Posted: Friday October 08, 1999 01:57 AM
BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- The New York Yankees got one more big hit than the Texas Rangers, who cannot seem to manage any.
Andy Pettitte combined with two relievers on a seven-hitter as the Yankees continued to baffle the Rangers, winning 3-1 to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five American League Division Series.
Rookie Ricky Ledee snapped a tie with an RBI double in the seventh inning, helping the defending World Series winners move within one victory of the AL Championship Series.
Game Three is Saturday in Texas.
The AL West champs are 1-8 all-time in the postseason, losing eight straight Division Series games -- a record skid in the round -- to the Yankees in 1996, 1998 and this year.
"It's like the guy that threw out the first pitch last night says, 'It's like deja vu all over again,' same score, same outcome," Rangers starter Rick Helling said, referring to Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.
The Rangers, who led the league with a .293 batting average and finished second with 230 homers, have scored only two runs and are batting .144 (22-for-153) in the last 51 postseason innings against New York.
"I think there's a certain level of frustration, but I think we know we can play with these guys," Rangers manager Johnny Oates said.
"Maybe we go home and things can change," added Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez. "We have to do the little things that got us here. We can hit, but I don't know what happened. This is not the Texas Rangers. You can ask them how they feel about us.
They will tell you, we are one of the best teams."
Texas failed to build on a 1-0 lead in the fifth against Pettitte, despite putting runners at second and third with none out.
"The fifth was the game," Rangers shortstop Royce Clayton said.
"We had him on the ropes and the momentum swung to their side when he got out of that jam."
The Yankees left six runners in scoring position but held on after Ledee stroked a double to the gap in right-center field off Helling (0-1).
Mike Venafro issued a bases-loaded walk to Jim Leyritz with two outs in the eighth to cap the scoring.
Pettitte (1-0) left to a standing ovation after giving up one run and seven hits over 7 1/3 innings. He improved to 7-3 in the postseason and 46-21 lifetime at Yankee Stadium.
"I just feel like I'm able to get focused," Pettitte said. "I was able to get locked in tonight."
Jeff Nelson got the final two outs in the eighth and Mariano Rivera struck out two in a flawless ninth for the save.
"They scored one run and we wanted to keep it that way," Nelson said.
Helling gave up only two runs and five hits over 6 1/3 innings while walking one and striking out eight, but dropped to 0-2 lifetime in the playoffs, losing to Pettitte both times.
"Helling was pitching a great game," Pettitte said. "I didn't know if we'd get to him. And I didn't think he'd give up many runs. He was just painting the corner on the lefthanded hitters. You have to give him a lot of credit, too."
Helling struck out eight of the first 16 batters he faced.
The Rangers snapped a 25 1/3-inning postseason scoreless streak against New York on Juan Gonzalez's solo homer in the fourth. He tied Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill of the Yankees for the AL Division Series record.
Pettitte kept it at 1-0 with a brilliant effort in the fifth.
With runners on second and third, he fell behind Mark McLemore 3-0 before striking him out, then threw two balls to Clayton before inducing a groundout. Rusty Greer struck out to end the threat.
"That was the key to the game, the way Helling was pitching," Yankees catcher Joe Girardi said. "We are real passionate about our game this time of year. Second and third, 3-0 to McLemore, you say to yourself, 'If you give up one run here you are in good shape.' You don't want to give up two, but (Pettitte) was incredible and it gave us a big lift."
Maligned throughout the season and nearly traded at the deadline, Pettitte is 2-0 with a 0.61 ERA in his last two postseason starts, clinching last year's World Series sweep of San Diego. He is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA in two playoff starts against Texas.
"I really put emphasis on games in October and he has not backed off on any of them," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "In fact, that Game Four last year (against San Diego), Game Five (in the 1996 World Series against Atlanta) and Game Two last year against Texas, he's been great."
The Yankees caught a break in the fifth. After former Yankee Roberto Kelly led off with a single, Lee Stevens bounced a ground-rule double over the wall in left field that likely would have scored a run.
"I made a bad pitch to get in that situation to Stevens. And I was a little frustrated," Pettitte said. "At that point, I was just trying to concede a run and trying to get an out there."
New York tied it in the fifth. Tino Martinez led off with a single and scored on Scott Brosius' two-out RBI double that eluded a leaping Greer and caromed off the left-field wall.
Martinez also sparked the seventh with a one-out walk, then raced to third on a hit-and-run single to right field by Chili Davis. Ledee followed with a high fly ball that fell between Kelly and Gonzalez in right-center.
"I knew it would drop the way they were playing me," Ledee said.
"They may have been doing that because of that foul ball I hit and because other guys were not pulling him."
The Yankees could have added some insurance but Tim Crabtree replaced Helling and got Brosius and Girardi to ground out, stranding runners at second and third.