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The last hurrah

O'Neill, Martinez enjoying World Series renaissance

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Posted: Monday October 23, 2000 12:31 AM
Updated: Monday October 23, 2000 12:45 AM

  Paul O'Neill Paul O'Neill each collected three hits for the Yankees in Game 2. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Paul O'Neill has heard the whispers.

At 37, they said he'd lost a step in the field and the quickness in his bat. Manager Joe Torre dropped him from his customary third spot in the batting order to No. 7, an attempt to get him out of the spotlight. The word around Yankee Stadium was that the right fielder was done.

If he's finished, he's going out with a flourish.

"Paul O'Neill, to me, is piecing it together," Torre said. "He's doing what he needs to do day to day."

There was a huge 10-pitch at-bat in Game 1 of the World Series when he coaxed a walk out of Armando Benitez to build the tying-run rally in the Yankees' 4-3 victory.

Then he had three hits Sunday night, driving in one run and setting up another as the Yankees beat the Mets 6-5 for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. He extended his postseason hitting streak to six games.

Twice, the Mets walked Jorge Posada in front of O'Neill. Each time, he responded with hits.

"I think he's a really good hitter," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said of O'Neill. "I have to go with what's best. If he wins the battle, he's doing a good job."

This has been O'Neill's toughest season in New York. Even though he batted .283 with 18 home runs and 100 RBIs, he had been easy pickings for left-handers, especially after a hip pointer limited him for the final two months.

"He doesn't have the hip pointer anymore but there's still some effect from that," Torre said. "He's mixing and matching. It's not always pretty but it's pretty effective."

Typical of O'Neill's troubles was the rally killing double play he hit into in extra innings of Game 1. He slammed his helmet down in disgust.

"He was so discouraged -- or disappointed, I guess is a better word, when he hit into the double play," Torre said. "I just told him he never would have had a chance to hit if he didn't have that at-bat the previous time.

"You look at his record. He's done a lot of first-ball swinging. He's gotten a lot of hits on first pitches. He had the right approach."

O'Neill is often an anxious hitter and he's been a productive one for the Yankees. He had his fourth straight 100 RBI season and finished with 1,969 hits, 31 short of 2,000. But there were questions about whether he would have a chance to get those hits with the Yankees.

The rumors were that New York would begin looking for replacement parts for a team that has won three World Series in the last four years and that right field might be the place to start.

Also on the potential hit list was Tino Martinez. The Yankees exercised their option on the first baseman's contract for 2001, but there were suspicions that after a .258 season and just 16 homers and 91 RBIs, the team would send him elsewhere.

Martinez has responded to that talk with a big postseason that included an RBI single with two outs in the first inning Sunday night and then a double in front of O'Neill's RBI single in the sixth. Martinez added an RBI single in the eighth.

He struggled through a difficult September including a career-long 0-for-28 stretch. He began putting things together after that.

"I was swinging the bat well the last 10 games of the season and it's just carried over," he said.

If the rumors are true, Game 2 might have been the last appearances at Yankee Stadium for O'Neill and Martinez. If that was the case, they left something to remember them by.

Related information
Notebook: Valentine gives DH nod to Harris
Game 2: Mets' rally comes up short in 6-5 loss
Benches clear during first Piazza-Clemens at-bat
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