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Trip to title becomes New York hassle // Cecil helps N.Y. move mountains

He moves toward the plate, and the earth shakes. Cecil Fielder stomps toward another at-bat, and the ground beneath him trembles, and it seems that at any moment chunks of the stadium will begin to crumble and fall. Stay away from his teeth, you think.

This is one of the lasting visions of this World Series: Fielder walking toward the plate, hungry, ready to do a little more damage. In a way, of course, it makes sense.

In the mother of all comebacks, who better to lead the way than Big Daddy?

He is aglow in the national spotlight, Fielder. For all those years, you heard about Fielder, in small moments or in big numbers, in the highlight films as he hit massive home runs into empty bleachers. For all those years, there were two things that were large about Fielder: his waist and his waste.

Now he is on the verge of being Most Valuable Player of this Series, a thousand light-years from all those hidden evenings in Tiger Stadium. America finally is getting to see Fielder, and he is putting on a show.

He is hitting .421 for the Series, but that's only part of the story. Take away that embarrassing opening defeat _ and face it, the Yankees have earned the right _ and he is clipping along at a .533 pace.

Thursday night, when the Yankees took over the controls of this Series, it was Fielder leading the way. The rest of the Yankees went 1-for-27 against John Smoltz and Mark Wohlers. Fielder went 3-for-4, and his double drove in the only run.

The thing is, if Joe Torre had stuck to his original plan, Fielder would have been little more than a guy sitting in the dugout and tilting the bench. He is a designated hitter by trade, not a butcher in the field but nowhere as good a glove as Tino Martinez. Besides, Martinez drove in 117 runs in the regular season.

On the other hand, Martinez had gone 45 at-bats this post-season without a homer or an RBI. After days of insisting Martinez would be his first baseman in Atlanta, Torre relented. And Fielder stepped into the limelight.

He was 2-for-4 in Game 2. He was 1-for-3 in Game 3, 2-for-4 in Game 4, 3-for-4 in Game 5.

What do you know? This baseball, it can be fun stuff.

Fielder had forgotten that. All those days in Detroit, when no one cared because the team never won, drained his enthusiasm for the game. He was miserable, thinking about retirement. His goals, he admits, turned to individual goals, to seeing how many homers he could hit and how far, which was the only thing that would relieve the monotony of the constant losing. He made a lot of money and a lot of highlight films, but he was not quite complete.

"Coming to the Yankees helped me get rejuvenated," he said. "It made me like baseball again. It had started to be a job for me. It was difficult to go to the park every day.

"I saw that this year it was going to be be even more difficult to compete. It wasn't fun anymore. I was thinking it was about time to step away."

Instead, he stepped into a clubhouse that had a chance to win, and his spirit soaked up the feeling. He says he doesn't have to be a star anymore. He has driven in more runs than any other player in the '90s, and he'll tell you about it, yet he said he left his ego in Tiger Stadium.

"He's probably had the most quality at-bats in this Series," Torre said. "He's become a much better hitter in the post-season. When we got him, I think he was trying to hit home runs, because that's what we acquired him to do."

He still has not gone deep in the Series. Instead, he looks like a Family-Sized Serving of Tony Gwynn, spanking the ball in line drives all over the field. The Yankees have needed it. Bernie Williams is hitting .100 for the Series, Darryl Strawberry .214, Mariano Duncan .056, Paul O'Neill .111. Fielder, on the other hand, has jumped on fastballs as if they were biscuits.

"I'm ecstatic," Fielder said. "Over the last seven years, I was able to do a lot of damage. But what I did was really on an individual basis. I get the opportunity to hit when things are going to count."

Perhaps that shouldn't surprise anyone. For the Yankees, a very large man has been very large indeed. For Fielder, that's about the size of it.

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