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September 30, 2002

Joe Torre


THE MODERATOR: Questions for Joe, please.

Q. Two questions. First, why do you think Rondell struggled so much, and secondly, can you put into perspective what your group has accomplished? Winning four straight pennants, going for a fifth.

JOE TORRE: Rondell, I think, struggled like a lot of people when they go to new ballclubs. They want to make an impression and when it doesn't work at first, then they put more and more pressure on themselves. It just seemed, to me, about three weeks ago he bottomed out. All of a sudden he got up in the batter's box and he was relaxed. I had told him -- this had nothing to do with his relaxing, I'm sure, I just told him, "Too late to put numbers up. All you need is a day or two of feeling good, then you'll know what it's all about." He started having good at-bats, not right after that. But I thought in the last couple weeks he had good at-bats where he allowed his ability to work for him. Then, as far as what we've accomplished, you win because you have good players. Good players seem to want to come to teams that want to win. In a way, it makes it easier to compete because, you know, George Steinbrenner spends the money and the good players want to come to clubs who have won. It's very satisfying for me because even though you have high-profile ball players, it doesn't keep them from working like young players. In other words, it's all new. When they come over here, everything seems to be brand new for them and they approach it that way. We've had guys come into this organization, it's taken them a little time to get comfortable, but they never have to be reminded the reason they're successful is because they work hard. Maybe the New York fishbowl that does it, I don't know, where they know everybody is watching. But it certainly has made my job a lot easier.

Q. Line up for tomorrow?

JOE TORRE: Soriano, Jeter, Giambi, play first base, Bernie Williams, Posada, Mondesi, Ventura play third base, Rondell White will DH and Rivera, Juan Rivera, will be in leftfield.

Q. You guys have plenty of playoff experience now. How about players coming in for the first time, do you have to talk to them about dealing with playoffs? I'm not in playoff mode yet, but experience, how much of a factor is it when you're first starting out?

JOE TORRE: I find sometimes when you talk about it, you all of a sudden open up a can of worms you don't want to deal with. I think coming to New York and playing for the Yankees, I think once you get through that experience, the rest of it -- it's not easy, but you understand what the focus is. You understand what the goals are. I don't necessarily like to approach it -- we had talked about in spring training when you're a member of the Yankees, getting to the World Series and beyond is what our goals are. That's not a cocky statement; that's just something that's fact, what is called a good year. I'd like to believe winning 103 games is a good year, but if we don't get past the Division Series or the next series or even the World Series, last year we sat there, I was very proud of our ballclub, but there was something missing. Again, it's a confidence that you'd like to have but you understand you need to work at it. But I don't think any conversation I can have with these players will help them in any way other than trying to approach it like we approach the season.

Q. The profile of this team this year has been lots of home runs, lots of strikeouts. Would you prefer to see a leaner approach in the playoffs?

JOE TORRE: I think we have to. Again, I'd like to think the profile of this team is pitching. That's, even when we signed Jason, you have to caution people that you very rarely win by outscoring people. You have to win by pitching and keeping the other club from scoring. I've been very happy with the way we've been pitching over the last month, I guess. We've been pretty consistent. But, yeah, I don't like the fact that we strikeout a lot, swing and miss a lot. But, again, because you do hit a lot of home runs, that usually works hand-in-hand. You have to take one with the other. However, I think we do have a small-ball approach that we have used, and we've been able to be successful with it. I think that's necessary. I think if you go in, especially in postseason, and rely on the fact that you know you've hit a lot of home runs and you've scored a lot of runs, that that's going to happen, then you're going to be in for a rude awakening. When you get to postseason, you get the cream. There aren't as many mistakes made by the opposing pitcher so you can't wait and sit there for the big inning. You have to think in terms of manufacturing things. If the home run happens, it happens. I watched Soriano here for the last week or ten days, I've seen it happen so often. Or Jeter back in 90-whatever it was. '96, '97, he's trying to hit 20 home runs. You saw his batting average plummet. It's easier to play to win than it is to play to put numbers up. I think the mentality of going out there and trying to take advantage of the other team's mistakes or going out there and making the pitcher work hard, that's hopefully what we'll see tomorrow.

Q. Just can you explain how and why you came to your line-up, particularly the DH and leftfield.

JOE TORRE: Well, what's important, if you're going to have good pitching, is good defense. I like the way Juan Rivera has played leftfield. He seems to have a calmness about him out there, shows a good arm. Rondell has played well in leftfield. He doesn't possess the arm that Juan has, and this is a very aggressive ballclub. I'm talking about the Angels, on the base pads. They like to go first to third, second to home, home to second and all that stuff. So I'm thinking in terms of trying to help our pitching. And as far as Rondell, you know, yesterday's three-run homer, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. But watching Rondell over the last week or so has, you know, just made me feel like I want him in the line-up. He has experience. There's a lot in there that he can give. He just has a great deal of desire. Hopefully, it translates itself well for us.

