It ain't over ...
Yankees say it's too early to count them out against A's
Updated: Saturday October 13, 2001 12:49 AM
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The dynasty is in dire straits.
With the unsettling speed unique to the first round of baseball's playoffs, the New York Yankees are down to their last chance for postseason survival after two losing nights in the Bronx.
The Oakland Athletics returned to the Coliseum on Friday with a 2-0 Division Series lead on the three-time World Series champions, who have been unable to counter the combination of enthusiasm, power and phenomenal pitching from the youthful A's.
New York hasn't been in such a pickle -- down 0-2 in a series, one game from elimination -- since 1980, when Kansas City swept the Yankees in the AL Championship Series. Only five teams in the Yankees' predicament have ever recovered to win.
Game 3 is Saturday night, with hot left-hander Barry Zito pitching for Oakland against Mike Mussina. The Yankees lost all six of their regular-season games in Oakland; the A's haven't lost to anybody at the Coliseum since Aug. 24.
"We'd like to finish things off tomorrow," A's outfielder Johnny Damon said on Friday. "That would be good. I think we'd like to clinch here at home for the fans, and be on our own turf."
But those looking for signs of desperation didn't find them in the visiting clubhouse on Friday afternoon. The Yankees chatted amiably with each other before a brief team meeting and a light practice session.
"I haven't really thought about losing, or about next year," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "They've still got to beat us again. You try to make this season last as long as you can."
It seems the odds are stacked so high that perhaps only the Yankees, with their preternatural champions' cool, would have a chance to beat them.
"They are certainly making us eat some dust right now because of the way they are playing us," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Dust is a dish the Yankees accustomed to serving, not sampling. New York has won four of the past five World Series with an ever-changing cast of heroes.
Even when the Yankees didn't play outstanding baseball during the regular season, they managed to flip a winning switch in October. Propelled by Torre's firm guidance, owner George Steinbrenner's zealous desire for rings and some of the highest-priced talent in baseball, the Yankees grabbed hold of the sport.
But that grip slipped this season with the emergence of two Western powers in the AL. Seattle's 116 regular-season wins left no doubt of the identity of baseball's best team, while Oakland's second-half surge has extended into the playoffs.
"We still have to go out and win our share of games and (not) make it easy for somebody to take it away from you," Torre said. "It belongs to you until somebody takes it from you."
When the Yankees arrived in Oakland, Torre wore a hat featuring a Port Authority Police logo next to one of Yankee legend Yogi Berra's famous sayings: "It ain't over 'til it's over!"
"I didn't want to have this hat be necessary," Torre said with a grin.
The A's are well aware of the enormity of their goal. Closer Jason Isringhausen felt it when AL MVP Jason Giambi visited the mound during the ninth inning on Thursday night. Isringhausen allowed two batters to reach base before finishing off the A's 2-0 victory. "Jason came out and said 'Calm down,' and I said, 'I can't feel my legs,'" Isringhausen said. 'In this kind of atmosphere, it's real nerve-racking. I feel much better now, after it's all said and done."
Now the A's are back at the cavernous Coliseum, where they have won 17 straight games, including many blowouts.
The Yankees had several scouts at the Coliseum during the season's final months, so they're well aware of the A's near-invincibility at home. New York still hasn't been able to figure out Oakland, however: The Yankees haven't even led after any of their past 76 innings against the A's.
"You can't give them an inch, or they'll take four," Oakland second baseman Frank Menechino said. "We don't want to give them any breathing room or any momentum, and that means we don't want to go back to New York."
Both managers said they planned to get a good night's sleep before making any lineup changes. There aren't likely to be any major switches, since both teams have given roughly equal efforts in the series -- with Oakland's pitching turning out to be slightly better.
In Game 1, likely Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens was bested by the likely runner-up, 24-year-old Mark Mulder. In Game 2, 26-year-old Tim Hudson threw eight brilliant innings to outpitch Andy Pettitte, who has given Oakland fits for years.
Oakland next turns to Zito, who beat the Yankees in last season's playoffs and nearly got the Game 1 start until Howe decided to use him at the Coliseum, where he is 9-0 in his last 13 starts.
But Mussina also was strong late in the season. In his first postseason with the Yankees, he said he respects the accomplishments of the other players who have worn pinstripes, but within limits.
"If I sit there and think about what everybody has accomplished before us, then you're not really thinking about baseball," Mussina said. "So I'm not sitting back thinking about what Whitey (Ford) would do in this circumstance. I'm thinking about what I'm going to do."