Yankees playing for tomorrow

Yankees playing for tomorrow

NEW YORK -- On the seventh day, the New York Yankees rested, or at least several of them did. After all, they still had to work on the seventh night.

On the surface, it was an astounding sight, the Yankees playing the Boston Red Sox in mid-September and no Derek Jeter in the starting lineup. Also no Jason Giambi. Ditto for Bobby Abreu. Did we mention that Jorge Posada wasn't in the lineup, either?

But the thing was, the lineup the Yankees did start, including the Nick Greens and the Aaron Guiels of this squad, was absolutely the right one for these circumstances. The Yankees, with an 11 1/2-game lead in the American League East, had the luxury of resting some regulars. But the Yankees, with back-to-back day-night doubleheaders against the Red Sox, also had the need to rest some regulars.

OK, the Yankees lost this game, 6-3. But their lead shrinking to 10 1/2 games, measured against giving some of the regulars a necessary break, was a very reasonable tradeoff.

"Much as you'd like to play the regulars in every single inning of every one of these games, you could have some long-term problems doing that," manager Joe Torre said.

There is on the other hand, the natural inclination to clinch the division as soon as possible. There are obvious competitive reasons for this, but there are also logistical considerations.

"We want to win [the division] and get this over with so we can make some plans," Torre said.

But the lineup that Torre put on the field in the third game of this double day-night doubleheader clearly indicated that the manager was thinking more about the long-term well-being of his players than about clinching immediately.

Much had been made of the Yankees clinching this weekend against Boston. This is a normal sort of inclination, making the ninth straight division title official against the obvious rivals. But, as it turned out, even if the Yankees had swept Sunday's games, Toronto defeated Tampa Bay on Sunday. So although the Red Sox would have been eliminated, the Blue Jays would still have been mathematically in the race.

The Yankees are going to win this division, sooner or later. Sunday, their manager voted for prudence over impatience. And it won't be the last time he decides in that direction.

"Two doubleheaders in two days is very difficult for these guys, the day-night variety," Torre said. "It's tough enough when they just play the conventional doubleheader, although this is becoming the conventional doubleheader.

"[It's] especially [tough] in September when they've been going through this all year. I'm going to continue doing this, because we go play seven games on turf, which is not easy, either.

"But I'm pleased with the way we're playing. Mistakes, I'd rather we would not make the mistakes, but as far as the effort, I'm pleased. That's really all that you can ask for."

The Yankees have postseason questions to answer. What will the starting rotation be, who and in what order? What will happen with the return of Gary Sheffield? Is he actually going to become a first-time first baseman? Will Mariano Rivera's right forearm be completely all right?

There are more, but you have the picture. These are good questions, but the time for most of the answers will come after the Yankees have safely clinched the division. Everybody involved basically wants that to happen yesterday, but you're not going anywhere if the cart is in front of the horse.

This is why Joe Torre started a lineup dotted with bench players against the Boston Red Sox on the afternoon of Sept. 17 in Yankee Stadium. This was not the path to immediate gratification. But it was the safest course for a team that has October baseball securely in its sights. This is a balancing act for a manager, and taking a chance on losing one game of an 11 1/2-game lead was a better balance than taking a chance on wearing down key players.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.