Q. Did Rivera have any reaction?

JOE TORRE: It's tough to tell. It's tough to tell. When you're talking to him about missing a sign or nice going on a base hit, you get the same respectful nod. I watched him in the meetings, he just sat there like, you know, he was invisible. So, we'll see. I think he's probably going to be a little fidgety tomorrow, but hopefully he'll get that under control.

Q. What does it say about pitching staff and what does it mean to you, as a manager, to have Jeff Weaver in the bullpen?

JOE TORRE: This is the best staff I've ever had. When you consider a pitcher who pitched in the '98 World Series against us for San Diego, Sterling Hitchcock, and as a starter and did a great job, he's not on our roster, he's sort of one of the extra guys. To have an Orlando Hernandez and Jeff Weaver in the bullpen, Hernandez who started Game 1 just about every series, what was it, in '98? '99, I mean. That means you have good depth. Every one of our guys has been pitching well. I was very happy the way Duque took the news, which we spoke about a week ago, I guess about the fact that he wouldn't be one of the four starters. He said, "It's different here in postseason. Somebody has to make a decision on who pitches." It's just a matter of winning. So, I like the attitude where if we do have to call on him out of the bullpen, he's going to be ready. He's done this before, he's come out of the bullpen in Oakland to help us win a ball game a couple years ago. And Weaver, Weaver is pitching as well as he's pitched for us all year. He, again, hasn't had the postseason experience, but I don't really worry about that. He's just got that great attitude. Once he got used to his new uniform, I think he likes the feel right now.

Q. Is the enthusiasm and the motivation year after year staying the same? Does it come back up this time of the year, every year?

JOE TORRE: Well, it's nervous. For the reason I said earlier, your goals, a lot of teams in spring training think, "Let's get to the postseason. Let's get to the playoffs." That sort of makes your year. But this is where we have to put up or shut up. It's exciting because of the danger. The winning is so satisfying because when you go into a series expecting to win or expected to win, it's tough. It really is tough. I think that adds to the excitement. But it's a challenge. Our players seem ready to go. Whether we win or not, you know, depends on how we play and how they play. But the excitement is just as exciting as my first year in '96.

Q. With all the new parts, was it more difficult to manage this year?

JOE TORRE: The thing is new parts, but a lot of professional people. From spring training on, it just felt like guys wanted to get to know each other. We didn't have a lot of people that say, "I need this to be happier, I need that to happen, for it to work for me." Everybody realized what the team concept is here. They all wanted to be a part of it. Jason Giambi obviously was very important for us. Coming over here as a high-profile guy, signing that contract with us and going in there and not expecting any special favors I think was very important for everyone else who came on board.

Q. Mariano Rivera has been such a huge part of this team's success. Are you going to try to use him only in the ninth inning, if possible? And how confident are you in his abilities right now, based on what you've seen in the last ten days?

JOE TORRE: I feel very good about him. I went for the longest time without trying to get excited about it. But once I saw him pitch, once I saw him with the ability to get loose quickly, and even to the point of pitching him two days in a row and yesterday coming up to me and said, "If you need a couple outs, I'm all right to do that," that makes me feel good that he feels well enough to do that. Yes, I am going to try to think ninth inning only. I think the depth of our pitching staff will make it easier to do that. Last year, we really had trouble finding that guy. Mike Stanton was a work horse. Mendoza was sort of a special right-hander to try to get out of a jam. As far as starting an inning and bringing somebody in, Karsay has made a big difference for us. Plus, the way Weaver's worked out of the bullpen and Duque at this point in time. But I certainly want to keep Mo to just the ninth inning. A lot of times when we have gone to him in the eighth inning previous years or even during the season, it's always knowing that there was going to be an off day the next day or the day before. So we've tried to be careful in the past, but there's no question when we went to Game 7 last year in the World Series and we got that one-run lead, there was no hesitation for two innings from him. That's going to be a temptation. But I think with the make-up of our pitching staff, it will make it a little easier to handle.

Q. After a lot of years of instability in Anaheim, a lot of pitching, managerial changes, what's your perception?

JOE TORRE: I saw this happening last year. I mean, he's a very serious-minded and yet you can see that he really commands a lot of respect from his players. Because he's not asking them to do anything that he didn't do as a player. He knows what it's all about. He came through that Dodger organization, he's been in postseason, been in the World Series. I think all that really helps with his credibility when he talks to players; I don't care how young they are. But I think he gave them a plan and really never got away from it. I was pleased that he accepted an invitation to be one of my coaches in the All-Star Game this year and got a chance to talk to him a little bit. You can see the fire in his eyes. It's very important for him. I think the players get a hint from that.

