Sunday, October 24, 1999

Yankees 4, Braves 1


Four-run 8th supports two-hitter

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ATLANTA — When Paul O'Neill swung his elbow, he captured the New York Yankees' frustration. When he swung his bat a little later, he sealed their satisfaction.

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        O'Neill's bases-loaded, two-run single off Atlanta Braves relief ace John Rocker served as the focal point in a four-run, eighth-inning rally that helped the Yankees to a 4-1 victory in Saturday night's opener of the 95th World Series.

        The Yankees' bid for their 25th world title began in classic fashion as they supplemented O'Neill's clutch hitting with suffocating pitching.

        Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez improved his career postseason record to 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA, striking out 10 in seven innings while yielding just one hit — Chipper Jones' fourth-inning home run. Anchored by Mariano Rivera, who saved the Yankees' ninth consecutive World Series triumph dating to 1996, New York's bullpen continued stifling the Braves, who finished with two hits.

        Atlanta and New York entered the final World Series of this decade stuffed with the knowledge that the eventual winner will be dubbed the Team of the '90s. Given the 49-degree gametime temperature at Turner Field that made this the chilliest Series contest ever played in this city, the opener certainly seemed destined to be frozen in time.

        For much of the game, the coldest aspect from the Yan kees' perspective was their bats. Replacing flu-ridden left-hander Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux limited the Yankees to three hits in seven innings.

        New York's most aggressive act against Maddux occurred at the end of the sixth inning, when he fielded O'Neill's comebacker and ran to the first-base line to tag out

        the former Red. Prone to emotional outbursts, O'Neill greeted Maddux with a rude fling of his elbow, shocking the sellout crowd of 51,342.

        O'Neill denied any malicious intent: “I'm not trying to run him over. There's nothing to that. I don't really remember. I wasn't trying to shove him or anything.”

        The Yankees' real push came in the eighth, when first baseman Brian Hunter tied a dubious record by committing two errors that generated a pair of unearned runs.

        Scott Brosius opened the inning by jumping on Maddux's first pitch for his third single. Pinch hitter Darryl Strawberry walked — which Atlanta manager Bobby Cox termed the key to the inning — and was replaced by Chad Curtis.

        Chuck Knoblauch then deftly pushed a bunt between Maddux and the charging Hunter, an ex-Red who was inserted that inning for defensive purposes. Hunter grabbed the ball but lost his grip on it as he wheeled to throw to first base.

        “They're both great fielders,” Cox said of Maddux and Hunter. “The ball was just bunted in a good spot.”

        That loaded the bases for Derek Jeter, who singled solidly to left field after Maddux barely missed with an 0-2 pitch. “It was probably outside, but there were a lot of others that were extremely, extremely close,” said Cox, hiding his displeasure with plate umpire Randy Marsh, an Edgewood, Ky., resident. Jeter's hit scored Brosius to forge a 1-1 tie, kept the bases loaded and prompted Atlanta to replace Maddux with Rocker.

        Facing O'Neill, Rocker tempted disaster by flinging a 2-1 pitch to the backstop that caromed so quickly to catcher Eddie Perez that the Yankees runners couldn't advance. They soon were set in motion when O'Neill laced Rocker's next pitch to right through a drawn-in infield, chasing home Curtis and Knoblauch.

        “With the bases loaded and (when) the pitcher gets behind, obviously you're in a good position to hit,” O'Neill said. “But left-handers aren't going to make a living off of Rocker. We got a break and found a hole.”

        O'Neill advanced to second base on Hunter's next error, a poor throw to third base in a vain attempt to retire Jeter. The last first baseman to commit a pair of errors in a Series game was Frank Torre, the brother of Yankees manager Joe Torre, who endured his woe in Game 7 of the 1958 Fall Classic.

        Hunter's gaffe forced Rocker to walk Bernie Williams intentionally. Rocker nearly escaped, striking out Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada, but walked pinch hitter Jim Leyritz, the Turpin High School graduate, to force in Jeter.

       



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