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Yankees Push O’S To Brink Strawberry, Williams, O’Neill Spark New York To 3-1 Edge

Darryl Strawberry recaptured his former glory. Now the New York Yankees are one win away from doing it, too.

On a night that seemed implausible just a few months ago, Strawberry homered twice Saturday night, leading the Yankees to an 8-4 victory over Baltimore and a 3-1 lead in the A.L. Championship Series.

Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill each hit two-run homers, moving New York within a win of its first A.L. pennant in 15 years.

“This is what it’s all about - the major-league level and being in the postseason and trying to get in the World Series,” said Strawberry, rescued by the Yankees twice after a suspension for cocaine use. “A lot of times people don’t remember the experience I have in postseason play.”

New York will try to wrap up its record 34th A.L. pennant today when Andy Pettitte pitches against Scott Erickson of the Orioles in a rematch of Game 1 starters.

“I don’t even want to think about being close,” said Joe Torre, one win away from his first pennant as a manager. “That’s like thinking about the ninth inning in the first inning.”

Even if the Yankees win Game 5, they may want to stay in Baltimore for the World Series: They’re 8-0 in Camden Yards this year, including 2-0 in the playoffs.

“This series is a long way from over,” Baltimore manager Davey Johnson said. “Momentum can change quickly in a short series.”

Strawberry, plucked by the Yankees from the Northern League on July 4, hit a solo homer in the second inning off Baltimore rookie Rocky Coppinger and a two-run drive in the eighth off Armando Benitez, his first postseason homers since he was with the New York Mets in 1988.

“Sometimes it’s good for no one to want you,” Strawberry said, thinking back to his stay with the St. Paul Saints. “Playing there was great for me because it brought a lot of the joy back to me about the game.”

Strawberry was cut by the Dodgers and Giants because of substance problems, then cut by the Yankees last fall.

He pleaded guilty to tax-evasion charges last winter and went to the Northern League when no major league team made an offer.

But Yankees owner George Steinbrenner thought his team needed more power and signed Strawberry over the objections of general manager Bob Watson.

On July 13, in one of his first games with the Yankees this season, Strawberry homered twice in Camden Yards, raising his career total to 299.

Torre inserted Strawberry in the lineup Friday in place of the slumping O’Neill, then used him Saturday in place of left fielder Tim Raines.

“I just liked the way he was swinging the bat yesterday,” Torre said. “It looked like he had more life in his hands.”

Strawberry, 36, and 10 years removed from winning a World Series with the Mets, thanked Reggie Jackson, a Yankees special adviser.

“He sticks by my side and talks with me daily,” Strawberry said. “He’s one of the greatest players to play the game and he gives me a lot of good advice. I’m glad to have him in my corner.”

Baltimore, the first wild-card team to advance past the first round of the playoffs, had closed to 5-4 before the Yankees added three runs in the eighth on Cecil Fielder’s RBI groundout and Strawberry’s opposite-field shot to left.

Then, in the bottom half, Mariano Rivera escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam. With Baltimore needing a grand slam to tie, he retired three straight hitters who had combined for 100 homers during the regular season.

“I had to reach back for a little bit extra and I did,” Rivera said.

Both teams were forced to use their No. 4 starters because the series opener was rained out Tuesday. And both pitchers showed why their managers wanted to avoid them.

Kenny Rogers lasted just three-plus innings, giving up all four runs. But once again, the bullpen was mostly brilliant, getting its sixth win of the postseason.

David Weathers gave up three hits in 2-2/3 shutout innings and got the victory, although he did allow two inherited runners to score.

Graeme Lloyd got Brady Anderson to pop up with two outs and a man on in the sixth, and Rivera pitched the next two innings, getting into trouble when Baltimore loaded the bases on three singles in the eighth.

But he struck out Chris Hoiles and Anderson, and got Todd Zeile to pop out.

John Wetteland, who had three postseason saves, pitched a perfect ninth.

Coppinger allowed three homers in taking the loss. During the season, he allowed 25 homers in 125 innings.

Yankees 8, Orioles 4

New York Baltimore ab r h bi ab r h bi DJeter ss 5 1 1 0 ByAdsn cf 4 1 0 0 Boggs 3b 5 0 0 0 Zeile 3b 5 0 2 0 BeWms cf 4 2 2 2 RAlmr 2b 5 0 2 0 TMrtnz 1b 4 1 1 0 RPmro 1b 3 0 0 1 Fielder dh 4 0 0 1 Bonilla rf 5 0 0 0 Strwbr lf 4 3 3 3 CRpken ss 3 1 1 0 Raines lf 0 0 0 0 Incvgla dh 2 1 1 0 O’Neill rf 3 1 1 2 Murray dh 2 0 1 0 Duncan 2b 3 0 1 0 Dvraux lf 1 0 0 0 Sojo 2b 1 0 0 0 Surhoff lf 3 0 2 1 Girardi c 3 0 0 0 Hoiles c 4 1 2 2 Totals 36 8 9 8 Totals 37 4 11 4 New York 210 200 030 - 8 Baltimore 101 200 000 - 4 LOBNew York 3, Baltimore 10. 2B-DJeter (2), BeWilliams (2), Duncan (2), RAlomar (2). HR-BeWilliams (2), Strawberry 2 (2), O’Neill (1), Hoiles (1). SF-RPalmeiro.

New York IP H R ER BB SO Rogers 3 5 4 4 2 3 Weathers W,1-0 2-2/3 3 0 0 0 0 Lloyd 1/3 0 0 0 0 0 MRivera 2 3 0 0 1 2 Wetteland 1 0 0 0 0 1 Baltimore IP H R ER BB SO Coppinger L,0-1 5-1/3 6 5 5 1 3 ARhodes 2/3 0 0 0 0 1 Mills 1-1/3 1 1 1 0 2 Orosco 0 1 1 1 0 0 Benitez 2/3 1 1 1 1 0 TeMathews 1 0 0 0 0 2 Rogers pitched to 2 batters in the 4th, Orosco pitched to 1 batter in the 8th.


T-3:45. A-48,974 (48,262).

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