Yankees looking for a rerun Regular-season replay would be winning formula


The New York Yankees know exactly what it will take to defeat the Orioles in the American League Championship Series. They have to play the same way they did during the regular season, when they won 10 of 13 games to dominate their chief American League East rival.

They defeated the Orioles in virtually every phase of the game, getting timely hits and good defense, then shortening the game with the best late-inning relief combination in the game.

They will face a different team than they did early in the season, but played recently enough against the Orioles (Sept. 18-19) to know what they will be up against in tonight's opener at Yankee Stadium.

Here are five things that the Yankees must do if they are to reach the World Series:

1. They've got to get adequate performances from the starting rotation.

That might seem like a given, because the Yankees opened the season with the deepest starting rotation in the league, but right-handed ace David Cone is still working his way back into shape after arm surgery, and No. 4 starter Kenny Rogers had been undependable in the second half.

Cone pitched well after returning from surgery to repair an aneurysm in his upper arm, but his lack of stamina was apparent during his Game 1 start against the Texas Rangers in the Division Series. He has to pitch well for the Yankees to match up starter-for-starter with the late-blooming Orioles.

Rogers lasted just two innings in the fourth game of the series against the Rangers, and the Yankees were fortunate that their long relievers were almost as good as their short men.

2. They have to spread their offense.

That sounds like football terminology, but, in this case, it means the Yankees need more hitters involved in the attack. They depended largely on center fielder Bernie Williams for run production against the Rangers.

The Yankees scored 16 runs in the four games of the first playoff round. Four runs per game probably won't get it done against an Orioles club that hammers the ball from every slot in the lineup.

Williams had great success against the Orioles (.367, four homers) during the regular season, but he'll need more help from first baseman Tino Martinez, designated hitter Cecil Fielder and right fielder Paul O'Neill.

3. They have to shorten the game.

The Orioles already know they must score early to keep New York's bullpen from becoming a dominant factor, but the Yankees relievers still must perform.

Closer John Wetteland has been almost automatic. He led the league in saves with 43, and he got 16 percent of his season total against the Orioles. He faced them eight times and recorded seven saves, giving up just a run on five hits over 7 2/3 innings (1.17 ERA).

If there is any reason for concern about the way the Yankees relievers match up, it would stem from Mariano Rivera's poor performance against the Orioles. Rivera was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA against the rest of the league, but he was 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA in six appearances against Baltimore.

Catonsville native Jeff Nelson pitched well against the Orioles this year (.222 opponents' batting average) and came out of the first round of the playoffs on a roll.

4. They must get the most out of their designated hitters.

Manager Joe Torre started Darryl Strawberry over Fielder in the first game of the Division Series, but Fielder was in the lineup in each of the three Yankees wins.

Strawberry may get a start during the ALCS, but Fielder is the DH, and his performance in the first round -- .364 average, one homer, four RBIs -- reinforced the wisdom of playing him every day.

5. They must keep a lid on controversy.

The New York tabloids love to jump on anything that goes wrong in the clubhouse or front office, but Torre has been good at keeping outside distractions to a minimum this year. He was a surprise choice to manage the club this year but turned out to be perfect for the most stressful managerial job in baseball.

Pub Date: 10/08/96

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