Strawberry rewards Torre, punishes O's pitching Despite 1-for-10 postseason, he gets start, then makes most of it with 2 HRs, 3 hits; AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Joe Torre just wanted to give left fielder Tim Raines a night off. And besides, Darryl Strawberry had some good hacks in Game 3. This seemed like the opportune time to make a switch.

Second-guessers begone.

Strawberry hit his customary home run off Orioles starter Rocky Coppinger in the second inning last night, then added a two-run shot off Armando Benitez in the eighth. A single in between left him 3-for-4, and the Orioles were left on the brink of elimination from the American League Championship Series after the Yankees' 8-4 victory at Camden Yards.

Strawberry, stirring up memories of his power surges with the New York Mets. Strawberry, making Torre look like a genius for giving him another start despite being 1-for-10 in the postseason.

"I just liked the way he was swinging the bat [Friday]. It looked like he had a lot more life in his hands," Torre said.

Too much life for the Orioles to handle, it turned out.

Coppinger had faced Strawberry once before last night, and gave up a home run. He began the rematch by blowing a fastball by Strawberry, then took something off the next pitch and watched it sail into the right-field seats.

Benitez tried to stay away from him in the eighth, but didn't get far enough, the ball winding up in the first row of seats in left field.

"I don't think about hitting home runs. I think about hitting the ball hard," said Strawberry, who had singled Friday night while filling in for right fielder Paul O'Neill.

"The last few ballgames, I felt pretty good. I was real relaxed at the plate, made some adjustments. And it's just hitting the ball where it's pitched.

"The first one was up in the zone. The second one was a good fastball away, and I just stayed on the ball and hit it the other way."

Davey Johnson was the Mets' manager in 1986 when Strawberry helped them win the World Series. He was asked if, in some small way, he was happy for his former player, who has been down more than a few troubled paths since then.

Are you kidding?

"It's real hard for me to feel good for him," Johnson said. "He had a great ballgame; he has that kind of talent. But I can't force myself to feel real good about anybody wearing a Yankees uniform right now."

Strawberry has never looked more content. He sat in the interview area after last night's game with his young son on his lap, talking about the joy of being in the postseason after beginning the year unwanted and wearing the uniform of the Northern League's St. Paul Saints.

"Sometimes it's good when nobody wants you," he said. "The most important thing for me is to look at life the way I look at it and appreciate life more than anything. Taking care of myself and being able to know who I am -- I think that was the most important thing."

After that, he needed to prove to anyone who cared that he still loved the game.

"It worked out extremely well for me. The New York Yankees gave me another opportunity," he said.

He more than returned the favor last night.

He also fit in nicely on a team that considers Camden Yards its second home. The Yankees are 8-0 in Baltimore this year, and Strawberry had his second two-home run game here this season, the other coming in the second game of a July 13 doubleheader.

Strawberry had wanted to do something special last night for his brothers and sisters in California.

"I was thinking about the fact that we buried our mother in February and it was a big loss to us. I was thinking about them," he said.

Torre had been thinking about Strawberry, thinking that the time was right to give him back-to-back starts.

"The one thing about this ballclub, and I've said it a number of times, nobody really cares who the hero is. They just care about winning," Torre said.

Last night, Strawberry made sure the Yankees would continue to do that.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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