Yanks' Williams is pain, joy to Rangers GM; GM Melvin watches tormentor he signed


NEW YORK -- Texas Rangers general manager Doug Melvin watched from the stands on Tuesday night as New York Yankees star Bernie Williams turned Game 1 of the Division Series into another personal playoff showcase and proved again that no good deed goes unpunished.

Every time Williams stings a game-breaking hit or makes a game-saving catch -- and he did both on Tuesday night against the Rangers -- Melvin remembers the day in September 1985 that he handed the raw Puerto Rican teen-ager a $15,000 bonus to sign with the Yankees.

Melvin was the Yankees' scouting director at the time. He would leave the following year to join the Orioles' front office and eventually land in Texas, where the Rangers quickly developed into a perennial contender and fell into the routine of playing the Yankees in the Division Series.

Since then, Williams has never been far out of Melvin's thoughts. He hit three home runs in the first Division Series victory over the Rangers in 1996. He drove in six runs in Game 1 of the series that resumes tonight at Yankee Stadium. Funny how things turn out.

"Yeah, you think about it quite a bit," Melvin said yesterday. "Last year, it ran through my mind to try to sign him as a free agent, but we knew that we had to concentrate on trying to improve our pitching.

"He's a great individual. It would be nice to have him. But that's not going to happen."

Even though Williams has terrorized the Rangers' pitching staff throughout his career -- he has 67 regular-season and postseason RBIs against Texas -- Melvin rates the decision to sign him in 1985 as one of the proudest moments of his front office career.

"We gave him a signing bonus of $15,000," Melvin said. "He's making a few dollars more than that now, and it's well-deserved."

The Rangers can only hope that Williams doesn't do too much this week to justify the $87 million contract he signed last winter to remain in New York. They already have their hands full trying to figure out the Yankees' pitching staff.

The Rangers have lost a record-tying seven straight Division Series games to the Yankees, dating back to Game 2 of the 1996 series. They scored a total of one run in last year's three-game sweep and were shut out on two hits in Tuesday night's game.

Manager Johnny Oates has described the postseason offensive drought as "mind-boggling," and who can blame him? The Rangers have one of the most explosive offensive attacks in baseball, but they seem to shut it down whenever they run into the Yankees.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte, who will try to keep the Rangers quiet when he faces Rangers' No. 2 starter Rick Helling in Game 2 tonight, tried to be diplomatic when he was asked at yesterday's news conference if he agreed with Oates' assessment.

"Well, obviously you feel like you're going to have to score some runs to beat them because you don't think you're going to go in and shut them out," Pettitte said. "But if you make quality pitches and you make pitches when you have to and you get some defensive plays that you need to get, you're going to be able to shut teams down. A good pitcher is going to get a good hitter out most of the time, and that's kind of been our philosophy. If we continue to do that, we'll be very successful."

Pettitte struggled through the first half and was the subject of intense trade speculation at midseason, but a strong finish moved him up the pitching depth chart and into the second slot in the Yankees' postseason rotation.

He defeated the Rangers in his only regular-season start against them this year and dominated them (three hits in seven innings) in Game 2 of last year's Division Series.

Helling also pitched well against the Yankees during the regular season and held his own in his postseason debut against them last year (a 3-1 loss), but he'll be the one on the hot seat tonight.

If he doesn't put an end to the Rangers' postseason losing streak, they will face elimination against future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens in Game 3 in Arlington, but he denies feeling any extra pressure going into his second career postseason start.

"Not really," he said. "You know, I don't think really anybody expected us to win this series anyway. To me, all the pressure's on the Yankees. They won the first game. Obviously, it would be nice if we won the second game and went back home with a split. But as far as pressure, no, not at all. To me, we've been the underdog all year."

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