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Cards, Yanks in charge // Straw strikes twice; New York leads 3-1

The New York Yankees won one game in the American League Championship Series with some help from a fan and another on the arm of pitcher Jimmy Key. Saturday, they won a third with their booming bats and blazing bullpen.

The Yankees cracked four home runs _ two by Darryl Strawberry _ and four relievers pitched six shutout innings as they beat Baltimore 8-4 before a record Camden Yards crowd of 48,974.

The Yankees lead the series 3-1 and can wrap up their first trip to the World Series since 1981 today in Game 5.

All season, the Yankees have made a habit of winning games in a variety of ways with a variety of stars. That happened again Saturday, as they hit four home runs.

Two came from Strawberry, who was playing for the St. Paul Saints in the independent Northern League until July 4 and was in the lineup Saturday on a hunch by manager Joe Torre.

"I do whatever's asked of me," Strawberry said. "I don't cause any confusion, and I just stay ready."

The other homers were hit by Bernie Williams, who has been hot in the post-season, and Paul O'Neill, who was benched Friday because he has not been.

And after Plant City High product Kenny Rogers had yet another ineffective outing, the Yankees got superb work from two relievers they have not been able to count on, David Weathers and Graeme Lloyd, and two they have, Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland.

"One thing about this ballclub, and I know I've said it a number of times, is that nobody really cares who the hero is," Torre said. "All they care about is winning. There is terrific confidence here and chemistry."

A case in point is Strawberry. The 34-year-old former superstar appears genuinely humbled by his beleaguered past, which includes troubles with drugs, alcohol, taxes and charges of spousal abuse. He had to work, and work hard, at St. Paul just to get a shot at returning to the major leagues and insists he is content with a limited role.

"Sometimes it's good when no one wants you," Strawberry said. "The most important thing for me was to look at life the way I look at it and appreciate life the way I do. Taking care of myself and knowing who I am is the most important thing. I wanted to return to the game in a very positive way."

It certainly worked out Saturday for the Yankees. Strawberry was a surprise starter ahead of Tim Raines in leftfield, a decision Torre said he made because he liked the Strawberry swung the bat in Friday's game.

One person who didn't appreciate it was Baltimore skipper Davey Johnson, who managed Strawberry with the Mets.

"It's real hard for me to feel real good about him right now," Johnson said. "He had a great ballgame, hit a couple home runs. He has that kind of talent. But I can't force myself to feel real good about anybody wearing a Yankee uniform."

The Yankees continue to dominate the Orioles. Saturday's win was their eighth straight this season at Camden Yards and 13th in 17 games between the teams.

"They're a good team," Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro said. "It's hard to explain how they come in here and beat us like they do."

"Our team is capable of winning three in a row," Palmeiro said. "It doesn't matter who they throw, it doesn't matter who they play. For three games, we can beat anybody."

With both teams using their fourth starters (New York's Kenny Rogers and Baltimore rookie Rocky Coppinger), Saturday's game had the potential to be a slugfest. It was.

The Yankees started fast, hitting three home runs in the first four innings.

The Orioles closed to 5-4 in the fourth on key hits by Pete Incaviglia and B.J. Surhoff and seemed to have the momentum.

But the Yankees went back on the attack in the eighth. They scored one run when Williams scored on Cecil Fielder's groundout, and two more when Strawberry hit his second.

Baltimore opened the eighth with three straight singles off ace setup man Rivera, but he came back to strike out Hoiles and Brady Anderson and retire Todd Zeile on a pop.

Wetteland worked a perfect ninth, ending the game by retiring Bobby Bonllla, who is now 0-for-16 in the series.