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Bench is a strength for Yankees
10/11/2004 9:51 PM ET
NEW YORK -- The golf clubs are happily shoved aside, the vacations left for another winter month.

Scattered around the Yankees' clubhouse, there's a sizable contingent of players that are just happy to be in the postseason. For many of them, the playoffs represent parole from another baseball existence.

Take Tanyon Sturtze, for instance, who isn't that far removed from his days as a Devil Ray. When Sturtze looks at the final standings, one thought pops into his mind quicker than the others.

"We finally put the 100 in a different column than I'm used to," he joked on Monday, referring to the win column. "I never imagined this at the beginning of this year, let alone last year. Hopefully, the ride keeps going."

Sturtze isn't alone on his joy ride. Fifteen Yankees have no World Series rings -- a surprising number for a team that has gone to the Fall Classic six times in the last nine years. And that's not the only measure: Before the ALDS, six members of the current team had never played in the postseason.

   Tony Clark  /   1B
Born: 06/15/72
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 245 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R

Tony Clark is an excellent representative of both of those groups. New York's backup first baseman is just 32 years old, but he already sports the gray hair of a grizzled veteran. Some would say that's a remnant of his time in Detroit, where Clark played for seven losing teams in as many seasons. That's long behind him, though, and Clark is focused on the present.

"It's always your dream to be the last team standing. The personal accolades and the things on the back of your bubble-gum card are all great, but inevitably, we play to be on a championship team," said Clark, who was an All-Star in 2001. "Regardless of the record of the ballclub, you continue to focus on your work and trying to be the best ballplayer you can be. Regardless of the situation, you believe that if you do so, somewhere along the line you'll be rewarded for it."

John Olerud can identify with that situation -- even if he comes from a different set of circumstances. The first baseman has two World Series rings, and he's played in a League Championship Series three times in the last five years. This season, though, was the toughest in his distinguished career.

Olerud struggled through the first few months and was eventually released by Seattle, the team with the third worst record in all of baseball. Of course, he made that disappointment disappear by signing with the Yankees, setting up one final shot at the ultimate prize.

"It's always great to be in the playoffs, to still be playing at this time. I'm real excited about it," he said on Monday. "When I got released by Seattle, I guess I kind of figured that the only chance I'd have of getting picked up would be by a team that's in the race. You look around at which teams are in the race and what teams might have a need.

"I knew this would be a possibility, but it's still kind of crazy. You go from being released to getting picked up by a team that's in the race."

The other teams have noticed. Curt Schilling's slated to start against the Yankees on Tuesday night, but he went out of his way to praise their depth on Monday. Everybody knows about Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez -- as far as Schilling's concerned, the lesser knowns make New York dangerous.

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
 GAME LOCATION DAY DATE TIME TV SCORE
Game 1 at New York         NYY 10, BOS 7
Game 2 at New York         NYY 3, BOS 1
Game 3 at Boston Fri. Oct. 15 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 4 at Boston Sat. Oct. 16 7:30 p.m. FOX  
Game 5* at Boston Sun. Oct. 17 7:30 p.m. FOX  
Game 6* at New York Tue. Oct. 19 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 7* at New York Wed. Oct. 20 8:00 p.m. FOX  
 * If necessary

"I looked at this team in August and I think that without Tony Clark, Miguel Cairo and the Ruben Sierras, I don't think they would have finished in first place," said Schilling. "As good as they were, the one thing I think the Yankees have over most other teams is depth. Like us, they can put an All-Star caliber player on the field when they have an injury.

"I think it's more of a testament to Joe Torre than anything, but they are deep and they present a lot of different problems. Every inning, they're going to put somebody on the plate that's a run producer or a run scorer, and not a lot of teams can do that."

As for Sturtze, he said there's one part of the playoff experience he'd love to miss out on in the future. The native of Worcester, Mass., has been besieged with ticket requests from both sides of the aisle. He said he'll turn his phone off for the rest of the series, ignoring the background so he can concentrate on the task at hand.

Clark, meanwhile, is busy calling some of his old teammates. After a career filled with early exits, he said he's still adjusting to life as a contender. More than anything else, it's validation for all the hard times he went through as a Tiger. Just thinking about those days made him flash back to some of the first advice he got in a big league clubhouse.

"Larry Herndon, my very first hitting coach in the big leagues, told me, 'Everyday, you play like a champion. If things aren't working out where you are, the champions will come get you,' " he said. "Having an opportunity to be a part of this is confirmation that the guys that I came up with taught me how to go about my business the right way. My faith has kept me on the course and I've been rewarded with an opportunity to be part of something special."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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