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Ex-Yank expects changes

Given the hyperbolic nature of sports, it's hard to say how significant the New York Yankees' playoff failure was. So I'll just compare it to a flood.

When it happens, a lot of people can end up moving.

Blowing a three-games-to-none lead in the ALCS is, at least in New York, cataclysmic. How cataclysmic? Enough so that some media are calling Wednesday's elimination loss to Boston the darkest day in Yankee history.

Considering Billy Martin once got caught slapping around a marshmallow salesman, that's pretty dark.

Still, to put it into perspective, I went to one who knows firsthand, to find out exactly how dark it can get. I called Scott Nielsen, a former BYU and Yankees' pitcher, and asked what he thought was going on, right now, behind the scenes at Yankee Stadium.

"There is no question in my mind, George Steinbrenner is livid," said Nielsen. "He's going through all the reasons and pointing fingers as to who did and didn't do what, and why."

"And," he added, "there will be changes forthcoming."

Nielsen didn't even bother to qualify his predictions by saying there might be changes.

Steinbrenner didn't spend $186 million to be upstaged by the Boston Bean-Eating Red Sox.

Nielsen has a working understanding of how things go with the Yankees — which happens to be different than the way things go anywhere else. Through parts of four seasons in the late '80s, he pitched 143 innings in the major leagues, mostly with the Yankees. That was plenty of time to experience the wrath of King George in a meaningful way.

Nielsen once noted that motorists can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), but with the Yankees, there's always the chance of a MUI — managing under the influence . . . of Steinbrenner.

"He's very emotional in reacting to either success or failure," said Nielsen. "He's full of emotion."

Take, for instance, when Nielsen was pitching for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. Steinbrenner had come to Columbus to see the Yankees' minor league team on the Fourth of July.

The Clippers were struggling through a terrible four-game series. After one of the games, King George stormed into manager Bucky Dent's office.

"He spent 15 minutes with Bucky," said Nielsen. "And 15 minutes later, three players were sent down to Double-A and one was released. Just like that."

It wasn't unlike the Queen of Hearts, observing the proceedings and shouting "Off with their heads!"

When you're a Yankee, then, you learn to live by Steinbrenner's credo, whereby winning is second only to breathing. Or is it this: If you're breathing, you'd better be winning.

So where do they start?

The Yankees will undoubtedly sign a high-priced starting pitcher or two in the offseason. Some position players could be gone, too.

Rodriguez? Sheffield? Posada? Don't laugh. None of them drove in a run or even got a hit Wednesday.

What have they done for the dynasty lately?

Nielsen says oddly enough, something happened in his relatively short Major League career, in which he also played with the White Sox: The Yankee attitude got in his blood.

"Something in my DNA," he said, "has pinstripes."

"Once you put on that uniform," he continued, "you're not just a professional ballplayer. You're a Yankee, and there's truly a difference. I played with the White Sox and Yankees, and I do know there is a difference between being a Yankee and being a professional baseball player."

The difference being professional ballplayers are paid to do their best.

Yankees are paid to finish first.

When that fails, someone has to answer. Maybe even manager Joe Torre — who has $19 million remaining on his contract — will get blamed.

Stranger things have happened in the Bronx Zoo.

"I don't see (Torre) as the one getting pushed out," said Nielsen. "Then again, I don't know. Nobody can predict what George is going to do."

On another level, yes they can.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com