Yankees stop sweep, top A's, 1-0

Ex-Oriole Mussina goes 7 shutout innings as N.Y. wins Game 3

Rivera pitches 8th, 9th

Posada's HR in 5th, Jeter's relay flip in 7th are difference

October 14, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Baseball fans in Baltimore may have been disgusted when the New York Yankees lured away Mike Mussina with a six-year, $88.5 million deal last winter, but no one in the Big Apple is complaining about the price this fall.

Mussina, making his first postseason start for the Yankees, saved the three-time defending world champions from elimination in their American League Division Series with an impressive performance that allowed New York to score a 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics in Game 3 at Network Associates Coliseum.

The largest baseball crowd in the history of the ballpark - 55,861 - watched Mussina lock up in a classic October pitching duel with Oakland left-hander Barry Zito that came down to one fifth-inning home run by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and one spectacular defensive play by superstar shortstop Derek Jeter.

"I tried to take it like it was just another game," said Mussina, who extended his streak to 15 scoreless innings in the postseason dating back to the 1997 playoffs.

"But it turned out to be a pretty exciting one-run game. It was tough [for the hitters] to see out there. We got one swing. I know we hit some other balls hard, but once in a while, you find you've got to make one run stand up, and we did that tonight."

The Yankees can push the best-of-five series back to Yankee Stadium if perennial playoff hero Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez can work more of his postseason magic in Game 4 today. The A's will turn to inexperienced Cory Lidle and hold back 21-game winner Mark Mulder to pitch on regular rest if a fifth game is necessary.

Mussina worked seven innings and gave up just four hits to combine with closer Mariano Rivera on a six-hit shutout. He was in serious danger of giving up a run only once - when Terrence Long's two-out double in the seventh appeared destined to bring Jeremy Giambi around from first with the tying run - but a long relay from fill-in right fielder Shane Spencer and a flashy, backhand flip by Derek Jeter got Giambi on a close play at the plate.

Jeter sprinted into the cutoff line after Spencer overthrew two teammates. The ball dribbled to him and he flipped it in one quick motion to Posada. Giambi chose not to slide, and Posada caught him with a knee-high tag on the back of the leg just as he touched the plate.

It was, by all accounts, a "bang-bang" play. Giambi did not argue. A's manager Art Howe came out to talk briefly with home plate umpire Kerwin Danley, but the only thing anyone could be sure of was that Jeter had proved again why he is one of baseball's best all-around players.

"He made a sensational play," manager Joe Torre said. "That kid has great, great instincts, and he holds it together. That was obviously the play of the game."

Now, the Yankees seem very much alive heading into Game 4.

"Everyone may have thought we were dead, but no one in here thought we were dead," Jeter said. "We had Mussina pitching. He has been throwing like that for the last seven or eight weeks, so we had a lot of confidence."

The Yankees had fallen victim to two outstanding pitching performances by Mulder and Tim Hudson to go down 0-2 in the best-of-five playoff, which didn't bode well for a mid-series turnaround. Zito had been the A's hottest pitcher in the second half, going 11-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his last 13 regular-season starts.

"We certainly didn't wear Zito out tonight," Torre said. "I know there are hits in those bats, and I'm very confident that we're going to turn this thing up a little bit and hopefully be able to build on something."

Sometimes, desperate situations call for desperate measures. The Yankees came into the game with just three runs in the series, all of them in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. They had not scored since first baseman Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of the opener, and they extended that scoreless streak to 14 innings before Posada homered in the fifth for the club's first hit off Zito.

Torre felt he had to do something to shake up the offensive lineup - and the logical moves were both obvious and painful. He replaced veterans Paul O'Neill and David Justice in yesterday's starting lineup with reserve outfielder Spencer and utilityman Randy Velarde.

The moves might have seemed clear-cut enough, since O'Neill and Justice (a combined 1-for-16 in the series) bat left-handed and the A's were starting difficult left-hander Zito, but the decision was made more gut-wrenching by the fact that Game 3 potentially was the final game of O'Neill's career.

"It's obviously something I didn't want to do," Torre said before the game. "If I felt I wanted to do this, I would have done it in Game 1. But I think we needed a change for the sake of change, and hopefully it works for us."

Mussina had allowed one run or fewer in six of his final seven regular-season starts and had not lost a decision since Aug. 22.

"He's been pitching like that all year," Torre said.

Baseball playoffs

(Best of five) AL Division Series Seattle vs. Cleveland (Cleveland leads 2-1)

Today: at Cleveland, 1:12 p.m., Fox Family; Mariners' Freddy Garcia (18-7) vs. Indians' Bartolo Colon (15-12). New York vs. Oakland (Oakland leads 2-1)

Today: at Oakland, 4:30 p.m., Fox; Yankees' Orlando Hernandez (4-7) vs. A's Cory Lidle (13-6). NL Division Series St. Louis vs. Arizona (Series tied 2-2)

Today: at Arizona, 7:50 p.m, Fox; Cardinals' Matt Morris (22-9) vs. Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling (23-6).

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