Rocketing past the Rangers
Clemens looks to continue Yanks' dominance of Rangers
Posted: Saturday October 09, 1999 02:24 AM
Roger Clemens will get the opportunity to close out the series in front of family and friends. AP
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Facing elimination against the New York Yankees with cold bats and dwindling confidence is not the place to be in October.
Yet, the Texas Rangers are doing it again.
For the second straight year, Texas returned to The Ballpark down two games in a best-of-5 AL divisional series wondering how to kickstart an offense that mustered one run in two games at Yankee Stadium.
New York will try putting Texas out of its misery Saturday night with Roger Clemens pitching before family and friends in his home state. Esteban Loiaza, the last Ranger to beat the Yankees, will make his postseason debut.
"It's not fun being in this situation," Texas outfielder Roberto Kelly said. "I think we've got to get things going early so we can get our confidence back. As the innings go by, we don't want to think 'Here we go again.'
"If you look at it, it's like last year all over again. But what can we do? We've got to just go out and play the game. I don't think anyone in this locker room doubts that we can score runs."
The Rangers led the majors with a .293 average and scored 945 runs, second only to Cleveland. Six players hit 20 home runs, four had 100 RBIs and four scored 100 runs.
Yet a fifth-inning homer by Juan Gonzalez in a 3-1 loss Thursday night is the only Texas run this series. It ended the Rangers' 25-inning playoff scoring drought against New York.
Unlike last season when Texas was completely futile at the plate, the Rangers have had their chances. But they failed to score twice with two on and none out in Game 2 and wasted two opportunities with two one and one out in the first game.
"Mentally, it just drains you," DH Rafael Palmeiro said. "You have a chance to break open the game, the hit doesn't come and you tell yourself, 'Here we go again.' Which is the last thing you want to do. You want to stay positive.
"We need a big inning, we need to hit everyone in an inning. A fun inning like that would loosen everyone up."
To break out of their funk, the Rangers have tried players-only meetings and one-on-one chat sessions. Reliever Tim Crabtree unveiled another tension-breaker Friday by passing out goofy looking jungle hats with the words "Straight Bangin" embroidered in Rangers red across the front.
"It seems like the rally hats aren't working right now, so maybe these new hats will change that," said Crabtree, who had actually ordered them several weeks ago.
Pitcher Mike Morgan started the phrase and others picked up on it. Crabtree said it means "pretty much anything and everything, from hitters whacking the ball to a pitcher making good pitches in good situations."
In that case, the Yankees have been doing lots of straight bangin. Starters Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte have pitched deep into the games and Bernie Williams and Ricky Ledee have provided the clutch hits.
"Everybody is getting on Texas for not scoring runs, but they're playing a pretty good team and facing a pretty tough pitching staff," Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez said. "I think it's more of a matter of us playing well than them choking."
New York wasn't as dominant this season as in 1998, but a victory Saturday would put this year's club on the same postseason pace.
Clemens forced a trade from Toronto to the Yankees for that purpose. Having won five Cy Youngs and all sorts of personal glory, he's still seeking the ultimate thrill of winning a World Series championship.
"It's what we play for," said Clemens, who would've been traded to Texas had the Yankees not trumped their offer to the Blue Jays.
Should Clemens clinch this series, it would help make up for a poor season by his standards. He was 14-10 with a career-high 4.60 ERA, including going 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA against Texas.
The Rangers scored five runs off him in two innings the last time he pitched here, but Clemens went on the disabled list after that start with a hamstring problem.
This time, Clemens will be fighting too much health. Clemens last pitched Sept. 30, and extended rest tends to make power pitchers like himself lose command. The emotions surrounding the game also could throw him off stride.
"I think I've prepared well enough so I won't be too alive in the strike zone," he said. "I expect to have a little extra emotion early. Hopefully I'll be able to channel that in a good direction."
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