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While Bucky Dent said he felt good after his meeting with George Steinbrenner Wednesday in Chicago, the exchange may have given the Yankees' manager a false sense of security.

For the first time, George Steinbrenner has expressed serious doubt about the direction in which his team is heading - a bad omen for its field leader.While Steinbrenner said he has been "very encouraging toward Bucky," his latest words were not at all encouraging. "I've been patient with Bucky and yes, it was a nice meeting," Steinbrenner said Thursday night. "But we've got to reverse this trend. We can't keep going this way."

If Steinbrenner's patience has run out, Dent may be able to take some solace in the fact that vice president George Bradley seems prepared to fight Steinbrenner on this matter, if need be. Bradley said, "I don't think you can pin it on Bucky . . . Changing managers is not always the solution."

Of course, that frequently has been the Yankees' solution. And Steinbrenner - who previously seemed uncharacteristically placid through the team's worst 44-game start in 65 years, 17-27 - repeatedly used the phrase "we have got to do something" when asked Thursday night about Dent.

Bradley, who warned that newspapers should "save space" for a major trade announcement Friday, intends to express his disapproval of a Dent removal. Asked if he plans to argue on Dent's behalf, Bradley would say only, "I'm going to try to."