Once you have succeeded for Joe Torre in October, the New York Yankees' manager will trust you to do it again. Once you have succeeded for him many times, he will trust you forever. And for the four remaining Original Torre Yankees, you might as well carve their busts, Mount Rushmore-style, into the side of Yankee Stadium, so deep is Torre's level of trust: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada.
All four have been playing for Torre since his debut season at the Yankees' helm in 1996, the year the Bronx Bombers won their first of four World Series titles in a five-year span. (Posada, however, was left off that year's playoff roster, becoming an October mainstay the following year.) Of the team's roster this postseason, Tino Martinez is also an Original Torre Yankee, but he left the team from 2002 to 2004 and only this season returned to the Bronx.
But this week already has witnessed signs that even Torre's trust in his stalwarts has its limits. As the Yankees split the opening two games of the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels -- a series that moves to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 on Friday night -- one needed only glance out at center field to see a transition occurring.
For Tuesday night's Game 1, Torre chose to start Bubba Crosby in center field instead of Williams, conceding that the 29-year-old Crosby is better defensively at this point than the 37-year-old Williams.
"Bubba, with his younger legs," Torre explained, "covers more ground."
What's so significant about that, one might ask? It marked the first time in Torre's 10 years in New York, spanning 110 games, that his postseason lineup did not include Williams in center field. Prior to Tuesday night, in fact, one would have to go back 24 years, to Jerry Mumphrey in Game 6 of the 1981 World Series, to find the last time someone other than Williams started in center field for the Yankees in the playoffs.
A similarly monumental benching will take place Friday night at Yankee Stadium, when Torre is expected to use backup John Flaherty to catch ace left-hander Randy Johnson against the Angels, instead of Jorge Posada. Over the course of this season, Johnson's first with the Yankees, Flaherty has become his personal catcher, and Torre wants to keep Johnson as comfortable as possible.
"If we felt [Posada] was our best option," Torre said, "we'd bite the bullet and take our chances."
In the first few years of the Torre Dynasty in the Bronx, Posada split time with veteran Joe Girardi. But since Girardi's final postseason start, in Game 3 of the 1999 World Series, no one else but Posada has ever started behind home plate for the Yankees in the playoffs -- a run of 66 straight postseason games that will be broken Friday night.
"He's been a mainstay, no question," Torre said about Posada. "Every single playoff game, once he started. But this is something I know he has no resentment towards. Really, it's no blow to his ego."
The other thing that links Posada, Williams, Jeter and Rivera is that they were all homegrown -- signed and developed by the Yankees' organization in the early 1990s. The crop also included Andy Pettitte, the standout left-hander from 1996 to 2003. The Yankees' farm system has never again produced such a wholesale influx of talent for the big league club.
But already, just two games into the 2005 postseason, there are signs of a new era in the Bronx being ushered in, with the Yankees' farm system -- which had been constantly self-plundered over the years to fuel owner George Steinbrenner's thirst for proven, big-money talent -- showing evidence of productivity again, even if its current output has not yet approached that fruitful earlier era.
In Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim, Calif., the Yankees were sparked by a couple of homegrown rookies, second baseman Robinson Cano and right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, both of whom burst forth out of the minor leagues this season. Cano's three-run double in Game 1 provided the winning margin in the Yankees' 4-2 win, while Wang tossed 62/3 effective innings in a Game 2 loss.
Someday, probably long after Torre is gone, Cano and Wang and a couple of their teammates may be held in the same regard by their manager as the Original Torre Yankees are by theirs. But for now, they have a long, long way to go.