Yanks come all way back

Scoring straight A's, champs win, 5-3, cap climb from 0-2 hole

4-in-row bid goes to ALCS

3 errors cost Oakland

losing 2 in N.Y. makes rebound biggest ever

October 16, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Other teams have equaled or even bettered their three consecutive World Series titles and another American League club beat their league-record 114 wins this season. But no team has ever accomplished what the New York Yankees pulled off last night at Yankee Stadium by eliminating the Oakland Athletics, 5-3, in the decisive fifth game of an AL Division Series flipped upside down.

The three-time defending world champions became the first team to advance after losing the first two segments of a five-game postseason series at home. Seldom has any game revealed so much.

Shortstop Derek Jeter again showed himself a mesmerizing October presence with two hits, a sacrifice fly and a eighth-inning catch while cartwheeling backward into the stands.

Pinch hitter David Justice confirmed his status as a money player by providing the final margin with a sixth-inning pinch home run.

At 39, Yankees starter Roger Clemens only added to his mystique, if not his postseason win total, by providing 4 1/3 innings of motivation before handing the game over to a flawless bullpen.

When closer Mariano Rivera struck out Frank Menechino to complete the victory, the A's had been exposed as a dominant second-half team too young, too nervous and even too superficial to play up to their talent in such a rarefied atmosphere. They abetted the Yankees with three errors that led to two unearned runs.

The Yankees, who scored only four runs in the series' first three games, advance to the League Championship Series against the Seattle Mariners with a chance to extend their dominance to a fourth consecutive world championship. Underdogs to the wild-card A's when the Division Series began, they have underscored the foolishness of overlooking the role of experience and tenacity under pressure.

"When there's only eight innings left to the whole year, you have to think positively. If we're not thinking positively, we're not playing Game 4," manager Joe Torre said. "The only thing I was telling my club on the off day in Oakland was that one game can turn the whole momentum around. There's a lot of pressure when you have momentum because you don't want to lose it."

Jeter, who hit .444 in the five games, helped turn the series in Game 3 with an athletic, instinctive play to cut down the potential tying run in what ended a 1-0 Yankees win. Last night he helped finish it with another superb effort.

"I guess that's the reason he's wearing so many rings," A's manager Art Howe said. "Whenever they need a big play, he makes it. Whenever they need a big hit, he gets it. I think they've got a new Prime Time."

Unlike Deion Sanders, Jeter has proven himself a player of substance, not mere celebrity. No less an egoist than Mr. October, Yankees consultant Reggie Jackson, recently conceded Jeter to be his equal as a dramatic player.

"It's a look that you don't teach. It's a look that you have - the fire in your belly and your love for competition," Torre said. "This kid thinks cool in very hot situations. ... We have a number of them, but he's a true leader at a very young age for me."

Clemens is fond of using gadgets to rev himself for big moments, whether it be the facial war paint that preceded his ejection from Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS in Oakland or last night when he emerged from the bullpen with his pants pulled up above his calves, something more typical of the Dead Ball era or teammate Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez but not the pitcher who has long worn his pinstripes pajama length.

"That was for Duque to give me the opportunity again. I would have worn Andy's and Mike's numbers if I could," said Clemens, who had asked Pettitte and Mussina to etch their numbers under the bill of his cap.

No one, not even his manager, could predict how long Clemens would survive on a sore right hamstring. Torre said before the game that he might have Game 2 starter Pettitte warm prior to first pitch as a precaution if Clemens' delivery seemed defective.

Clemens looked neither good nor smooth early as the A's jumped him for a run in each of the first two innings, both times after leadoff doubles.

Clemens, a career 5-6 playoff pitcher, entered 0-5 in the postseason against Oakland. He remains winless in seven playoff tries against them after last night, but offered enough to stay with A's starting pitcher Mark Mulder. He struck out five compared to one in his four-inning start in Game 1.

"Roger was courageous," Torre said.

Mulder had been dominant in the A's 5-3 win in Game 1. But last night offered a fresh set of circumstances as Mulder tried to prevent his team from taking a historic fall.

A double play allowed Mulder to escape first-inning trouble before his lead vanished in the second against the bottom of the Yankees' order. Jorge Posada's and Shane Spencer's one-out singles preceded Mulder hitting Scott Brosius with a pitch to load the bases. Rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano then tied the game with a sharp single to left field as the stadium shook.

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