Yankees survive Oakland's first test

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mike Mussina did the hard work. Jorge Posada provided the only run.

Then a backup cutoff man named Derek Jeter supplied the magic that kept the New York Yankees alive.

Mussina pitched seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball, and Jeter made a breathtaking defensive play as the Yankees fought off elimination with a 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday night.

Using every bit of their champions' savvy, the Yankees got only two hits but cut their deficit to 2-1 in the opening round of the AL playoffs. They did it by ending Oakland's 17-game home winning streak and beating Barry Zito, who pitched eight impressive innings.

''I'm sure I'm going to remember it,'' Mussina said. ''We found a way to win, which this team has done on this championship run they've had in the last five years.''

The three-time World Series winners got a solo homer from Posada and a gem from Mussina, who left Baltimore to sign with New York in the offseason because he wanted to pitch in important games in October.

But the Yankees wouldn't have held on to their one-run lead without Jeter, whose impossibly graceful relay toss to the plate nailed Jeremy Giambi as he reached out to step on home plate in the seventh inning.

''He's the backup cutoff man in that situation,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ''He was there, and he made a sensational play. The kid has got great instincts, and he holds it together.''

Mariano Rivera pitched the final two innings, working around Jermaine Dye's one-out double in the ninth, for a save.

Game 4 is Sunday at the Coliseum, with Cory Lidle (13-6) pitching for Oakland against Orlando Hernandez (4-7). If the Yankees win again, Game 5 will be Monday in New York.

A day earlier, Mussina spoke of his respect for the champions who preceded him in the Yankees' clubhouse. He then went out and mastered the A's, who looked nothing like the free-swinging, freewheeling team that had not lost at home since Aug. 24.

With Mussina in control, the A's were shut out at home for the first time since June 2.

Rivera allowed a single to Greg Myers in the eighth, but Miguel Tejada's two-out liner was scooped up by Chuck Knoblauch in one of New York's several fine defensive plays.

After Dye doubled, Rivera struck out Eric Chavez and got Giambi on a grounder to end it.

''It didn't surprise me, but I wish we could have scored more than one run,'' Torre said. ''(Mussina) has been pitching like that all year. He's a big-game guy, and I feel very fortunate to have the four guys I can throw out there for those situations.''

Jeter went 0-for-2, but he kept Oakland scoreless with his remarkably alert play in the seventh. With Giambi on first base and two out, Terrence Long lined a double into the right-field corner.

While the slow-footed Giambi ran toward home, Shane Spencer overthrew the cutoff man. Out of nowhere came Jeter, who raced across the diamond from shortstop, grabbed the ball halfway up the first-base line and made a sidearm flip from foul territory to Posada, who scraped the back of Giambi's leg with a tag.

Jeter said the play was nothing but routine.

''I was supposed to be there,'' Jeter said. ''I'm supposed to read the throw. I just got there.''

That was the closest Oakland came to the plate. With one swing from Posada, the Yankees finally beat one of Oakland's three young aces. Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson pitched excellent games to earn Oakland's two victories in New York. Zito, who beat the Yankees in last season's division series, was just as good, but he wasn't as lucky.

Zito hadn't lost at the Coliseum in 13 starts, but his curveball showed little of its usual precipitous drop against the Yankees. He hit two batters, and he made a fateful mistake to Posada.

''This is the kind of game both sides expected: low-scoring,'' A's manager Art Howe said. ''Barry made one mistake. He did his job. We just couldn't muster any offense.''

With deepening twilight shadows at the packed Coliseum, neither team managed a hit until the fourth inning. With one out, Jason Giambi and Dye got back-to-back singles, but Mussina got out of the inning with two groundouts.

In the fifth, Posada hit a fly to left that barely reached the yellow line atop the outfield scoreboard. It was the fourth postseason homer of his career -- and it shook Zito, who gave up a double to Spencer on his next pitch but escaped the inning.

New York finished the inning with a lead for the first time in the last 81 innings against the A's, who swept the Yankees in both of their regular-season series at the Coliseum.

Torre's lineup changes didn't have much of an effect on the Yankees, who have scored just four runs in the series. But this time, the A's bats were just as weak.

As in the series' first two games, many of Oakland's hardest hits went directly at the Yankees. Johnny Damon led off the sixth with a line drive at third baseman Scott Brosius.

One out later, Jason Giambi hit a tailing fly ball down the left-field line. Knoblauch sprinted to the ball, slid and made a spectacular catch.



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