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Athletics 2, Yankees 0

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NEW YORK (AP) _ With youth and energy, brashness and determination, the Oakland Athletics have pushed the New York Yankees to the brink, just one loss away from the end of an era.

Tim Hudson, just like Mark Mulder the night before, extinguished New York's offense. Ron Gant backed him with an early home run, and Jason Isringhausen survived a ninth-inning rally as the Athletics held off New York 2-0 Thursday night and headed home with a 2-0 lead in the first-round AL playoff series.

After becoming only the fourth team to win the World Series three straight times, the Yankees must win three consecutive games to get a chance to extend their run.

``We didn't expect to come in here to Yankee Stadium and win two games against that club,'' Hudson said. ``We battled, we stayed poised and we found a way to squeeze a couple of runs across.''

Oakland, beaten 3-2 by the Yankees in last year's division series, has won eight straight over New York going back to the regular season _ and the Yankees haven't led after their last 76 innings against the A's.

New York's veterans look a little bit past their prime, unable to muscle their way out of trouble anymore.

``I don't know about old. But they're certainly making us eat some dust right now,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

New York's task is daunting: The A's have won their last 17 home games, and Barry Zito (17-8), another of the left-handers who have given the Yankees difficulty this year, starts Saturday against Mike Mussina (17-11).

Hudson held the Yankees to one hit in the first five innings, then escaped jams in the sixth and seventh.

Pitching inside to keep hitters from extending their arms over the plate, he retired 12 in a row after Derek Jeter's first-inning single and allowed six hits in all.

Isringhausen walked a fine line. Bernie Williams doubled off the glove of third baseman Eric Chavez leading off the ninth, and Tino Martinez walked, creating more drama.

But with fans imploring New York to rally as it has so many times before, Isringhausen threw a called third strike past Jorge Posada and retired David Justice and Scott Brosius on popups for his second save of the series.

New York earned its titles by winning October games like this, but the A's seemed unafraid of the Yankees' success, mystique and rabid fans.

``In this kind of atmosphere, it's a little nerve-racking,'' Isringhausen said. ``It's total adrenalin.''

After two-out singles by Chuck Knoblauch and Jeter put two on in the sixth, Hudson worked the count full on Paul O'Neill, the emotional backbone of the Yankees through their championship years.

``The crowd was really into it, going crazy,'' Hudson said. ``It's usually when the Yankee magic comes out.''

O'Neill, perhaps playing in Yankee Stadium for the final time, lofted a harmless flyout to shallow center.

``They've beaten us at our own game,'' he said. ``These are the close games we normally win in the postseason.''

Singles by Martinez and Justice gave New York runners at the corners with two outs in the seventh. After a mound visit by Oakland manager Art Howe, Hudson got Brosius to hit an easy grounder to second for a forceout.

``I lied a little bit,'' Howe recalled. ``I said, 'This is your last hitter, so give it everything you've got.'''

The A's, whose 102-60 record was second-best in baseball behind Seattle, got just enough offense to beat Andy Pettitte. Oakland was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving the A's at 0-for-19 in the series.

Gant provided a run in the fourth with Oakland's fourth leadoff homer of the series. And Brosius' error, following Johnny Damon's ninth-inning triple off Mariano Rivera, scored another run.

Oakland headed home happy, but also remembered how they lost Game 5 at home to the Yankees in the first round of last season's playoffs.

``We know who we're playing when we get back home,'' Isringhausen said. ``We were on cloud nine when we went back there last year, too.''
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