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The Bottom Hits Yankees

AL: Oakland gets key contributions from lower part of the order in 5-3 victory over two-time defending champions, who have lost eight in a row.

October 04, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — The torch has not been officially passed from the aging New York Yankees to the young and restless Oakland Athletics, but the a's--most of these kids aren't old enough to be considered upper case--have a pine-tar-tight grip on the thing.

Oakland took a huge step toward dethroning the two-time defending World Series champions with a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the American League division series before 47,360 in the Network Associates Coliseum on Tuesday night.

The bottom-feeding A's got six hits, four runs and three runs batted in from their seventh, eighth and ninth batters, right-hander Gil Heredia outdueled his idol, Yankee right-hander Roger Clemens, and relievers Jeff Tam, Jim Mecir and Jason Isringhausen combined for three spotless innings, as Oakland seized the advantage in the best-of-five series.

The A's entered the playoffs having won 22 of 29 games, and Tuesday night seemed like an extension of their torrid September, when the clutch hits flowed like the champagne in their division-clinching celebration Sunday.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have lost eight in a row, 16 of 19 and are fading like the sun setting into the Pacific.

"It's very much possible this could be the team of the next decade," said Randy Velarde, the A's 37-year-old second baseman. "You don't want to put the carriage before the horse, but you can't help but feel good about the foundation here. These guys are loaded with youth and talent."

That youth was expected to be an October obstacle--their starting pitcher three relievers, and seven of the nine players in their lineup made their first postseason appearances Tuesday night, and eight players are 25 or younger. But it was the A's who erased a 2-0 deficit against the playoff- seasoned Yankees, and the A's who came through more often in the clutch.

"Everyone keeps talking about how inexperienced they are, but I tell you what, there's something to be said about talent," Velarde said. "These guys are older than you think as far as baseball savvy, and we're peaking at the right time. . . . This isn't a fluke. We're not winning games by accident."

Indeed, it is no accident that third baseman Eric Chavez had three singles, two runs and an RBI, and unheralded catcher Ramon Hernandez, the No. 9 hitter, sparked a three-run fifth inning with an RBI single and drove in the winning run with an RBI double in the sixth.

With two out in the sixth and the score tied, 3-3, Chavez singled to left- center, and Jeremy Giambi singled to right, moving Chavez to third. Hernandez hit a slicing liner into the right-field corner that Paul O'Neill couldn't run down, scoring Chavez for a 4-3 lead.

Chavez provided insurance with an RBI single in the eighth, Mecir retired the four batters he faced, and Isringhausen struck out two of three in a perfect ninth.

"There's no question they are playing with a lot of enthusiasm," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "And confidence. They know no fear. They have already accomplished more than people thought they would. So this is all bonus time for them. They are a young club, an upstart club that clings together."

Winning so many must-win games in September, going down to the final day of the season to clinch the division title, will do that to a club.

"The end of the season definitely helped us," said first baseman Jason Giambi, the team's most-valuable-player candidate. "We had to play incredibly well the whole month just to get to the playoffs. There were some jitters tonight, but we played the same brand of baseball we've been playing for a month, where every out, every at-bat is important."

Heredia responded to that pressure with a very solid six-inning, three-run, seven-hit effort in which he struck out three and walked one. The Yankees nicked him for two runs in the second when Jorge Posada singled, and Luis Sojo and Scott Brosius both doubled in runs, the first lead the Yankees have had in 63 innings.

The A's countered in the fifth, as Chavez singled and Jeremy Giambi walked. Logic called for a bunt, but the free-swinging A's have as much affection for the bunt as former Oriole manager Earl Weaver. In fact, they had only 26 sacrifice hits this season, second lowest in the league.

Hernandez lined Clemens' first pitch into right for a single, scoring Chavez to make it 2-1. Hernandez took second on Terrence Long's grounder, and Velarde's RBI single made it 2-2. Hernandez scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.

The Yankees pulled even, 3-3, in the sixth when Bernie Williams doubled, took third on David Justice's grounder to first and scored on Tino Martinez's sacrifice fly. But Hernandez and Chavez, the No. 7 hitter, sealed Oakland's victory with clutch RBIs in the sixth and eighth.

"The bottom of the order," Torre said, "just beat our brains out."

*

* MARINERS KNOCK SOX OFF

Seattle uses speed of Cameron and power of Martinez and Olerud in the 10th inning for a 7-4 victory over Chicago. Page 6

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