Yankees Look To Be No. 1 Again


Tuesday, February 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — When the Yankees open spring training Wednesday, it could be the beginning of the end of an era.

Paul O'Neill says this will be his last season. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius are in the final years of their contracts, as is manager Joe Torre.

Still, there is another championship to be won, always the focus on the Yankees. Last October, they became just the fourth team to win three straight World Series titles.

``I want to look back when I'm all done and say I played at the beginning of this spurt and played all the way through it,'' O'Neill said. ``With the core of people coming back, this is still the team that won the championships. A couple years down the road, it might not be the same team anymore.''

Only two teams put together longer streaks: the Yankees of 1936-39 and the Yankees of 1949-53.

The run for No. 4 — and the fifth in six seasons — begins Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report. Many of the Yankees have been in Florida for weeks, working out at New York's minor league complex.

``You get excited about spring training because hopefully one or two of our young kids could make the big league club and help the New York Yankees win,'' vice president of player personnel Billy Connors said.

The most notable departure during the offseason was David Cone. New York offered to bring him back following a 4-14 season, but he would have had to win the No. 5 starter's job in spring training.

Instead, he signed with Boston.

Mike Mussina, given an $88.5 million, six-year contract, is the chief addition, joining Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte in the rotation.

``It's unbelievable,'' left fielder Shane Spencer said of the Yankees' rotation. ''(Other) teams will be like, `Who are we going to put our No. 1 against?' We have potentially four No. 1s.''

The fifth spot is open. Cuban defector Adrian ``El Duquecito'' Hernandez — not related to ``El Duque'' — has looked impressive in early workouts and lefty Randy Keisler also figures to get a chance.

While closer Mariano Rivera is back and left-hander Mike Stanton returns as a setup man, right-handed setup man Jeff Nelson returned to Seattle after five seasons with the Yankees.

Ramiro Mendoza, who missed most of last season because of shoulder problems, is throwing following surgery but the Yankees likely will limit his innings. Lefty Allen Watson, also coming back from an injury marred season, is not expected to be ready for opening day.

New York has brought in a half-dozen pitchers to audition for the role, a group that includes Dwight Gooden, Brian Boehringer, Scott Kamieniecki, Darrell Einertson and Ed Reynoso.

The everyday lineup is set, barring injuries. The only questions are whether second baseman Chuck Knoblauch has solved his throwing problems and whether Spencer has healed following knee surgery.

``The elbow is good. No problems,'' said Knoblauch, who arrived at spring training a month early.

Spencer expects his surgically repaired knee to be ready for opening day.

``I'm doing pretty good,'' he said Tuesday. ``I'm doing all the little things I need to do. Hopefully by the second week of spring training I'll be playing some games.''

With catcher Jorge Posada coming off his best season, and Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams coming off typically strong seasons, the Yankees seem solid up the middle.

``The start of spring training is exciting,'' Yankees director of player development Rob Thomson said. ``You've had the whole winter off. You kind of go through depression the first couple weeks after the season is over. You don't have that fill of intensity and competitiveness. It's nice to get back into it.''