2003-10-31 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

Jim Duquette was named general manager of the New York Mets. (AP/Frank Franklin II).Jim Duquette was named general manager of the New York Mets. (AP/Frank Franklin II).

Never let it be said that we’re not willing to correct ourselves when predictions go awry, so we deserve every ounce of our lickings for calling the Yankees’ 27th World Championship a done deal as we went to publication last week.

Whoops. That didn’t quite work out the way we’d expected.

Let’s flash back to Saturday night: the Florida Marlins, propelled to the top of the baseball world through a masterful pitching performance from hard-throwing and ill-tempered Texan Josh Beckett. There they were, living it up and spraying champagne all over the same legendary diamond where The Babe, The Mick, Joe D. and all the rest of our historical buddies plied their trade.

Position by position, were the Yankees the better team? It’s a moot point: with the bats of Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano and Aaron Boone snoozing for most of the postseason, plus David Wells’ stiff back cutting short his Game 4 start after just eight pitches, Florida came up big in spots where the Yankees did not.

That’s why players like Beckett, Juan Pierre, Derrek Lee and free-agent-to-be Ivan Rodriguez are all anxiously awaiting their first diamond-encrusted championship rings, while Giambi, Hideki Matsui and half the Yankees bullpen wonder if theirs got lost along the way.

It’s amazing, the way things work in the Bronx: here’s a club that came two victories away from bringing it all home, and under the George Steinbrenner regime, the 2003 campaign will be viewed mostly as a failure.

In fact, the Monday morning after Game 6, Steinbrenner had all of his executives bunkered down into a Tam­pa office. We can picture the scene: King George, screaming and banging his chest, demanding a reason as to why the big, bad bully on the block had been upended from their rightful trophy by the lowly, scrappy Fish.

And in trademark fashion, the week didn’t end without Steinbrenner firing someone: hitting coach Rick Down, see ya. Fellow coaches Mel Stottle­myre and Lee Mazzilli could be next; Don Zimmer has already chosen to axe himself.

No, there are no AL championship rings when you’re a Yankee, unlike the gestures of thanks distributed to Mets players after their 2000 Series loss (one of those Mets, Lenny Harris, just secured his ring as well, making extra sure to trample the grass around the Yankee Stadium pitcher’s mound).

But, then, why should the Yankees celebrate a World Series loss? After all, they spent an awful lot of money to watch Florida desecrate the ground at their home – the first World Series team to celebrate in the Bronx since the Dodgers in 1981.

As we recall the distant days before the Yankees trounced Boston in the ALCS, remember Steinbrenner’s history-inspired words: "Winning is second to breathing?" Now, it’s breathing and the Florida Marlins.

• Congratulations to Jim Du­quette, who had the ‘interim’ label lifted from his official title as general manager of the Mets this week.

In a press conference at Shea Stadium, Duquette took strides to distance himself from the previous regime of awful baseball that has permeated the organization over the last two years, speaking mournfully about the wasted money flushed down the toilet to players like Mo Vaughn, Kevin Appier and Pedro Astacio, while decrying the wheel-and-deal philosophy that his predecessor, Steve Phillips, embodied.

"I don’t want to get into a ton of trades," Duquette said. "We’ve done that in the past. I think my sense is we’ll be filling holes through the free agent market or the non-tender market."

The Mets can start just about anywhere: they need a second baseman (Florida’s Luis Castillo and Japanese import Kazuo Matsui, a shortstop by trade, have been mentioned), cen­ter fielder (Seattle’s Mike Cam­eron?), starting pitcher (so-called ‘ace’ Kevin Mill­wood seems unlikely) and a right fielder (Vladimir Guer­rero and Gary Sheffield would be nice, but costly). Hindering those efforts will be a tigh­­ter grip on spending from Duquette’s superiors: principal owner Fred Wilpon said that he is turned off by the idea of any contract longer than four years, which probably excludes all of the above-mentioned players except Matsui and Cam­eron.

• The Orange County Regis­ter reports that Boston’s No­mar Gar­cia­­parra, fian­cée of soccer star Mia Hamm, would like to be dealt to either the Angels or the Dodgers. Boston, saddled with a $20 million yearly payout to Manny Ramirez, can’t afford both Garcia­parra and Pedro Mar­tinez. … the Yankees are unlikely to deal World Series goat Jeff Weaver, with Roger Clemens retiring and David Wells’ status unknown … Terry Francona, Glenn Hoffman and Bud Black appear to be in the lead for the vacant Red Sox managing job. Bobby Valentine is nowhere to be found, despite endorsements from Tommy Lasorda and Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino … Halloween costumes of Cubs fan Steve Bartman, the poor soul who interfered with a foul ball in Game 6 of the NLCS, are this year’s big seller in Chicago.

E-Mail: bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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