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Rocket defused

Yankees' postseason winning streak ends at six

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Latest: Wednesday October 04, 2000 12:00 AM

  Eric Chavez Eric Chavez avoids Jorge Posada's tag during the fifth inning of Game 1. AP

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Even the comfort of the postseason couldn't rescue the slumping New York Yankees, who were destroyed by the bottom of the Oakland Athletics' lineup.

Ramon Hernandez drove in two runs, including a go-ahead double in the sixth inning off Roger Clemens, and the Athletics defeated the struggling Yankees 5-3 Tuesday night in the opener of their playoff series.

Hernandez, the No. 9 hitter in a powerful A's lineup, went 2-for-4 Tuesday after hitting .241 during the regular season. Both of his hits went to the opposite field.

"Ramon's our secret weapon at the bottom of the order," A's manager Art Howe said. "You need hitting throughout the order to win. We feel good about him being down there, because there's not an easy touch anywhere in the lineup."

The last three hitters in the Oakland lineup went 6-for-11 and scored four runs.

Notebook:'s Josie Karp reports that Oakland manager Art Howe had an ace up his sleeve in Game 1 starter Gil Heredia.

"The bottom of the order beat our brains out," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I thought they were very patient at the bottom of that lineup and Hernandez had a very good approach, going the other way."

In a matchup of near-opposites, a small-market A's club making its first playoff appearance since 1992 was patient enough to outlast Clemens and a mega-rich Yankees club trying to defend its two straight World Series titles.

Overpowered for the first four innings, the A's scored four times in the fifth and sixth off a tiring Clemens -- he threw 111 pitches in his six innings -- and then held on to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five AL division series.

"The way Roger was throwing the ball early on, it looked like it might be a long evening for us. The velocity he had was vintage Clemens," Howe said. "But we hung in there."

Hernandez said he convinced himself to stay patient against Clemens and wait for the right pitch. He got that right pitch twice, and that led to two run-scoring hits.

"He was dealing, dealing, dealing throughout the whole game," Hernandez said. "I got up and I think he messed up a couple of pitches."

The Yankees stumbled into the playoffs this year, ending the regular season with a seven-game losing streak -- the worst skid ever for a team entering the postseason -- and 15 losses in their final 18 games.

They hoped the postseason would provide a panacea -- after all, they had won 18 of their previous 19 postseason games heading into this series, and also have a record-matching 12 straight World Series victories.

"It was very disappointing, we had the opportunity to get things going, we just couldn't," New York's Bernie Williams said. "It started pretty good, we just couldn't keep scoring, getting more runs. I really didn't think we were OK, but I did think he had something going."

The slump prompted Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to issue a statement earlier in the day about his team.

"Tired? Yeah, maybe. Struggling? Yeah, maybe. But scared? ... That word ain't even in our vocabulary," he said.

In a Jam
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Start the postseason. Flip the switch. Win the championship.

It's been almost that easy for the New York Yankees while winning three titles over the last four years. No matter how the regular season ended, the Yankees consistently found the will to overcome any playoff obstacle.

But after what manager Joe Torre called "the strangest season since I've been here," things are getting even stranger for the Yankees -- and their postseason lives are now on the line after opening the playoffs with a loss for the first time in four years.

New York's loss to the Oakland Athletics in the opener of its AL playoff series was just the Yankees' second defeat in their last 20 postseason games.

It put them behind in a playoff series for the first time since 1998, when they trailed Cleveland 2-1 in the AL championship series before winning three in a row.

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The A's, on the other hand, won eight of their last 10 regular-season games to overtake Seattle for the AL West title, clinching the division title on the final day. Their 21-7 record in September was best in the major leagues.

Journeyman Gil Heredia, making the first postseason start of his nine year major league career, allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings for the win.

Jeff Tam and Jim Mecir combined for two scoreless innings of relief and Jason Isringhausen got three outs for his first postseason save.

The Yankees had only three hits in the last seven innings.

Game 2 will be Wednesday night at Oakland. Andy Pettitte will pitch for the Yankees against Kevin Appier.

Clemens, who now has a 3-4 record in 13 postseason starts, allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings.

"We have to come out tomorrow and win," Clemens said.

The Yankees took their first lead in a week when consecutive RBI doubles by Luis Sojo and Scott Brosius made it 2-0 in the second. It broke New York's streak of 63 innings without a lead and was Brosius' first RBI since Sept. 10.

Clemens struck out five and allowed only one hit, an infield single by Terrence Long, in the first four innings. But the A's finally broke through in the fifth.

Hernandez and ex-Yankee Randy Velarde had RBI singles and another run scored on a wild pitch by Clemens, giving the A's a 3-2 lead. A questionable play by New York second baseman Luis Sojo, a defensive replacement for Chuck Knoblauch, hurt the Yankees in the inning.

With runners on first and second and no outs, Long hit an easy grounder to Sojo. Instead of throwing to second for a force or tagging Hernandez on his way to second, Sojo threw to first and the return throw to second was too late to get Hernandez -- who scored three batters later on the wild pitch.

The Yankees tied it at 3 in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Tino Martinez.

Oakland regained the lead in its half of the inning on two-out singles by Eric Chavez and Jeremy Giambi and the RBI double by Hernandez. Giambi also tried to score on Hernandez's hit, but was thrown out at home.

Oakland made it 5-3 in the eighth when Miguel Tejada singled, moved up on a wild pitch by Mike Stanton and scored on a single by Chavez.

Notes: Howe won in his first postseason game as a manager. ... The Yankees were 6-3 against the A's this year. ... The Yankees and Oakland were meeting in the postseason for the first time since the strike-shortened 1981 season. New York swept the A's in three games in the 1981 AL championship series. ... New York's David Justice appeared in his 78th postseason game, setting a major league record. Justice, who has been in the playoffs with Atlanta, Cleveland and now the Yankees, broke the record he had shared with former Yankees and A's star Reggie Jackson.

Related information
Steinbrenner: Yankees ain't scared
Week at Glance: A wide-open postseason
Postseason breakdown: Yankees vs. A's's Donovan: Anyone can win -- kind of
Yankees-Athletics Box Score
A's manager Art Howe was concerned that his squad wouldn't stand a chance against Roger Clemens. (115 K)
Yankees manager Joe Torre says the A's are playing their hearts out. (119 K)
Roger Clemens isn't satisfied with just making it to the playoffs. (51 K)
A's pitcher Gil Heredia kept his composure and stuck to the plan. (129 K)
Yankees SS Derek Jeter is interested to see how his team reacts in a pressure situation. (95 K)
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