NEW YORK (AP) -Joe Torre's voice trembled just a bit when he described how proud he was of his players for digging out of a 21-29 hole to reach the postseason.
That stirring comeback probably wasn't enough to save his job, though.
After 12 playoff appearances in 12 seasons, Torre may have managed his final game for the New York Yankees when they were knocked out of the playoffs Monday night in a 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
``It's such an empty feeling,'' he said. ``You think it's going to last forever.''
Torre is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, Monument Park, every baseball pantheon there is.
Yet now, he might be a man without a job.
Reverting to his blustering ways, demanding owner George Steinbrenner said he probably wouldn't bring Torre back unless New York rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win the best-of-five series.
``His job is on the line,'' Steinbrenner was quoted in Sunday's editions of The Record of New Jersey. ``I think we're paying him a lot of money. He's the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don't think we'd take him back if we don't win this series.''
The Yankees extended their season by overcoming a three-run deficit Sunday to win Game 3. But they couldn't do it again in Game 4, eliminated in the first round for the third straight year despite a $215 million payroll.
Now, it feels like the end of an era in New York.
``This has been a great 12 years. Whatever the hell happens from here on out, I'll look back on these 12 years with great, great pleasure,'' Torre said. ``The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you.''
With Steinbrenner in attendance, a cheering crowd chanted ``Joe Torre! Joe Torre!'' as the manager went to the mound twice in the eighth inning.
He made one final pitching change in a season full of uncertainty in that department, handing the ball to star closer Mariano Rivera before making that slow, familiar walk back to the dugout.
Torre's head stayed down, he never acknowledged the crowd. Maybe he just couldn't bear to do it.
``These fans are very special,'' Torre said. ``You can feel their heartbeat.''
Second to Joe McCarthy on the club's career wins list with a 1,173-767 regular-season record as Yankees manager, Torre was almost always loyal, turning to his most trusted players in crucial situations.
Those players might have just gotten him fired.
``I couldn't imagine what he's going through right now, as far as emotions,'' Andy Pettitte said.
Earning $7.5 million this year in the final season of his contract, the 67-year-old Torre hasn't decided whether he'd want to return. But he seemed open to it in recent weeks.
Looks as though he won't get that chance, even though he is 76-47 in the postseason with New York.
``I think Joe's been very consistent, year in and year out,'' general manager Brian Cashman said. ``It's a resume that's unquestionable. He's been fantastic - nothing short of that.''
New York's three consecutive first-round exits followed an unprecedented collapse in the 2004 AL championship series against rival Boston. Torre was nearly fired after last year's division series loss to Detroit, too.
Still, would dismissing him after such consistent success be fair? Or even wise?
Debatable, certainly.
Why bother? High expectations come with the territory in the Bronx, and nobody knows that better than Torre, who led the Yankees to four World Series titles from 1996-2000 in his first five years as manager.
After Steinbrenner's comments were reported, Torre matter-of-factly said he was used to the scrutiny. He said focusing on the game at hand was most important. He wanted to keep his players from being distracted, something he's a master at, perhaps his greatest strength.
``He's always been good at dealing with people. He keeps in mind the big picture and communicates it,'' Derek Jeter said. ``I know we've made it look easy, but it's not easy to accomplish.''
The Yankees were the only first-round playoff loser that wasn't swept. Think that's any consolation to Steinbrenner?
Don't bet on it.
``It's not Joe's fault,'' Alex Rodriguez said. ``We've got the most prepared coaching staff and the best manager in the game. It's on us, the players.''
Joe Girardi and Don Mattingly have been mentioned as potential replacements.
Girardi, a former Yankees catcher, spent a season as Torre's bench coach before winning 2006 NL Manager of the Year for keeping the rookie-laden Florida Marlins in contention most of the way.
Mattingly, a fan favorite and ex-Yankees captain, was Torre's bench coach this year after previously serving as the team's hitting instructor.
``Obviously, it's not a great spot,'' Mattingly said. ``It's not something to talk about right now.
``I think Joe's done a tremendous job. I think Joe should be here as long as he wants to be.''
Torre's last fateful decision could end up being the choice to pitch Chien-Ming Wang on three days' rest in Game 4 after he was roughed up in the opener following a longer-than-normal layoff.
With extra rest, Wang's sinker didn't sink in Cleveland. On short rest, his sinker didn't sink in the Bronx.
Now, the Yankees are sunk - and maybe Torre, too.
``Let's see what happens in the next few days,'' he said. ``Whatever comes next, if I have some options, I'll look at it because I'm certainly not ready to move somewhere and not do anything.''
In the clubhouse, several Yankees backed Torre to the end.
``Joe Torre's the best manager in baseball,'' catcher Jorge Posada said. ``He keeps us positive and gets us to win.''
Maybe not enough, though.

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