BERNIE Williams sought out Joe Torre yesterday to ask his manager if here - less than three weeks until Game 1 of the playoffs - the Yankee manager could explain his role.
Torre could not. He told Williams that, in essence, this is spring training all over again and that he is trying to determine what he has in Hideki Matsui and, probably soon, Gary Sheffield. Can they hit? Can they play the field? Are they worthy of regular play and/or a postseason roster spot?
But the process is about more than the veterans, Williams, Matsui, and Sheffield. It's about the decision of who gets to be the utility infielder for this squad. Who are the relievers at the back end of the bullpen? Who starts Game 4 of a playoff series? How many outfielders can the Yanks carry with them into the post season?
By my count, there are sixteen Yankees who are, or should be, guaranteed roster spots, if they stay healthy. You have the eight every day position players. You have three starters, you have five relievers. That leaves you seven spots, some of them taken before you start: Sal Fasano is going to be the backup catcher--there's no one else to do the job; one of Jaret Wright and Corey Lidle is certain to be on the pitching staff, most likely both; and a roster spot will be used up on either Nick Green or Miguel Cairo. Still, that means that a decent number of spots--very decent, if you consider how these things usually go with the Yanks--are up for grabs in September. People are playing to try to get a shot at October.
Tonight, for example, was a try-out for Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner. Rasner came into the game in the sixth, with the game tied at four, all earned runs against Karstens. Karstens was touched up for two homers by Rocco Baldelli in his five innings of work. Rasner pitched four scoreless to finish the game and get the win. If there's a spot open in the Yankees' organizational chart for "playoff swingman," then Rasner's looking a bit better today, Karstens a bit worse. Hideki Matsui, after proving he was still alive and kicking earlier in the week by going 4-4 with 4 singles, showed evidence of having a bit of pop in his swing with a homer in the second inning. Kevin Thompson, a guy I like way more than anyone in the Yankee organization seems to, got a rare start and went 2-4 with a double and a run scored.
The day before, Corey Lidle's place in the roster spot game became a little more unsteady, while Brian Bruney's outlook got better. I was going to do a rundown of the competitors but I think I'll wait for the week in review. But as you watch these last games of the year, just remember, some of these guys are running out of a chance to make a good impression. More about this later.