Putting minds over matter, Yanks finally end O's hex Victory affects psyche, if not AL East standings

September 08, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Throughout their longest weekend of the year, the New York Yankees were haunted by their own headlines.

Saturday's New York Post: "A Bloody Mess."

Yesterday's Daily News: "Bruised and Battered."

Yesterday's Post: "Fading Yankees take another Bird bath."

The Yankees lost to the first-place Orioles three times in a row at a point in the season where only three victories would do, then yesterday -- finally -- picked themselves up off the grass at Yankee Stadium and delivered a 10-3 haymaker that had far more psychological significance than strategic import.

The American League East race no longer appears to be in doubt, but the Yankees needed to do something to prove that they weren't going to go quietly into the postseason. They had lost all seven previous matchups against the Orioles and, it appeared, were positioned perfectly to make it eight when struggling left-hander Kenny Rogers took the mound yesterday against Orioles ace Mike Mussina.

Rogers was the last resort. He is in the starting rotation only because David Cone is hurt and Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu has been a major bust. But he delivered a solid -- if unspectacular -- effort to avert what would have been an embarrassing four-game sweep.

Turning point? Yankees manager Joe Torre can only hope so. The struggling Yankees offense finally got untracked and hit four home runs to end a six-game losing streak. Crucial victory? Probably not, because no one stepped up to challenge the Yankees' lead in the wild-card standings during their 1-9 tailspin.

"No question, it's nice to do it against Baltimore," Torre said, "but I'm glad it was against Baltimore because that means it [the slump] ended one day sooner."

The Orioles remain the dominant club in the division and already have won the season series against their closest -- make that only -- AL East rival, but the Yankees will get another chance to puncture the aura of invincibility that the Orioles had created in head-to-head competition. To do that, they will have to bring a different team to Baltimore on Thursday than the one that stumbled into yesterday's game.

The Yankees also need to get some people healthy. Cone reported progress this weekend in his bout with shoulder soreness. Left-hander Andy Pettitte seemed upbeat yesterday about his bruised thumb, and may be able to pitch by the time the club gets to Baltimore, but it remains questionable. Catcher Joe Girardi also could be back, despite a small fracture in the index finger of his glove hand.

"I think we're on the way back," Torre said. "We got a lead and had a lot of good things happen today. I think the players had had enough. They had been pressing, pressing, pressing."

It will be difficult to sell the four-game series at Camden Yards as a crucial series, but it still could be a significant bellwether as both teams head toward a possible rematch in the AL Championship Series. The Yankees dominated the Orioles, 10 games to three, before beating them in the playoffs in five games last year. The Orioles have turned that around and would love to go into October with the kind of unshakable confidence that carried the Yankees into the World Series last year.

The Yankees just want to give a good account of themselves so that they don't have to go into the postseason at any psychological disadvantage.

"That remains to be seen," said outfielder Tim Raines, who homered in the Yankees' three-run fourth inning. "It was important for us to come out and beat Baltimore, but it was more important because we need something to catapult us. We feel if we get in [the playoffs], we'll have a good chance no matter what."

Pub Date: 9/08/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.