"You've got to trust your ability," Torre said about the Yankees recent playoff foibles, which have thus far extended into the current postseason. "Do I feel it's unfair? I say that's immaterial. It's what we need to do. And I think we have to concern ourselves with our perception as opposed to what other people think we should accomplish."
Easier said than done.
The current series has presented the ultimate in Major League Baseball's recent David vs. Goliath scenarios. It's big market (New York) against smaller market (Cleveland). Big payroll ($200 million for the Yankees) vs. small payroll ($61 million for the Indians). Lots of World Series titles (26 for the Yankees, but none since 2000) against few World Series titles (two, but none since 1948).
But this year, David seems to have the better pitching and a manager adept at using it.
In Game 1, instead of pushing starter C.C. Sabathia, who was erratic and had thrown 114 pitches through five innings, Wedge went with the bullpen early. He then got four scoreless innings out of left-hander Rafael Perez and right-handers Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt as the Indians built up a big lead and won, 12-3.
"When we talked about it before the game what we ask of our [starter] is to give us a chance to win the ballgame," Wedge said that night. "When the starting pitcher is done, we want him to have a chance to win the ballgame. He did every bit of that. I felt it was big, the job that Rafael Perez did. And then Lewis pitched well, Betancourt had to work for it a little -- he hadn't pitched for five days. I was very pleased with the effort of our bullpen and the fact we kept going offensively."
In contrast, during the same game, Torre had to sub out the woeful Chin-Ming Wang in the fifth inning when matters still were not completely out of hand. Instead of using rookie Phillip Hughes early, which he eventually did in the seventh inning, Torre sent in relatively untapped Russ Ohlendorf and Jose Veras. By the time Hughes came in, the game was out of reach.
"We had [Luis] Vizcaino up when the fifth inning started, with the one-run deficit," Torre explained afterward, "and then when Victor [Martinez] hit the two-run home run, then we changed it and went to Ohlendorf, because if you're not going to use those kids at that juncture, we're down early in the game, then they shouldn't be on your roster."
In Game 2, Wedge rode Fausto Carmona as long as he could and for good reason, the right-hander had a three-hitter when he left after nine innings and the scored tied at 1. Again Perez came in, pitched two perfect innings, and was the pitcher of record when Travis Hafner singled with the bases loaded and two out in the 11th inning on a full-count pitch from Vizcaino for the 2-1 victory.
"Yeah, it was a great effort," Wedge said about Carmona's performance. "I think you saw early on that he was under control. I think you saw early on that he had good stuff. He was going to command the baseball game and make pitches when he had to. When you're facing a lineup like that, there's not much room for error. You've got to be aggressive, work ahead, trust your stuff, and work off of your strengths. And I think we saw Fausto do that all night long."
In contrast, for the Yankees, veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte worked in and out of trouble all evening until he was removed for rookie Joba Chamberlain with one out and runners on first and second in the seventh. Chamberlain easily recorded the next two outs. But in the eighth, the bugs appeared and the Yanks' slender, 1-0, lead disappeared.
The elements clearly rattled Chamberlain, making his first playoff appearance, leading one to wonder why Torre didn't go right then and there to Mariano Rivera, who has 34 career postseason saves. Rivera, after all, still worked two innings -- the ninth and the 10th.
Torre said the swarming gnats did bother Chamberlain, although Carmona seemed to weather the same conditions, getting through the ninth.
"They did, but there's not much you can do about it," Torre said. "[Chamberlain] was having trouble seeing out there. I'll tell you one thing about the kid, he never lost his composure, which is something that obviously was unusual, and he certainly didn't panic in any way. Unfortunately, it was at a bad time."
In any event, two games into the series, the rookie playoff manager seems to have had the upper hand on the old veteran. And even before the series started, Torre had some kind words to say about his youthful counterpart.
"To me, I think Eric Wedge did a terrific job," Torre said. "He's very bright. He knows his baseball. More importantly, he knows his people. And I think that the fact that they're starting at home is probably a plus based on the fact they've had a lot of success here."