Yanks’ bats finally wake up

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Wednesday, October 11, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Larry Henry

Sports Columnist

NEW YORK — His guys weren’t hitting. But Joe Torre wasn’t about to make any changes in his lineup.

"They have gotten us to this point, three World Series, five straight playoff appearances," the Yankee skipper said before Game 2 of the American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium. "And I can’t be swayed by the fact of somebody being in a slump, even if the slump lasts until next spring. If they are on the bench, you don’t know if they are going to get a hit. My feeling is these are the ones that brought us to the dance and we are going to play the game."

It was a smart non-move. Because the same players who took the field for the Yankees on Tuesday and lost 2-0 to the Mariners came back and scored a 7-1 victory on Wednesday.

The Yankees didn’t dance afterwards, though they might have felt like it. What they did do was remove an anvil from their backs.

"I just sense that we relieved a lot of pressure today," Torre said. "We understand there’s pressure involved. As I say, we were very uptight, but we’ve played that way before and we’ve been successful."

Even teams that are two-time defending World Champions get sweaty palms. Torre wants his team to "be intense without being tense."

For seven innings Wednesday, they still looked more tense than intense. Not scoring after loading the bases with no outs in the first inning was the first blow to their demeanor. Then to still be without a run going into the eighth after zeroes across the board the night before, they had to question if they would ever get on the scoreboard against this Mariner pitching.

They would — with a seven-run eighth. Slump over, game in hand, series tied at one. Next stop, Safeco Field on Friday for the first of three games.

It was just a matter of time, wasn’t it? You knew that the Yankees were too good to go two games in a row without scoring.

And you also knew that the Mariner bullpen had to let down sometime. It was working on a streak of 14 scoreless innings coming into the game and Jose Paniagua extended it to 15 with a runless seventh. Then came usually dependable Arthur Rhodes and there went the streak and the game.

The M’s got where they are largely on pitching and defense, but both let them down in this game. Left fielder Al Martin, who might have heard of the Gold Glove Award but will never be a candidate for one, misplayed a line drive off the bat of ex-Mariner Tino Martinez, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position with no outs in the eighth, and Jorge Posado drove it home one batter later. Water was seeping through the gates and about to burst through.

Martin claimed the stadium lights blinded him. "When he hit it, I saw it," he said. "I broke and ran into the lights, basically."

He went low to try to catch the ball, and it hit in his glove, but popped out. Somehow, it was ruled a hit.

Often, in late innings, Raul Ibanez is put in for defensive purposes. "Yes, I thought about it," manager Lou Piniella said. Then he paused for a few moments. "Yeah, I thought about it to be honest with you."

Piniella’s been on a streak of good decisions. He had it snapped in this game.

Some might question his decision to remove starter John Halama after six innings with a 1-0 lead. Listen, Halama is a six-inning pitcher. He had done his job. It was time to turn it over to the bullpen.

For a few tense moments, it didn’t look as if he would make it through the first. The Yankees loaded the bases with cleanup Bernie Williams coming up. But Williams dribbled the ball about a foot, catcher Dan Wilson picked it up and tagged home and threw to first for the double play. Halama then got Martinez to ground out.

Torre knew his team was pressing. "I can’t just say ‘relax,’ " he said. "I know one time (Derek) Jeter walked by me and I said, ‘You guys are really trying,’ and he sort of looked back and smiled. You try to find ways to just turn that knob, but that’s the human part of this game. That’s what makes these athletes so unique, because in this game, you have to be intense without being tense, and it is a very fine line."

Halama lives in Brooklyn but came to Yankee Stadium only once as a boy. He had made three pitching appearances here before this game, but obviously never one of this importance. "I was nervous," he said, and it showed in the first when he walked two of the first three batters. But then he settled down and gave up only five hits and one more walk before leaving after the sixth.

Halama is a very private person, doesn’t allow much of what he is all about be seen. When asked where he lives in Brooklyn, he said, "That’s irrelevant." He did admit to not watching ESPN. "That’s not me," he said.

Which, after what happened Wednesday, is maybe a good thing.

He also doesn’t watch baseball on TV. When M’s pitching coach Bryan Price read that in the newspaper, he rolled his eyes. "He might not care that much for baseball," Price said, "but I think he loves to play it. That shows in how hard he works."

Halama’s next start would be in Game 6, if there is a Game 6, and he’s fully capable of duplicating his performance against the Yankees.

Of course, if the M’s don’t start hitting, it won’t do him any good. They’re batting .188 and, in light of that, they’re lucky to be where they are.

They felt good splitting with the Yankees on their home turf, but they may have awakened a sleeping giant.

"I think it’s going to be a hell of a series," Torre said, "and you want to make the other team beat you, as opposed to beating yourself."

Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Yankee Stadium this season.

The M’s certainly hope not.

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