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Archive for Saturday, October 27, 2001

Yankees bench O’Neill

Justice to start

October 27, 2001

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— History won out over loyalty when New York Yankees manager Joe Torre made out his lineup for Game One of the World Series.

Torre opted to start David Justice in right field for tonight's opener against Arizona's Curt Schilling instead of one of his favorite players, Paul O'Neill.

"I'm very loyal to him but in fairness to the other 24 guys my first loyalty has to be to the team and the players that might be the better matchup," Torre said Friday. "Paul O'Neill has been very dear to me."

O'Neill, described by Torre as the "heart and soul" of the Yankees' dynasty, is likely in his final days before retirement. But George Steinbrenner's warrior won't be in the starting lineup for either of the first two games with nasty left-hander Randy Johnson slated to start Game Two.

"To say I'm not disappointed, I'd be lying," O'Neill said. "But winning the World Series is the important thing. We're looking to do what the Yankees want to accomplish, not make someone happy."

The idea of O'Neill sitting out a World Series game for the Yankees is difficult to fathom, especially against a right-handed pitcher. He has played all but one Series game for the Yankees and usually only sits against the toughest of lefties.

But Torre bypassed O'Neill in the opener because of Justice's success against Schilling and the lack of a designated hitter in the National League park. Justice is 10-for-28 (.357) with four homers in his career against Schilling, compared to O'Neill's .211 average with no homers.

O'Neill, 38, joined the Yankees after the 1992 season in one of the most important moves in building the dynasty. Known for intensity and equipment throwing as well as his hitting, O'Neill batted over .300 six times for New York and brought a professionalism to a clubhouse that lacked it in the early '90s.

He played through injuries in the postseason in 1996 and 2000 and his father's death in 1999, helping lead the Yankees to titles. He missed much of the final month of this season with a broken foot and was benched for two games in the first round against Oakland's tough lefties.

O'Neill regained his stroke in the ALCS, hitting .417.

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