Work in Sports
OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- The New York Yankees are not quite ready to surrender the crown.
The two-time defending world champions scored six times in the opening inning, then desperately hung on for a 7-5 triumph over the Oakland Athletics in the decisive fifth game of their American League Division Series.
New York staked Andy Pettitte to a six-run lead before he took the mound but the postseason ace did not make it through the fourth inning. Embattled relievers Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson combined to allow one hit over 3 1/3 innings.
"Everybody said this team is old and not playing well, but we won the series," Nelson said. "Me and Stanton had to come in no matter what inning and pull all the stops out."
"I don't know where all this talk came from about Joe losing confidence in us," Stanton said. "Late in the season, there wasn't a whole lot of games where Joe needed to use us. Today, Joe told me early that they could use me any time and I was down (in the bullpen) in the second (inning). I felt very good. I had a good fastball."
Game Three starter Orlando Hernandez got the first out of the eighth before Mariano Rivera continued his postseason dominance with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He capped the seesaw series by retiring Eric Chavez on a soft foulout to first baseman Tino Martinez.
The Yankees, who saw their seeming insurmountable lead shaved to 7-5 by the fourth inning, advance to face the Seattle Mariners in the AL Championship Series. Game One is Tuesday in New York.
"First off, I want to say how proud I am of our ballclub," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I know we've had success but this year, our club has gone through a lot. They showed up tonight. I'm really proud of them."
"Playoff baseball's fun," Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill said. "Everything's on the line and it's so great when everything comes through. We had our backs against the wall all year and during this series, the momentum changed several times. This was a huge win for us."
After stumbling through September and extending their losing streak to eight games with a loss in the series opener, the Yankees rallied for victories in Games Two and Three. But with a chance to clinch at home, New York was hammered on Saturday.
Faced with the 3,000-mile trek and an early morning arrival on the West Coast, the Yankees wasted little time letting Oakland know they were not going to go easily.
Chuck Knoblauch was re-inserted into the lineup and paid immediate dividends as he opened the contest with a single. Derek Jeter walked and Paul O'Neill bounced a single high off the plate that loaded the bases. Bernie Williams put the Yankees on top with a line drive sacrifice fly to right field that rookie Adam Piatt made a nice play on.
David Justice walked to load the bases and Martinez, who came under considerable criticism for his lack of production, lofted a long fly ball that drifted away from rookie center fielder Terrence Long. The ball hit the base of the wall, clearing the bases.
"I dropped the ball, that's all I did," Long said. "The sun was bad out there but I could have caught it. I feel that if we got a couple breaks here or there it would have been different. The ball just carried. I tried to get a beat on it. I ended up having to pull up. I couldn't get to it. I just ran out of room."
With New York already ahead 4-0, Jorge Posada lined a single off Heredia's right leg. Jeff Tam was summoned in relief and allowed a sacrifice fly to Luis Sojo. Scott Brosius continued the onslaught with a single and Knoblauch made it 6-0 with a base hit to right.
"We let them get a running start on us tonight," Howe said. "The difference in the ballgame was the first inning when they put up that six spot."
Pettitte escaped a jam in the bottom of the first but was not as fortunate in the second as former Yankee Randy Velarde roped a two-out, two-run single to right field.
After New York left runners on the corners in the third inning, Chavez had a run-scoring double to draw Oakland within 6-3. But Justice hit the first homer of the series for New York in the fourth.
The A's loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the fourth but Pettitte got Giambi and Orlando Saenz on sacrifice flies before Miguel Tejada singled to put the tying run on base.
Torre turned to Stanton, who had struggled with consistency in the second half. Despite normally being used in the seventh, Stanton filled his emergency role efficiently, retiring six straight batters before surrendering a single to Jason Giambi.
Nelson, who has battled Torre all season, retired all four batters he faced before turning it over to Orlando Hernandez in the eighth. Hernandez, who threw 130 pitches on Friday, struck out Ben Grieve but gave up a long double to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs.
Torre summoned Rivera, the pitcher with the lowest career postseason ERA and a playoff-record 29 consecutive scoreless innings. Rivera ended the eighth by striking out Long and retiring Velarde on a fly ball to left.
After the Yankees stranded a runner at third in the top of the ninth, Rivera quickly retired Giambi and Saenz. Tejada singled through the middle but with Chavez representing the tying run, Rivera ran a fastball in on his hands and the A's third baseman could only manage a weak flare to first base.
"It's just sad," Velarde said. "We had such high hopes. We made a run. We didn't underachieve or overachieve. Obviously, it's discouraging to get down 6-0 but we gave them everything we had and then some. We made a suitable comeback."
The save was Rivera's 16th in the postseason, the most all-time. Former A's righthander Dennis Eckersley had recorded 15.
"Our bullpen has been maligned all year," Torre added. "To have Stanton and Nelson do what they did tonight and El Duque give us an out that we needed and of course, Mo has been a machine. As I said, I'm very choked up about this."
"Stanton, El Duque and all the guys stepped up to get us through," Brosius said. "Stanton came in and threw great relief and took the momentum off them."