Yankees’ first-base coach looking for go-ahead sign from Steinbrenners

By Jay Cohen

NEW YORK – Tony Pena thinks he can manage the New York Yankees to a championship next season.

So much for a grace period.

“With the talent that we have, I think we can do it with this team next year,” Pena said. “There’s no question in my mind that we have the capability and we have the talent to go and do the job.”

After spending two seasons as New York’s first-base coach, Pena interviewed Wednesday to replace departed manager Joe Torre. Team officials spoke with Yankees broadcaster Joe Girardi on Monday and bench coach Don Mattingly on Tuesday.

New York was going to consider five or six candidates but Hank Steinbrenner, son of owner George Steinbrenner, said Wednesday the team wasn’t planning any more interviews.

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“We’re very impressed with all three candidates,” he said. “I told you it would be a tough decision. Tony, I would describe him as a motivator. A high-energy motivator. That’s the way he came across.”

The Yankees’ baseball operations executives will meet, probably on Thursday, and come up with a recommendation to the team’s top officials. That recommendation is likely to carry a lot of weight.

“I don’t see any reason not to go with their decision,” Hank Steinbrenner said. “It’s been an in-depth process. You’ve got to respect the opinion of your experts.”

General manager Brian Cashman declined comment through a team spokesman. Girardi, speaking at a charity dinner, refused to answer any questions about the search.

“The only thing I’m going to comment about the Yankees situation is what I said a few days ago,” Girardi said. “I had a great interview. And it’s an honor for whoever gets that job.”

Teams aren’t allowed to make major announcements during the World Series but if New York wants to make an announcement Friday, commissioner Bud Selig probably would give his permission.

Hank Steinbrenner said the team hadn’t made any contact with Major League Baseball about making an announcement before the end of the Series.

Declaring any time he gets to talk about baseball a great day, an upbeat Pena became the latest candidate to plead to his case.

“The main message that I wanted to tell them is that I’m capable to manage this ballclub and I’m capable to take this ballclub to the final line, which is winning the World Series,” he said.

Pena has the most managerial experience of the candidates, having led the Kansas City Royals for over three seasons. He was voted AL Manager of the Year in 2003 after the Royals went 83-79, their first winning season since 1994.

Pena quit in 2005 after an 8-25 start that left his record with Kansas City at 198-285. He joined the Yankees later that year and learned a lot working under Torre.

“One thing about Joe, he never was up and he never was down,” Pena said. “I learned to establish myself, I learned to be myself a little bit more. I learned to give more people responsibility and things like that.”

Torre took over for the 1996 season and led the Yankees to four World Series titles in his first five years but none since. He left after 12 seasons – and 12 postseason appearances.

Hank Steinbrenner cautioned that success might not come immediately for the next manager.

“I think the most important thing is whoever we hire, give ’em a chance because he’s not getting the ’96 Yankees. He’s getting an even younger team or for the most part a team in transition. Give him a little while,” he said. “We want to win the World Series every year. We’re not stupid enough to think we can do it. Of course, we’d love to win the World Series next year.”

Pena, a five-time All-Star catcher, said he would be open to staying on the Yankees coaching staff next year if the team chooses a different manager.

AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in New York, Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in Boston and freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report