Wilson in at second; Johnson plays first

Updated: October 24, 2003, 4:25 AM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

MIAMI -- With the Yankees' offense struggling, manager Joe Torre made major changes in his lineup for Game 5 Thursday night, dropping star sluggers Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi.

Enrique Wilson, the Yankees' utilityman, started at second base and batted second, behind Derek Jeter, with red-hot Bernie Williams moving up to third place in the lineup. Nick Johnson, the replacement for Giambi at first base, hit sixth in the Yankees' order.

The move paid an immediate dividend in the first inning, as Jeter singled to lead off the game and eventually scored on Williams' sacrifice fly. But Marlins starter Brad Penny shut down the Yankees after that, as Florida won 6-4 to take a 3-2 lead in the World Series.

Soriano and Giambi eventually entered the game as pinch hitters. Soriano struck out in the eighth, but Giambi homered in the ninth as the Yankees made a late rally that fell short.

Soriano hit 38 homers during the regular season, but he has looked progressively worse in the postseason. He has struck out in seven of his last 14 at-bats, and in 67 at-bats during the playoffs and World Series, he has 25 strikeouts. During the Yankees' 4-3 loss in Game 4 Wednesday, Soriano swung as if he was totally confused, hacking at pitches beyond his already large strike zone.

"I don't feel happy, but I know I've been struggling," Soriano said prior to the game. "It's hard for me because I like to play every day. I hope I'll get a chance as a pinch hitter, who knows?

"I think I swing at bad pitches, that's the problem. It's tough to recognize the pitches because it's a different league. I think I try to do too much," he said.

Torre said he mulled over the change with Soriano all day, and he said the alteration was "very tough to do. Here's a kid, during the season, if I rest him a day, he always has a smile on his face. He wants to play every inning of every game."

By replacing Soriano with Wilson, Torre also upgraded the Yankees' defense; Soriano has played badly in the field, while Wilson is an adept fielder.

Torre announced the Soriano change hours before the game, but about 60 minutes before the first pitch, the switch at first base was revealed. The reason for the late scratch, according to the late announcement, was that Giambi's left knee is bothering him, but some members of the organization say that Giambi's medical condition has not been a major concern. It's possible that Giambi's knee was used as a convenient avenue for a preferred change.

Giambi has swung poorly in the postseason, like Soriano, and he is hitting .214 after four games; Johnson is more of a contact hitter than Giambi, a trait Torre values. Johnson also is better defensively, with more range -- something Torre might have wanted against bunt-happy Juan Pierre with lumbering Wells pitching for the Yankees in Game 4.

Giambi toed the official line, however.

"My left knee, which has been a problem, became sore from playing for two days, and I just do not want to be a defensive liability around first base," Giambi said.

Other stars have lost their starting spots in the World Series because of the lack of a DH in National League parks. Toronto first baseman John Olerud, who won the AL batting title with a .363 average in 1993, was benched in favor of Paul Molitor in Game 3 of the 1993 World Series at Philadelphia.

In a move that caused a lot of commotion, Pete Rose was benched for Tony Perez as the Phillies' first baseman for a game in the 1983 World Series against Baltimore.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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