Yankees repeating O's history

October 10, 1998|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- A heavy favorite wins Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Indians, loses Game 2 in stunning fashion, goes on the road and finds its dream season slipping away at Jacobs Field.

Sound familiar? Of course. It's what happened to the Orioles last October.

Now, in eerily similar fashion, it's happening to the Yankees, too.

Yes, the Indians' 6-1 victory in Game 3 last night was a lot easier than their one-run victory over the Orioles in Game 3 last season.

But the end result was identical. The Indians have the lead in the series and all the momentum.

"We just got our rears kicked," Yankee manager Joe Torre said.

If the Yankees are to avoid the same fate as the Orioles, who lost Game 4 last year and went on to lose the series in six games, they'd better change the script in Game 4 tonight.

They'd better get a quality start from Orlando Hernandez, their rookie pitcher who left Cuba on a raft 11 months ago.

And they'd better start solving Cleveland's pitchers, who are dominating the series.

Since scoring five runs in the first inning of Game 1, the Yankees have scored four runs in 29 innings. They managed just four hits last night off Cleveland rookie Bartolo Colon.

"It's a little bit of a dry spell," Torre said. "Not a comfortable thing to see."

The Yankees' AL record-setting 114-win season? It's of no use to them now.

As the Orioles learned last season, a brilliant regular season is irrelevant when an October upset begins to take shape.

This one seemed particularly unlikely after the Yankees won Game 1 and took a tight Game 2 into extra innings with a rally. They'd won many such games all season.

But the Indians won Game 2 on Travis Fryman's infamous bunt, '' which led to a play on which the umpires missed an interference call at first base and Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch stood around arguing while the winning run scored.

The Indians had it much easier last night, hammering four home runs off Yankee starter Andy Pettitte.

How familiar. Last year, the Orioles had a two-run lead in the eighth inning of Game 2 at Camden Yards when Armando Benitez surrendered a three-run homer that evened the series in similarly stunning fashion. The Indians then won Game 3 on a botched squeeze play.

Different details, same result: The Yankees are in trouble.

The Indians, winners of 25 fewer games than the Yankees during the season, have the lead in the ALCS.

"I'm proud of them," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "But they don't surprise me. We understand that we're the underdogs, just like we were the underdogs last season. We figure we're going to play hard, give it our best shot and see what happens."

Sure, there's still plenty of time for the Yankees to gather themselves and make a comeback. A win tonight would even the series with October ace David Wells set to pitch Game 5 -- not a bad place to be.

But the Orioles kept taking such solace as their series slipped away last year. Just win one and things will be fine again, they said. Just win one, break the Indians' momentum and exhale.

Only they didn't win one until the Indians had taken a 3-1 lead in the series -- too late, it turned out.

In other words, there's tons of pressure on Hernandez tonight. Suddenly, the Yankees' dream season is in his hands. Who envisioned that?

"These guys are professionals," Torre said. "We'll be ready. I just hope we swing the bats and everyone can have a sense of relaxation if we score a few runs."

Torre had convened a clubhouse meeting before the game to make sure his players' minds weren't still on the controversial ending to Game 2.

"With everything that's gone on in the last day and a half, I just wanted to make sure we go out there and think about tonight instead of trying to make up for something that happened the other day," Torre told reporters.

The Yankees then went out and immediately made a strong statement. Knoblauch singled on the second pitch of the game, advanced to second on Derek Jeter's sacrifice bunt and scored on Bernie Williams' two-out single.

"After they scored that run, you could look over at their bench and see that they felt the momentum was shifting [back to them]," the Indians' Jim Thome said.

It wasn't. Colon shut them down after that. And Pettitte was awful.

"Maybe Andy was a little extra stressed tonight because he knows we're not scoring," Torre said.

Whatever, Pettitte's command was so poor that Torre had relievers up as early as the second inning, after Thome hit a home run, Mark Whiten doubled and Enrique Wilson singled home Whiten to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.

Pettitte made it through two more innings after that and retired the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth when things suddenly fell apart. Manny Ramirez, Thome and Whiten hit homers, the sellout crowd at Jacobs Field started partying and the Yankees were staring at a huge Game 4.

If they were watching at home on TV, the Orioles surely could relate.

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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