Gant's homer helps A's put Yankees in 0-2 hole

Hudson shuts down champs for 8 innings

October 12, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Old No. 8 - Yogi, not Cal - would say it's not over 'til it's over. But precedent says when the Oakland Athletics can beat the New York Yankees, 2-0, on a Bronx night that begged for emotion but received only silence, it's over.

When Andy Pettitte can make one mistake and be beaten by A's designated hitter Ron Gant's fourth-inning home run and starting pitcher Tim Hudson's eight immaculate innings, when closer Jason Isringhausen can almost melt before rescuing the ninth inning, and when the A's can head home with a two-game lead in the best-of-five Division Series, well, it's over.

The A's combined seven-hitter mixed with Gant's home run and an unearned run derived from third baseman Scott Brosius' ninth-inning error put the three-time defending world champions in a position from which no team has ever recovered.

Only once has a team from either league recovered to win a Division Series after trailing 2-0. The Boston Red Sox lost the first two games in Cleveland before rallying to oust the Indians in 1999. No team has ever won a Division Series or a best-of-five League Championship Series after losing the first two games at home.

"They're certainly making us eat some dust right now because of the way they're playing us," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We haven't been able to stop them from doing things."

Pettitte symbolized the Yankees' last stand. It was he who stopped the A's in Game 2 of last October's Division Series with 7 2/3 shutout innings. Pettitte also rescued the Yankees in the 1996 World Series when he won pivotal Game 5 with a shutout effort against Atlanta.

This time Pettitte was undone by a pull-hitting nomad whose career began with the Braves before evolving into a series of one-year stands that have offered him limited roles.

Gant, 36, may be the most anonymous active player to have more than 300 home runs, 1,500 hits and 1,000 runs. The A's are Gant's fifth team in four seasons but might become the fourth in his 14-year career to carry him on its LCS roster.

Before an off-road biking accident in 1994 stunted Gant's career, he was known for having some of the game's quickest hands, a voracious lift-and-pull hitter who rarely missed an inside fastball. The 0-1 pitch he drove rode inside before disappearing.

The series now shifts to Network Associates Coliseum, where all the A's have done is win 17 straight games and their last six against the Yankees.

Hudson entered his second postseason as the highest-percentage arm (.743) in major-league history among pitchers with at least 50 decisions, but his 49 career wins did not include one against the Yankees. Counting last October's Division Series loss to the Yankees, Hudson was 0-2 with a 6.50 in four appearances against the three-time world champs.

While the A's hitters forced Pettitte into protracted innings, Hudson deprived the Yankees of working counts. He needed only 47 pitches - 33 of them strikes - to clear four innings.

"I felt as good in the seventh and eighth innings as I did in the third and fourth. I got in a rhythm and felt strong," said Hudson. "We didn't expect to [sweep the two games]. We would have been very happy with a split."

"Hudson, whose signature pitch is a split-finger fastball, needed only five pitches to get three outs in the fourth inning and fed first-pitch strikes to 14 of the first 16 hitters faced. The Yankees put only two balls into the air for five innings - a tame fly ball to right field and David Justice's line drive that Hudson speared to begin a double play that ended the fifth. For five innings, shortstop Derek Jeter had the Yankees' only hit.

Finally looking their age, the Yankees can be forgiven for seeing the end. The past two days have represented payback from the game's fates for three autumns of uninterrupted favor.

"I have a great deal of confidence in these guys. I don't want to say they failed as much as they succeeded," Torre said. "I don't sense that we're uptight. We're a bit frustrated, no question. We just need to go out and win a game. It sounds pretty simple for a club that won 90-something games. But so far we haven't been able to do that."

A sixth-inning rally went nowhere because leadoff hitter Brosius struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch that appeared a fist wide of the plate. Two-out singles by Chuck Knoblauch and Jeter brought out designated hitter Paul O'Neill, who recoiled when a 3-1 pitch was called a strike by plate umpire Jeff Nelson before ending the inning with a fly to center.

"We need to hit a little bit. We have not hit. I don't know if we're as inefficient as they are efficient. When we've hit the ball hard, they've been there," said Torre.

Hudson met another challenge in the seventh inning when singles by left-handed hitters Tino Martinez and David Justice created a first-and-third jam with two outs. Brosius then hit into a broken-bat fielder's choice.

"We have to find a way to win one more game from them, and it's not going to be easy," Howe said.

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