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First blow to A's

Ramon Hernandez's two RBI lead Athletics past Roger Clemens and the reeling Yankees 5-3.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2000

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Even the comfort of the post-season couldn't break the New York Yankees out of their deep funk.

Ramon Hernandez drove in two runs, including a go-ahead double in the sixth inning off Roger Clemens, and the Athletics defeated the struggling Yankees 5-3 Tuesday night in the opener of their playoff series.

Hernandez, the No. 9 hitter in a powerful A's lineup, went 2-for-4 after hitting .241 during the regular season.

"Ramon's our secret weapon at the bottom of the order," A's manager Art Howe said. "You need hitting throughout the order to win. We feel good about him being down there, because there's not an easy touch anywhere in the lineup."

In a matchup of near-opposites, a small-market A's club making its first playoff appearance since 1992 was patient enough to outlast Clemens and a mega-rich Yankees club trying to defend its two straight World Series titles.

Overpowered through four innings, the A's scored four in the fifth and sixth off a tiring Clemens, who threw 111 pitches in six innings, then held on to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five AL division series.

"The way Roger was throwing the ball early on, it looked like it might be a long evening for us. The velocity he had was vintage Clemens," Howe said. "But we hung in there."

The Yankees stumbled into the playoffs, ending the regular season with a seven-game losing streak, the worst skid for a team entering the post-season, and 15 losses in their final 18 games.

They hoped the post-season would provide a panacea. They had won 18 of their past 19 post-season games and had a record-tying 12 straight World Series victories.

"It was very disappointing, we had the opportunity to get things going, we just couldn't," New York's Bernie Williams said. "It started pretty good, we just couldn't keep scoring, getting more runs. I really didn't think we were okay, but I did think we had something going."

The slump prompted a statement from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Six hours before game time, Steinbrenner issued the statement through his public relations firm, apparently responding to a back-page headline in New York's Daily News, which read: "SCARED. Slump has Yanks worried going into playoff opener tonight."

Said Steinbrenner: "Tired? Yeah, maybe. Struggling? Yeah, maybe. But scared? ... That word ain't even in our vocabulary."

The A's won eight of their last 10 regular-season games to overtake Seattle for the West title, clinching the division on the final day. Their 21-7 record in September was best in the majors.

Journeyman Gil Heredia, making the first post-season start of his nine-year career, allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings for the win.

Jeff Tam and former Devil Ray Jim Mecir combined for two scoreless innings of relief and Jason Isringhausen got three outs for his first post-season save.

The Yankees took their first lead in a week when consecutive doubles by Luis Sojo and Scott Brosius put them up 2-0 in the second. That broke New York's streak of 63 innings without a lead.

Clemens struck out five and allowed one hit, an infield single by Terrence Long, in the first four innings. But the A's broke through in the fifth.

Hernandez and Randy Velarde had run-scoring singles and another run scored on a Clemens wild pitch, giving the A's a 3-2 lead. A questionable play by Sojo, a defensive replacement for second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, hurt the Yankees in the inning.

With runners on first and second and no outs, Long hit an easy grounder to Sojo. Instead of throwing to second for a force or tagging Hernandez on his way to second, Sojo threw to first, and the return throw to second was too late to get Hernandez, who scored three batters later on the wild pitch.

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