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Yanks To Play Home After Win


Paul O'Neill crumpled to the ground in pain, giving the New York Yankees an anxious moment on the way to clinching home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

The defending World Series champions beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 3-2 Saturday night, guaranteeing themselves at least a share of the league's best regular-season record.

But manager Joe Torre's biggest concern was the health of O'Neill, who left in the sixth inning with a bruised right side and lower back after chasing a foul ball into the right-field corner and crashing into a low fence.

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  • "I don't even worry about the postseason, you just worry about the individual," Torre said. "For all those people who don't know a lot about Paul O'Neill, I think it speaks volumes for him to do what he did in that situation after we've already clinched about everything."

    X-rays were negative, and O'Neill said with a couple of days rest he should be fine.

    "I'm sore, but I don't think there's anything to worry about," said O'Neill, adding that he had the wind knocked out of him. "It's kind of a surprise. I didn't know that wall was there. It's so low, you don't see it."

    Chili Davis and Scott Brosius hit solo homers and the New York bullpen pitched 3 2-3 shutout innings to make Torre the first Yankees manager to win 400 games in his first four seasons.

    "I don't think in terms of stats, but to do that in this Yankee uniform knowing the people who have been doing this before me, I feel very honored," Torre said.

    New York opens the playoffs Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, though it's still not crtain whether they will play Cleveland or Texas.

    Regardless, the AL East champs are happy to have secured home-field advantage up to the World Series.

    "The only thing is you want to make sure we get a chance to use it," Torre said. "I feel very comfortable at Yankee Stadium. I know we play well on the road, but I still like all the ghosts around us."

    David Cone (12-9) won for just the second time in 13 starts since pitching a perfect game against the Montreal Expos on July 18. He allowed just two hits, but left in the sixth after walking in two runs that trimmed New York's lead to 3-2.

    Before the game, Torre said Cone would pitch Game 4 of the playoffs, if necessary. Orlando Hernandez will start Game 1 in the best-of-5 first round, followed by Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.

    Mariano Rivera pitched the last 1 2-3 innings for New York to earn his career-high 45th save in 49 opportunities. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 28 appearances.

    Davis, who has 19 homers, and Brosius, who's hit 17, both connected off Wilson Alvarez (9-9) in the fifth. The Devil Rays have lost 13 of their last 15 home games.

    Cone, 2-5 with six no-decisions over his last 13 starts, limited the Devil Rays to Herbert Perry's two-out, second-inning single through five innings. Dave Martinez was Tampa Bay's only other baserunner during that stretch, drawing a fourth-inning walk before being erased on a double play.

    But the Yankees starter faded quickly in the sixth.

    The Devil Rays loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and a single by Mike DiFelice. Martinez lined to first before Cone walked Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff to force home two runs.

    Cone became frustrated when a couple of check swings were called balls, instead of strikes.

    "There were some close call, but that's no excuse," he said. "The fact of the matter is I was in control, and I let the game get away."

    Davis led off the Yankees fifth with the 350th home run of his career. Two outs later, Brosius homered for a 2-0 lead against Alvarez, who walkd two batters before giving up a run-scoring single to Davis that made it 3-0 in the sixth.

    Notes

  • Plate umpire Derryl Cousins left in the sixth inning with a slight muscle pull in his back. 2B umpire Joe Brinkman moved behind the plate for the remainder of the night
  • Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar said he plans to meet with Wade Boggs and his agent in the next couple of weeks to discuss the third baseman's future with Tampa Bay
  • Vince Naimoli, Tampa Bay's managing general partner, said he has "high expectations" that the Devil Rays will play host to the 2005 or 2007 All-Star Game if the team remains in the AL.
  • The crowd of 40,756 was the largest at Tropicana Field this season.

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