Complete Hammonds makes most of chance to shine on N.Y. stage His timely throw, hitting prove vital in victory

SIDELIGHT

September 05, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- He took away a run in the fourth inning, brought home the decisive one in the seventh, and removed all doubt in the ninth.

Has Jeffrey Hammonds had a more complete game with the Orioles? Ever?

"It's hard to tell," he said. "I felt good about today."

He left the New York Yankees feeling bad. And 7 1/2 games back in the AL East.

Hammonds was one of the central figures in last night's 5-2 victory, beginning with his throw that cut down Paul O'Neill at the plate to end the fourth inning and keep the game tied.

O'Neill had doubled with one out and tried to come around on a two-out single to left by Joe Girardi. Hammonds would have none of it, charging the ball and firing to catcher Lenny Webster, who applied the tag.

"I was mainly concerned that it stayed on line, and it did," %J Webster said. "Once I saw it get by Cal [Ripken], I knew it was going to get a short hop. But I can't tell him to cut the ball because if he does, we just concede the run. And you don't want to do that. If he scores, it's 3-2. We're down a run at Yankee Stadium. That's big for them.

"I just tried to basically smother the ball after it short-hopped me. Luckily, I held on to it and made a good tag on O'Neill."

Hammonds said he knew he had a good shot at O'Neill because the ball was hit hard. "I had a good jump on it and got rid of it quickly. It was one of those bang-bang plays. Can't think about it, just get rid of it."

That was just a prelude to his offensive heroics.

The New Jersey native had flied out three times against former Oriole David Wells before coming up in the seventh with runners on the corners and one out. The game still was tied. Hammonds just wanted to hit the ball hard. Try to produce a line drive and hope for the best.

That's what he did, sending a hard liner to left fielder Chad Curtis and watching at first base as Geronimo Berroa beat the throw home for a 3-2 lead.

"In that situation, you don't think about anything," Hammonds said. "That's why I've gotten into trouble in the past. I try to figure out what I need to do with the ball for it to be successful. I was like, 'Just let me hit the ball. Whatever happens, happens.' And Geronimo got there for me.

"I would have liked a little more air underneath it, but then again, I've been trying to get that line drive going. I was glad it was deep enough, and I'm glad Geronimo got on that horse and rode out for me."

The moment had to be gratifying for a player who, before last night, had been mired in a 14-for-79 slump since July 22, lowering his average from .300 to .273. He continues to be dogged by a sore left Achilles' tendon. But it wasn't the last the Yankees heard from him.

With left-hander Graeme Lloyd pitching in the ninth, Hammonds unloaded his 19th home run, a 415-footer to left that was given a token chase by Curtis.

"It was important for us to get out and get a lead and hold the lead," said Hammonds, who still is searching for his first multi-hit game since July 22 at Texas. "It was a big win for us. And me, I love being able to play here at Yankee Stadium. It's close to my home. I haven't been as fortunate to play here as much as I'd like in the past, so whenever I can step between the lines here, it means a little bit more to me. This is the park I always came to when I was growing up."

The Yankees probably wish he would get lost on the way there tomorrow.

"Jeffrey's been doing it all year for us," Webster said. "He's a little bit banged up, but we've got guys on this ballclub who want to play. And you're going to get what they have on a given night. Basically, tonight was no different."

It was different, though. It marked the end of a losing streak. And coming against the Yankees couldn't have been more rewarding.

"We have to beat them to be successful," Hammonds said. "As long as they're still in the hunt, you've always got to take notice of exactly where they are because they're very capable of coming up and biting us."

Hammonds took a large chunk out of them last night.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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