. That forced Wang to get the ball up, and when he did, it was hit.
"A lot of pressure was put on him," Guidry said. "I'm not disappointed in him as far as the job he did, as much as I'm tipping my cap to the Cleveland hitters. They made a lot of adjustments. He pitched well against that club here, and I thought maybe we'd have an in. They made their adjustments and stayed off pitches."
Wang said he intends to spend the offseason working on his slider and changeup. He hopes that when he returns for Spring Training, Torre will be there.
"I think Joe is doing a good job," Wang said. "To be behind 14 1/2 games and get us to the playoffs [was impressive]."
Series aftermath: One of the major criticisms of the Yankees' ALDS will fall on their offensive showing against Cleveland pitching. As a club, the Yankees batted just .228 in the series, including logging just eight of their 31 hits at Jacobs Field.
Derek Jeter (3-for-17) and Jorge Posada (2-for-15) were among the members of the "old guard" who struggled to perform up to expectations. Alex Rodriguez extended his postseason hitless streak into Game 3 and only drove in one run in the series, though that hardly made him unique.
"We didn't get a lot of big hits at the times we needed them," hitting coach Kevin Long said.
Long said that the Yankees simply could not get breaks to turn the series in another direction. He pointed to Jeter's double-play groundout in the sixth inning of Game 4 that ended the frame, killing another New York rally, and compared it to Jhonny Peralta's jam-shot run-scoring single off Wang in the first inning.
"You say that Jeter wasn't clutch or he didn't do this. There was nothing else he could have done," Long said. "You've got a Peralta ball that isn't hit good and bloops in there. So his at-bat was better? The result looked better."
There's no catch: One of the bigger in-season upgrades on the Yankees' roster was acquiring backup catcher Jose Molina from the Angels on July 21. Replacing the popular but light-hitting Wil Nieves, Molina batted .318 with one home run and nine RBIs in 66 at-bats down the stretch.
Though the end of the Yankees' season makes him a free agent, the 31-year-old backstop is campaigning to return.
"I like it here. I love it here," said Molina, who did not play in the ALDS. "I want to come back here. I've been doing the backup job all my life; there's no doubt I can do that. You have to look at what the options are. My first priority is coming back here."
A second chance? Doug Mientkiewicz's best friend on the roster is Rodriguez, and he hopes that the close relationship could help him return for a second season in pinstripes.
Mientkiewicz said that the one topic he and A-Rod do not discuss is a contract situation -- especially Rodriguez's celebrated opt-out clause and his future plans -- but the slick-fielding first baseman said he had a hard time taking off the Yankees pinstripes after Game 4.
"I love this place," Mientkiewicz said. "The energy you feel when you walk through those doors, you can't put it into words. ... I really want to come back and I want a second chance at a World Championship here."
Mientkiewicz hit .277 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 72 games for New York, losing much of his season to a fractured wrist and concussion suffered in a June 2 game at Boston. He credits much of his affinity for the Yankees to Torre.
"My only regret is that I didn't get here sooner," Mientkiewicz said. "I would have probably been a little bit better player and a lot better man."
Mientkiewicz said that if Torre does not return in 2008, Mattingly could serve as an appropriate second choice.
"Both of those guys, that's what makes them so great to be around -- they never talk down to you," Mientkiewicz said. "At your highest and at your lowest, [Torre] has got your back. Donnie is very similar."
Bombers bits: Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf received word that he will pitch, as planned, for the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League. Ohlendorf had a 2.84 ERA in six regular-season relief appearances for New York. ... Duncan said he plans to see a physician on Wednesday to consult about surgery on the hernia that slowed his rookie season. ... The Yankees' staff ERA for the ALDS was 5.89. Cleveland's was 3.41.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.