Earning his keep
Williams personally takes control of series for New York
Posted: Wednesday October 06, 1999 08:08 PM
Tuesday night's blast was Williams' (right) 10th career postseason homer in 39 games. AP
NEW YORK (AP) -- Bernie Williams nearly joined the Boston Red Sox last year. The New York Yankees sure are glad he stayed.
Williams rose to the occasion once again in the postseason, hitting a homer, driving in six runs and making a spectacular catch in center field to help the Yankees beat the Texas Rangers 8-0 Tuesday night in Game 1 of their division series.
Williams, a free agent last season, was on the brink of signing a deal with the hated Red Sox before making a phone call to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. That conversation led to a $87.5 million, seven-year contract that kept Williams in New York.
"Bernie is a special person, a special talent," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "If he was making 10 cents, he'd be the same person."
Williams spent much of this season trying to live up to the deal. He batted .342 with 202 hits, 115 RBIs, 116 runs and 100 walks -- all career highs -- and hit 25 homers. But the only month that matters for the Yankees is October, and once again Williams stepped up.
"When I heard the lineup, something in me woke up," Williams said. "It was time to play. This is the postseason. It's not the regular season anymore."
Williams started his spectacular game with his glove, not his bat. With runners on first and second in the third inning, Juan Gonzalez hit a looping liner that Williams tracked down in right-center and made a sliding catch on to preserve a 1-0 lead.
"I didn't think I had a shot at it," Williams said. "But at the last minute, the ball just stayed up a little bit longer than I anticipated. It gave me a chance to make a dive, and I was fortunate enough to make the catch."
Williams then delivered at the plate. After being retired his first two at-bats, Williams came up with two on and two outs in the fifth.
He fell behind 0-2 to Aaron Sele before working the count full, fouling off a pitch and then launching a two-run double off the wall in center field to make it 3-0.
"I got a pitch up when I didn't want to," Sele said. "He took advantage of it."
Williams put the game away in the sixth. With runners on first and second and two outs, Williams hit a homer to right field off Mike Venafro to make it 7-0. It was Williams' 10th career postseason homer in 39 games.
"From his first at-bat to that last at-bat, you saw a different player," manager Joe Torre said. "That's what happens with Bernie. You never know when that this is going to get a hold of him, and it's going to become something he can't get out of."
After hitting an RBI single in the eighth off Jeff Fassero to cap the scoring, Williams has 35 playoff RBIs.
"Tonight's an example of the type of team we have," Darryl Strawberry said. "You don't look to any one person. Tonight it was Bernie. Next time it could be anyone else."
Williams hit three homers against the Rangers in the playoffs in 1996. But seemingly distracted by his impending free agency, Williams went 0-for-11 against Texas in last year's series and 9-for-48 (.188) in the postseason.
"Last year I had so many distractions off the field that I felt that those 3 1/2, four hours I spent on the playing field were the easiest part," Williams said. "Right now, I feel the same way. We're having a lot of fun. So I have no complaints."
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