With Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner's commentary ringing through the Bronx, putting manager Joe Torre's employment in serious doubt, the Yankees rallied from behind to post an 8-4 victory over the Indians in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday.
But Torre has not escaped yet, not with the Yankees facing a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five ALDS and still up against unfavorable odds to send the series back to Cleveland.
In a telephone interview, Steinbrenner told The Record of Hackensack, N.J., that he did not believe the team would invite Torre back in 2008 if the club again fizzled out in the first round. Torre has reached the playoffs in all 12 seasons at the helm of the Yankees but has not advanced past the ALDS since 2004.
"I don't want to say you ever get used to it, but you work here and you understand the pressure everybody is under to win all the time," Torre said.
Though Torre said he addressed his club before it posted eight runs and 11 hits against Indians pitching, perhaps changing the momentum of the series, the topic of Steinbrenner's comments to the suburban New Jersey newspaper did not come up within the clubhouse walls.
Nor would most players admit to keeping Torre's status in mind as they took the field against Cleveland.
"It's not like we're hovered around the mound talking about it," captain Derek Jeter said. "We're trying to win games."
Torre said that a major part of his approach, particularly in the playoffs, has been to allow his players to roll the dice on the field and play. The harsh reality of Yankees Octobers, he said, has been that no result is satisfactory unless it ends in a World Series parade down the Canyon of Heroes -- something the Yankees haven't experienced since 2000.
"I understand the requirements here, but the players are human beings, and it's not machinery here," Torre said. "Even though they get paid a lot of money, it's still blood that runs through their veins.
"My job is to try to get them to be the players they are by allowing them to understand that the best effort you can give is all you can do."
Outfielder Johnny Damon, who changed the course of Game 3 with a pivotal three-run home run off Jake Westbrook in the fifth inning, said that the newspaper report and Steinbrenner's comments did come up at one point in the clubhouse before Sunday's game.
"What we have to understand as players is Mr. Steinbrenner is the Boss," Damon said. "He gets to make the decisions here, and what we can do as players is to go out and keep playing as hard as we have been. We've battled through adversity all through the season, and right now is another time.
"We all love Joe Torre, and we'd love for him to win another championship. I think Joe Torre is a guy who commands a lot of respect. He's meant so much to the Yankee organization. And, you know, we get to play for him at least another day, and hopefully longer."
Under Torre, who is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $7 million through the postseason, the Yankees have been through similar paces once already this season.
An underwhelming 21-29 start left them 14 1/2 games behind the Red Sox on May 29 -- the recognized low point of their campaign -- and Steinbrenner let both Torre and general manager Brian Cashman dangle for a short while before offering the manager a vote of confidence. Cashman, however, was said to be "on a big hook," a warning that resounds to this day.
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"It's not the first time the Boss has said things," Jeter said. "He's entitled to speak his mind, but we're not thinking about that when we're playing. It's hard enough to try to go out there and play, and we're supposed to be thinking about the repercussions."
Digging out from the problematic scenario of late May presented enough of a challenge and sapped energy, something the Yankees can ill afford at this late date, particularly given their current situation.
"This is a very uncomfortable time of year," Torre said. "It's an exciting time of year. Any time you win a ballgame in the postseason, it's exciting. You understand that there's no safety net. For a guy that never got to the postseason as a player, I'm having a hell of a lot of fun when you look back on the whole thing."
And just because the club dropped the first two games at Jacobs Field, closer Mariano Rivera opined, didn't mean that the Yankees are no longer responding to Torre's command.
"We played hard the last two games," Rivera said. "It doesn't mean that we don't win because of him. ... That's the Boss. He can say whatever he wants, because he's the Boss."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less