ARLINGTON, Texas -- The New York Yankees slipped out of The Ballpark in Arlington early yesterday morning, leaving behind the lingering scent of cheap champagne and an opposing team that never got close enough to mistake it for the smell of sour grapes.
The Texas Rangers will not take issue with the notion that the Yankees are one of the best teams in the history of baseball. They saw it confirmed in a three-game Division Series sweep that illustrated again the depth, determination and versatility of the club that set an American League record with 114 victories.
The Yankees completed the sweep with a 4-0 victory before the last remnants of a sellout crowd of 49,950, the bravest of whom waited through a three-hour thunderstorm to watch the final 3 1/3 innings of a game that did not appear to be in doubt.
Right-hander David Cone turned in a dominating performance, giving up just two hits over 5 2/3 innings before the rain delay forced him out of the game. Rookie Shane Spencer blasted a game-breaking three-run homer just minutes before the sky opened up with a fury rarely seen in a postseason game.
American League officials came very close to suspending a postseason game for the first time in baseball history, but the storm finally subsided and prevented the complicated chore of ushering two crowds in and out of the same stadium in the same afternoon.
The game would have been resumed just an hour before the scheduled start of Game 4, which turned out to be unnecessary. Instead, it was finished before perhaps 5,000 fans, who clamored loudly for a Rangers rally that would never come before the last out at 2: 25 a.m.
Get this. The best-hitting team in the American League scored all of one run in three playoff games, leaving American League RBI leader Juan Gonzalez and his friends to go home without ever showing the baseball world how good they could be.
"Honestly, we're a better team than we showed," said Rangers manager Johnny Oates. "We faced good pitching this year. We faced Pedro Martinez back-to-back. We faced David Wells back-to-back. Roger Clemens. We never got shut down like that."
The one run was the smallest offensive output for any team in any postseason series at any time in history, not exactly the legacy that the Rangers wanted to leave after scoring 940 runs during the regular season.
Of course, the Yankees pitching staff deserves a lot of the credit. Facing a team that has crushed left-handed pitching all season, left-hander Wells threw eight shutout innings in Game 1 and lefty Andy Pettitte gave up one run on three hits over seven. Cone, the only right-handed starter to pitch in the series, was even more dominant, giving up just a pair of singles on the night before his close friend -- Darryl Strawberry -- was scheduled to undergo cancer surgery.
The Yankees offense never really stepped up. Never really needed to. It was as if the heart of the batting order just figured to save some energy for the American League Championship Series, which the Yankees open on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium against the Cleveland Indians.
They let Spencer, the hottest thing in a Yankees uniform since Mariah Carey showed up at Yankee Stadium in a Derek Jeter jersey, do most of the heavy lifting during a subdued offensive performance that produced just nine runs in three games.
Spencer homered and scored two runs in his postseason debut in Game 2. He blasted a three-run shot off Rangers starter Aaron Sele in the sixth inning of Game 3 to remove much of the remaining doubt about the outcome of the series.
The guy had bounced back and forth between New York and Triple-A Columbus all season, but he closed out the regular season with an amazing week that included six home runs, 15 RBIs and garnered him American League Player of the Week honors. Now, he's the toast of the town.
"The big-time production and success he's having is awesome," said teammate Chili Davis. "I told him coming up the tunnel, there are a lot of guys you played with in Triple-A that are saying, '[Wow], Shane is getting off.' "
Spencer has no explanation for his amazing performance. He's just got that aw-shucks attitude that can only endear him to a nation of baseball fans who gave back their cynicism during this unbelievable season.
"My dream this spring was to make the postseason roster," he said after the game, "but then, I was just trying to make it to the big leagues."
Instead, he made it to the big time.
He must have poked a hole in the sky in the process. Minutes after his home run -- with the Rangers batting and the game not yet official because all of the Yankees' runs were scored in the top of the sixth -- the ballpark was turned into a swamp by a torrential downpour that did not allow the game to resume until well after midnight.
Baseball officials announced that in the event of a suspended game, the proceedings would be resumed Saturday at 12: 07 p.m. (CDT) and Game 4 -- if necessary -- would begin 30 minutes after Game 3 came to an end.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, "but the thing I dreaded was coming out here tomorrow to complete the game. I wouldn't have slept an inch."
The Yankees can rest easy now. They will have three days arrange the pitching staff for the Indians.
AL Division Series
New York Yankees vs. Texas
+ (New York wins series, 3-0)
# New York 2, Texas 0
# New York 3, Texas 1
New York 4, Texas 0
Pub Date: 10/04/98