Wednesday, October 18, 2000

SULLIVAN: The Yankees


Justice beloved in Bronx

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        NEW YORK — David Justice had been there before. Fact is, no one has been there so often.

        In all the Octobers of recorded baseball, no ballplayer in history can match Justice's playoff experience. Very few of them can match his great moments.

        The New York Yankees' new left fielder made his presence felt for generations Tuesday night. He smashed a three-run, seventh-inning home run that propelled the defending champions to a 9-7 victory over the Seattle Mariners, their third straight pennant and a Subway World Series against the New York Mets.

        Maybe it didn't quite match the home run he hit to win the 1995 World Series for the Atlanta Braves. But the Cincinnati-bred slugger should never have to buy another drink in the big city. With the Yankees wobbling - eight outs from a nail-biting Game Seven in the American League Championship Series - Justice crushed an Arthur Rhodes fastball to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead.

        “It was just magical,” Justice said. “Just to round the bases and see this place erupt. It ranks right close to that home run I hit in '95.”

        What followed was an avalanche. The Yankees scored six times in the inning, sending 12 men to the plate against a succession of Seattle pitchers. Yankee starter Orlando Hernandez, now 8-0 in post-season play, returned to the mound with a 9-4 lead. Justice returned to left field to a standing ovation.

        “Give Justice credit,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. “He's a pro. He hangs in there pretty well against left-handed pitching.”

        The Yankees are not what they have been. They are showing their age at key positions, and their trademark depth has been depleted by injuries. Yet they have plugged most of their gaps nicely, and they upgraded their offense enormously when they acquired Justice from Cleveland on June 29.

        They tried first to get Juan Gonzalez from Detroit. They haggled at length over Chicago Cubs' slugger Sammy Sosa. Then, before there was any serious speculation, they landed Justice for Ricky Ledee and a pair of players to be named later.

        In barely half a season, Justice hit 20 homers for the Yankees, drove in 60 runs and hit .305. He has hit so consistently that Yankee manager Joe Tor re has been moved to drop Paul O'Neill out of the third spot in the batting or d er to get Justice more at bats.

        “Trades are part of the game,” Justice said earlier in the ALCS. “But for it to be working out for me the way it's worked out so far, I think it's just great.”

        It could not have worked out much better than it did Tuesday. Justice's fourth-inning single started a three-run rally that brought the Yankees back from a 4-0 deficit. The rally forced Piniella to turn to his uncertain bullpen. Ultimately, the bullpen was Seattle's undoing.

        Jose Vizcaino, pinch hitting to start the seventh, beat out an infield single against Jose Paniagua. He moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Knoblauch, and took third when Derek Jeter grounded a single just beyond the grasp of Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

        Playing the percentage, Piniella summoned the left-handed Rhodes to face Justice. He immediately fell behind, two balls and no strikes, a dangerous count against a hitter of Justice's experience.

        Justice swung hard at the 2-0 pitch, fouling it back, and then Rhodes threw high to bring the count to 3-and-1.

        The next pitch never reached home plate. It left Justice's bat on a high arc toward the seats in right field. Out near where the subway runs.

        In all the Octobers of recorded baseball, no ballplayer in history can match Justice's playoff experience. And few can match his great moments.

        The New York Yankees' new left fielder made his presence felt for generations Tuesday night. He smashed a three-run, seventh-inning home run that propelled the defending champions to a 9-7 victory over the Seattle Mariners, their third straight pennant and a Subway Series against the New York Mets.

        Maybe it didn't quite match the home run he hit to win the 1995 World Series for the Atlanta Braves. But the Cincinnati-bred slugger should never have to buy another drink in the big city. With the Yankees wobbling — eight outs from a nail-biting Game 7 in the American League Championship Series — Justice crushed an Arthur Rhodes fastball to make a 4-3 deficit a 6-4 lead.

        The Yankees scored six times in the inning, sending 12 men to the plate. Orlando Hernandez, now 8-0 in post-season play, returned to the mound with a 9-4 lead. It was 9-5 when he entrusted the game to Mariano Rivera.

        The Yankees are not what they have been. They are starting to show their age at key positions, and their trademark depth has been depleted by injuries. Yet they have plugged most of their gaps nicely, and they upgraded their offense enormously when they acquired Justice from Cleveland on June 29.
       

Shrewd trade
        In barely half a season, Justice hit 20 homers for the Yankees, drove in 60 runs and hit .305. He has played more often in the outfield than he has in recent years because of Joe Torre's use of second baseman Chuck Knoblauch as a designated hitter. But his consistent hitting has prompted Torre to drop Paul O'Neill in the batting order so that Justice could hit third.

        “Trades are part of the game,” Justice said earlier in the ALCS. “But for it to be working out for me the way it's worked out so far, I think it's just great.”

        It could not have worked out much better than it did Wednesday. The Yankees trailed, 4-0, when Justice came to bat in the fourth inning, and they had yet to advance a runner as far as second base.

        His one-out single started a three-run rally against Seattle starter John Halama, a rally that forced Mariners manager Lou Piniella to turn to his uncertain bullpen.
       

Good night, Mariners
        Brett Tomko, the former Red, distinguished himself with 2 2/3 innings of shutout relief, and left the game as the pitcher of record. But his successors did not fare so well.

        Jose Vizcaino, pinch hitting to start the seventh, beat out an infield single against Jose Paniagua. He moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Knoblauch, and took third when Derek Jeter grounded a single just beyond the grasp of Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

        Playing the percentage, Piniella summoned the left-handed Rhodes to face Justice. He immediately fell behind, two balls and no strikes, a dangerous count against a hitter of Justice's experience.

        Justice swung hard at the 2-0 pitch, fouling it back, and then Rhodes threw high to bring the count to 3-and-1.

        The next pitch never reached home plate. It left Justice's bat on a high arc toward the seats in right field.

        Out near where the subway runs.
       

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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