N.Y. throws off Rangers again, 3-1 Yanks' Pettitte picks up where Wells left off

series lead is 2-0

Texas: One run in 2 games

Torrid call-up Spencer homers, scores twice

October 01, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- If they were playing any other team, the Texas Rangers might be in excellent position to advance to the American League Championship Series. Instead, they are on the brink of elimination after last night's 3-1 playoff loss to the New York Yankees.

Only the Yankees -- the super team of 1998 -- could sweep the first two games of the best-of-five Division Series without getting one meaningful hit from the first six spots in their batting order.

Only the Yankees have enough organizational depth to put a guy with 27 games of major-league experience into the starting lineup in the playoffs or keep a guy with a .300 average and 98 RBIs in the ninth spot for most of the year.

Rookie Shane Spencer and third baseman Scott Brosius combined to account for all of the Yankees' offense last night and left-hander Andy Pettitte erased any lingering doubt about his viability in the postseason rotation with a strong performance that delighted the sellout crowd of 57,360 at Yankee Stadium.

Following David Wells' 2-0 shutout the night before, Pettitte retired the first 12 batters he faced and gave up just a run on three hits over seven innings to earn the victory. He hands the series over to 20-game winner David Cone, who will start against Rangers right-hander Aaron Sele in Game 3 at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Closer Mariano Rivera finished up to record his second save in as many nights as the Yankees cranked out another efficient -- if unspectacular -- performance that illustrated how they set an American League record with 114 regular-season victories.

"We know we have our backs to the wall," said Rangers manager Johnny Oates. "We know we can swing the bat better than that. Hopefully, we'll go home and do it. Cone is no walk in the park, but we have been able in the past to come back from a road trip and start hitting."

Trouble is, the Yankees haven't started hitting either. The top six spots in the batting order were a combined 2-for-22 last night and are batting a combined .125 in the series, but the bottom third of the order is 9-for-17 (.529).

Once again, the Yankees' lineup card was a hot topic of conversation before the game. Manager Joe Torre started Spencer in left field over veterans Tim Raines and Chad Curtis, hoping to squeeze a little more run production out of the minor league call-up who became a September sensation with eight home runs in 38 at-bats, including three grand slams.

"I was just thinking offense," Torre said before the game. "He has some power. He was in a pretty good groove. Hopefully, there's still something left there."

So what happens in this season of pinstriped positive developments? Spencer breaks a scoreless tie with a towering home run in the second inning -- in his first postseason at-bat.

Torre can do no wrong. He plugged Curtis into the lineup for Game 1 and got similar results. Curtis doubled to set up the first Yankees run and scored the second on a delayed double steal.

How hot is Spencer? He forced his way onto the postseason roster with an amazing performance during the final week of the regular season. He had six home runs and 15 RBIs in seven games, earning AL Player of the Week honors before a lot of fans had ever heard of him.

He spent eight years in the Yankees' minor-league system without even a September audition, but was called up to the majors four times during the course of the 1998 season. In all, he appeared in 27 games and had 10 homers and 27 RBIs.

"I'll tell you one thing: He doesn't get cheated," Oates said. "He knows what that bat is made for and it's not to clean your shoes."

It couldn't have been scripted any better. Spencer has become the toast of the town, even though he did not make a major impact on the team until the division race had long been decided.

"It won't be storybook until it's over," Spencer said. "I'm just going to enjoy it right now and see how it goes."

The sellout crowd demanded a curtain call after the second-inning home run and responded loudly when Spencer xTC triggered another rally in the fourth inning with a one-out single. Brosius followed with an opposite-field home run that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

"I was hoping he [Spencer] would do that," Torre said. "I stayed away from him in Game 1 because it was Game 1. The left-field situation is a day-to-day proposition, but it's going to be tough to keep him out of there. But I'm not making any pronouncement on that right now."

Pettitte didn't look like he was going to need much offensive help. He struggled during the final weeks of the regular season -- enough that his place in the postseason rotation was in doubt until the final weekend -- but retired the first 12 batters he faced last night.

The Rangers did not put a runner on base until Juan Gonzalez doubled to open the fifth inning, nearly being thrown out by -- who else? -- Spencer. Ivan Rodriguez would bring him home with a one-out single for the first Rangers run of the series, but that was all they would get in the seven innings that Pettitte was on the mound.

AL Division Series

N.Y. Yankees vs. Texas

(New York leads 2-0)

Game 1

New York 2, Texas 0

Last night: Game 2

New York 3, Texas 1

Tomorrow: Game 3

New York (Cone 20-7, 3.55) at Texas (Sele 19-11, 4.23), 8: 07

p.m., chs. 11, 4

Saturday: Game 4*

New York (Hernandez 12-4, 3.13) at Texas (Burkett 9-13, 5.68), TBA

Sunday: Game 5*

Texas at New York, TBA

! * -- If necessary

Playoffs today

NL Division Series

San Diego at Houston, 4 p.m., ESPN

(San Diego leads series 1-0)

Chicago Cubs at Atlanta, 8 p.m., Ch. 45

(Atlanta leads series 1-0)

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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