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One win from three straight

New leadoff man Derek Jeter homers, triples and scores twice, and five pitchers keep the Mets at bay.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


NEW YORK -- Nothing has come easy for the Yankees all season. They faltered badly at the end of the regular season, costing themselves rest and the home-field advantage going into the playoffs. They were forced to a decisive fifth game in the first-round series with Oakland. They had to battle through six games to eliminate Seattle.

But after beating the Mets 3-2 on Wednesday night, even as a pipe burst and flooded their clubhouse, they are in an awfully good position to secure a third straight World Series championship: three chances to win one more game.

photo
[AP photo]
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter reacts after beating the New York Mets 3-2 in Game 4 of the World Series.
The first of those opportunities comes in Game 5 tonight, and you know they like their chances with Andy Pettitte, who closed out the 1998 Series on the road, on the mound. Of the 40 teams to hold 3-1 advantages, 34 have won the championship.

"It's someplace I've been before, but it's certainly not familiar and sure-fire stuff," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "This ballclub, bouncing back after losing (Tuesday's) game and, God, it was a tough ballgame tonight, it really was, we needed every single bit of contribution we got from every pitcher out there, it obviously feels good."

The Yankees are seeking to become the first team to win three consecutive world championships since the 1972-73-74 Oakland A's, but they know better than to think the Mets will make it easy for them.

"We're one win away from where we want to be," said shortstop Derek Jeter, who sparked the Yankees by hitting the game's first pitch out of the ballpark. "But this Mets team is not going to give up. In my opinion, they're the best team we've played in the post-season in the five years I've been here."

"We've been to this point before," Paul O'Neill said. "But we never assume ... you don't get a prize for winning three."

Having done their share of battling from the brink over the past two seasons, the Mets refused to concede anything, especially with wily veteran Al Leiter starting.

"We've been in some tough positions before," said Mike Piazza, whose third-inning homer provided the Mets' runs. "If we win (tonight) ... who knows?"

The Yankees won before 55,290 at Shea Stadium the old-fashioned way: They earned it with three early runs, a decent start from Denny Neagle and solid bullpen work from David Cone, Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and dominating closer Mariano Rivera, who got the final six outs and has converted 17 post-season saves in a row.

"He's not an illusion; he's the real deal," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "There's no doubt about that."

Jeter, batting leadoff for the first time in the post-season, keyed the offense with a first-pitch home run and a third-inning triple. Paul O'Neill did his part with a triple, his second in two nights after going the whole season without one, and a sliding catch in the eighth.

Torre moved Jeter to the top of the order because he didn't have a lot of choices with Luis Sojo starting at second and Chuck Knoblauch and Jose Vizcaino on the bench. "I'd like to see him score a run in the first inning," Torre said before the game.

It didn't take Jeter long. He jumped on the first pitch from Mets right-hander Bobby Jones and drove it over the leftfield fence, extending his Series hitting streak to 13 games.

It was the first first-pitch home run since Pete Rose did so against Oakland in Game 5 of the 1972 Series, the eighth time a player led off a Series game with a homer and the 16th time a player homered to open his team's first inning.

"Everyone wants to ask me if I change my approach when I'm batting leadoff," Jeter said. "It's the same approach. I'm aggressive and I've been known to swing at the first pitch. When you play games like these where runs are hard to come by, you want to score early."

Both teams played that way.

Knowing the dominating Rivera would work the final two innings, the Mets took their shot to tie in the seventh, sending up four consecutive pinch-hitters after there was one out. Lenny Harris drew a walk from Nelson. The Mets sent up Darryl Hamilton, the Yankees switched to left-hander Stanton and the Mets countered with Bubba Trammell, but the ex-Devil Ray struck out. Kurt Abbott followed, and he, too, went down swinging.

The Mets had another shot in the eighth when Todd Zeile singled with two outs, but Robin Ventura popped up on the first pitch.

The Mets' biggest problem has been a lack of hitting. They are batting .227 for the Series and face the disconcerting reality that they have scored one fewer run than the Yankees in the four games (15-14) but have lost three.

"We know we can hit a little better than we've hit," Valentine said. "A lot of times those things come in bunches. We're going to need to bunch some of our hits starting (tonight)."

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