Yankees stay calm, tie series

Hernandez, Williams help overcome A's, 9-2, to force deciding Game 5

Baseball

October 15, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - The New York Yankees didn't win four world titles in five years by wilting at the first sign of adversity. They have been counted out before and have come back to give more than they got.

The Oakland Athletics came face-to-face with that painful reality yesterday when sore-armed Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez delivered another gutsy postseason performance and outfielder Bernie Williams drove in five runs in a 9-2 victory at Network Associates Coliseum that evened this best-of-five Division Series at two games apiece.

The series returns to Yankee Stadium for the decisive Game 5 tonight, with the Yankees needing a big performance from gimpy superstar Roger Clemens to complete a highly unlikely comeback and advance to the American League Championship Series against the winner of today's equally pivotal playoff game between the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians at Seattle's Safeco Field.

Simple as that.

Of course, it's not really simple at all. The A's allowed No. 4 starter Cory Lidle to take his lumps yesterday because manager Art Howe wanted 21-game winner Mark Mulder to pitch on full rest if a fifth game proved necessary. Mulder defeated Clemens and dominated the Yankees in Game 1, so there is little concern about his ability to handle the pressure of pitching a big game in the Bronx, but the situation got a little more complicated during yesterday's game.

Oakland cleanup hitter Jermaine Dye, who was acquired at midseason to deepen the heart of the A's lineup, fouled a ball off his left leg in the third inning and suffered a fractured shin bone. He'll be out for the rest of the postseason.

The A's will be forced to cut into their bench strength to fill the opening in the batting order - probably starting veteran Ron Gant in tonight's game.

"We're going to miss him, and the other guys are going to have to step up," said Howe. "We won a few games without him this year, so hopefully we'll just have to find a way without him tomorrow."

The Yankees' victory produced a similar scenario to the one that played out in last year's Division Series between the same teams, except that it was the A's who forced the Yankees to come back to Oakland for the deciding game. The Yankees won that game and went on to win their third straight World Series title.

Now, the A's need to win Game 5 on the road to avoid becoming the first major-league team to lose a best-of-five series after winning the first two games on the road.

Clearly, the Yankees now have the momentum to go with the home-field advantage, but Howe said his team is still confident.

"It's not shaken at all," he said. "I expected this to go five games. We were pretty fortunate to come home two games up. I wish I wasn't a soothsayer saying it would go five, but I hope we can turn the tables on them like they did to us here last year."

The Yankees won Game 4 the way they have won so many other postseason games over the past six years, with heavy doses of El Duque and Williams.

Hernandez, who entered the game with an 8-1 postseason record, shook off some early trouble to work 5 2/3 innings and give up just two runs on eight hits. Not bad for a guy who pitched four innings in relief of Mike Mussina on the final day of the regular season just to prove that his elbow was sound enough to warrant a place in the postseason rotation.

Williams had managed just one hit in his first 11 at-bats of the series, but he delivered a pair of big two-run singles while the Yankees were building a five-run lead in the early innings, and finished the game 3-for-4 with five RBIs. He entered this postseason as baseball's career leader in Division Series RBIs and boosted his total to 23 with yesterday's performance.

Nothing to it. Even the low-key Hernandez marveled at how cool and confident the Yankees were as they prepared for yesterday's sudden-death challenge.

"Incredibly, it seemed as if we were leading the series, and one more loss would have sent us home," Hernandez said. "It seemed like we were ahead in the series, and everyone was focused on winning, not necessarily on what would happen if we lost."

Williams had struggled at the plate along with teammates Paul O'Neill and David Justice - the trio combined for 2-for-27 in the first three games - but he sensed no panic in the clubhouse.

"Because we have been in this situation before and we know what we need to do to win ballgames," he said. "And I think for the most part we're playing with just a fearless mentality. I think we were pretty tied up in the first two games, and we were out there thinking we're just going to go all out, and whatever happens, happens."

Howe also seemed to take a fairly relaxed approach to Game 4. He shuffled his lineup to include utility catcher Greg Myers and reserve infielder F. P. Santangelo at the bottom of the batting order. The intent was to get more left-handed bats into the lineup. But Santangelo made a key error that helped the Yankees score their first two runs, and Myers was 0-for-3 (double-play ball, two strikeouts).

Going with Lidle was tougher to question, though he gave up six runs (four earned) in just 3 1/3 innings. Howe would have set himself up for a major second-guess if he lost the series using Mulder and Tim Hudson on short rest.

This way, he has his top starter going in the biggest game of the year. Who could argue with that?

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