Baseball's second season takes shape

Monday, October 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Baseball Playoffs Roundup

AP Baseball Writer

As champagne, beer and a couple of ice chests poured over Lou Piniella's head, it was pretty clear: The playoff matchups were set, it was time for the games to begin.

A complex set of potential snags — involving makeup games and tiebreakers — was averted Sunday. Oakland and Seattle made it, Cleveland missed and Atlanta was headed to St. Louis.

``I was better off reciting the Declaration of Independence backwards than figuring out all the possible scenarios,'' Athletics second baseman Randy Velarde said. ``I was thinking, `Let's just win today, that's all we need.'''

The best-of-5 first round starts Tuesday. The slumping New York Yankees will play at Oakland and Seattle visits the Chicago White Sox in the AL, while Atlanta is at St. Louis in the NL.

On Wednesday, the New York Mets open at San Francisco in the NL.

The Yankees did not exactly play like two-time World Series champions. Their 7-3 defeat at Baltimore gave them a seven-game losing streak — the longest season-ending skid ever for a team going to the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

``We were playing extremely hard and then it got to the point where we just wanted to get some guys healthy and clinch,'' said Roger Clemens, who will start Game 1 for the Yankees. ``Fortunately, we did and now here we are.''

The Indians, hoping to play a one-game tiebreaker for the wild card, were not so fortunate. They temporarily kept alive their chances for a sixth straight playoff appearance by beating Toronto 11-4, but then watched in the clubhouse at Jacobs Field as they were eliminated by Oakland and Seattle.

``I got a real empty feeling inside,'' Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. ``I don't even feel like I'm going home. It will probably hit me later tonight.''

Tim Hudson earned his 20th victory as Oakland won the AL West by defeating Texas 3-0. Alex Rodriguez homered as Seattle, managed by Piniella, earned the wild card by beating Anaheim 5-2.

``It's been a stressful situation the last 10 days because we've been in a position where we had to do a little scoreboard watching, and in the position where we had to win,'' Rodriguez said.

The A's finished a half-game ahead of Seattle and avoided a makeup game Monday at Tampa Bay. The Athletics already held the tiebreaker over the Mariners, having gone 9-4 against them.

The Braves were one strike away from clinching the home-field advantage over St. Louis when third baseman Chipper Jones made an error. Colorado then rallied for seven runs with two outs in the ninth inning, highlighted by Todd Helton's three-run homer off John Rocker, to beat Atlanta 10-5.

``It's not a crusher,'' Atlanta pitcher Kevin Millwood said. ``Obviously, we wanted to open up here, but we'll just have to go to St. Louis and win a couple there instead.''

The Cardinals were 4-3 against the Braves this year. Atlanta, in the playoffs for the ninth straight time, will start Greg Maddux (19-9) against 20-game winner Darryl Kile.

``There aren't any surprises with Atlanta, we know what to expect,'' said first baseman Will Clark, who's done an exceptional job replacing injured Mark McGwire in the Cardinals' lineup. ``The playoffs are totally different from the regular season and everything starts all over again.''

The Athletics will make their first playoff appearance since 1992. Gil Heredia will start the opener for Oakland, which was 3-6 against the Yankees this year.

``Bring them on!'' A's star first baseman Jason Giambi shouted in the champagne-drenched clubhouse.

At Comiskey Park, Seattle's Freddy Garcia will start for the Mariners, most likely against left-hander Mike Sirotka.

``To go down to the last day, the last pitch of the last game, makes it especially rewarding,'' Piniella said.

At Pacific Bell Park, Mike Hampton will start the playoff opener for the Mets against Livan Hernandez.

Hampton, 9-0 lifetime against the Giants, said he did not feel any added pressure about getting the start in Game 1.

``We all have a responsibility, and that's to do our jobs,'' Hampton said. ``Knowing that, win or lose, you have a guy behind you that can pick you up in the next game is big.''