Yanks prove to be better by the dozen


NEW YORK -- Getting his initials mixed up, Red Sox manager Jimy Williams referred to the American League Championship Series as the ACL instead of the ALCS before Game 2 last night at Yankee Stadium.

Williams is infamous for botching names, and this was a good one even by his standards. The ACL is a knee ligament, the anterior cruciate ligament. You don't win it, you tear it up.

By the time Williams figures out the right name for the series, it might be over.

The Yankees have a 2-0 lead after coming from behind for the second straight night to beat the Sox last night, and, at this point, you have to wonder if the Sox will ever win a game, much less the whole ACL, er, the whole ALCS.

With their back-to-back one-run wins, the Yankees now have won 12 straight postseason games dating back to last October. Their last loss was in Game 3 of the 1998 ALCS, to the Indians. Since then, the Indians have lost three, the Padres have lost four, the Rangers have lost three and now the Sox have lost two.

"It's a remarkable thing," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "You can't say it's hard to believe, because it's happened. When you have good pitching, you have a chance to win."

Twelve in a row? You might hate the Yankees with all your heart, but as Butch said to Sundance about the posse chasing them, "These guys are good."

They overcame a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 Wednesday night, and they were trailing 2-1 going into the bottom of the seventh last night before rising to the occasion again with a two-run rally that gave them a 3-2 lead. Their bullpen then got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the eighth with Ramiro Mendoza getting the last two outs, and closer Mariano Rivera made it through a shaky ninth to lock up the win.

Rallies, bloop hits, strong relief pitching, unshakable faith -- it's a powerful combination threatening to suffocate the Sox, who battled brilliantly in these first two games but came away with nothing.

"We've competed against them pretty well [for two games]," Williams said. "We just haven't gotten it done on the bottom line. No excuses. They beat us twice."

Sure, the winning streak could end when Boston ace Pedro Martinez takes the mound for Game 3 tomorrow at Fenway Park against the Yankees' Roger Clemens, but betting against the Yankees in any postseason game is a risk at this point.

They aren't nearly as dominating as they were a year ago, but their confidence in crisis situations is downright stunning. Some player always come through, usually a different player from the one who came through the night before.

It was Orlando Hernandez and Bernie Williams in Game 1, and last night it was David Cone pitching seven strong innings, Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O'Neill delivering key hits and Mendoza and Rivera slamming the door at the end.

The Sox will probably chalk it up to the famed "Curse of the Bambino," as always. Two Sox hits came within inches of leaving the park, but ended up as doubles. That could have made the difference.

It's never dull with the Sox, that's for sure.

But they're in trouble after two devastatingly close losses.

Cone, making his first start of the '99 playoffs, continued the Yankees' run of strong pitching. He struck out nine and gave up two runs in seven innings.

With two outs and runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, he got the out he needed to end the inning.

"David was sensational," Torre said.

Cone said: "I felt strong, I felt sharp. They're a hot team, so you really can't afford a mistake. They're much better than a wild-card team, in my mind. They're an amazingly resilient team. I'm glad to win."

The Yankees' pitching was regarded as a possible weakness going into the playoffs, because starters such as Cone, Clemens and Andy Pettitte had endured below-par seasons, but Yankees opponents have scored only six runs in five playoff games.

If the starting pitching, in particular, continues to hold up, the Yankees are going to be extremely difficult to beat.

"I knew we were better than we were pitching in the second half of the season," Torre said.

Pedro Martinez's brother, Ramon, started for the Sox and also pitched well, although he ended up as the losing pitcher. He took a 2-1 lead into the seventh, but he walked the leadoff hitter, Ricky Ledee, and that wound up getting him in trouble. The last batter he faced was Knoblauch, who lined a double into left field to score the tying run. One batter later, O'Neill's bloop single off Rheal Cormier gave the Yankees the lead, 3-2.

The drama was just beginning at that point, actually, as Torre and Williams made move after move in the eighth and ninth innings. The Sox left three runners on base in the eighth and two runners on base in the ninth, ending the game with a total of 13 left on base.

"It's amazing," Cone said, "you have to feel pretty lucky."

And good, too.

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