Johnson, D'backs have a tall order

Six-foot-10 left-hander out to keep Arizona's hopes alive in Game 6

World Series notebook

Baseball

November 03, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Randy Johnson last left the mound having given his team a 2-0 advantage in the World Series. He returns tonight to a world turned upside down.

Having witnessed his bullpen-challenged Arizona Diamondbacks drop three straight one-run games to the New York Yankees - two after holding two-run leads with two outs in the ninth inning - the 6-foot-10 left-hander is not only his team's most intimidating presence, but its most vital one if there is to be a Game 7 for the first time since 1997.

Johnson entered the National League Championship Series possessing a string of seven consecutive playoff losses before beating the Atlanta Braves in Game 5. He then constructed a three-hit shutout against the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series, but nothing has gone right for the Diamondbacks since.

"I'm at the stage of my career where I'm where I want to be [and able] to let my talent take over," Johnson said.

"Am I going to go out and pitch a shutout? I'm not going to say that. But the bottom line, I want to pitch good enough so we win, and I don't know if there's any advantage. Obviously, they have seen me. There's no other pitches that I've come up with in the last couple days that I'm willing to let you know about, so I've just got to go out there and make my pitches."

Johnson is unrepentant about his low-gloss postseason record. Matched tonight against postseason monster Andy Pettitte, Johnson knows run support and defense mean almost everything, especially in a series that has offered only 19 runs in its past four games.

"We've all witnessed it come down to pitching from the very beginning of this postseason," Johnson said.

"In low-scoring games, errors are going to be big, just as making quality pitches at the right time, which is going to be every inning."

Close games go to Yankees

Thursday night's 12-inning classic confirmed the notion that the Yankees are almost unbeatable in postseason play when a game is close.

The Game 5 reversal marked the 17th time under manager Joe Torre that the Yankees have won when trailing after six innings. Of those 17 wins, 12 have come when trailing after seven innings, four when behind after eight. In those 17 games, the Yankees are 8-0 in extra innings.

Bullpen remains the unchallenged difference. In those 17 come-from-behind wins, closer Mariano Rivera has made 15 appearances, going 5-0 with four saves and an 0.37 ERA. Opposing bullpens are 0-13 with 13 blown saves and a 7.27 ERA compared to the New York pen's 11-0 record, 0.90 ERA and seven saves in that span. Under Torre, the Yankees have blown only one of 38 leads after six innings.

Happy faces all around

Arizona manager Bob Brenly refused to walk under a dark cloud despite watching closer Byung-Hyun Kim suffer a ninth-inning meltdown for the second night in Game 5. Brenly reserved his strongest frustration for reporters who second-guessed his pitching moves in Game 5, referring to the scrutiny as "the lowest form of journalism."

As for his need to administer some clubhouse psychotherapy to his stunned team, Brenly said: "It would be different if I sensed that there was some attitude slippage or guys were feeling like things were just going wrong and we can't do anything about it. But I don't sense that from our ballclub. We've tried to keep the team meetings to a minimum."

Slumping slugger

Arizona's Matt Williams was 0-for-11 at Yankee Stadium and left a runner in scoring position in each of the Diamondbacks' three straight one-run defeats.

But Williams also has turned in several fielding gems at third base, and he rocked Pettitte with a three-run homer in Game 2.

The current outage at the plate didn't shake Brenly's faith in Williams, one of the game's most feared sluggers in the early '90s and a former teammate on the San Francisco Giants.

"He's had some tremendous swings in this series," Brenly said. "He's hit some balls right on the button, right at people. [Shane] Spencer made a tremendous play on one of his line drives, I believe in Game 3. I always feel good with Matty at the plate."

Odds are with 'em

This is New York's 13th 3-2 lead in the World Series, and the Yankees have proven they know how to close one out.

The Yankees have won 10 of the 12 previous series in which they led after five games, and they ended it in Game 6 seven times.

The only times the Yankees blew a 3-2 lead were in 1921, when the New York Giants came back to win a best-of-nine series in eight games, and in 1926, when the St. Louis Cardinals won in seven.

Ratings game

TV ratings slid from Game 4 to Game 5, but the average audience is still well above last year.

Fox's broadcast of the Yankees' 3-2 victory over Arizona drew a 14.4 national rating and 24 share.

Until Game 5, this year's World Series ratings had increased steadily, from a record-low 10.4 in Game 1 to a 15.0 for Game 2, 15.4 for Game 3, and 15.8 for Game 4. The rating is the percentage of 105.5 million U.S. television households tuned to a program.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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