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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Cardinals, A's Do Their Business on the Road

American League: Zito shuts down Yankees in the Bronx to force decisive Game 5 today in Oakland.

October 08, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The New York media came right at Oakland Athletic pitcher Barry Zito, pens and note pads ablaze, on the eve of his American League division series Game 4 start against the Yankees, peppering the 22-year-old left-hander with their best shots.

Is there any sense of fear coming into Yankee Stadium? What's it like facing Roger Clemens in a game like this? Do you change your style because of the Yankee batting order?

Zito handled the inquisition with aplomb. So, why would pitching against the two-time defending World Series-champion Yankees Saturday night be any different?

Facing playoff elimination in what is reputed to be baseball's most intimidating park for opponents, Zito, the youngest of the baby-faced A's, pitched his team back to life in an 11-1 Oakland victory before 56,915 in Yankee Stadium, evening the best-of-five series at two games apiece.

Zito, mixing a devastating curve with a pinpoint fastball, gave up only one run on seven hits and struck out five in 5 2/3 innings.

The victory, Zito's sixth since Sept. 1, propelled the A's into a Game 5 showdown against the Yankees today in Network Associates Coliseum, where Oakland right-hander Gil Heredia will oppose Yankee left-hander Andy Pettitte after all-night cross-country flights for both teams.

"That will have no effect on anyone," A's outfielder Jeremy Giambi said of the whirlwind schedule. "After the game, everyone might be exhausted, but it's not going to matter during the game. Everyone is hyped up. Everyone has their second wind."

Zito, a little more than a year removed from his final college season at USC, was just as amped going into Game 4, but it hardly showed.

"He was sitting in the dugout before the game, he looked around and said, 'Wow, this is the real Yankee Stadium, not like the regular season, this is what it's all about--I love this!' " A's pitching coach Rick Peterson said.

"But he doesn't approach it like a typical youngster, with a lot of anxiety. Knowing him so well, it's just not surprising how well he did."

Zito did his normal 45-minute pregame routine, which includes yoga and deep-breathing exercise, and then he knocked the wind out of the Yankees, making several of them look silly with his sweeping curve.

"The fans were 10 times louder, 10 times more into it than they are during the regular season," Zito said. "I tried to approach it like a regular-season game and not let external factors affect me."

The A's seemed to treat it like a regular-season game too, and for Zito, that meant an offensive bounty. Oakland has scored 100 runs in Zito's eight victories this season, and designated hitter Olmedo Saenz, getting a rare start in the cleanup spot against a right-hander, set the tone Saturday with a three-run homer off Clemens in the first.

Ben Grieve highlighted a three-run sixth with a two-run single, and Eric Chavez keyed a four-run ninth with a two-run double, as Oakland set a franchise record for margin of victory in a playoff game.

But if the A's are to defeat the Yankees tonight, they will have to find a way to crack Pettitte, who, like Clemens on Saturday, will be starting on three days' rest.

Pettitte threw 7 2/3 innings of five-hit shutout ball in the Yankees' 4-0 Game 2 victory. Asked if the A's could do anything differently against Pettitte, first baseman Jason Giambi said, "Maybe go to church?"

It might help the A's to put a little less faith in the long ball.

"We've lived and died with the three-run Jimmy Jack all year," Jason Giambi said. "But you have to win playoff games by getting a single, bunting them over, getting that big hit. We're going to have to play some little ball to compete up here."

Those Jimmy Jacks don't hurt, though, especially when they come early against a five-time Cy Young Award winner. Clemens walked two of the first three batters Saturday, and Saenz blasted a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left for a 3-0 Oakland lead.

"The thing that bothered me, and I know it bothered Rocket, was the two walks," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "Home runs are OK as long as there's nobody running around in front of the guy who hit it. But that gave us a hill to climb right away."

These Yankees aren't in a mountaineering mode. They've scored 12 runs on 29 hits in four games and are batting .221.

"We've been really flat," Torre said. "We haven't been able to sustain anything offensively. I'm not taking anything away from the Oakland pitching staff, but I think we're still capable of putting some runs up there."

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