Q. You were talking a little while ago about the excitement of the postseason. Where's your confidence going into this postseason? You, personally, going into this postseason?

JOE TORRE: Well, '96, forget it. '96, I was out-of-body experience. That was my first opportunity to do something other than that little taste I had in '82 with the Braves. But having the experience of the past six years, I'm no different feeling-wise. The five-game series scares the hell out of me, knowing, when you go back to '96, the first year I was here and we won, we lost the first game to Texas, then were right on the brink of losing the second game to Texas. How easy that would have been to just roll over and go away, and we were fortunate enough that somebody made an error and we won the second game and went on to the whole way. But at this juncture, I feel good today. Tomorrow, I know I'm going to be, you know, excited. Because as a manager, there's really not a whole lot you can do. Your players play. No matter which way I could have gone with the starting pitcher, I couldn't have made a mistake. Again, that doesn't guarantee you're going to win. But when you have a choice of a Mussina and Wells and Pettitte and Roger, you know, you just hope they're on their game. That's when you sit back and you'd like to think you're going to know that early when he comes out of that bullpen. But I'm excited right now and still with a little, you know, a little wondering in the back of my mind.

Q. Playing all the way to the end of the season for that home-field advantage, taking those games seriously, does that give you any more of an edge compared to previous years at the end of the year?

JOE TORRE: It's tough to tell. I was thinking about that last night and thought about finishing the season in Baltimore a couple years ago and losing 15 out of 18. The question was asked in reverse, you know, "Is it going to be tough for you to get back up to play the postseason?" I felt, at that time, that we'd be ready to play the postseason. I don't know, maybe the fact that we had a lot of different players and that we did have to win and yet not tax anybody. We didn't have to over-tax anybody going into this last week. We still had our day off, the rain gave us a day off. Couple innings off here and there. So, we didn't get exhausted like I think we did a couple years ago. I'd like to believe it kept us with a fine edge going into this postseason, but, again, it takes on a whole different -- it's a whole different feel starting tomorrow. There's no longer numbers involved here; now we play from scratch. Players think more in terms of winning than, you know, "How many hits am I going to get," and stuff like that. There's a lot of differences in postseason. Hopefully, the fact that every game meant something, even though it wasn't as important as getting to postseason, you know... Everybody seemed to be playing well, so maybe that was part of the reason.

Q. What do Soriano and Eckstein mean to their offenses? How do you want your pitchers to approach Dave Eckstein?

JOE TORRE: We'd like to believe we approach every one of their hitters with respect. We have to make sure we stay within our strength, and our strength is trying to get good counts. Their strength is trying to get good counts on their side. They don't mesh. So it's going to be interesting to see, because, you know, it's like a prize fight, I guess. You start out feeling each other out and you see where you're going to go from here. You have a five-game series to do it with. But we want to make sure -- I know scouting reports are very important. We take them very seriously. They're very thorough. But we can't get away from the fact that we have to, you know, we have to do what we do more so than worrying about what other teams do. So if we execute the way we can, then we should be successful. So it's just a matter of making sure we just don't get in some bad spots. They can make the most of it. They're a very well-coached team, well-managed team. They don't really give anything away. So we have to make sure we try to, you know, get the upper hand, basically.

Q. Eckstein and Soriano?

JOE TORRE: They're very aggressive. They make things happen at the top of the batting order. Soriano, for a guy who doesn't walk very much, he's still a threat because he hits a lot of doubles and he has the ability to steal bases. He's an exciting kid. Gets the ball out of the ballpark. Eckstein, you just don't strike those guys out. Sometimes that can neutralize the good pitching you'd like to believe you have. They're not afraid of anything. The games we watched them play against us and on TV, they're a very confident group. It just looks like they play off the energy that Eckstein brings to the table.

Q. How did Spencer's health affect your decision in leftfield? Second, you had different players with the Bernie Williams three-four combination last season. Is it accurate to say Giambi gives you more stability there?

JOE TORRE: We don't have to play him as much. A lot of times in the past we have arranged our line-up according to the pitcher we faced. We still did that several times lefty-righty, sometimes Bernie batted third against left-handers. But for the most part, Jason has been our number three hitter and we've left it that way. We're comfortable with that. Bernie's very important for us. I know Jason gets a lot of attention, but Bernie, certainly the fact that he'll take a walk and the fact that he's had a nice, quiet year of hitting 330 then knocking in 100 runs is pretty exciting for me. But he's very necessary for us. The other part?

Q. Spencer's health.

JOE TORRE: I was happy to see he played five innings yesterday, five or six innings yesterday in the outfield. We didn't ask him to go too hard. We just wanted him to go out there and see how it felt. He had three at-bats, got a base hit. Again, he's not far enough along to be considered one of the starters at this point.

