O'Neill shakes off rib injury to deliver clutch hit
Posted: Friday October 15, 1999 02:20 AM
Despite being in pain from a fractured rib, Paul O'Neill connects for the game-winning RBI. AP
NEW YORK (AP) - Paul O'Neill couldn't even swing the bat without grimacing. But it takes more than a little pain to stop the New York Yankees' gritty leader.
O'Neill, playing despite a broken rib, hit a tie-breaking bloop single with two outs in the seventh inning to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night, and a 2-0 lead in the AL championship series.
"To put the ball in play and have it fall that way looks great in the paper," O'Neill said. "That was a big break for us."
O'Neill injured himself on the second-to-last day of the season running after a foul ball in a game against Tampa Bay that meant nothing to the Yankees.
But there is no game or play that means nothing to O'Neill, who has been known to throw helmets and break water coolers after bad at-bats in front of half-empty stadiums in June.
He missed the final game of the division series against Texas. But after being diagnosed with the broken rib on Monday, O'Neill talked his way onto the roster and into the lineup for the ALCS.
"He's a vital part of this team," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "He's out there with cracked ribs or whatever it is. But he's still able to go out and produce. Tonight he came through with the big hit."
He went 1-for-5 in Wednesday night's opener without hitting the ball out of the infield. He grimaced sliding into second base in the first inning in Game 1 and was in agony after making a rolling catch on his side to rob Troy O'Leary of a hit.
He crashed into the wall in the second inning Thursday night, trying to catch Jason Varitek's triple. He slowly retrieved the ball, the pain evident on his face.
"Today I felt really good," said O'Neill, who drove in his first run of the postseason. "So much has been blown out of proportion on this (rib) thing."
When the Yankees needed O'Neill most, he came through. Chuck Knoblauch tied the game at 2 with an RBI double and the Red Sox
pitched around Derek Jeter to get to O'Neill. That gave manager Jimy Williams the matchup he wanted, left-hander Rheal Cormier and against the lefty O'Neill. Cormier won the matchup Wednesday night when he got O'Neill to hit a comebacker in the ninth inning.
It looked like Cormier would come out on top again, after getting out in front of O'Neill 0-2. After Cormier wasted a pitch, O'Neill hit a ball off his fists into shallow left-center to score the tying run.
"I got a break," O'Neill said. "I got jammed on a ball. It broke my bat but it fell in. I was very fortunate."
Jeter slid into third and pumped his fist as he stood up.
O'Neill, as is typical after a successful play, showed no emotion at first.
None was needed. He had done his job.
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