Despite tough days, Bernie ready to play

Despite tough days, Bernie ready to play

NEW YORK -- Joe Torre entered the season with a plan to rest Bernie Williams roughly twice a week, giving the veteran the opportunity to keep his legs and shoulders fresh throughout the season.

A month later, Williams lost his starting job, moving to the bench for the first time in well over a decade. Williams has worked his way back into the lineup, and Hideki Matsui's ankle injury has forced Torre to play Williams in center in each of the past 14 games.

The playing time may be catching up with the 36-year-old, who had a few more moments in the outfield on Saturday that he'd probably like to forget.

"We're asking him to do a lot more than he's capable of doing," Torre said. "He should get a blow here and there, because he's dealing with a lot of ongoing physical problems.

"But you don't hear a peep out of him."

Williams, who dropped a routine fly ball in Friday night's loss to the Mets, allowed Mike Cameron to tag up from first base on Carlos Beltran's fly out Saturday, a rarity to say the least.

"I was just out of position, trying to catch that ball in the sun," Williams said. "I caught it, and when Ruben told me he was tagging, it was just too late. It was definitely a bonehead play."

Although Williams has never had the baseball instincts that many Major Leaguers possess, that type of mental mistake hasn't typically been a part of his game, either.

"There's no room for mental mistakes," he said. "You have to prepare yourself mentally to play the game and be ready for anything."

In the sixth, Williams broke late on a shallow fly ball hit by Chris Woodward, allowing the ball to fall in front of him for a double. An inning later, Williams misplayed a single by Ramon Castro, turning the hit into a double for the Mets' catcher.

"I think I'm going out there and playing as hard as I can," Williams said. "I want the ball hit to me. That's the only way you can get out of it."

"All of our confidences aren't what they were when we were playing better," Torre said. "What's frustrating for him is that he knows what's needed, he's always been able to rise above it, but right now he's spinning his wheels."

With two chronically bad shoulders, Williams' arm isn't scaring anyone -- nor has it instilled fear in opposing runners throughout his career. But Torre believes that the excessive playing time has certainly been a detriment to Williams, so the manager plans to do his best to give him a day off on Sunday, even though Matsui isn't close to making a return to the field.

"It's hard, because I know how proud he is and how badly he wants to be there for everybody," Torre said. "The one thing about Bernie, nobody has ever changed their opinion of him, because you start with the man."

Williams disagrees that the playing time is hurting him, and he said he would like to be in the lineup on Sunday.

"There's a lot of frustration going on," he said. "I'm hitting the ball pretty good right now. I'd like to keep that groove going."

Williams' struggles are just a microcosm of the funk enveloping the entire team, which has now lost five of its last six games to fall 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East.

"As a team, I think we're pressing too much. Nothing is really going our way," Williams said. "It's just more adversity that we have to overcome. This is going to tell what this team is made of in the next couple of days. We're still within reach, so we still have an opportunity."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.