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Bring 'em on

Yankees await winner of Indians-Red Sox series

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Posted: Sunday October 10, 1999 02:15 AM

  Strawberry punch: New York's Darryl Strawberry is greeted at home plate by Derek Jeter (left) after his three-run homer. AP

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Of all the rebounds in Darryl Strawberry's career, this one tops the list.

Strawberry hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Roger Clemens made it stand up Saturday night, sending the New York Yankees into the AL championship series with a 3-0 victory over the Texas Rangers that capped a first-round sweep.

Last year, Strawberry announced he had colon cancer the day before New York played in Texas. The Yankees finished a first-round sweep the next day and dedicated the victory to their ailing teammate.

This year, he came to The Ballpark unsure he'd even be in the lineup. He rewarded manager Joe Torre's faith and his teammates' patience with his comeback, which almost was derailed by an April arrest in Florida.

"I have considered how far I've come, even with the mistake I made down in Tampa. It's a big opportunity for me," Strawberry said. "These guys are great, they're my teammates, I love them all. They stand by me and I'm glad we have a chance to play in the next round."

New York will start the ALCS at home Wednesday night against the winner of the Cleveland-Boston series. The Indians, whom the Yankees beat in six games last year on their way to the World Series title, lead the Red Sox 2-1.

For the Yankees, their 10th straight postseason win put them a step closer to their 25th Series championship and their third in four years. They also kept headed toward a Subway Series as the New York Mets advanced to the NLCS earlier Saturday.

For Clemens, his seven shutout innings of three-hit ball were certainly enough to placate Yankees fans who had been waiting, ever since he was acquired this spring from Toronto, for him to show the form that won five Cy Youngs. He earned his second postseason win in 10 starts, his other victory coming in 1986.

"Tonight, he kept his emotions intact, which I thought was the key for him because his stuff was terrific," Torre said. "Roger Clemens was Roger Clemens. He was the pitcher we traded for."

Said Clemens: "I was pretty good tonight. I just tried to get it done."

For the Rangers, this was another disappointing end as they lost their ninth straight playoff game -- all to the Yankees. This marked the second straight year hard-hitting Texas scored a total of one run in an opening-round sweep by New York.

"In my eyes, I don't see this as a step backwards," Texas manager Johnny Oates said. "We still want to be world champions. I'm confident it'll happen soon."

This game was as good as over with two outs in top of the first when Strawberry went with a low and away breaking ball from Esteban Loaiza and sent it 415 feet into the left-center field stands for a 3-0 lead.

"I sensed we were very quiet, very tense at the beginning of the game," Torre said. "Darryl's homer sure woke us up."

At that point, the white towels waved by the 50,269 fans at The Ballpark to fire up the Rangers could've been a sign of surrender considering how bad their team was hitting.

After scoring 5.83 runs per game in the regular season, the Rangers did nothing in this series, batting only .152 as a team. They hit .141 last year and overall have scored just two runs in their last 60 playoff innings.

Things were supposed to be different this time after the best season in team history. Instead, this game was the Rangers' worst of all.

"I've got a few months to analyze what happened in this playoff and see how we can score at will pretty much in the season and then in three games not even smell home plate," Oates said.

They were held to five hits by Clemens, Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera and got only two runners past first base. Rivera pitched two innings for his second save of the series.

Strawberry was locked in long before the game as he wowed teammates in batting practice by consistently reaching far-away seats.

In a way, his incredible revival shouldn't be surprising. For all Strawberry has been through, the one consistent thing has been his sweet swing. It's the reason baseball keeps giving him second chances.

Another mid-1980s prodigy who came through was Clemens, who is seeking his his first World Series title to go with his individual pitching awards.

The Rocket wasn't dominating, but he didn't have to be. He struck out two and walked two.

His biggest inning was the first, and not because of the Rangers. What Clemens really was battling was eight days of rest and the emotions of his first playoff start in four years, plus the fact it was coming before dozens of friends and family in his home state.

But Clemens handled it like a big-game pitcher is supposed to: He struck out leadoff hitter Mark McLemore looking on four pitches and needed just three more to retire the side.

His only jam was in the fourth when a two-out walk to Todd Zeile put runners on first and second. But Lee Stevens grounded out to first on the next pitch.

Loaiza, making his playoff debut, allowed only two runners to reach second after Strawberry's homer, both with two outs. In seven innings, he allowed five hits, three runs and a walk while striking out four.

Notes: The Rangers were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position in the series. ... Unable to get hits off Clemens, Tom Goodwin and Juan Gonzalez hit balls that hit him. Both turned into outs at first. ... Torre wouldn't say whether David Cone, who would've started Game 4, would be his Game 1 starter in the ALCS. ... Former Dallas Cowboys star Roger Staubach took his ceremonial first pitch so seriously that he warmed up and took a glove to the mound. Sure enough, the toss had some zing to it. ... With losses by the Rangers and Houston Astros, there's no chance for a Texas vs. New York finals in baseball as there was in the NHL, NBA and WNBA this season. Teams from the Lone Star State won the other three. ... The Yankees won 12 straight postseason games - all in the World Series - from 1927-32. ... Texas was shut out seven times in the regular season, and twice by the Yankees in the playoffs. ... Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill did not play because of a bruised side. He should be OK for the ALCS.

Related information
Rangers' cold bats face the heat of the Rocket
Despite distractions, Yankees ready to repeat
Yankees watching Mets with intense interest
Roger Clemens knows team goals are the most important. (80 K)
Darryl Strawberry will not give less than 100 percent. (80 K)
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