Yanks' win pushes O's to the edge N.Y. takes 3-1 lead in series as Baltimore squanders chances; Strawberry hits 2 homers; Pettitte, Erickson set for rematch of Game 1; AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES


The New York Yankees took another step closer to the World Series last night, scoring an 8-4 victory that pushed the Orioles to the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series.

Darryl Strawberry hit two home runs. Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill hit one each. And the Orioles squandered several promising scoring opportunities to create the formula for frustration that has led to eight straight losses to the Yankees at Camden Yards this year.

This one wasn't for lack of fan support. The largest crowd in the history of Oriole Park -- 48,974 -- showed up to try to intimidate struggling left-hander Kenny Rogers, and may have succeeded, but the best bullpen in baseball bailed him out and Strawberry did the rest.

The Yankees have a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

It could end today, when 21-game winner Andy Pettitte faces Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson in Game 5.

Even if it doesn't, the Orioles would have to sweep the final two games at Yankee Stadium to win the American League pennant.

"It's great to have a 3-1 lead at this point," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "Knowing that you have Pettitte, [David] Cone and Jimmy Key coming up, that makes you feel good."

Strawberry, who was pursued by the Orioles when he was playing for the minor-league St. Paul Saints earlier this season, was making his first start of the series. Torre shuffled his lineup yesterday, hoping that the big-swinging outfielder and the cozy dimensions at Oriole Park would be a volatile combination. That's exactly how it turned out.

"I liked the way he was swinging the bat yesterday," Torre said. "He seemed to have a lot of life in his body."

Apparently so. Strawberry homered in the second, singled in the fourth and hit a game-breaking, two-run homer in the eighth.

The Orioles loaded the bases in the bottom of that inning and brought the tying run to the plate with no one out against super setup man Mariano Rivera, but it was just a big tease. The next three batters went down weakly, and the sellout crowd began to head for the parking lots.

Closer John Wetteland came on to pitch a perfect ninth and put the champagne on ice in the Yankees clubhouse, but Torre refused to let the Yankees get ahead of themselves.

"I don't even want to think about being close," Torre said. "It [reaching the World Series] is one of my goals. It's something that's missing from my career. It's something I will cherish when it happens, but not until it happens."

There was much debate last week about which team would gain the most advantage from the heavy rains that washed out Game 1 in New York and forced the series to play through Thursday's scheduled day off.

Some felt it would favor the Orioles, because it forced Torre to insert the struggling Rogers into the rotation. The other opinion was that the Yankees would have the edge because manager Davey Johnson would be forced to use unproven rookie Rocky Coppinger.

It ended up hurting both clubs. Coppinger gave up three homers during his 5 1/3 -inning postseason debut. Rogers lasted three innings and gave up four runs on five hits.

The Orioles chipped away at an early three-run deficit and had several opportunities to get over the top, but had just three hits in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base.

"The key is that they [the Yankees] have done the job with runners on base," Johnson said. "We just couldn't get the key hits. There are just some things that you can't explain."

The underlying message was clear: If the Orioles don't do something about that soon, they'll have all winter to figure out what went wrong.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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