Sixth sense drives Yanks Lacking Game 7 ace, they seek early end

October 13, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- They left the Bronx concerned and entered Saturday's Game 4 near panic. Now the New York Yankees come home to take care of the business end of the American League Championship Series and the Cleveland Indians. Because they are unsure about who would start a possible Game 7, the Yankees still feel the need to escape the series in six games tonight.

Given the momentum resulting from consecutive wins in Jacobs Field, the Yankees, with their 120 total wins, appear to be steamrolling. Manager Joe Torre will hand the ball to the often-dominant David Cone, a 20-game regular-season winner who carries a 0.66 ERA from two postseason starts. Down three games to two, Indians manager Mike Hargrove will ask Charles Nagy for his third win in 12 career postseason starts.

It only gets complicated should the Indians win.

A Game 7 would force Torre to fret over starting troubled left-hander Andy Pettitte within the bubbling Bronx caldron.

The Indians ripped Pettitte for four home runs, including three in the same inning, in Game 3. Torre has described Pettitte's recent unpredictability as "a mystery," certainly a quality one wishes to avoid in a sudden-death situation.

"Everybody will be available if there is a Game 7," Torre said. "I'm not really going to talk about who's going to pitch until we know there's going to be a Game 7."

By failing to endorse Pettitte, Torre fostered speculation that Game 4 winner Orlando Hernandez will return on three days' rest if necessary. Hernandez pitched brilliantly while shutting out the Indians for seven innings of Saturday's 4-0 win, but he remains something of a wild card within the Yankees' veteran rotation. Hernandez, a 28-year-old rookie, has made only 21 major-league starts, three against the Indians.

Other than Hernandez, Torre could bring back David Wells on two days' rest or try Hideki Irabu and Ramiro Mendoza as a tag team.

While barely hitting .200 for the series, the Yankees still lead despite second baseman Chuck Knoblauch's celebrated Game 2 gaffe and an inability to put together a concerted attack against the Indians' middling starting rotation.

Blessed with the game's most balanced lineup, the Yankees have struggled throughout the series except for a pair of breakout first-inning rallies. They are averaging fewer than four runs per game and on Saturday stranded 11 runners.

The Yankees entered Sunday's Game 5 hitting .094 with runners in scoring position since the series' first inning. They managed only four hits in Game 4 and benefited from two deflected singles during a three-run first inning Sunday that proved the game's difference. First baseman Tino Martinez is 1-for-15 for the series and owns six RBIs in 34 postseason games with the TTC Yankees. New York was held hitless by the Indians' bullpen for the last five innings Sunday.

"There are times when you want to do too much and you're a little tight. You swing at pitches you're not used to, you try to force things to happen," said right fielder Paul O'Neill. "Obviously, you can't force the guy to throw you the pitch you want. You've got to take what they give you."

The Yankees have overcome with solid starting pitching (except for Pettitte). "They play the game the way it's supposed to be played," Hargrove said. "Rarely do they blow it with their pitching or defense."

The Indians may have irreparably blown it in several ways over the weekend when they failed to press a 2-1 series lead by scoring three runs in 18 innings. They have been outscored 15-3 in the first inning this postseason. Yet history sides with the Tribe. Since their return to prominence in 1995, the Indians have lost consecutive games only twice in seven previous postseason series. They won the third game in both instances.

Recent history, however, offers a more bitter lesson. Hargrove didn't enjoy one of his best days during Sunday's 5-3 loss. His selection of starting pitchers -- Chad Ogea over the more erratic but also more talented Jaret Wright -- proved combustible. He rested his designated hitter, David Justice, because of a bruised right forearm, then used him in the ninth inning after letting a critical situation pass in the eighth.

Hargrove said catcher Sandy Alomar will be ready to start tonight after he didn't play Sunday because of back stiffness.

Justice may be available, preventing an embarrassing repeat of Sunday's lineup that included three rookies at the bottom of the order and Mark Whiten batting fifth while delivering three strikeouts and a rally-killing double play in the eighth inning. Justice apparently asked out of Sunday's lineup, a curious move given he easily could have been replaced if an attempt proved futile.

Asked about his choice of pitchers and choice of late-inning tactics, Hargrove chose not to indulge a second-guess. Tonight, behind a pieced-together lineup and the unassuming Nagy, he would settle for a second chance.

Next for ALCS

Tonight

Game 6: Cleveland at N.Y. Yankees, 8: 07, chs. 11, 4

* Series: New York leads 3-2

ALCS schedule

New York Yankees vs. Cleveland

(New York leads 3-2)

Game 1: New York, 7-2

Game 2: Cleveland, 4-1 (12 inn.)

Game 3: Cleveland, 6-1

Game 4: New York, 4-0

Game 5: New York, 5-3

Tonight: Game 6

Cleveland (Nagy, 16-10, 4.96) at New York (Cone, 21-7, 3.38), 8: 07 p.m.

Tomorrow: Game 7*

Cleveland at New York, 8: 07 p.m.

*-If necessary

Note: Pitchers' statistics include postseason.

TV: All games on chs. 11, 4

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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