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THE WORLD SERIES

Yankees Right as Rain

Matsui gets the winning hit again, and New York takes an edge with a 6-1, shower-delayed victory over Florida.

October 22, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — It was 12:32 when the game ended, early Wednesday morning in Florida and early Wednesday afternoon in the home of the newest in a long and glorious line of pinstriped stars of October.

On a rainy night, the stars still came out. Josh Beckett, the Florida Marlins' 23-year-old wonder child, served notice that he could be a Rocket for a new generation. Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees' captain, collected all three hits off Beckett. Mariano Rivera, the most imposing closer in postseason history, coolly tamed the Marlins for another of his patented two-inning saves.

But Hideki Matsui, the most popular athlete in Japan, is quickly winning friends and admirers in America. Matsui broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the World Series, the winning single in the Yankees' 6-1 victory over the Marlins before 65,731 at Pro Player Stadium.

Matsui, imported this year by New York, hit a three-run home run in the first inning of Game 2 and has driven in the winning run in both Yankee victories. Pretty impressive stuff for any player, let alone one carrying the hopes and dreams of Japanese fans atop his broad shoulders.

"I'm sure the fans were all watching the game and supporting us," Matsui said, "but I don't feel any pressure from that. They're rooting for more than just one player. I'm happy they're cheering for me. I feed off that energy."

The Yankees lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, with Roger Clemens scheduled to make the final start of his Hall of Fame career in Game 4 tonight. Every start this October could have been his last, but this fourth one really will be, and the loose Yankees had fun with their final round of questions about the drama of Clemens' final start.

"I'm looking forward to getting his last start out of the way," Jeter said, laughing.

The Marlin offense is reeling, and that's no joke. Since scoring three times in the first five innings of Game 1, the Marlins have scored two runs in 22 innings.

The Yankees made the final score deceptively lopsided by scoring four runs in the ninth inning on home runs by Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams, the latter setting a record with his 19th postseason homer.

New York starter Mike Mussina, who pointed the finger at his teammates for lack of offensive support after his 3-2 loss in Game 4 of the American League championship series, took matters into his own hands Tuesday. He gave up one run over seven innings for the victory, hanging tough until he could turn over a lead to Rivera.

For the first time since 1982, a World Series game in progress was delayed by rain. The game was stopped for 39 minutes in the fifth inning, a delay from which most pitchers would not return during the regular season. But Beckett and Mussina both came back strong.

The Yankees scored twice off Beckett, once on a bases-loaded walk and once after he left the game in the eighth inning. In his first appearance since his strong four-inning relief outing in Game 7 of the National League championship series, he struck out 10. In his last 20 2/3 innings, all in postseason play, he has given up three runs and six hits while striking out 24.

With one out in the eighth inning, and the score 1-1, Jeter doubled. The Marlins summoned rookie Dontrelle Willis, who was terrific in Game 1 but terrible Tuesday.

Willis walked Jason Giambi, got Williams to fly out, then gave up the run-scoring single to Matsui and a walk to Jorge Posada. Florida relievers Willis, Chad Fox and Braden Looper faced 12 batters and retired five.

At the start of the evening, the weather was a blessing. In New York on Sunday, the temperature at first pitch was 48 degrees. The temperature at first pitch Tuesday was 78.

But showers frequently pass through South Florida, and Mother Nature made no exception for the World Series. Rain began in the fourth inning, umpires halted play in the fifth, and the teams played through showers over the final three innings.

Matsui was drenched in the rain. If New York wins two more games, he will be drenched in champagne, not as a bit player but an integral part of the Yankees' first championship in three years.

Some major leaguers play a decade, or two, without starring in a World Series or even participating in one. In his first year in the majors, Matsui has played in three Series games and been the hero in two.

"Just lucky," he said.

The Yankees know better. It did not escape their notice that Matsui, the Japanese slugger with the power nickname, won the game with an opposite-field single.

"He's been doing that all year for us," Jeter said. "You hear Godzilla and you automatically assume he's going to be up there swinging for the fences. The thing about him is he understands the game and he'll take a hit the other way."

Said Yankee Manager Joe Torre: "This guy is incredible."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Leading Man

New York Yankee Bernie Williams became the career postseason home run and RBI leader with a home run in Game 3 on Tuesday.

MOST CAREER HOME RUNS IN THE POSTSEASON:

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