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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | TURNING POINT / GAME 4

Yankees Find Yet Another Way to Succeed

October 22, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — It began innocently enough, with a walk and a cheapie single that rolled 85 feet, and the runs scored on a bloop that barely reached the outfield and a sacrifice fly. Bronx Bombers? Hardly. This would barely qualify as hand-to-hand combat.

But when the New York Yankees were through batting in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday night, you can bet New York City officials were planning that parade down Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes with a definitive date in mind--Friday--as opposed to a tentative day.

The Yankees' two-run rally turned a tense, one-run game into a three-run, easier-to-breathe affair, and it also changed the way the San Diego Padres played the bottom of the eighth.

And that made all the difference for the Yankees, whose 3-0 victory completed a four-game sweep of the Padres and touched off a World Series-clinching celebration that was sure to last long into the night.

THE SITUATION

Though the Yankees held a 1-0 lead after seven innings and starter Andy Pettitte seemed dominant, those in New York's dugout were anxious. "One run doesn't mean a lot against those guys," third-base coach Willie Randolph said. "They're the kind of team that keeps battling."

Derek Jeter opened the eighth with a walk off Padre starter Kevin Brown, and Paul O'Neill followed with a dribbler to the right of first baseman Jim Leyritz.

Brown, covering first, reached the bag in front of O'Neill, but Leyritz, a catcher-turned-first baseman, chose to make the play himself, sliding feet- first into the bag. Umpire Tim Tschida ruled O'Neill safe, and both Brown and Leyritz argued vehemently.

"I don't know if Jim realizes how quick Kevin is at covering first," Padre Manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was there to take the throw."

Said O'Neill: "I don't care what anyone says--I was safe."

WHAT HAPPENED

Bernie Williams grounded to third, a chopper that allowed Jeter and O'Neill to advance, and Bochy chose to intentionally walk Tino Martinez to pitch to Scott Brosius for the second time.

Brown struck out Brosius with runners on first and third to end the sixth, but this time the World Series' most valuable player fisted an inside pitch just over a drawn-in infield for an RBI single, a flare that Padre shortstop Chris Gomez would have caught had he been at normal depth.

Ricky Ledee, a rookie who replaced Darryl Strawberry for the American League championship series after Strawberry was diagnosed with colon cancer, followed with a drive to deep left, scoring O'Neill to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

"It's amazing," said Ledee, who hit .600 [six for 10] in the World Series. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be in this position. I expected to play good defense, but I'm glad I contributed with the bat too."

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Padres threatened in the bottom of the eighth, putting runners on first and second with two out when Ken Caminiti singled sharply to right off closer Mariano Rivera, a ball O'Neill fielded on one hop.

O'Neill all but conceded a run, throwing to second instead of home, but Padre third-base coach Tim Flannery held the speedy Quilvio Veras, figuring the Padres--because of that Yankee rally in the top of the eighth--needed more than one run to catch up.

"If it was a one-run game I would have sent him--he would have been gone," Flannery said. "Once you get into the seventh, eighth and ninth, you have to keep yourself in a position to tie. When the throw goes into second, you look bad. That's why third-base coaches are either bald or have gray hair."

Flannery said if he had sent Veras and Veras was thrown out at the plate he "would have been run out of town . . . those are the plays that drive you crazy."

Especially after Leyritz lined out to end the inning, leaving the bases loaded.

THE SITUATION

Rivera closed out the Padres in the ninth, and the final chapter in one of baseball's most amazing success stories was complete.

"To sweep the series is an exclamation point on the season," O'Neill said. "This is a special team, and it's been an unbelievable year. It's going to take a month or two for this to sink in, to realize what we've accomplished."

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