At this point, it doesn't seem to matter which pitcher the New York Yankees put on the mound against Texas.
The Rangers can't hit any of them.
Andy Pettitte, once again proving he's at his best in the biggest games, took his turn at shutting down Texas in a 3-1 victory Thursday night that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in their AL division series.
Juan Gonzalez homered in the fourth, ending the Rangers' postseason scoreless streak at 25 innings. But that was all they managed in 7 1-3 innings against Pettitte, the left-hander New York nearly dealt away at the July 31 trading deadline.
But manager Joe Torre never was one of them.
"I've seen Andy do it before. When you need to count on him, he doesn't disappoint," Torre said. "He makes big plays, he makes big pitches."
The Yankees won their ninth straight postseason game and sent Texas to its eighth playoff loss in a row.
Ricky Ledee's tiebreaking double in the seventh off loser Rick Helling and a bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Jim Leyritz in the eighth put the Yankees one win away from their second consecutive 3-0 sweep of Texas in the opening round of the playoffs.
Texas manager Johnny Oates shook up his lineup, moving Royce Clayton into the leadoff spot for only the third time this year. It did not do much.
"We know in our heart we can play with these guys," Oates said. "But until we start doing it, there's always going to be doubts."
No surprise, it was Pettitte who put the Yankees in position to advance to the next round. A demonstrative Pettitte, too, who pumped his fist and shouted after a big strikeout in the fifth.
"I'm usually not very emotional, but it was a big game," Pettitte said. "I was locked in."
Pettitte almost missed out on this party when the Yankees came close to trading him to Philadelphia more than two months ago. At the time, Pettitte was struggling at 7-8 and seemed distracted, possibly by his father's heart problems back in Texas.
But Torre, with help from general manager Brian Cashman, convinced owner George Steinbrenner not to make the deal. Steinbrenner agreed, and challenged Pettitte to "show what kind of man he is."
Ever since, Pettitte backed up Torre's confidence. And against Texas, he looked every bit as focused as the pitcher who won the clinching Game 4 of last year's World Series and the crucial Game 5 of the 1996 Series against Atlanta.
"This is what I remember about Andy," Torre said. "I remember him walking that tightrope in '96."
Pettitte gave up one run and seven hits, walking none and striking out five. Last year, he also beat Helling 3-1 in Game 2.
Every Yankees infielder rushed to the mound to offer pats of congratulations to Pettitte when Torre brought in reliever Jeff Nelson in the eighth. Pettitte received a standing ovation from the crowd of 57,485 a stark contrast to the rude treatment the fans gave him earlier this year and he responded with an enthusiastic wave of the cap.
|The Yankees defense was shaky but held on for the win.|
Scott Brosius, MVP of the 1998 World Series, hit a tying double in the fifth for his first hit of his postseason.
Ledee, a World Series hero last year but sent to the minors early this season, delivered a fly-ball double to right-center for a 2-1 lead. Center fielder Roberto Kelly seemed to have a chance at catching it, but appeared to back off a bit when Gonzalez came over from right.
Leyritz drew his bases-loaded walk in the eighth from Mike Venafro.
After being blanked 8-0 in Game 1, the Rangers rewarded Gonzalez with exuberant high-fives after he reprised his role as a Yankees-killer with a line-drive homer into the left-field stands in the fourth.
Gonzalez put on incredible power show in the 1996 playoff series against New York with five home runs, including two against Pettitte.
Pettitte had escaped a first-and-second, no-outs jam in the second, then kept the Rangers from adding to a 1-0 lead in a tense fifth.
Kelly led off with a single and took third on Lee Stevens' double. Mark McLemore struck out and Clayton, after taking a minute because he had trouble shaking the weighted doughnut off his bat, grounded out to a slightly drawn-in Brosius at third.
Rusty Greer ran the count full before striking out on a breaking ball in the dirt, prompting Pettitte's exaggerated reaction.
"We certainly had our opportunities," Oates said, "but Andy kept making pitches where he wanted to when he had to."
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed