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ALCS NOTES

Chili Predicts Bernie Williams Will Be the Hot Yankee

October 05, 1998|MIKE DIGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When he played with the Angels, designated hitter Chili Davis came out of spring training every season with his "pick to click," a prediction of who he thought was going to have a big year.

Davis returned to his fortune-telling mode this weekend, when he said of Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams: "I have a feeling Bernie is going to be the man in the next round. He's getting a little more aggressive. I have a feeling he's going to break out, and when he does, look out."

That must be some deck of tarot cards Davis is dealing from. Williams, who won the American League batting title with a .339 average and had 26 home runs and 97 runs batted in in only 128 games, went hitless in 11 division series at-bats, striking out four times and reaching base once, on a walk.

But the switch-hitter did rip a grounder to the right side in his last Game 3 at-bat, a ball that resulted in a 4-6-3 double play, and that may be an indication of better things to come.

"I feel I'm very close to getting my swing back and hitting the ball hard," Williams said. "I'm just very fortunate to have another opportunity to play in another series."

Williams has often been the man in the playoffs. He hit .429 with two homers and five RBIs in the division series against Seattle in 1995 and .467 with three homers and five RBIs in the division series against Texas in 1996.

Williams demolished Oriole pitching in the 1996 American League championship series, hitting .474 with two homers, three doubles and six RBIs.

His first experience with postseason failure came in 1997, when Williams hit .118 and the Yankees lost to Cleveland in the division series. He was even worse against the Rangers this season, yet the Yankees swept.

"I don't know what's going to happen [against the Indians], but I like our chances," Williams said.

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Yankee right-hander Mariano Rivera has been one of baseball's best closers for the past two years, taking the baton from former Yankee closer John Wetteland and saving 43 games with a 1.88 earned-run average in 1997 and 36 games with a 1.91 ERA this season.

Still, many questioned whether Rivera could handle the extra stress of the playoffs after giving up a home run to Cleveland's Sandy Alomar in Game 4 of the 1997 division series, with the Yankees four outs away from advancing to the league championship series.

The Indians came back to win games 4 and 5 and eventually advanced to the World Series.

There should be no doubts about Rivera now. He retired the Rangers in order in the ninth inning of Game 1 and gave up only one hit in 1 1/3 innings in Game 2 to record two saves. He added a scoreless ninth in Game 3 Friday night.

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Hearing the good news secondhand wasn't good enough, so half a dozen New York Yankees visited Darryl Strawberry on Sunday, a day after a cancerous tumor was removed from the outfielder's colon.

"We just want to show him how much we care--and we got the job done he wanted us to do," pitcher David Cone said before joining teammates Davis, Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Andy Pettitte and Tim Raines on the trip to Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

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Cleveland outfielder David Justice insisted that the Indians aren't intimidated by the Yankees.

"They have a great ballclub from top to bottom," Justice said. "But we're confident we can play on the same field with them. The games will dictate who comes up with the big hits and who's going to be the star on any given night."

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Is this a New York state of mind, or what? George King's lead in the New York Post after the Yankees' Game 2 victory over the Rangers: "If the Yankees aren't in the ALCS when it starts Tuesday, the best team in baseball will have pulled a choke job that makes the Mets' esophagus look like an eight-lane highway."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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