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World Series 2001
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10/09/2001 01:47 PM ET
Yankees have the experience factor
By Spencer Fordin
MLB.com
Look up and down the Yankee roster, see if you can find a player that hasn't played in the postseason. This isn't an exercise in futility; you will be able to find a few. Alfonso Soriano comes to mind, as does young pitcher Ted Lilly.

Of course, on this team, neophytes are the exception rather than the rule. The overwhelming majority of Yankees have not only played in the second season, they have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success. After all, this team has won the last three World Series, and four of the last five.

How does this experience, this familiarity with October affect the current edition of the Bronx Bombers? Like anything else, that depends on whom you ask.

"It means nothing," said Tino Martinez, who has played in four Fall Classics. "You've still got to go out there and play the game."

"It doesn't really mean anything," said David Justice, who was named the MVP of the 2000 ALCS, "because it's a different set of circumstances."

That may be the gut feeling of those two particular Yankees, but it isn't the consensus opinion. Yankee skipper Joe Torre said that experience makes you more comfortable, less apt to try to do something that is beyond your abilities.

At this time of year, when every bounce of the ball takes on enormous implications, an advantage like that can make all the difference.

"When players go into the postseason for the first time, they try to be more than they are because they know how important each game is," Torre said. "They put a lot of pressure on themselves."

Soriano, the Yanks' young second baseman, may very well resemble the player Torre is talking about. And so might Lilly, Jay Witasick and backup catcher Todd Greene. That's it, though. Every other Yankee is well acquainted with this stage of the season.

Of the Yankees who have played in the playoffs, only four have never played in the World Series. Three of those men, Enrique Wilson, Randy Velarde and Mike Mussina, came to New York to erase that kind of statistic.

Mike Mussina has pitched in two editions of the ALCS, most notably in 1996 against the Yankees. Wilson also had a postseason dream thwarted by the Yanks -- in 1998, he started five games for Cleveland in the ALCS. Velarde -- you guessed it -- also played against the pinstripes in the playoffs.

For these three players, and really for all of baseball in recent years, the road to the World Series has gone through New York. This fact alone qualifies the Yankees as authorities on the subject.

"Experience will mean something in the sense that we won't get too excited. We'll keep our poise," said Bernie Williams, who has been a Yankee for his entire career. "It also means that we won't be overconfident."

Torre agrees with that assessment, and he added more perspective.

"It keeps you from doubting yourself when something bad happens early in the series or early in a game," he said. "You need to maintain your optimism when you play these games. You don't win them in the first inning, and you certainly have to be there in the eighth and ninth."

The Yanks will be more than prepared for that eventuality. In their bullpen, the Yanks have three different relievers with major postseason experience. Mariano Rivera, of course, is the primary option, as well as one of the most dominant relievers in baseball history.

New York also has Mike Stanton as well as Mark Wohlers. Those two, former teammates with the Atlanta Braves, have pitched in a combined total of nine World Series. Five for Stanton and four for Wohlers, to be precise.

"Experience can help you or hurt you," Stanton said. "If you haven't performed in the past, it can be a hindrance. There have been great ballplayers who haven't performed well in the playoffs. The key is still playing within yourself, not trying to do more than you can do."

That is good advice from a man that has been there, and it more or less echoes what Torre had to say. When you've been through the wringer like these men have, it gives you a sense of perspective that you could never have without being battle-tested.

Does that mean experience is a prerequisite for success? Of course not. After all, before Torre came to New York, he had never made it to the World Series. That statistic spanned 31 years in the Major Leagues, 18 of them as a player. Now, five-plus seasons later, the man has four rings and a shot at one for the thumb.

"I had no clue. I was just going to enjoy the time I was here," Torre said. "There's no question, the four championships will be first and foremost for me. It's been a dream. Normally, when you get fired the third time and you're 55 years old, you're thinking about what you're going to be doing in retirement."

Now, his newfound success has allowed him to delay his retirement for a few seasons. How many rings will he have by then? If experience is any indicator, Mr. Torre might have to make some more room on his mantle.

Spencer Fordin is the site manager for Yankees.com. He can be reached at sfordin@yankees.com.