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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | TURNING POINT / Game 2

O'Neill Sets the Tone, but With Defense

Yankees: Leaping first-inning catch of Joyner's long drive displays an underrated part of team.

October 19, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The New York Yankees did most things better than others in their record-setting regular season.

They were among the top teams in the major leagues offensively, and their pitching staff was second to none in the American League. That helps explain how the Yankees set an AL record with 114 victories.

What about defense?

The Yankees excel in that area as well, though they believe their success in the field is often overlooked.

They finished third in the league in fielding percentage, typically making the plays they were expected to make.

And they also make outstanding plays. The San Diego Padres learned that first-hand Sunday night.

Right fielder Paul O'Neill made a sensational catch in the first inning of the Yankees' 9-3 victory in Game 2 of the World Series--preventing the Padres from taking an early lead and setting the tone.

It was exactly what the Yankees needed to keep the pressure on the Padres. And it worked.

"I think the first inning was really the difference in the ballgame," Padre Manager Bruce Bochy said. "We were close to getting three runs there, and we didn't score, and then they come back and they get three unearned runs [in the first].

"That is really a six-run turnaround. That really got them going."

No doubt about it.

THE SITUATION

San Diego needed something good to happen for them quickly in Game 2 after what occurred in the World Series opener Saturday night.

They Yankees overwhelmed the Padres by scoring seven runs in the seventh inning of a 9-6 victory. San Diego's bullpen collapsed in relief of staff ace Kevin Brown, who worked 6 1/3 solid innings.

After an experience like that, San Diego needed a boost. It appeared they might get one with one out in the first.

Tony Gwynn singled to left against Yankee starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, and Greg Vaughn walked with Ken Caminiti on deck. Caminiti struck out with Wally Joyner waiting to bat, and that's when things got interesting.

WHAT HAPPENED

Joyner hit a line drive to right that headed toward the top of the padded outfield wall.

Judging by the angle of the ball, O'Neill, who knows his work space well, figured he would be able to make a catch. But he knew it wouldn't be easy.

"In Yankee Stadium, you get to the wall so quickly," O'Neill said. "You're running, and all of a sudden you're up against the wall. It's not really a play you can practice, you just have to go for it."

O'Neill did, climbing the wall to catch the ball. The play ignited a celebration throughout the stadium. The Yankees then scored three runs in the bottom of the inning after a one-out error by Padre third baseman Caminiti, and the Padres would soon be facing a 2-0 deficit.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Hernandez settled down after O'Neill's catch, giving up one run in seven strong innings. The Padres never recovered.

"El Duque came over to me [after the catch] and said . . . well, I don't really know what he said, but I know he appreciated it," O'Neill said. "Sometimes a starter will go out there and put up zeroes after he gets out of a jam like that."

THE LAST WORD

O'Neill's catch was the defining play in Game 2. And now the Padres are in big trouble.

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