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O'Neill Starts In Opener


Paul O'Neill talked his way into the New York Yankees lineup for Wednesday night's opener of the AL championship series, fractured rib and all.

"It didn't take a lot of talking, because I wanted to play him," Yankees manager Joe Torre said before his team took on the Boston Red Sox for the first time in postseason play.

O'Neill hurt himself Oct. 2 running into a fence trying to catch a foul ball at Tampa Bay. He played the first two games of the first-round sweep of Texas, sat out the clincher, then was diagnosed Monday with a small fracture.

After taking batting practice Tuesday, O'Neill said he thought he could play despite the injury.

"He's in his body. That's the only thing we can go on, and we have to let it fly," Torre said.

Torre wasn't sure whether to play O'Neill until talking with the right fielder on Wednesday afternoon.

"I didn't put up a lineup until after he got here today," Torre said. "We talked about it. I saw how anxious he was to play."

O'Neill was 1-for-4 in each of the first two games against Texas. Three years ago, he played the postseason despite a torn hamstring.

"Paul could have a great career as a lobbyist in Washington," teammate David Cone said, "because I saw him doing some heavy lobbying today in the manager's office and it worked. He's an intense competitor."

Just in case he couldn't play, the Yankees added outfielder Shane Spencer to their active roster and cut Jim Leyritz.

Spencer, who started in left field Wednesday against left-hander Kent Mercker, starred in the 1998 playoff series against Texas, going 3-for-6 with two homers and six RBIs, but was 1-for-10 against Cleveland in the next round and got just three at-bats in the World Series.

He hit .234 with eight homers and 20 RBIs during the 1999 season, but was cut for the roster for the first round of the playoffs against the Rangers.

"I needed the extra outfielder," Torre said. "We're hoping we don't need to use it, but I had to have it."

Leyritz, acquired from San Diego on July 31, hit .227 with five RBIs in 66 at-bats for the Yankees during the regular season and was 0-for-2 in the first round.

"It was very difficult, no question," Torre said. "Jimmy struggled near the end of the season. It didn't keep me from going to him in Games 1 and 2."

Another alternative would have been to cut rookie Clay Bellinger, oe of the few Yankees with speed.

"I feel a little more secure having a pinch runner, especially Clay, who can play all around, too," Torre said.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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