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New York Yankees 1
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 0
Posted: Sunday October 07, 2001 06:14 PM
New York Yankees
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Ticker) -- Things went as hoped for the New York Yankees in their regular-season finale, except offensively.

Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez each pitched four scoreless innings in playoff tuneups and Mariano Rivera notched his 50th save as the Yankees finished the regular season with a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Clay Bellinger hit an eighth-inning homer for the Yankees (95-65), who combined on a two-hitter to salvage the finale in the four-game series and end the year with the third-best record in baseball.

Last year, New York stumbled into the postseason with an 87-74 mark, but won its third straight World Series title.

Mussina gave up just one hit while striking out four, throwing 36 of 52 pitches for strikes and lowering his ERA to 3.15. He is expected to start Game Three of the American League Division Series on Saturday in Oakland.

"I think the objective was to get out there again," said Mussina, who went 17-11 and finished second in the league in ERA. "You don't want to push it too hard or too far. Just a tuneup and get some innings."

Hernandez (4-7) likely secured a start in Game Four, if necessary. A clutch playoff performer who has been slowed by injuries most of the season, "El Duque" gave up a hit and two walks with four strikeouts.

"He walked a couple of guys, but it wasn't because of wildness," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It looked like he tried to be aggressive and kept it in the strike zone. He felt fine. The fact of the matter is, he pitched well."

The righthanded Hernandez missed most of the season because of a foot injury that required surgery, then suffered recently from a tired arm.

"He's over the little nagging injuries," pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. "The only concern is if he had the zip on it. More important than speed was his movement. He had more life. If he feels good tomorrow, it's more than what I expected."

Hernandez could be a key performer in the postseason, where he is 8-1 since joining the Yankees in 1998. Torre liked what he saw Sunday.

"Unless something comes up, he'll be on the roster," Torre said. "And Game Four, he'll be our pitcher."

Game Four could be huge for the Yankees, who will have home-field advantage against the A's. New York is considered the underdogs by many against a team that has won 101 games this season.

In order to win its fourth straight World Series, New York will have to defeat Oakland and possibly Seattle just for the right to represent the AL. The Mariners entered Sunday needing one win for a major league record 117.

"We're as ready as can be," Torre said. "The ballclub knows what the fight is and knows what to do. It becomes tougher every year. In order to do it again, you're going against the percentages."

Torre went with the percentages with Rivera, who fired a perfect ninth to become the sixth pitcher in major league history to record 50 saves in a season and the first American Leaguer since Oakland's Dennis Eckersley had 51 in 1992.

"It's good, don't get me wrong," said Rivera, one of the most dominant closers in history. "But I will go for those ones that are coming up."

After Paul Wilson baffled the Yankees over seven innings, Bellinger smacked a 2-2 pitch from Jesus Colome (2-3) over the left-field wall for his fifth home run.

Even though he is versatile, Bellinger likely will be left off the postseason roster. But hobbled veterans like Paul O'Neill and David Justice will be on it. They both played Sunday and combined to go 1-for-5.

"O'Neill had another game and came out feeling good and Justice played this game in the field without a problem," Torre said of his key lefthanded bats. "Overall, it was a good week."

The Yankees managed just three hits Sunday in preparation for Oakland's vaunted starting rotation, and has totaled only 10 runs in its last five games.

"Playoffs, it always comes down to the pitching," Justice said. "So what we want to do is capitalize on their mistakes. We have to take advantage of all our opportunities."

The Devil Rays (62-100) became the first AL team to finish with 100 losses since the 1996 Detroit Tigers.

"We don't know we lost 100, you guys do," said manager Hal McRae, who took over for the fired Larry Rothschild in mid-April.

Tampa Bay, which went 69-92 last season, ended the year with a 10-4 stretch and won 32 of its last 65 games.

"We know what it takes now to win and compete," McRae added. "Not a good season, but a good finish."

Just an hour before Sunday's game, the Devil Rays made a move for next season by firing pitching coach Bill Fischer, who was in his 54th season of professional baseball.

Wilson then went out and had one of the best starts of his career, giving up two hits while striking out six without a walk. It brought an end to a season that he feared would include another serious arm injury.

"I started the season with a brace on my arm and got sent to the bullpen so I took it off because I figured if it was going to blow again, it was going to blow out again," he said.

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