Posted: Wednesday October 06, 1999 01:58 AM
BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- Once again, the big, bad Texas Rangers appeared to shrink and cower in the shadow cast by the defending world champion New York Yankees.
Orlando Hernandez posted his third win in as many postseason starts by tossing eight scoreless innings and Bernie Williams homered and drove in six runs to lead New York to a convincing 8-0 victory over Texas in Game One of the American League Division Series.
The Rangers finished with a franchise-record 95 wins and scored 905 runs, the second-best total in baseball behind the Cleveland Indians. But they managed only two hits and six walks against "El Duque," who beat Cleveland in last year's AL Championship Series and San Diego in Game Two of the World Series.
"(Hernandez) was keeping the ball low, both the fastball and the changeup," New York catcher Jorge Posada said. "The ball was just flying out of his hand tonight."
With the game still tight, the righthander twice retired the dangerous Juan Gonzalez with two runners on and less than two out. Hernandez has yielded only one run and 11 hits over 22 innings in his three career playoff starts.
"I like pitching with pressure for nine innings," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "Relaxing is not something I like to do when I pitch. Most important is the support I received from my team offensively and defensively. I don't feel like I won the game, I feel like we won the game."
"El Duque is very strong," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I think both he and (Roger) Clemens are the strongest guys we have. He is a well-conditioned athlete. He threw a lot of pitches early because he was picking and choosing who he wanted to face. Not that anybody in that lineup is easy but he was not going to give in and that was the thing to do."
Williams had a two-run double off the center-field wall in the fifth to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead and capped a four-run sixth with a three-run homer to right that made it 7-0. In last year's Division Series sweep of Texas, he was hitless in 11 at-bats.
New York conquered Texas in both the 1996 and 1998 Division Series en route to a pair of world titles. The Rangers scored only one run and batted .141 in last year's sweep and have been held scoreless for 22 straight postseason innings.
"We talk the talk a lot, now it is time to walk the walk," Texas manager Johnny Oates said. "We can talk about it all we want but until we start getting some base hits, it's going to be tough for us to win. With the offense we throw out there, you are going to bump into a run once and a while, even if it is by accident."
Williams also saved a run with a running catch in right-center off the bat of Gonzalez to thwart a potential rally in the third and added an RBI single in the eighth that capped the scoring.
His six RBI were one shy of the all-time Division Series record of seven shared by Mo Vaughn and Edgar Martinez.
"Bernie is a special person, a special talent," Torre said.
"For him to have the night he had tonight, the year he had, it is very impressive. The night he had tonight was unbelieveable."
"I just feel like we need to score a lot of runs against this team," Williams added. "What happened tonight was an exception rather than the rule. Those guys over there can hit with the best of them."
Jeff Nelson pitched a scoreless ninth for the Yankees, who have taken seven straight postseason meetings from the Rangers after dropping Game One of the 1996 ALCS here. New York has won its last eight postseason games overall dating to a loss at Cleveland in Game Three of last year's ALCS.
Tonight, Rangers left fielder Rusty Greer literally was blinded by the bright lights of hallowed Yankee Stadium when he lost rookie Ricky Ledee's two-out RBI double. Texas allowed four unearned runs in the contest, providing little help for starter Aaron Sele (0-1), who surrendered four runs -- three earned -- and six hits over five-plus innings.
"The lights here are difficult," said Sele, who consoled Greer in the dugout after the inning. "It was a low line drive and he just got caught. That's baseball. He's picked me up a lot more times than I have picked him up."
Game Two is here on Thursday.
The contest took a dark turn with one out in the fourth when Chuck Knoblauch's check-swing foul ball flew into the dugout and struck Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer behind the left ear. He was helped to the clubhouse but returned minutes later with an icepack pressed firmly against his ear.
Knoblauch grounded out before Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill stroked back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners for Williams, who received a generous call from plate umpire Jim Joyce on a 1-2 curveball from Sele that appeared to catch the outside corner.
Williams made the most of the opportunity three pitches later when he smacked one off the wall in center to plate both runners, giving Hernandez some breathing room at 3-0.
"The count was 0-2 and I just told myself to stay focused and have a good at-bat," Williams said. "He made a couple of tough pitches. That back-door breaking ball that was very close and was called a ball. I don't think he threw a fastball until the end and I was able to put some good wood on it and hit it pretty hard."
Sele left after issuing a leadoff walk to Ledee in the sixth and the Rangers unraveled soon after.
"I didn't throw the ball very well tonight," Sele said. "I was in some bad counts and wasn't able to make pitches when I needed to. I was erratic but able to battle through it most of the night. They are a great offensive club and I just didn't have it today. But we don't quit and will play hard until the final out."
After Scott Brosius sacrificed, reliever Tim Crabtree struck out Knoblauch before Jeter walked. Lefthander Mike Venafro came in to face O'Neill, whose smash skidded off third baseman Todd Zeile's leg for an error, scoring Ledee and setting the table for Williams' 10th career postseason homer and sixth in Division Series play.
"It's just the first game. We have a long way to go," Williams said. "Those guys over there, it's like waking up an ant hill.
We just have to be ready and can't take them lightly at all.
Thursday is another day and we have to be ready for them."
"The first one is always the big one," Jeter added. "They always play us tough, but fortunately we have been able to have their number. Tonight we took advantage of their mistakes.
They gave us four outs when they lost the ball in the lights and later with the error at third base."
Ivan Rodriguez, who had both of Texas' hits, doubled with one out in the first. Hernandez walked Rusty Greer but recovered to strike out Gonzalez and Zeile, who has failed to drive in a run in 31 career postseason at-bats.
"(The first inning) was key," Oates said. "We talked so much about it before today's game, getting on the board first, giving our pitchers a chance. Knowing the troubles we have had scoring runs in the playoffs against this club, that was key. You have the guys you want up, certainly the first inning was big, not being able to put at least a couple of runs on the board."
With Darryl Strawberry on first and two out in the second, the Yankees went ahead for good when Ledee smacked a line drive to left that Greer appeared to have lined up before sinking to his knees and dropping his head as the ball sailed past him and to the wall. Strawberry, who was running with the pitch, scored easily and Hernandez had all the offense he would need.
The Rangers threatened again in the third when Rodriguez singled with one out and stole second before "El Duque" again walked Greer. Gonzalez followed with a line drive to right-center that appeared to be on its way through the gap before Williams ran under it, sliding on his knees for the catch.
Rafael Palmeiro, who finished second in the AL with 148 RBI, flied out to center to end the frame. Gonzalez, who was 0-for-11 in last year's Division Series, went hitless with a walk in three at-bats.
"In the first we had a chance to get the momentum on our side but were not able to do it," Palmeiro said. "This one is over with and you have to give credit to the guy who threw it. This is over and done with and forgotten about. We'll come back out here Thursday against another pitcher, start from square one and hopefully the results will be different."
Ledee was 1-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI, improving to 7-for-13 with five RBI in his postseason career.
Williams' outburst was reminiscent of his 1996 first-round performance against Texas when he had three homers, five RBI and hit .467 in four games. The switch-hitting center fielder tied O'Neill for the Division Series record with his sixth homer. He has 17 RBI in Division Series games, surpassing O'Neill's mark of 14.