Skipper ends year in ALDS for third straight season

By Mike Fitzpatrick

NEW YORK – Tick tock, tick tock.

The wait is on for Joe Torre and his Yankees players, a fiercely loyal bunch.

Nearly everyone in New York wanted to know Tuesday whether owner George Steinbrenner will keep his longtime manager or let him go after 12 straight playoff appearances.

No answers yet.

“Have some patience. Things take time. There will be a process and we’ll work through that, and it will lead us where it leads us,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “My speculation is I’m not going to have anything to report in the next couple of days.”

Few players were at Yankee Stadium, a day after their season-ending 6-4 loss to Cleveland in game four, the third straight year New York was eliminated in the first round. But folks everywhere chimed in and backed Torre, from rival AL managers Terry Francona and Eric Wedge to presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Chien-Ming Wang, Doug Mientkiewicz, Andy Phillips and Jose Molina were among the Yankees who showed up at the ballpark and packed their gear for the long winter. Don Mattingly, mentioned as a possible replacement along with Joe Girardi and Tony La Russa, said succeeding Torre would be difficult.

“It’s like following John Wooden or something,” Mattingly said. “This guy wins championship after championship and we’re in the playoffs in every year. You know, it’s really – it’s pretty much a no-win situation for someone coming in here to be able to live up to the expectations or live up to what he did. It’s not going to happen. So as far as someone coming in and taking over this job, it’s not a good, you know – it’s not necessarily a great situation.”

Steinbrenner said last weekend he didn’t think he’d bring Torre back unless New York rallied to win the first-round series. The 77-year-old owner has not spoken publicly since the Game 4 defeat.

His spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, released a statement Tuesday that said Steinbrenner was heading back home to Tampa, Fla., and would have no comment “at this time.”

“There’s nothing decided yet,” said Hank Steinbrenner, a son of the owner and a team senior vice president. “The record speaks for itself, but nothing lasts forever.”

In his office at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge got a congratulatory phone call from Torre after Monday night’s game.

“He’s a class act,” Wedge said. “For him to even think about our team and our organization … it meant the world to me. He’s one of the greatest managers in the history of the game. What he has accomplished is historic, and beyond that he’s a great human being.

“Joe Torre should manage as long as he wants to manage,” Wedge said.

AP Sports writers Jay Cohen in New York, Jimmy Golen in Boston and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report