The Orioles could only hope that Bernie Williams would leave something behind in Texas last week, but he has brought it with him to this American League Championship Series.
In eight playoff games, through last night, the Yankees center fielder is batting .483 (14 for 29) with five home runs, 11 RBIs and 31 total bases.
In the first inning of Game 4 last night, Williams launched an 0-1 breaking ball from starter Rocky Coppinger into the back row of the temporary bleachers on the flag court -- an estimated 384 feet.
In the eighth, he lined a ground-rule double into the right-center field alley, making him two-for-four, and later scored.
Torrid? That may be too mild.
"I expect it out of Bernie," said Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, who had a different, less comfortable view of Williams' postseason greatness last year as a member of the Seattle Mariners, who eliminated New York in the Division Series.
"He's in a groove. Hopefully, we'll ride it out a few more weeks."
In an interview with NBC-TV before last night's game, Williams said, "I'm just having a lot of fun right now."
Maybe it was that quest for fun in Game 3 that made Williams jump to his feet and sprint home from third base with the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. He could have stayed on his stomach, where he ended up after advancing on a double to left field by Martinez, but when Todd Zeile lost control of the ball and it rolled toward the hole, Williams was off and running.
"I just took a chance," Williams told NBC.
He also took the wind out of the Orioles.
"I didn't think he would try to score at first," said the Yankees' Cecil Fielder, "because I didn't know how far the ball had gotten away. When I saw Cal [Ripken] behind third, I said, 'Well, Bernie's going to try it.' That's just Bernie's speed that got him home."
Manager Joe Torre didn't see Williams until he already was in full stride. "It looked like the play had come to an end," he said. "I looked down at my lineup card, and I looked up and he was halfway home. I thought he'd make it."
If it's any comfort to the Orioles, Williams was just as devastating against the Rangers. He went 7-for-15 (.467) with three home runs and five RBIs. And he saved the best for the decisive fourth game, homering twice and scoring three runs.
"It's hard to say why somebody gets a hit at a certain time. They're all trying hard on both teams," said Yankees hitting coach Chris Chambliss. "Over the course of a year or a shortened season, somebody's going to be hot."
That somebody has been Williams, as the Orioles keep finding out.
There's nothing Williams could do, especially in the clutch, that would surprise Torre. It's as if he's done it all.
"He's just going to do more of it," Torre said.
"He's a very serious-natured guy -- carries himself with a lot of dignity. I really appreciate that."
"He's a quiet young man," Chambliss said, "but if you're around him every day, he's got a lot of fire inside of him."
And he keeps burning every team that crosses his path.
Pub Date: 10/13/96