For Spencer, "01 postseason is a whole new ballgame

Yankee was injured in "00, missed title run by N.Y.

November 02, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Shane Spencer remembers the frustration of being hurt last year, of watching the New York Yankees win another World Series and a city erupt in wild celebration while the pain moved from his knee to his heart.

He also hasn't forgotten the early months of this season, which were spent in the minors while rehabbing his injury and regaining his batting eye. No wonder the ovations that he has received during the playoffs bring more relief than any medication.

Staying with the more productive player, Yankees manager Joe Torre started Spencer in left field again last night for Game 5 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Chuck Knoblauch remained on the bench with a hitless streak that reached 12 at-bats and a post season average stuck on .231.

Knoblauch represents the Yankees" past, a player who isn't expected to return in 2002. Spencer has become their present, with his eye also aimed toward the near future.

"I go into spring training every year expecting to get a starting job." he said.

Spencer had no shot at it this year after needing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injury that occurred while running down a double in a July 9, 2000 interleague game at Shea Stadium. His ticket already had been punched for Triple-A Columbus, where he stayed until the Yankees recalled him in June.

"I didn't know how much playing time I was going to get this year." he said. "Now I'm getting a chance to play, and I'm having fun with it."

A reserve who appeared in 81 games, Spencer has become a regular in the World Series. Torre went with a hunch and started him against Curt Schilling on Wednesday, and Spencer responded with a home run that gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead. He also threw out a run ner at the plate, moments that almost became forgotten after homers by Tino Martinez in the ninth and Derek Jeter in the 10th produced an improbable 4-3 victory.

"I can say I did something in the World Series, and not a lot of guys can do that." he said.

"Schilling was working guys away - cutters, sliders, fastballs - so I was looking out over the plate and I got a good pitch to hit. He actually threw a strike the first pitch and it was right on the corner, and it was called a ball. I think he was a little bit upset about that. He let me know that today."

Spencer, 29 , also made a diving catch to save a run from scoring and keep Game 3 tied before the Yankees took the lead.

"He hasn't played a great deal, but he's played the outfield real well for us." Torre said. "He's made two huge plays the last couple of days."

With Knoblauch moving from second base to left field during the season because of problems throw ing the ball to first, Spencer confronted another obstacle in his quest for a regular job. The only breaks he was getting were bad ones.

"I think last year was really his first opportunity to play every day, and he blew out his knee." Torre said. "It was a sad night for him be cause he knew the opportunity may have slipped away. But in recent days he's had good at-bats, and we have nobody hitting so we"re changing things just for the sake of changing them. And it looks like he's taking advantage of the situation.

"I would like to believe that he could be a regular player even though he hasn't had an opportunity to play every day, for one reason or another."

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