10/14/2004 2:11 AM ET
Quiet man Olerud carries big stick
First baseman's two-run HR the difference in Game 2
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
|John Olerud launches a two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS on Wednesday night. (Bill Kostroun/AP)
NEW YORK -- He is the Quiet Man with the loud bat. He stands erect in the batter's box, ready to unleash that picture-perfect swing on a pitcher's mistake.
John Olerud won't make anyone forget Jason Giambi. But, on Wednesday night, he made a lot of people remember Jim Leyritz.
Just as Leyritz turned around the 1996 World Series with a clutch home run against the Atlanta Braves, Olerud, who also qualifies as a supporting member of the marquee Yankees cast, produced the blow that left Boston in a deep hole.
Olerud's two-run homer off Pedro Martinez in the sixth inning widened New York's lead to 3-0. By game's end, it was the difference in a 3-1 victory for a two-games-to-none ALCS lead.
Passing up that two-month vacation apparently was worth it. When released by Seattle at the end of July, the veteran first baseman considered sitting out the rest of the season, then relented when the Yankees knocked on his door.
It has certainly been worth it for the club. Olerud was signed as Giambi's condition worsened from a parasitical virus to a benign tumor.
"When Jason went down," New York manager Joe Torre recalled, "we were looking around for help for (backup first baseman) Tony Clark. There were a couple of guys out there at the time: Fred McGriff, and Olerud.
"He decided to come to us, and that was huge. John Olerud is quality. And when I talked to him, he was very calculated as far as, 'What do you want me to do?'"
How about hitting a game-winning, two-run homer in an ALCS game?
Olerud outguessed a grinding Martinez who, since allowing a run in the first before getting an out, had repelled the Yankees on two hits, one of them of the infield variety.
But by the sixth, Martinez felt the toll of a high pitch count. A walk to Jorge Posada, customarily a routine out for the right-hander, offered a clue.
Up next, Olerud quickly was put on the defensive as Martinez grabbed the advantage.
"Against Pedro," Olerud said, "having two strikes on me is a bad position to be in because he can do so many different things to get you out.
"So I'm up there trying to protect the plate and just get the bat on the ball. I got a fastball up and I just did a good job of getting to it."
He got to all of it.
"I wanted it away," Martinez said. "The ball cut. I didn't release it well. And he took full advantage of it. I've got to give him credit, and say it was my mistake."
Olerud does not seem to have made a mistake in choosing the team with which to prolong a 16-year career that has already produced 2,189 hits.
"All of the teams that were interested in me at the time were in pennant races," Olerud said. "So you just look for a situation that is your best fit. New York definitely was the best for me."
Doing it in pinstripes may be new to Olerud, but playing baseball in October is not.
He was in six previous postseasons, with three other teams (1991-93 Blue Jays, 1999 Mets and 2000-01 Mariners).
He has tasted team (back-to-back World Series titles with the 1992-93 Jays) and personal (his 39 hits in LCS play are fourth all-time) success.
"I got to the World Series pretty early in my career," he said, "and I think not having made it back since let's you know how difficult and how special it is."
Now the Yankees are halfway to getting back there, and Olerud has helped with that.
"He's always been a tough out," said Derek Jeter, "which I know from playing against him. He doesn't swing at many pitches out of the zone. Tonight, that was a huge hit."
The guy to the right of Jeter in the Yankees' infield agreed with that choice of adjective.
"That was a huge blow, the two-run homer," said Alex Rodriguez, who also gave props for New York general manager Brian Cashman's late-summer pursuit of Olerud.
"You can't say enough about Cashman and our front office to go out and pick up a guy of his caliber," Rodriguez added. "He fits this team like a glove."
Which is something else Olerud wields very well. In 124 combined games this season in Seattle and New York, he made two errors.
Choosing to come to the Bronx was not one of them.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.