NEW YORK — Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra coined the lovably redundant phrase: "It's just like deja vu all over again."
It should be the personal motto for Texas Ranger pitcher Rick Helling.
For the second year in a row, the Rangers wasted a fine Game 2 performance in an American League division series against the Yankees and lost by an identical 3-1 score in front of 57,485 at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night. With the loss, the Rangers also fell into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five series.
Blame the Rangers' lack of offensive production.
"There's a different amount of frustration [with this game]," Texas Manager Johnny Oates said. "We know in our hearts that we can play with these guys. But until we start doing it, there's always going to be doubt."
There was no doubt, though, that just like in 1998, Yankee starter Andy Pettitte got the Game 2 win, going a gutsy 7 1/3 innings, giving up one run on seven hits while striking out five and not giving up a walk.
"This is what I remember about Andy--he makes big plays," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "He makes big pitches and he walked that tightrope.
"You talk about hitching it up."
Early on, though, it looked as if Helling was going to reverse last year's Game 2 result. He didn't look like the guy who gave up a league-high 41 home runs this year while going 0-4 in his last five regular-season starts. Rather, he looked like the guy who claimed there was no pressure on the Rangers since no one expected them to beat the Yankees anyway.
Helling was perfect through four innings and had a three-hitter entering the seventh inning of a 1-1 ballgame.
He didn't give up his first base on balls until the seventh, when he walked Tino Martinez with one out.
That was the opening New York needed.
Chili Davis then singled through the right side of the infield before being replaced on the bases by Clay Bellinger.
Ricky Ledee followed with a double to the gap in right-center, a fly ball that seemingly caused confusion between center fielder Roberto Kelly and right fielder Juan Gonzalez. The hit scored Martinez and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead with runners at second and third.
Helling was replaced by Tim Crabtree, who got Scott Brosius and Joe Girardi to ground out and end the inning.
If ever there seemed a chance for the regular-season high-octane Rangers to break out of their postseason scoring funk, the eighth inning seemed to be it.
Pettitte, who had already thrown 117 pitches, would be facing the Rangers' 2-3-4 hitters.
It took the lefty only one pitch to retire left-handed hitting Rusty Greer before right-handed reliever Jeff Nelson came in to face the power-hitting duo of Ivan Rodriguez and Gonzalez, who had given the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning with a solo homer into the left-field seats.
No matter. Nelson got both Rangers to chase outside pitches for strikeouts, and the Yankees added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning.
With two out and the bases loaded, Ranger reliever Mike Venafro walked pinch-hitter Jim Leyritz to force home Chad Curtis, who was running for Paul O'Neill.
Yankee closer Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to end the game.
"Helling was pitching a great game," Pettitte said. "I didn't know if we'd get to him. And, you know, I didn't think he'd give up many runs. He was just painting the outside corner on the left-handed hitters. You have to give him a lot of credit too."
While the Rangers scored but one run, Gonzalez's homer did end a 25-inning Texas scoring drought against the Yankees in division series play, dating to the fifth inning of Game 2 last year.
It appeared as though Texas would add to its lead in the fifth when Kelly led off with a single and Lee Stevens followed with a ground-rule double into the left-field stands.
But Pettitte settled down with no out and runners on second and third, striking out Mark McLemore after starting him with a 3-0 count, getting Royce Clayton to ground to third and striking out Greer on a full count.
New York tied it in the home half of the fifth when Brosius doubled home Martinez, who had singled.
So while the slumping Rangers get to go home for Game 3, they also face elimination in the form of five-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, who's already in Texas and is sure to be a tad testy after being passed over by Torre in favor of Orlando Hernandez for Game 1 duties.