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A's stave off elimination

The Athletics ride a 22-year-old pitcher for an 11-1 win to force a Game 5 tonight in Oakland.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


NEW YORK -- Funny how these things work. Friday night, the Yankees were confident that they were finally playing like their old selves. Saturday night, they were rightfully concerned after playing like a bunch of old men. And tonight? Tonight could be the start of a long winter.

What could have been the nightcap of a New York, New York celebration turned into a dirge Saturday as the Yankees were clobbered 11-1 by the A's, forcing an overnight cross-country flight they didn't want to take for a fifth and deciding division series game tonight in Oakland they didn't want to play.

"It's been a grind," Yankees starter and loser Roger Clemens said. "It seems like we're obviously not trying to do it the easy way. We just have to deal with it and get what rest we can. It's something we have to do. It's not going to be easy. Nothing's been easy. It's disappointing, no question about it."

The Yankees, who had won 10 straight post-season home games, are playing again tonight because the youthful and exuberant A's weren't ready to end their own season-long joyride.

The A's did it thanks to huge effort from their youngest child, 22-year-old left-hander Barry Zito, who held the offensively challenged Yankees to one run and seven hits (six singles) over 52/3 innings.

"A heck of a job," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "And in a pressure-filled situation."

"It was a great win," Zito said. "One for my scrapbook, I guess."

They also got key hits Olmedo Saenz, who put the Yankees in a hole with a three-run homer in the first off Clemens, and Ben Grieve, who had a two-run single in the sixth. And they got a huge out by former Devil Rays reliever Jim Mecir, who escaped a two-on/two-out jam in the sixth to quell New York's only true threat before the game got out of hand.

Zito, at 22, was the youngest player on the field, but you couldn't tell it. He went into the game relatively nonplussed, insisting neither the pomp nor the circumstance would bother him, and even the Yankees were impressed with his poise.

Then again, Zito is a little unusual to begin with. He is deeply into yoga and a pre-game breathing ritual, devours baseball history books, and travels with scented candles that help him relax, a stuffed teddy bear named Mr. Jangles, and silk pillowcases his made mother made for him.

In theory, Zito is used to being on stage. His father, Joe, was a composer, writer and manager for Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and his mother, Roberta, was one of Cole's backup singers.

Zito, a first-round draft pick in June 1999 who was promoted to the majors in July, was in control from the start. The Yankees didn't even get as many as five batters to the plate in an inning until the fifth.

"I was just totally amazed by his calmness and everything about that kid," Oakland second baseman Randy Velarde said. "Their guys would come by second base and say the kid has the best curveball they'd seen in a long time. And watching him from behind, wow."

The Yankees started Roger Clemens on three days' rest, and it didn't work out too well. Clemens fell behind right away on Saenz's home run and labored through the early innings, but insisted his problems were more the product of trying to find the umpire's strike zone than his own fatigue. "I felt great," Clemens said.

Late coming out to the mound, Clemens walked Terrence Long to open the game, got an infield out, then walked No. 3 hitter Jason Giambi. Saenz quickly made him pay, crushing the next pitch into the leftfield seats to give Oakland a 3-0 lead.

"That was huge," Howe said. "It gave us a big lift."

Clemens, who needed 93 pitches to get through five-plus innings, found a groove and retired nine straight at one point, but the Yankees couldn't recover. A three-run Oakland outburst finished him off, and the A's tagged on four more against Dwight Gooden in the ninth.

Howe said pitchers Tim Hudson and Zito did their part. "Our two young pitchers the last two nights have gone out there," he said, "and competed with the ex-champs -- hopefully."

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