Title in sight
Jeter provides spark; Yankees one stop from three-peat
Updated: Monday December 18, 2000 3:57 AM
FLUSHING, New York -- Derek Jeter homered on the game's first pitch and Mariano Rivera got some revenge with the last out as the New York Yankees took a commanding lead in the Subway Series with a 3-2 triumph over the New York Mets in Game Four of the World Series.
Jeter opened the contest with his first World Series homer and the Yankees scored in each of the first three innings. Starter Denny Neagle, who had just one win in 12 postseason appearances, pitched 4 2/3 solid innings before four relievers combined to hold the Mets to two hits the rest of the way.
The win moved the Yankees to the brink of becoming the first team since the 1972-74 Oakland Athletics to win three straight World Series titles. It would also mark the Bronx Bombers' fourth title in five years, a feat only two other teams have accomplished.
"We are not satisfied until we get that fourth win," Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez said. "We don't care where we win it, we have been in every possible position in the postseason. We don't stop grinding until we get that fourth win."
"We're one win away from where we want to be," Jeter said. "But this Mets team is not going to give up. In my opinion, they're the best team we've played in the five years I've been here in the postseason."
In the 40 previous instances in which a team trailed 3-1 in a series, only six have come back to win. The last was the 1985 Kansas City Royals.
"It's not frustrating," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "We're giving everything we have out there, and they're giving just a little extra. They scored an extra run tonight. We have a lot of hits saved up. Hopefully over the next three games they'll all come out."
Neagle allowed a two-run homer to Mike Piazza in the third and left with two outs in the fifth. Former Met David Cone retired Piazza to end the fifth and Jeff Nelson came on to allow one hit over 1 1/3 innings and get the win via scorer's decision.
After Nelson allowed a one-out walk in the seventh, Yankees manager Joe Torre opted for Mike Stanton, who retired both batters he faced before turning things over to Rivera. Rivera retired six of the seven batters he faced to earn his sixth World Series save, tying Rollie Fingers for the all-time lead.
Rivera closed the game by striking out Matt Franco looking. It was Franco who beat Rivera with a game-winning single here last summer -- to that point the most thrilling game between the crosstown rivals.
"I was stronger in the ninth than I was in the eighth," Rivera said. "You have to give everything you have in that situation. Nelson, Stanton and myself are happy with what we are doing and we are doing what we have to to win."
But each contest of this series has been compelling, with the Yankees winning three one-run games and the Mets taking Game Three in their final at-bat.
"This has been a gut-wrenching series, no doubt about it," Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill said. "They've been one-run games. When you walk off the field, you know you have been in a battle. That's a credit to the Mets."
"We know we are a pitch away and a hit away from winning game," Mets center fielder Jay Payton said. "One hit and we are right back in it."
Mets starter Bobby Jones (0-1) allowed three runs and four hits in five innings.
"I was proud of Bobby Jones the way he got out of the first inning and kept battling the entire time he was out there," Valentine said. "That could have been a thing where we could have lost a little composure early. And I thought we did a good job of staying in it and just didn't do a good enough job of capping off the lead they had."
Jeter opened the game in impressive fashion, lining the first pitch from Jones over the left field wall for a 1-0 lead. It was the eighth leadoff homer in World Series history and the first since Rickey Henderson did it with Oakland in Game Four in 1989.
"It certainly makes you feel good," Torre said. "Jeter may be leading off but he is not a leadoff hitter. He's going to see the ball and swing at the ball. He makes things happen."
"I'm aggressive," Jeter said. "I've been known to swing at the first pitch. So, when you're playing these types of games, when runs can be kind of hard to come by, you want to score early. I got a good pitch to hit and I hit it well."
Jeter's aggression caught Jones by surprise.
"I wasn't expecting Jeter to swing at the first pitch but he did," Jones said. "On film, they are a team that takes a lot of pitches so that surprised me."
The home run also extended Jeter's World Series hitting streak to 13 games, the fourth longest ever. Former Yankee Hank Bauer hit in 17 straight from 1956-58.
The Yankees tacked on another run in the second. O'Neill, who had no triples in the regular season, had a three-base hit for the second time in two nights. After an intentional walk to Jorge Posada, Scott Brosius lofted a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 advantage.
Jeter opened the third with a triple and scored on Luis Sojo's grounder to second, making it 3-0. But the Mets countered in the bottom of the inning when Timoniel Perez led off with a single and scored on Piazza's long homer to left-center field.
"We thought it would be a big help but we didn't come through," Piazza said.
In the bottom of the fifth, Neagle quickly retired Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo. But with Piazza scheduled to hit, Torre turned to Cone, who got the dangerous slugger to pop out.
(Torre) told me to get ready for Piazza but I still wasn't sure I would definitely face him," Cone said. "Then when Denny got two quick outs in the fifth I wasn't sure at all. I was probable as surprised as Denny when Joe made the change with two outs in the fifth."
"When Cone came into the game the trust factor was still there, in my mind," Torre said.
Glendon Rusch took over and gave the Mets two scoreless frames, including a strikeout of pinch-hitter Jose Canseco with two aboard to end the sixth. The Mets got the leadoff man on in the bottom of the sixth but Benny Agbayani, the hero of Game Three, lined back to the mound for a double play.
"There is a reason why World Series games are not 10-9, it's called good relief pitching," Stanton said. "Regardless of what I am throwing right now, as long as my heart is in it, I've been able to throw it where I want."
Yankees cleanup batter Bernie Williams went 0-for-4 and is hitless in 15 at-bats in the series. His lack of production has been offset by the Mets' Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo. The top two hitters in the lineup are a combined 4-for-32.
Notes: Jeter batted leadoff with Sojo hitting second. In a shift, second baseman Jose Vizcaino was benched, with Chuck Knoblauch remaining out of the lineup. ... Jeter's early homer and triple put him in position to become the first player to hit for the cycle in the Series. ... When Todd Zeile tapped a foul down the third-base line in the fourth, Mets fans shouted "Run!" In Game 1, he stood at the plate when his slow trickler rolled from foul ground into fair territory. ... O'Neill got two hits, and leads the Series with nine hits.
© 2003 SportsTicker Enterprises, LP