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BROOM SHTICK ENRAGES BOSS
STEINBRENNER FUMES AS O'S SWEEP YANKS

There will be no more "it's only April" talk around the New York Yankees, no more "it's early." George Steinbrenner made sure of that Sunday.

After watching his $200 million team lose its fourth straight game and eighth in 10, The Boss finally exploded, ripping the Bombers for their shoddy play with vintage venom.

"Enough is enough," Steinbrenner said in an angry statement released immediately after the Yanks finished their 8-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. "It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk."

He's surely not alone. Stacked with a rotation many believed was the best in recent memory and with an All-Star at every position on the field, the Bombers were expected to be dominant, not dominated.

For an accurate gauge of his anger, consider that Steinbrenner did not publicly criticize the Yanks after their historic collapse to Boston in the American League Championship Series last fall, but hammered them Sunday as they sit at 4-8, tied for last and four games behind Baltimore for first place. It's their worst start to a season since 1991, when the Yanks finished 71-91, 20 games back in the division.

Steinbrenner even borrowed a line from the Red Sox's spring training jabs at Alex Rodriguez, saying, "They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around."

A-Rod simply nodded when told of Steinbrenner's comments and said, "I think we all share the same frustration."

Derek Jeter was similarly solemn, saying, "He expects a lot. He's done it before."

Torre also was visibly frustrated and held a team meeting after the game. Because he calls meetings so infrequently the players understood the gravity of the situation.

"I can't disagree with anything (Steinbrenner said)," Torre said. "You'd like to believe that when he does spend the money, he expects more than he's gotten here so far."

The meeting didn't take long, mostly because there wasn't much to say: The Yanks have been outscored 69-49, the starters have been mediocre (a combined 2-5, 5.29 ERA) and the bullpen has been atrocious (three blown saves, 6.53 ERA).

The discouraging statistics also include the Bombers' .207 batting average with runners in scoring position and their league-worst 106 men left on base.

The last time the Yankees saw Steinbrenner was during their season-opening series against the Red Sox in New York, when they won two out of three. The Boss then returned to Tampa, where he had been in particularly good spirits because of the success of his prize racehorse, Bellamy Road, who is a contender to win the Kentucky Derby.

But while his horse business was booming, his baseball team was busting. The Bombers lost two of three to Baltimore in the Bronx, then dropped two of three in Boston before coming to Baltimore over the weekend and embarrassing themselves by being swept.

It wasn't simply that they lost three games, but more the manner in which they went down; a blowout Friday, a horrendous seventh-inning collapse Saturday and an early six-run deficit Sunday that left the Yanks staggered and The Boss steaming.

Kevin Brown was the latest disappointment, getting rocked for six runs and nine hits in his season debut. It was Brown's first outing since he gave up two runs in the first inning of last fall's ALCS and then left a mess behind in the second that resulted in Johnny Damon ripping a grand slam off Javier Vazquez.

Sunday, Brown didn't need any help: He gave up the grand slam himself, cursing loudly after Miguel Tejada destroyed a misplaced 2-1 pitch and sent it screaming over the center-field fence.

As a final indignity, the Yankees had to watch the Orioles mascot dance up and down on the home team's dugout in the ninth inning, broom in hand, leading the sellout crowd of 47,883 in a chant of "Sweep!"

Moments later, the Yanks had retreated to their clubhouse, Steinbrenner had unleashed his fury and Torre stood before his players.

Did the message get through? The manager could only shrug.

"We'll see tomorrow," he said.

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