OAKLAND -- Throughout the first three games of the ALDS, the Yankees tried to play their game and be patient at the plate. Over the last five years, patience has helped them get good pitches to hit, forcing starting pitchers out of the game early, allowing them to feast on mediocre bullpens.
|Bernie Williams has more Division Series RBIs than anyone.
This week, what they mainly saw was strike one and strike two. That's not the way to win ballgames.
Sunday, facing their second consecutive win-or-go-home game in as many days, the Yankees were finished being patient. This was do-or-die, and if New York was going down, they were going down swinging.
Bernie Williams has come up big for the Yankees in the playoffs, but maybe not in as big a spot as he did on Sunday. Sensing the uneasiness of A's starter Cory Lidle, Williams jumped on the first pitch he saw in two consecutive at-bats, driving in four runs on two of the most important swings of his career.
"We're playing with a fearless mentality," Williams said. "We were pretty tied up in the first couple of games, and today we were out there thinking we're just going to go all-out, and whatever happens, happens."
Williams went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and five RBIs, leading the Yankees to a 9-2 victory. The win sends the series back to Yankee Stadium for a decisive Game 5.
"He's right in the middle of our order and a huge part of our offense," said Paul O'Neill, who went 1-for3 with a double and a run scored. "To see him swing the bat well and drive in some runs, it was huge for us."
Williams' third-inning double to deep center field brought home the Yankees' third and fourth runs, putting New York ahead 4-0. After Oakland cut the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the third, Williams capped a three-run fourth for the Yankees with a bases-loaded single, bringing home two more runs to give the Yankees a 7-2 lead. He tacked on another run in the ninth with his second double of the day.
"Bernie is the kind of guy that when he gets hot, he can really carry you," said Andy Pettitte. "It would be nice to see him get hot right now, that's for sure."
Williams, who has been with the Yankees longer than any current player, has always come up big for his team in October. His 42 postseason RBIs rank third all-time, while his 18 ALDS RBIs are more than any other player in the six-year history of Division Series play. That made his 1-for-11 performance in the first three games even harder to swallow, but he said that the team's demeanor did not change, even facing elimination.
"We knew we were down two games to one and it was a must-win," Williams said. "But in the clubhouse, you don't want to be on pins and needles. This is a time for relaxing, and when the game comes, you let it all out."
The Yankees' offense finally gave its pitcher something to work with, and for that they were rewarded with at least one more game this season.
When asked before Game 3 if the Yankees needed to abandon their hitting philosophy in the wake of the A's pitchers throwing so many strikes, Williams said that was not necessary.
"I think we should keep our approach. I think we should stay disciplined," he said. "I can't assume that the guy is going to throw a strike early in the count, so I don't think it's any time to start changing my philosophy in hitting just because the guys are getting ahead in the count."
Interestingly enough, Williams' first two hits came on the first pitch. So much for staying with a disciplined approach.
"Bernie came up huge," said Mike Stanton. "He's kind of strange, because he can just lay in the weeds until the chips are down, then he'll sit on a pitch that no one else would sit on and smoke it."
Williams went through some dog days in New York, missing the playoffs from 1991-93, his first three seasons. In fact, in his first two seasons, Williams saw the Bronx Bombers finish a combined 30 games under .500. With those memories in his head, he's not ready to put the current championship run to bed. He admits that beating Mark Mulder on Monday won't be an easy task, but says that the key is to remain disciplined.
"We have been in the situation before, and we know what it takes to win ballgames," said Williams. "We've got to stay disciplined, make sure that we capitalize on the mistakes that he makes. I don't think he's going to make too many."
So there's the key: stay disciplined. Sounds funny coming from the guy swinging at all those first pitches.
Mark Feinsand is the site reporter for Yankees.com.