Work in Sports
BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- Rookie Barry Zito made sure the New York Yankees did not get the two days off they were so looking forward to. In fact, he may have paved the way for an even longer vacation for the two-time defending world champions.
With his team facing elimination, Zito tossed 5 2/3 strong innings and received some early help from Olmedo Saenz as the Oakland Athletics battered Roger Clemens en route to an 11-1 rout in Game Four of their American League Division Series.
Looking to wrap up their third straight ALDS and avoid an overnight trip to the West Coast for Game Five on Sunday, the Yankees made it clear that they wanted desperately to end the series here tonight.
But Zito (1-0), a 22-year-old lefthander who went 5-1 with a 1.73 ERA in six September starts, proved more than ready for October.
"He pitched like a real pro. He's got a lot of poise for a youngster," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Zito.
The 6-4, 205-pound Las Vegas native allowed one run and scatttered seven hits, walking two and striking out five while throwing 104 pitches in front of a hostile crowd of 56,915 at Yankee Stadium.
"One for my scrapbook, I guess," Zito said of his first postseason start. "I tried not to feel the pressure and stuck to my game plan and trusted my stuff. It was the biggest pressure-type game that I've ever pitched in."
Clemens, pitching on three-day's rest for the first time in more than seven years, put the Yankees in an early hole when he allowed a one-out three-run homer to Olmedo Saenz in the first inning.
"That was huge," Oakland manager Art Howe said of the blast. "It let our young pitcher go out there with something to work with."
"That gave us a hill to climb right away," said Torre.
Clemens worked his way in and out of trouble in both the second and third innings before setting down nine straight batters entering the sixth.
But Ben Grieve, who was 0-for-9 and had hit into three double plays over the first three games, chased Clemens with a two-run single, highlighting a three run outburst that gave Oakland a commanding 6-0 lead.
"We were relaxed," Grieve said. "The guys were still upbeat after the losses, even though we were down 2-1. It wasn't as bad as it seemed. Putting up three runs in the first was big. We knew we had Barry going today so that helped."
Clemens left the hill to a chorus of boos after surrendering six runs and six hits over five-plus frames, falling to 3-5 lifetime in the postseason.
"It's disappointing, there's no doubt about it," Clemens said. "We just have to go out there and win a game."
The five-time Cy Young Award winner had been 3-0 in playoff clinchers, including Game Four of last year's World Series against Atlanta. He labored his way through 93 pitches tonight, throwing 58 strikes and forcing the Yankees to play a decisive game at Network Associates Coliseum, instead of preparing to host the Seattle Mariners here on Tuesday. Seattle ousted Chicago in three games in the other ALDS.
"We sure as hell don't want to make a 3,000-mile trip and not show up," Torre said. "We're getting on that plane tonight."
The Yankees finally broke through for a run against Zito on Jorge Posada's two-out RBI double in the sixth. Perhaps sensing a New York comeback, Howe turned to setup man Jim Mecir, who got Tino Martinez on a harmless pop fly to second base that ended the threat.
Mecir retired all three batters he faced before leaving the game with tendinitis in his left knee. Lefthander Mike Magnante and Doug Jones combined to toss the final 2 1/3 innings as the A's tacked on five runs over the final two innings against rookie Randy Choate and Dwight Gooden. New York managed just one hit after Zito left the game.
Oakland has not won a playoff series since the 1990 AL Championship Series. Ironically, Clemens was ejected from the Game Four clincher of that series and was also pitching on just three days of rest.
"Our guys were packed to go home either way," Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. "Obviously, we're extremely happy to go home tonight, knowing that there is a game for us to play tomorrow."
New York faces postseason elimination for the first time since 1997 when it dropped Game Five of the ALDS at Cleveland. The Yankees had won 10 straight postseason home games before running into Zito tonight.
Clemens walked rookie Terrence Long on four pitches before getting former Yankee Randy Velarde to ground into a force play. Clemens pitched carefully to Jason Giambi, issuing another walk, before Saenz ripped his next offering over the left field wall for a 3-0 lead.
"Everybody knows Clemens is aggressive and you have to be ready to swing," Saenz said. "We are really looking forward to this postseason challenge."
"It was a fastball up and he flipped it right out," Clemens said. "Obviously, that was not a great start. I just had to buckle down from that point on to give the guys a chance."
Clemens looked shaky again in the second, surrendering a leadoff single to Grieve before walking Jeremy Giambi. Ramon Hernandez sacrificed and Luis Sojo prevented the fourth run from scoring when he picked up Long's grounder to second and fired home, nailing Grieve. Velarde grounded to second as Clemens escaped the frame unharmed.
While Zito set the Yankees down with minimal trouble each of the first two innings, Clemens again worked himself into a jam in the top of the third. A leadoff single by Jason Giambi was followed by a walk to Saenz. But Clemens bounced back, striking out Eric Chavez, getting Miguel Tejada on a flyout to left and catching Grieve on a called third strike to bring the crowd to its feet.
After striking out five and allowing three hits through the first four innings, Zito surrendered a one-out single to Tino Martinez and a two-out walk to Derek Jeter in the fifth before getting Luis Sojo to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
"They had the pressure on them today," Sojo said. "Zito just needed to go out there and throw strikes and that's what he did. Come tomorrow, the pressure will be on us and hopefully, we will perform the same way that they did today."
Clemens shrugged off his early troubles and mowed down nine straight batters from the third to fifth inning, but the hard-throwing righthander ran out of juice in the sixth. Chavez led off with a single up the middle and scampered to third when Tejada laced a double down the left-field line.
Grieve stroked a 1-0 pitch into right, plating Chavez and Tejada for a 5-0 lead as Clemens left the mound to a chorus of boos.
In the bottom of the sixth, Paul O'Neill singled and Justice moved him to second with a one-out base hit to right. Posada doubled to deep left with two out and Howe removed Zito.
Ryan Christenson's RBI single in the eighth made it 7-1 and Oakland established a new franchise record for largest margin of victory in a playoff game when it tacked on four more in the ninth.
Gooden hit Saenz with a pitch to load the bases with none out and Eric Chavez doubled home a pair of runs.