Last year's version
Yankees went into the time vault and brought back 1998
Posted: Sunday October 10, 1999 06:20 PM
The Yankees began their 1996 and 1998 title runs by beating Texas in the first round of the playoffs. AP
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Since everything else the New York Yankees have done this year has been compared to 1998, it's only fair to point out these guys were as good if not better in the first round of the playoffs.
The reigning World Series champions wrapped up their second straight first-round sweep of the Texas Rangers with a 3-0 victory Saturday night. New York allowed just one run in three games -- just like last year -- while scoring five more.
"It's incredible," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Last year we did the same thing and I remember saying this was the toughest series for us because you don't want to go through this ballclub again."
Best of all, they did it without playoff ace David Cone breaking a sweat.
Cone, who could use the extra rest, would've started Game 4 against Texas. Instead, he'll likely pitch the opener of the AL championship series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium against either Cleveland or Boston.
"We're throwing the ball well, and our best money pitcher hasn't even come out of the bag yet," Game 3 winner Roger Clemens said. "It'll be interesting to see what spark he gives us."
New York, which has won 10 straight postseason games, has used first-round victories over Texas as a springboard to World Series titles in 1996 and '98.
But the hunt for a third title in four years and 25th overall carries the added burden of following one of baseball's best teams ever. The '98 Yankees won 114 regular-season games and swept San Diego in the Series.
Although this team won 16 fewer games from April to October -- the biggest falloff in the AL -- it still has a chance for a better postseason. Beating last year's 11-2 playoff run won't be easy, but sweeping Texas at least makes it possible.
"You see guys are just determined to get it done, whether it's going to get a ball or cut a ball off," Clemens said. "That's what these games are about now."
New York pitchers controlled this series by shutting down Texas hitters.
The Rangers, who led the majors with a .293 average in the regular season, batted just .152, including 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. They were shut out twice in three games after being blanked seven times in 162 games.
Starters Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and Clemens each went at least seven innings, and relievers Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera did the rest.
"I think they would've shut out any team they faced," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "They were just on top of their game, hitting their spots and not letting anybody get on base."
The Yankees led 20 of the 27 innings this series thanks largely to improved hitting by Jeter and Bernie Williams. After going 1-for-20 against Texas last year, the duo went 9-for-22 with six RBIs and five runs.
Both also came through in the field, especially Saturday. Jeter made a nice play to get the final out, and Williams chased down the three hardest-hit balls by the Rangers.
Jeter and Williams were on base in the first inning when Darryl Strawberry drove in the game's only runs with a two-out homer.
The drive awoke a lifeless New York dugout and left Texas facing a deficit it didn't have the confidence to overcome.
Pitching like a five-time Cy Young Award winner should, Clemens made the lead hold up by allowing just three singles in seven shutout innings. The Rangers reached second only once, and that threat ended on the next pitch.
Clemens' first postseason win since 1986 began making up for a mediocre regular season and reminded critical Yankees fans why he was acquired from Toronto in the spring.
"I think this turns the page on everything that happened this year," Torre said. "This is the pitcher we traded for."
Almost overshadowed is the dramatic reversal by Strawberry, who this time last year only gave New York inspiration as he fought colon cancer.
Having beaten the disease and endured another arrest and suspension, the king of comebacks said this homer "probably is at the top of the list after all I've been through."
"It's a great feeling," he said. "This team is always accomplishing a lot. We play as a team, as hard as we can and we win. I think everybody appreciates what we've done."
With the Yankees and New York Mets both among the final four teams for the first time, the city already is abuzz over the chance for a Subway Series.
Strawberry, who has won a World Series with both teams, can only imagine the scene.
"You got to think, `How crazy will it be in New York?'" he said. "As far as the fans and the rivals, Mets fans and Yankees fans, you wonder if the city can control that."
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.