In light of the Yanks' win yesterday that clinched their 8th-straight division title, the Yankees' brain trust deserves huge credit for its in-season adjustments that helped turn the season around.
At the beginning of the year, the Yanks seemed stocked as long as their starters stayed healthy. So much for that: Jared Wright had a three-month stint on the DL, Kevin Brown stank and then went on the DL for more than half the season, Carl Pavano struggled with gopher balls and lack of arm strength -- the latter landed him on the DL in June and he's resided there since. Even the usually impervious Mooooooooooose missed a stack of starts.
The beginning was putrid: the worst 30-game start (11-19) since the dark days of the mid-late 60s (1966). The shake-up smacked of desperation: promoting Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano, demoting Bernie Williams to a part-timer and having Tony Womack wander around the outfield. But Wang responded (8-5, 4.02) and Cano (.295-14-62 and .381 in September) deserves the Rookie of the Year votes he'll get behind Huston Street and Tad Iguchi.
The genius of this team came from professionalism, desire and heart -- in other words, Torre. Giambi went from scrap-heap to a 32 HR, 87 RBI year through hard work with Don Mattingly. Johnson reconfigured his between-start workouts and saw his ERA go down and fewer HR off his pitches. Brian Cashman traded for Shawn Chacon (7-3, 2.76), and Chacon helped ignite the Yanks with his grit on the mound and those dipping and moving sinkers that didn't dip and move in Colorado. And Aaron Small (10-0, 3.20) of all people, who had previously aspired to journeyman status, became a reliable starter and solid reliever while doing something Yankees' pitchers had lost sight of before his arrival: just throwing strikes.
Yes, the hitting was always there with Jeter (.308, 122 R, 19 HR), Arod (.320-48-130-21), Sheff (.291-34-123) and G'Zilla (.304-23-116). And Gordon did well; Rivera was awesome (he should win the Cy Young Award). But no pitching to reach the end of the bullpen means no playoffs (two words: Texas Rangers).
So spread the credit: Torre, Stottlemyre, Mattingly, Cashman. As the Tampa braintrust's master plan unraveled, the field officers took over and guided the team to another playoff appearance under the most unlikely circumstances of the Torre Era.
That's why Torre should be Manager of the Year in the most difficult divisional race of his 10 years in pinstripes.