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October 4, 1999

Johnny Oates

NEW YORK CITY: Workout Day

Q. Coach, you find yourself again here this year. Last year, Shane Spencer really tapped you. Is there anybody this year you're particularly looking at to hold down?

JOHNNY OATES: Everybody, hopefully. I think if you look back, it wasn't our problem holding them down; it was just how well they held us down. And I think that they have a very nice ballclub, especially in the mid line-up. I don't think it's any secret you have to keep Knobby and Jeter off the bases because there's guys behind them that can do some damage. If we pitch as well as we did last year, hopefully, we'll be a little more successful because nine months and three ball games, that's not a lot to give up. Scoring with the fewest runs ever scored in a playoff series, lowest batting average, that's where we have to get improvement.

Q. When you look at the line-up this year coming into this series, you've added Palmeiro. What has that done to that line-up?

JOHNNY OATES: It gives us a better balanced line-up. You look at the three left-hand hitters, three right-hand hitters all in there with Rodriguez, Greer, Gonzalez, Palmeiro and Zeile and Stevens, that's six pretty good bats in a row that hopefully will give the imposing bull pen trouble. That's been the case this year. We've been able to score the second most runs. It's going to be a very big part of our game in this playoffs. We have to do a better job of hitting, .140 whatever it was last year, the lowest ever, that's not enough.

Q. Johnny, you've talked a lot in the second half of the season about Pedro Martinez being head and shoulders above the rest in the League. But Aaron being on that level with the rest, what has elevated Aaron to the higher status this season?

JOHNNY OATES: I think the first thing is Aaron's been healthy all year. The second thing, he's learned to be a little bit creative. Maybe not to the level of David Cone yet. Goes to the mound, and maybe this thing's not working for him tonight, and he's able to move the ball around in his hand, maybe find a cutter, maybe a slider working that night to give him something else to work with. He's been able to pitch ahead and use all of his pitches. I think that's the mark of a good pitcher; that you're not going to go out there every night and have your best fast ball. You might have to be creative, and that's what Aaron's been able to do this year.

Q. What is Greer's status?

JOHNNY OATES: He's ready to go.

Q. How important to this team, where were those two wins against the Yankees back in June?

JOHNNY OATES: That's history. This is a start all over. Certainly, you -- we realize that we beat them three of the last five, but it means nothing starting tomorrow night. Too bad the last time weren't the five counters.

Q. Johnny, how about a line-up for tomorrow?

JOHNNY OATES: It will be McLemore, Rodriguez, Greer, Gonzalez, the only uncertainty is who will play first and who will DH. Todd Zeile, Stevens, Clayton, Goodwin, certainly.

Q. Why is there uncertainty?

JOHNNY OATES: I just want to wait until tomorrow. We've had -- there's no question mark. It's just who ever I want to play at first base. I'll make that decision tomorrow. There's nothing physically wrong. It's just the idea that i -- I'm not going to pinch-run or pinch-hit for Palmeiro. He's played back-to-back games at first base in preparation for this, and I would think that we're getting very close to where Rafael can become our everyday first baseman for the rest of the year.

Q. Does last year's post-season performance against the Yankees weigh on your players this season?

JOHNNY OATES: Well, I think it's always there. Up until two years ago, all the questions were directed to us about the Seattle ballclub because we had a very pro record against Seattle for two or three years. Now it's about the Yankees, and I think it's important for us to not get caught up in the past few series, last three or four years, realizing why this happened, and we're trying to talk about our guys focusing on the opportunity as opposed to the obstacle. Sometimes you start looking at the obstacle, and it becomes too big to overcome, and really if you really look past that, it's not quite as improbable as possible. So we're going to focus on the opportunity for us this year rather than -- last year, there was a gigantic obstacle there. I think everybody in baseball knew it was a very special year. I think that even the National League found out how special it was. And this Yankee ballclub was 114 wins, went through the playoffs fairly easy. It was a very special year for them. But optimistically, and hopefully a little bit realistically, they came up about 16 games less this year, and we came up with 7 more. Hopefully, we'll close the separation there a little bit.

Q. Where do you think they're more vulnerable this year? Where have those wins gone to? Where have you closed -- where are they worse?

JOHNNY OATES: I think the main thing is they're human this year. Last year, that was -- that was not only a team of the decade; it was a team of the century. You look around at every single guy on their team, just about every single player, if not everybody, had career-year numbers. And then you have a kid like Spencer come in and September and October, put up the things that he did. I don't think it's a case of them being weaker or worse or whether they're older. I think they came back a little bit to earth this year. You can't compare this year's team with last year's team. You can't compare last year's team with any team in the history of baseball. Nobody had ever won 114 games that I'm aware of.

Q. Johnny, do you get a different feeling from your team this year than you had the past couple years when you guys have lost in the first round? Is there more confidence?

JOHNNY OATES: Yeah, I think we all feel that we have a better ballclub. And again, we're not saying that the Yankees have a worse ballclub; it's just a little more realistic that we have a chance to play on the same field with them this year. You look at what they were doing last year, we weren't the only team in the playoffs they outclassed. And you go in there, see the starting pitching, we scored one run. I'm hopeful that we can score more than one run with that line-up this year, and that maybe, maybe this could be our year. I certainly like our chances a whole lot better this year than I did last year.

Q. John, going back to the Oakland series, did that one run, that early run, did that play a dramatic effect on the outcome of that series, and do you need something good like that to happen in Game 1 of this series?

JOHNNY OATES: It's always important that, you know, you get on the board first, but then it's what you do, how you follow it up. It just seemed in that Oakland series, once there was a crack in the wall, it just exploded and there was no stopping the offense. We were able to have a big inning almost every night. It was just getting that first run. Once we got it ... But, again, when you get to this caliber of play, you can sometimes crack that wall, but busting it open is a different story in the playoffs.

Q. John, what effect is not having Munoz do for your bullpen?

JOHNNY OATES: Certainly, when you look back and see what type of year that Mike has had for us this year, that's a big loss, especially when you realize the clubs that we may be playing in the playoffs and the left-hand hitters that they can set up there. And with the success that Munoz and Kolb have had this year, we've been able to flip-flop them and have them available every single night. Both have got a lot of left-hand hitters as well as right-hand hitters. Taking his place will be Jeff Fassero. Jeff will be a guy we'll normally use earlier in a ball game, and we're hoping that -- he's had some success against a couple of the Yankees hitters, he will be able to fill that role. But the way it will be changed, he'll be used earlier in the game and we'll save Mike for later.

Q. Do you get any sense that your players would rather go through the Yankees, they stated their goal, just to get to the World Series. Would it mean more if they could get past the team that stopped them the last couple times?

JOHNNY OATES: None whatsoever. Our goal is to win the World Series, and I really -- what I said earlier from the year still stands. Whether it's in the first round or second round, as far as I'm concerned, to represent the American League in the World Series, it's going to have to go through New York. It doesn't matter whether it's first round or second round. As far as I'm concerned, the Yankees are still the World Champions until someone else takes it away from them.

End of FastScripts….

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