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Yankees fight back, tie Series, 2-2 Leyritz's homer ties game, Boggs' walk wins in 10th, 8-6; Atlanta squanders lead; Victory assures series will go back to N.Y.

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Braves fans began leaving Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the sixth inning last night, certain of victory, and why not? Atlanta led 6-0, and victory in Game 4 and the World Series seemed assured.

But the Yankees stormed back, tied the game in the eighth when catcher Jim Leyritz hit a three-run homer off Braves closer Mark Wohlers and won in the 10th, when Wade Boggs drew a bases-loaded walk. With the 8-6 victory, New York tied the series at two games apiece, and guaranteed the fact that the best-of-seven series will end at Yankee Stadium.

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The game lasted 4 hours, 19 minutes and ended at 12: 38 this morning.

Leyritz hit a hanging forkball to tie the game in the eighth, and Braves left-hander Steve Avery took over from Wohlers in the 10th. Avery retired the first two hitters, but walked Tim Raines. Derek Jeter singled, and with switch-hitter Bernie Williams coming up, manager Bobby Cox walked to the mound to discuss the options with Avery.

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Williams is a much better right-handed hitter than left-handed, and Cox could've brought in reliever Brad Clontz to make Williams bat left-handed. Instead, Cox left Avery in the game, and ordered him to intentionally walk Williams and load the bases.

Yankees utilityman Andy Fox, who hadn't batted in the postseason, was due to bat, but veteran Wade Boggs, the last position player available for New York, pinch hit. Boggs fell behind one ball and two strikes, and took a very close pitch for ball two; Braves catcher Eddie Perez jerked a hand in the air, thinking it was strike three.

It wasn't, and Boggs took two more pitches to walk and force in the lead run. Braves first baseman Ryan Klesko misplayed an infield pop, scoring the other run.

The Yankees had nearly taken the lead in the top of the ninth, loading the bases on three straight singles after Wohlers retired the first two hitters in the inning. New York second baseman Mariano Duncan hit a soft, sinking liner to right, and had it fallen, it would've scored two runs. Right fielder Jermaine Dye, who earlier committed two defensive mistakes that contributed to the Yankees' comeback, raced in and made a staggering catch before falling.

The Braves had runners at first and second with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Graeme Lloyd, the scourge of New York since being traded to the Yankees in August, got Fred McGriff to bounce into a double play and end the rally.

The Yankees completed one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history.

Kenny Rogers fell apart in the second inning, and left in the third inning, eventually charged with five runs. Atlanta added a run in the sixth, and you wouldn't have blamed Braves officials for checking possible parade routes.

But the Yankees scored three in the sixth inning, a rally set up by two misplays by Braves right fielder Jermaine Dye -- he missed one foul pop-up and let a single skip away, an error. Nonetheless, Braves reliever Mike Bielecki came in and with two runners on base, he struck out Mariano Duncan and pinch hitters Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez in order. He turned over the 6-3 lead to Braves closer Mark Wohlers in the eighth.

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Yankees third baseman Charlie Hayes led off by hitting a swinging bunt, topping a ball that rolled slowly down the third-base line and stayed in fair territory. Darryl Strawberry ripped a single to left. Mariano Duncan smashed a harder grounder to shortstop, where defensive replacement Rafael Belliard knocked it down and got a force at second -- but no double play.

Wohlers was struggling, his control erratic. Leyritz had several good swings, fouling off pitches, and Wohlers tried to finish him off with a forkball. The pitch stayed high in the strike zone, Leyritz launched it over the left-field wall, and the Yankees' dugout erupted in celebration. From six runs down, the Yankees had tied the game that had started miserably, with Rogers.

Rogers signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the Yankees during the last off-season, and immediately New York columnists began writing about Rogers' perceived lack of confidence, comparing him to Ed Whitson, a free agent who signed with the Yankees and became so bothered by the boos in Yankee Stadium that he would pitch only on the road.

Rogers lent some credence to the criticism during the regular season, struggling to win 12 games. He lasted only two innings in a start against Texas in a Division Series, and didn't get out of the fourth inning in a start in Camden Yards, despite the fact the Yankees had established a 4-0 lead for him. He looked terrible, almost reluctant to throw the ball over the plate, and the Yankees' brass considered leaving him off the World Series roster.

Ultimately, their need for an experienced fourth starter prompted the Yankees to keep him in the rotation. But the Yankees wanted and needed something more from Rogers than a two- or three-inning start.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner walked up to the left-hander after the Game 2 loss, poked a finger in Rogers' chest and said, "I haven't seen the best of you yet."

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Somebody asked Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre before last night's game about Steinbrenner's comment, and whether Rogers might be bothered by the perception that he lacks fortitude.

"I think if he gets out there and thinks about those things," said Stottlemyre, "we'll be in trouble."

Steinbrenner now has seen the worst of Rogers, who crumbled like a soggy Graham Cracker.

He retired the Braves in order in the first inning, but fell behind first baseman Fred McGriff three balls and one strike. Rogers challenged McGriff with a fastball, the pitch he must throw effectively to win, the pitch that is often a barometer of how good Rogers is on a given night.

McGriff reached out and blasted the pitch over the center-field wall. Rogers stood on the mound, called for another ball, and blew on his hand. Virtually every pitch Rogers threw thereafter was low and outside, steering clear of each hitter the way a mailman might avoid a house guarded by a Doberman.

He walked Javy Lopez, and Yankees manager Joe Torre went to the mound to say something to him. Rogers walked 19-year-old Andruw Jones. He fell behind in the count to rookie Jermaine Dye two balls and no strikes, and reliever Brian Boehringer got up in the bullpen and started warming up. Dye flied out to right, and Lopez tagged up and moved to third.

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Rogers tried nibbling against Jeff Blauser, batting .143 in the postseason, fell behind two balls and no strikes, and two pitches later, Blauser bunted toward first, a safety squeeze. Rogers hustled over, turned to throw to first _ where there were no Yankees infielders in sight. Cecil Fielder had moved toward the plate and veered off to the mound, rather than stay at first. Lopez scored, Jones moved to second, and Blauser was safe at first.

Neagle bunted both runners ahead, to second and third, and Grissom hit a grounder up the middle and when the ball died in short center field, he scampered into second with a double. Both runners scored, and the Braves led, 4-0. Steinbrenner sat in his private box, gesturing wildly with his right hand.

Rogers gave up back-to-back singles to open the third and he was finished. The Braves would score another run, leaving Rogers' postseason ERA at 14.14.

Rallying Yanks

The Yankees have come back to win six playoff games, including last night's victory over the Braves.

Date Opp. Deficit Final

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10-2 Tex. 4-2 in 6th W, 5-4

10-4 Tex. 2-1 in 8th W, 3-2

10-5 Tex. 4-0 in 3rd W, 6-4

10-9 O's 4-2 in 6th W, 5-4

10-11 O's 2-1 in 8th W, 5-2

10-23 Atl. 6-0 in 5th W, 8-6

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Pub Date: 10/24/96


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