A's dent Yanks' crown

Mulder, 3 home runs pace 5-3 win as hosts open bid for 4 in row

Strained leg ousts Clemens

Long connects twice

A's starter blocks out crowd

Damon 4-for-4

October 11, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Last night may have been one game within the American League Division Series but it represented at least a flickering of the aura that has surrounded the New York Yankees in Octobers past.

The Oakland Athletics left Yankee Stadium with a 5-3 win before 56,697 at Yankee Stadium just as they did in Game 1 of last year's Division Series. Unlike last year, however, they won because their best pitcher, Mark Mulder, outpitched Roger Clemens, whose multiple roles with the three-time defending champions include enforcer, stabilizer and staff ace.

Clemens left trailing 2-0 in the fifth inning after aggravating a hamstring pull the inning before. By then, A's first baseman and MVP candidate Jason Giambi had produced the first of his two RBIs and left fielder Terrence Long had hit the first of his two bases-empty home runs. Not only did last night represent Clemens' earliest exit this season, it jeopardized his availabilty for a potential Game 5.

Mulder led the American League with 21 wins this season. Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, a league record. Mulder lasted 6 2/3 innings by sidestepping early trouble. Clemens struggled throughout.

The A's received four hits from leadoff hitter Johnny Damon and two home runs from Long, a player once drafted by the New York Mets with a compensatory pick gained from the Orioles. Giambi drove in two runs with a home run off the upper-deck facade and a sacrifice fly.

Surrounded by hundreds of uniformed police, Yankee Stadium became a rallying point for a city. Unfortunately, chants of U-S-A, cheers for erstwhile Yankees fan and mayor Rudy Giuliani as well as a moving pre-game ceremony for the city's rescue workers failed to translate into an inspired performance for a championship team now considered underdogs to a wild-card entry.

Clemens, a symbol of his team's dominance, injured himself in the fourth inning when he bobbled a barehanded grab of Damon's slow roller then twisted to grab it again.

"I don't know if I felt it early but definitely after the play. I felt a zinger, a burn," he said.

"We're used to seeing dynamite stuff" from Clemens, Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Tonight we didn't see great command, but he'll battle you. He hasn't pitched effectively this long by bailing out on you."

It was Mulder who bailed out the A's. Making his first postseason appearance, Mulder pitched out of early trouble against a team that had left him with a 9.15 ERA in four career starts.

"There were some nerves, but there was a lot more focus. It was like I was in a tunnel with the catcher. I didn't hear the crowd. I didn't hear my teammates. I didn't hear anybody," Mulder said. "It wasn't like the regular season. There was a lot more adrenalin, a lot more emotion."

The A's consistently pulled Clemens' fastball and sifted through his sluggish breaking assortment. On Monday Clemens had discussed knocking hitters off the plate if they dared try to take the outside half from him. But last night Clemens never looked comfortable as he failed to retire any of five leadoff hitters and struck out just one of 21 hitters faced.

The loss extended Clemens' postseason miseries against the A's to 0-4 dating to 1986.

The A's took a 1-0 first-inning lead when Damon sliced a two-strike single, stole second base and scored on Giambi's sacrifice fly.

Clemens' most amazing feat was avoiding more damage. The A's were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position against him. Twice Clemens saved himself by spearing one-hop grounders. He appeared more goalie than five-time Cy Young Award winner.

Long, Clemens' only strikeout victim, repaid the favor by leading off the fourth inning by driving a sluggish split-finger pitch over the right-field fence. Long entered last night a career 0-for-8 against Clemens.

The Yankees drew within 2-1 in the fifth inning but were livid they didn't get more.

If crew chief and plate umpire Dana DeMuth had not called David Justice out for interference on what first appeared to be a leadoff infield single, the Yankees may have done more with a rally that instead ended with Chuck Knoblauch's RBI smash past third baseman Eric Chavez.

Justice was called out because he ran inside the first base line. But replays showed that Justice had already reached first when catcher Ramon Hernandez's underhanded throw deflected off his back.

"Dana said it was his call. To me it looked like Justice had reached the bag and it didn't matter whether Justice was in the line or not," Torre said.

Said DeMuth in a post-game statement: "He was inside the baseline. He interfered with the catch. It's in the rulebook. And if he wasn't, who knows what would have happened?"

Giambi returned against Sterling Hitchcock in the seventh inning to slam a home run, restoring a two-run lead.

"He usually hits big home runs, long and big. That was tough," Torre said. "We cut the lead in half. Especially in a short series, it turned the momentum. It hurts."

The A's scored two telling runs in the top of the eighth inning - one against Hitchcock on Long's second home run and the second against Jay Witasick on on Miguel Tejada's sacrifice fly.

The 5-1 lead survived Tino Martinez's two-run homer in the bottom of the inning against reliever Jim Mecir. Jason Isringhausen pitched a perfect ninth, with two strikeouts, for the save.

Baseball playoffs

Today's games AL Division Series

Cleveland (Finley 8-7) at Seattle (Moyer 20-6), 4:20 p.m. (Fox Family)

Oakland (Hudson 18-9) at New York (Pettitte 15-10), 8:17 p.m. (chs. 45, 5)

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