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Williams lights Yanks' fire Center fielder heats up with homer, 3 RBIs to key resurgence

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- The New York Yankees obviously were waiting on Bernie Williams.

He had carried them past the Texas Rangers in the Division Series. He had blistered the Orioles' pitching staff in the American League Championship Series. Then he went cold in the first two games of the 92nd World Series and the team went with him.

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The Yankees, in fact, were threatening to go down so quietly that Williams' tremendous performance in the first two playoff rounds was in danger of being forgotten in the post-Series recriminations, but he rose up last night and carried them again. Carried them to a 5-2 victory that created hope where hours before there was only a sneaking sense of the inevitable.

Williams drove in three runs and scored another in Game 3 and suddenly things did not seem quite so grim. He singled off Braves left-hander Tom Glavine in the first inning to give the Yankees their first lead of the Series, scored their second run in the fourth, then loosened up a tight game with a two-run home run off reliever Greg McMichael in the eighth.

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The home run let the air out of Atlanta -- and with it Williams tied the all-time record for homers in a single postseason with six. But he insisted that his one-out single through the middle of the infield in the first inning that scored Tim Raines was the most important.

"It was very important because we haven't been able to score a lot of runs lately," Williams said. "Especially with the crowd the way it was, it was very important to score that run in the first inning. We wanted to break the ice and let them know that we still have a chance."

If Glavine could have held Williams down the way John Smoltz and Greg Maddux did in the previous two games, the Yankees certainly would be on the brink of disaster right now, but the Atlanta left-hander was fortunate that the 28-year-old outfielder didn't have an even bigger night.

Williams sent rookie outfielder Andruw Jones crashing into the right-field fence with a long line drive in the fifth inning, but Jones made a terrific catch and turned a potential three-base hit into a double play.

No one who has been paying attention the past two postseasons should have been surprised at Williams' clutch performance.

He was the dominant offensive player in the postseason for the Yankees last October and he has been even better this year. The 2-for-5 performance last night raised his combined postseason average to .409, and we're not talking a small statistical sample here.

Williams has 27 hits in 66 postseason at-bats. Factor in his 15 walks, and he has reached base an average of 2.5 times per appearance in his 17 postseason games. The homer was his eighth in postseason play. But until he broke out of his mini-slump last night, he was in danger of being known as Mr. First Half of October.

Not that there could be any shame in blanking out at the plate against the Braves. He can be forgiven for coming up empty against Smoltz and Maddux, one about to win his first Cy Young Award and the other with enough of them to use for bases.

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"They've got a great pitching staff," Williams said. "You've got to give them credit. You can't control that, so the only thing you can do is go out there and try to have a quality at-bat.

"I felt I approached the game the same way I did the past two games. The same attitude. If you think you're done, you're going to be done but we were confident tonight. We were looking forward to the challenge."

World Series New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves

Best of seven

(Atlanta leads series 2-1)

Tonight: Yankees' Kenny Rogers (12-8, 4.68) at Braves' Denny Neagle (16-9, 3.50), 8: 18

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Last night: Yankees, 5-2

Game 1: Braves, 12-1

Game 2: Braves, 4-0

Tomorrow: at Atlanta, 8: 15

Saturday*: at New York, 8: 01

Sunday*: at New York, 7: 35

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*- If necessary

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/ WBAL (1090 AM)

Bronx bomber

New York's Bernie Williams tied the all-time postseason mark for home runs with his sixth last night. The postseason home run leaders:

Six

Bernie Williams, N.Y.-AL 1996

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Bob Robertson, Pitt. 1971

Len Dykstra, Phila. 1993

Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle 1995

Five

Reggie Jackson, N.Y.-A 1977

Davey Lopes, Los Angeles 1978

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Willie Stargell, Pittsburgh 1979

Juan Gonzalez, Texas 1996

Pub Date: 10/23/96


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