Yanks Take 2-0 Lead With Win

The Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit is decorated for Super Bowl XL, Jan. 30, 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers face the Seattle Seahawks in the championship game.
AP

Add Shane Spencer to the long list of New York Yankees legends.

An unknown a month ago, the compact rookie capped his amazing September by homering in his first postseason at-bat to lead Andy Pettitte and the Yankees past the Texas Rangers 3-1 Wednesday night for a 2-0 lead in their AL Division Series.

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  • "It won't be storybook until it's all over," Spencer said. "We've still got eight or nine more to go."

    "I'm just riding it now, cherishing the moment. Maybe someday I'll look back on it."

    Pettitte atoned for a season-long struggle and pitched perfectly into the fifth inning. Texas led the league in batting this year, but managed only five hits in a Game 1 shutout and got only five more against the AL's top staff.

    "What really feels good is that the critics were there, but my manager stuck with me," Pettitte said.

    The Yankees will try to sweep the best-of-5 playoff on Friday night at Texas. David Cone (20-7) starts for New York against Aaron Sele> (19-11).

    "We just have to get the bats going," Texas manager Johnny Oates said.

    Spencer got his chance to start in left field partly because of an ominous medical report on Darryl Strawberry. Told that doctors had "found something" on his colon, Strawberry left the team for more tests Thursday. It is not known when he will rejoin the Yankees.

    The Rangers had never faced Spencer, and he seemed to catch them by surprise, much the same way he startled Yankees fans with his power down the stretch.

    Spencer, who said before the game that he was having the time of his life, happened to notice his name on the lineup card. He then hit a solo home run off Rick Helling in the second inning, and singled ahead of Scott Brosius' homer for a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

    "He knows what that piece of wood is made for, and it's not to clean off his shoes," Oates said.

    Royce Clayton
    Royce Clayton and the Rangers leave New York with a bad taste in their mouths. (AP)

    The sellout crowd of 57,360 rewarded the rookie with standing ovations all night, the way fans used to respond to the likes of Reggie and Mickey. At 26, the humble, aw-shucks Spencer had to be urged by manager Joe Torre and his teammates to take a curtain call.

    "I could hear them getting loud and it was like, `Gosh. Oh, no,"' he said. "Joe was the one who told me to go out there."

    Spencer had spent eight full seasons in the minors before finally getting his chance in the majors this year. He made three roundtrips between Triple-A Columbus and New York.

    Promoted for a fourth time on Aug. 31, he hit eight home runs in September and three grand slams -- joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio among the seven players in team history to hit three slams in an entire year.

    Spencer, who hit 119 homers in the minors, earned AL player of the week honors for hitting six homers in the last week. But his home run against Texas drew the biggest cheer yet.

    Helling, who emerged to tie for the league lead with 20 wins, struck out three of New York's first six batters and threw two fastballs past Spencer for called strikes. On a 2-2 pitch, however, Spencer launched a drive over the 399-foot marker in left-center field for the game's first run.

    Helling said he knew Spencer was a good fastball hitter, but felt he could throw one more past him.

    "It helps if you have an idea and you know what you've done against him before," Helling said.

    Spencer quickly ran arond the bases with his head down, nearly running past home plate when he arrived. The Yankees spilled out of the dugout to greet New York's newest hero.

    Spencer did it just the way they teach in the minors in his next at-bat, grounding a hard single up the middle. Brosius followed with a drive over the wall in right-center.

    "A lot of pitchers don't know much about me. They're coming after me," Spencer said.

    With his big "1.000" average still posted on the scoreboard, Spencer took a called third strike in his final at-bat.

    Pettitte protected the lead, setting down the first 12 batters with ease. Juan Gonzalez doubled to begin the fifth and later scored on a single by Ivan Rodriguez for Texas' only run.

    Pettitte gave up three hits in seven innings, striking out eight and walking none. He improved to 6-0 lifetime at home against Texas and ended a slide in which he had won just four of his last 12 starts, leaving his spot in the postseason rotation in doubt.

    Jeff Nelson got two outs in the eighth and Mariano Rivera closed for his second save of the series.

    Aside from Spencer and Brosius, who hit an RBI single in a 2-0 win in the opener, Helling had little trouble. He pitched six innings and struck out nine.

    Once again, though, New York nailed Helling with the long ball. The Yankees were the lone team to beat him twice this year, winning both in New York and hitting five homers in 19 innings.

    "We've done just enough to get by offensively the first two games, but we've gotten two great games from our pitchers," Brosius said.

    Notes

  • Yankees Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto threw out the first ball.
  • Before the game, a moment of silence was observed for former Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry, who died earlier in the day.
  • Go Figure Dept.: With the loss by Helling, 20-game winners are just 15-22 in postseason play in the '90s.
  • Pettitte set his postseason high for strikeouts.
  • Helling is from Fargo, N.D., and attended the same high school as Roger Maris.

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