Maybe it was the setting or the opposition. Whatever the reason, for seven innings the Florida Marlins actually looked a little like the team that won the World Series last October.
Despite starting a rookie pitcher against baseball's best team, Florida hung with the New York Yankees before dropping its ninth straight game, a 5-1 decision Friday night.
With the Yankees ripping through the AL so far this year, their first meeting against an NL team the NL's worst team figured to be a rout. However, the Marlins showed for one night they weren't going to be intimidated by New York's All-Star roster or legacy.
"We played well," Florida manager Jim Leyland said. "Other than one throw, we played good defense. It was a good ballgame."
Darryl Strawberry homered to snap a seventh-inning tie and Andy Pettitte pitched a five-hitter as the Yankees improved the majors' best record to 42-13 with their 41st win in 50 games.
The matchup between the 1996 and '97 World Series champions was a pitcher's duel for six innings between rookie Joe Fontenot (0-3) and Pettitte (7-5). But Strawberry's ninth homer and Chuck Knoblauch's RBI single in the seventh helped the Yankees win their fifth straight and improve the majors' best record to 42-13.
Pettitte, who didn't get out of the third inning in his previous start, walked one and struck out four in his second complete game.
"Even when he fell behind he was able to battle his way back," New York manager Joe Torre said of the left-hander, who was 1-3 with a no-decision in his previous five starts. "He was challenging people. I saw a much better approach today."
Paul O'Neill had two hits and extended his hitting streak to 13 games for New York.
Todd Zeile went 3-for-4 for Florida, playing its first ever game in Yankee Stadium.
The loss was the 42nd for the Marlins, who after winning the World Series last October, had their club dismantled with trades designed to slash payroll.
The Marlins certainly didn't look pitiful early on, with Fontenot befuddling the Yankees and Florida's defense making several outstanding defensive plays behind him.
"They made some plays," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They played like hell."
Fontenot, making just his third major league start, limited the Yankees two hits through five innings. He struck out the first two in the sixth before O'Neill singled and took second on Fontenot's second wild pitch.
Tino Martinez, who had walked in his first two at-bats, followed with a soft RBI single to right, only the third ball hit in the air to the outfield against Fontenot.
"He pitched outstanding," Leyland said of the 21-year-old Fontenot. "He showed poise. He wasn't intimidated. It was a real positive fo him."
Florida tied it in the seventh on second baseman Chuck Knoblauch's throwing error. Zeile and Cliff Floyd hit one-out singles before Pettitte got Derrek Lee to hit a comebacker. Pettitte threw to second for the force, but Knoblauch's return throw skipped past Martinez and into the stands.
New York added two runs in the eighth when Brian Edmondson walked in a run, and forced in another by hitting a batter with the bases loaded.
Bad baserunning cost the Marlins a run in the third. Ryan Jackson doubled leading off, but failed to advance on Greg Zaun's fly to right. Jackson did move up on a groundout, but was stranded at third when Todd Dunwoody bounced to second.
Fontenot gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings.
Notes: Bob Baffert, trainer for Triple Crown hopeful Real Quiet, visited with both managers on the field before the game. ... Torre said there's still no decision on whether pitcher Orlando Hernandez would remain with the club permanently. Hernandez, who won his major league debut earlier this week, is already developing a major-league attitude. The Cuban refugee blew off reporters anxious to speak with him before the game about his New York experience and his lunch on Thursday with his brother, Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez. ... Hideki Irabu said he was pleased with news that Hideo Nomo had been traded to the Mets. Irabu said he considers Nomo his "senpai" a Japanese term for respected elder.
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