Rangers go home, look for lost offense But beating Yankees 3 in row is imposing task

October 02, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Two long-held truisms came to grief during the first two games of the Division Series between the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers:

Everything's big in Texas. And, everything's overrated in New York.

The Rangers looked very small on Tuesday and Wednesday night, and the Yankees -- even in the understated way that they disposed of the Rangers in both games -- illustrated how they similarly disposed of the old American League record for victories in a season.

The Yankees are as good as advertised. They are one of the best teams in baseball history and figure to prove it again when the No. 3 starter in their postseason rotation, 20-game winner David Cone, goes for the sweep tonight in Game 3 at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Rangers manager Johnny Oates tried hard to draw a happy face on his club's fading championship hopes late Wednesday night when he suggested that the Rangers' once-exciting offensive chemistry had simply missed the flight to New York.

"We've been known to struggle on the road and then start hitting when we get home," he said.

It could happen, but the Rangers will have to rediscover their offense against one of the most seasoned postseason pitchers in the game (Cone) and put the same pressure on talented Cuban defector Orlando Hernandez tomorrow just to send the best-of-five series back to Yankee Stadium for a reunion with David Wells.

"We have to win three games in a row," said American League RBI champion Juan Gonzalez. "It's not impossible, but it's not easy. That's the best team in baseball."

Once again, the situation lends itself to a warning about trying to do too much, something the Rangers hitters may have been guilty of in New York.

"The first thing we have to realize is that we can't win three games tomorrow night, and you cannot get three hits in one at-bat," Oates said yesterday. "That being said, hopefully we can continue to pitch the way we have, and then from an offensive standpoint, each hitter can take care of business at that turn at the plate."

The Yankees, meanwhile, are very much aware that it is possible to lose three straight games after winning the first two. They did just that against the Seattle Mariners in 1995, the very first year of the three-tiered playoff format.

"The first thing you think when you're up 2-0 is that we're in an enviable position," said Cone, who enters tonight's game with a 4-3 record in 12 postseason starts, "but we all know what can happen. That last win is often the toughest one to get.

"In a five-game series, one swing of the bat or one big play can swing the momentum the other way. They're back in their own park where they like to play."

Cone also has been on the other side of the situation, so he knows how Rangers starter Aaron Sele must feel. Cone took the mound in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series after the favored Atlanta Braves won the first two games. The series took an abrupt turn and the Yankees won their first world title in 18 years.

"The only point of reference for me was when we were down 2-0 against Atlanta," he said. "We were thoroughly embarrassed at home, but you kind of get your back up. They [the Rangers] are a dangerous team right now."

The Yankees can be forgiven for being a distracted team right now. Outfielder Darryl Strawberry was diagnosed with colon cancer yesterday. The diagnosis sent a shiver through the Yankees' clubhouse, but club officials described the prognosis for a full recovery as "excellent."

Of course, the Yankees defeated the Rangers in Game 2 with the specter of Strawberry's pending test results hanging over the team. They won the world title in '96 while another life-and-death drama was unfolding. Manager Joe Torre's brother Frank underwent a heart transplant during the series, but the team seemed to draw inspiration from his successful fight to stay alive.

Strawberry made a very important contribution during the 1998 season, hitting 24 home runs in just 295 at-bats, but the Yankees are far more worried about his health than replacing him in the batting order.

"It really shakes you up," said Cone. "You forget about hanging a slider or losing a game. You realize what's really important when someone's life is on the line."

AL Division Series

N.Y. Yankees vs. Texas

(New York leads 2-0)

Game 1

New York 2, Texas 0

Game 2

New York 3, Texas 1

Today: Game 3

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

p.m., chs. 11, 4

Tomorrow: Game 4*

New York (Hernandez 12-4, 3.13) at Texas (Burkett 9-13, 5.68), 1: 07 p.m., ESPN

Sunday: Game 5*

Texas at New York, 7: 37 p.m., chs. 45, 5

*-- If necessary

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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