Q. Early in the year, you mentioned a concern about the other team's defense. With a team like the Angels that puts the ball in play so much, is that still a concern?

JOE TORRE: Well, I'm more comfortable swinging it the way we played defensively. Rivera has helped us, Mondesi, without question, has helped us in rightfield. Thinking what I was going to do on third base against a left-fielder, Ventura's defense played heavily in my decision. He's only had about 100 at-bats against left-handers this year. But that was more for giving him a day off than not thinking he could hit a left-hander. I never pinch hit for him against a left-hander. So I'm comfortable. Just watching us playing lately, I'm very comfortable about the aggressiveness of our defense. I think we've gotten to balls in the outfield very quickly, which is what we need to do against these guys. They run hard from step one. To compliment what's supposed to be our strength, which is our pitching, I think the defense is necessary.

Q. Can you talk about how this is a different place in October and how that affects the teams that have maybe not played under these conditions before?

JOE TORRE: I hope it does. I think it's going to affect some of the guys here who have never been in the Yankee uniform before playing in Yankee Stadium. It's a special place. You feel the vibration. People are on top of you. I'd like to say we feel it's a real big advantage but I think the big advantage will be the fact that we play at Yankee Stadium if we play well, we need to pitch well, keep the pressure on the other team and see if it works for us. Last year, Yankee Stadium didn't help us a whole lot against Oakland. We lost the first two games to Oakland. So, it's important, but, again, we have to sort of set the tone for the people in the stands to become part of this thing.

Q. How would you evaluate Roger's season as a whole?

JOE TORRE: I think Roger's had a very good season. We talk about the fact that he's 40 years old but he's still a power pitcher. Aren't too many guys like that around. Nolan Ryan was one of them. As hard as he works, you can understand why he still is a power pitcher. I think when Roger sometimes goes out there and tries to do too much, it sort of complicates things for him. When he keeps it pretty simple, which is, "Do what I do best," and that's go after people, I think his stuff has been very consistent. He's so good at what he does that there are times he'd like to believe he can do more than he needs to. I think that's the only time he's sort of been caught a little bit, is when he tries to be too perfect. But when he allows his ability to work for him, I think his stuff has probably been more consistent this year than last year. I think a big part of that could have been the time he spent on the disabled list where you don't use up a lot of pitches you would in a normal 162-game schedule.

Q. When you look at a Soriano and a Tejada, do you marvel at some of these guys, what they've accomplished at a young age?

JOE TORRE: Yeah. Tejada is remarkable, when you look at Tejada's numbers, he doesn't strike out. The numbers he's put up there, the way he plays defense, you could see that coming, too. He did it anonymously. Everybody's talked about A-Rod, Garciaparra, Jeter, even Omar, these kids don't know any fear. I think that's a big part of it. They play baseball twelve months a year. They're very confident in their ability. Once they get a taste over here, they're very surprised when they don't succeed. We see that in Soriano. I've seen that look in his eye when he comes back and somebody gets him out. Even though you don't see much outwardly, you can just look in his eye and it's sort of quizzical, "How did this happen?" They're so confident, and I think that's a big part of it.

Q. Nick Johnson and Jason Giambi have both had playing time this year, is it your plan to use Nick solely as a DH?

JOE TORRE: I don't know that yet. Maybe just because obviously Jason is going to play a little bit every day, I'll use Nick. He plays defensively, as does Jason. Jason may not have the range that Nick does, but he's as good as I've ever seen taking the ball out of the dirt. I think that's going to be a feel thing. A lot of it for me will depend on Jason and just watching him. Sometimes -- most of the time, we'll talk about it. During the season, I'll put him down one or the other, he doesn't question either one. He'll do whatever I write down. But I think when we get to this point, I like him on the field. I think it's important for him to be on the field. But, again, if I see where he had a couple of tough games, I may just give him a blow the other way.

Q. Your playoff teams the last few years have had such a knack for making the big play. Do you approach playoffs with any sort of curiosity about how you guys will do in those situations as compared to the guys like Bernie and Jeter?

JOE TORRE: Yeah, we haven't had practice with these guys yet. But, again, when you play in Yankee Stadium all year and you realize that even though you're in first place and you've already clinched a playoff spot, that's where you usually judge how important it seems to be. I haven't seen any fall-off. I'm going to have to assume the focus is still there. Sure, I'm curious, just like everybody else is, how this playoff is -- how we're going to play. You know, as I say, we're ready, whether we win or not remains to be seen. But I'm very comfortable with the fact that we've covered pretty much everything and everybody's ready to go - in fact, anxious to go.

End of FastScripts�.

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