Work in Sports
OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- Even the sight of postseason bunting could not pull the New York Yankees out of their extended nose dive. The decorations did seem to strike the fancy of the hungry Oakland Athletics.
Ramon Hernandez sparked a three-run fifth inning with an RBI single and plated the go-ahead run with a double in the bottom of the sixth as the Athletics used the bottom of their order and a strong bullpen to hold off the Yankees, 5-3, in Game One of the American League Division Series.
Having lost 15 of their previous 18 games and seven in a row to close the regular season, the Yankees -- 22-3 in the last two postseasons -- hoped their sixth straight ALDS appearance would snap them back into shape.
"I've been trying to get them loosened up, but nothing seems to (work)," New York manager Joe Torre said.
The two-time defending world champions had to be inspired by a quick start, rallying for two runs in the second inning off Oakland starter Gil Heredia. But New York returned to its late-September form soon afterwards.
After managing one hit through the first four frames, the A's finally got to Roger Clemens (0-1) in the fifth. Eric Chavez led off with a sharp single to right and Jeremy Giambi drew a walk before Hernandez got Oakland on the board with a single through the right side of the infield.
"Ramon got the big hit and put us on the board," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "Ramon is our secret weapon at the bottom of the order. You need hitting up and down the order to win ballgames. We feel good about him being down there because there's not an easy touch anywhere in the lineup."
Rookie Terrence Long grounded to second, moving both runners up, and former Yankee Randy Velarde singled to left, plating Giambi with the tying run. Catcher Jorge Posada was unable to handle a pitch in the dirt and was charged with a passed ball, giving Oakland a 3-2 lead.
"I always seem to be dealing, dealing, dealing," Clemens said. "Everything I started to throw after the second seemed to get up and then I messed up on a couple of pitches (in the fifth)."
New York forged a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth when Bernie Williams led off with a double, moved to second on David Justice's groundout and scored on Tino Martinez's fly ball to deep left. Justice was participating in his major league record 78th postseason game.
Undaunted, the A's answered with another two-out rally in the sixth, again sparked by the bottom of the order. Chavez and Jeremy Giambi delivered back-to-back singles and Hernandez doubled to right. Chavez scored easily but right fielder Paul O'Neill picked the ball up on the warning track and he and Tino Martinez teamed on a perfectly executed relay to the plate, nailing Giambi by five steps.
"I hit two fastballs," Hernandez said. "I think (Clemens) was throwing a great game. I think when I got up, he just left up a couple of pitches. I don't get nervous. We're all young. For a lot of us it's the first time in the playoffs. There's no pressure. If we win, if we lose, we gave it all we had."
Heredia (1-0), making his first career postseason start, was up to the task after a shaky start. The righthander allowed three runs and seven hits. He walked one, struck out three and watched his bullpen go to work thereafter.
Jeff Tam, former Yankee Jim Mecir and closer Jason Isringhausen combined to hold New York hitless over the final three innings to nail down Oakland's first postseason win since Game Five of the 1992 ALCS.
"I don't see any pressure at all in the clubhouse. Today I came in and it was like it always is. It was just like any other day," Mecir said when asked if the A's were taken aback by the postseason atmosphere.
Isringhausen, who surrendered back-to-back, first-pitch homers to blow a save at Yankee Stadium on August 8, struck out Posada and pinch-hitter Glenallen Hill before retiring former Athletic Scott Brosius on a grounder to shortstop for the final out.
"Now it's a matter of life or death," Isringhausen said of his first career playoff save. "It's a little bit different than during the regular season when we draw 30,000 against New York and 20,000 of them are cheering for the Yankees."
Chavez, Jeremy Giambi and Hernandez, Nos. 7, 8 and 9 in the Oakland order, combined to go 6-for-10 with four runs scored and three RBI. Chavez collected three hits, including an RBI single in the top of the ninth that capped the scoring.
"We've got to take one of two at home because we have to play in New York and you know how New York is," Hernandez said. "We're so hot (since) September, nobody can believe it -- even me.
We're just going out and having fun."
"I was just playing see the ball, hit the ball and getting back to basics," Chavez said. "(Clemens) is going to come at you and be aggressive."
Nearly a decade after being ejected by plate umpire Terry Cooney in the second inning of an ALCS game here as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Clemens gave the Yankees six innings and 111 pitches despite a bruised right hamstring.
The hard-throwing righthander allowed just one hit over four innings but tired late, falling to 3-4 all-time in postseason play. Clemens was reached for four runs and seven hits, walking four and striking out five. He is 2-2 as a Yankee in the playoffs.
Only two members of Oakland's starting lineup -- Matt Stairs and Velarde -- had participated in the playoffs prior to tonight.
"I think the thing that really helped us out was how much of September was like the playoffs for us," Jason Giambi said. "We had to play some great baseball to stay alive and in my opinion, that's why we're here. We just played great baseball tonight, went out there and got that first game and acted like we belonged."
The Yankees had won their previous six ALDS Games and had not lost Game One of any postseason series since Game One of the 1996 World Series against Atlanta.
Heredia ran into instant trouble in the first, surrendering a leadoff single up the middle to Chuck Knoblauch that center fielder Long misplayed, allowing Knoblauch to coast into second.
Derek Jeter squared to bunt, but instead took a pitch off one of the knuckles on his right hand to set up O'Neill.
But O'Neill grounded into a double play and Heredia struck out Williams to escape the inning. Jeter went 0-for-3, snapping his record-tying 17-game postseason hitting streak.
"It's a five-game series and those are always the toughest. I don't look forward to this at all," Jeter said.
"It puts a lot of pressure on us," O'Neill said of the 0-1 hole.
"But we've done this before. But we're playing a team with a lot of momentum and momentum can carry you a long way. We should know, we've used it before. We had a chance early on but we couldn't keep it going and we couldn't hold our lead."
Clemens walked Jason Giambi and Grieve after recording the first two outs in the bottom of the frame but got Miguel Tejada to foul out to end the threat.
The Yankees broke through against Heredia in the top of the second. With two out and none on, Posada lined a single off the glove of first baseman Jason Giambi and came around to score when Luis Sojo smacked a double into the gap in left-center.
Brosius ripped a double down the right field line for a 2-0 lead.
The Yankees received a gift with one out in the seventh when second baseman Velarde fired high and wide after fielding Knoblauch's grounder. But Tam struck out Jeter and Mecir came on to get O'Neill on a fly ball to shallow right.
In the bottom of the seventh, the A's appeared poised to break open the game. Mike Stanton took over for Clemens and retired Long on a grounder before walking Velarde and allowing a single to left to Jeremy Giambi. Velarde and Giambi pulled a double steal without drawing a throw to put runners at second and third. Grieve hit a line drive to Brosius at third and Velarde inexplicably was doubled off after wandering too far from the bag.
Stanton was not as fortunate in the bottom of the eighth.
Tejada singled to left leading off and went to second on a wild pitch with one out before scoring on Chavez's single to center.
"We obviously don't take anybody for granted," Torre said. "But I thought they were very patient at the bottom of the order and I thought Hernandez had a terrific approach, hitting the ball the other way."
Jeff Nelson came on and got the final two outs, but New York did not come close to threatening in the ninth.