- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

NEW YORK When Art Howe mentioned in passing Tuesday that it would take "a great series from the Yankees to have a shot to beat us," the Oakland Athletics' manager had no idea that his words would wind up on the back page of every New York tabloid newspaper the next morning.
In a town that eats these kinds of things alive, Howe's passing remarks were like a 20-ounce tenderloin for the local media, great fodder heading into one of the most anticipated first-round playoff series in recent history.
Little did the tabloids, or perhaps the three-time defending World Series champions for that matter, know how right Howe might have been. The A's aren't just a feel-good small market team happy to be in the playoffs. They want to win the whole thing.
Behind a pair of home runs by No. 7 hitter Terence Long and a monster blast by slugger Jason Giambi, Oakland took the first step towards its ultimate goal last night, beating the Yankees 5-3 in Game 1 of their American League Division Series.
The 102-win A's, who took a back seat to the record-setting Seattle Mariners in the AL West and had to settle for the wild card, will look to take a 2-0 series lead tonight when staff ace Tim Hudson faces Andy Pettitte at Yankee Stadium.
If Oakland continues to perform as it did last night, New York might need more than a great series to rebound and keep its hopes alive of a fourth straight World Series crown.
The A's took advantage of a less than perfect Roger Clemens, who departed one batter into the fifth inning complaining of a tight hamstring, and exposed the Yankees' suspect middle relief, pounding Sterling Hitchcock and Jay Witasick for three runs in the seventh and eighth innings to pad their lead.
Giambi, who crushed a 3-1 fastball from Hitchcock off the right-field upper deck facade in the seventh, gets most of Oakland's publicity, and deservedly so. He's the favorite to win his second straight AL MVP award after batting .342 with 38 homers and 120 RBI.
But the A's wouldn't be in this position without a supporting cast that includes the best young pitching staff in baseball and a potent offense that can outslug anyone in the game.
Long provided the punch last night. The outfielder led off both the fourth and eighth innings with homers to right field. His second blast off the faltering Hitchcock was the definitive blow for Oakland, and proved to be important when the Yankees rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth on Tino Martinez's homer.
But that was as close as New York got. A's closer Jason Isringhausen, a one-time failed prospect of the New York Mets, retired the side in the ninth to earn the save and give his team the early lead in the best-of-5 series.
Having missed last year's postseason with a herniated disc in his back, Oakland's Mark Mulder was making his first career playoff start last night. The 24-year-old left-hander, who led the AL with 21 wins this year, pitched like a time-honored veteran, pitching his way out of several tight jams.
The same couldn't be said of Clemens, one of the game's most dominating pitchers but an enigma of sorts when it comes to the postseason.
For all his success over the years, both in the regular season and the postseason, Clemens entered this game with two factors going against him: his late-season slide and his ineffectiveness in last year's Division Series against Oakland.
After opening the season a brilliant 20-1 (on pace to set the record for highest winning percentage), Clemens faltered down the stretch, losing two of his last three starts. He also took his lumps against the A's in 2000, giving up 10 runs in 11 innings while being handed both of New York's losses in the five-game series.
Clemens ran into trouble from the start last night. Johnny Damon led the game off with a single to left, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. When Damon scored on Giambi's sacrifice fly to left, the A's had their early lead.
Hitchcock, one of only two left-handers in Joe Torre's bullpen, was already warming up when Clemens took the mound in the fifth and proceeded to walk Giambi. Torre emerged from the Yankees dugout, and accompanied by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth conferred with Clemens. The 39-year-old right-hander said a few words, handed the ball to his manager and took the lonely walk back to the dugout.
The Yankees later announced that Clemens left the game for precautionary reasons with tightness in his right hamstring. He'll be re-evaluated today.

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