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SUBWAY SERIES

O'Neill Proves Timely Again

Game 2: Once struggling Yankee flashes his old form by burning the Mets with key hits.

October 23, 2000|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Paul O'Neill might not have much time left with the New York Yankees, though the decision could be difficult.

The Yankees must determine whether the right fielder still fits their plans, putting production ahead of sentiment.

If O'Neill's Bronx tale does end soon, he hopes to finish on top.

He took another step toward that goal Sunday night in the Yankees' 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

O'Neill was three for four with a run-scoring single, helping the Yankees take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series before another sellout crowd of 56,059 that appreciated the 13-year veteran's efforts.

"It really doesn't matter how anyone feels [individually], it's all about timely hitting and great pitching," said O'Neill, dropped in the batting order in the playoffs after being slowed by injuries. "You have to drive in runs, I didn't do that [in Game 1], but I found some holes tonight."

After slumping in September, O'Neill has reverted to form at the right time for the Yankees.

"Everybody knows that Paul O'Neill has struggled a little bit, but everybody knows what he's done to help this team [win three of the last four World Series championships]," reserve outfielder Luis Polonia said. "He's been fighting to help this team and to contribute no matter his problems.

"He's been fighting to contribute and do the things he's always done to help the Yankees, and that's what we're going to need from him. We need him to do this for us to win this. I think it's pretty good."

O'Neill has been good recently.

He has six hits in his last 11 at-bats, making timely contributions in the Subway Series.

"Paul O'Neill, to me, is piecing it together," Manager Joe Torre said. "He's doing whatever he needs to do on a day-to-day basis.

"Even though he doesn't have the [hip] problem, you know he's still feeling the effects from that. Even though [his contribution] isn't always pretty, it's effective because he's a tough kid."

On Saturday, O'Neill had a key 10-pitch at-bat in the ninth inning of Game 1 against Met closer Armando Benitez, scoring the tying run in the Yankees' 4-3, 12-inning victory.

In Game 2, O'Neill burned the Mets in the fifth.

They intentionally walked Jorge Posada with two out, Tino Martinez on second and O'Neill on deck.

The No. 7 batter then drove a pitch from Met starter Mike Hampton to right field, scoring Martinez and extending the Yankees' lead to 4-0.

Fans in the outfield chanted "Paul-lie, Paul-lie," persuading O'Neill to acknowledge them twice with waves of his glove.

"It's great," O'Neill said of the fans' response. "I don't care how many times you've been through it, it's always an exciting time to play baseball at this time of the year."

O'Neill, 37, can become a free agent after the World Series, and he might not return although he has been an important member of this Yankee dynasty.

"Paul O'Neill's been a tremendous Yankee thus far," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "He's in a situation like many Yankees right now, he's in a walk year.

"I know some of these guys haven't been here as long as Paul, but we've told all our players now that all these decisions are going to wait until the winter. We're just going to concentrate on the business at hand."

That's what O'Neill is doing.

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