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  Sunday, Oct. 1 1:35pm ET
Yankees open playoffs in Oakland

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The New York Yankees had never stumbled into the playoffs in this ghastly fashion.

Baltimore sent the Yankees into the postseason with a seven-game losing streak, completing their first three-game sweep of New York since 1991 with a 7-3 victory Sunday.

Bad, bad and worse
The Yankees have lost seven straight and have been outscored 70-14 in that stretch. Orlando Hernandez has been the only starter to pitch five innings:

Sun.: Orioles 7, Yankees 3
El Duque: 6 IP, 7 H, 5 runs

Sat.: Orioles 9, Yankees 1
Cone: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 runs

Fri.: Orioles 13, Yankees 2
Pettitte: 1.1 IP, 6 H, 9 runs

Thur.: Devil Rays 13, Yankees 2
Clemens: 4 IP, 7 H, 6 runs

Wed.: Devil Rays 11, Yankees 1
Neagle: 3 IP, 3 H, 5 runs

Tue.: Devil Rays 2, Yankees 1
El Duque: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 run

Mon.: Tigers 15, Yankees 4
Gooden: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 5 runs

The Yankees' slide is their longest since an eight-game skid in August 1995, and marks the first time they've concluded a season with more than five straight losses.

The AL East champions are in the postseason for six straight seasons for the first time in franchise history, but have lost 15 of 18 overall and nine straight on the road. New York was outscored 68-15 in its last seven losses and 137-56 in its final 18 games.

The Yankees open the best-of-5 first round Tuesday at Oakland, the AL West champion.

If momentum means anything going into the playoffs, the Yankees are in trouble. But as far as they're concerned, everything starts anew Tuesday.

"It's over now and it's a fresh start in the playoffs," third baseman Scott Brosius said. "Obviously, you don't want to go through a spell like this. If this happens in June, it's just a blink of the eye and nobody talks much about it. The fact it's in September, everybody around wants to panic a little bit. I don't think this team is panicking. We like the team that we have."

Chris Richard homered and stole home for the Orioles, who closed a miserable 74-88 season by winning seven of nine. Baltimore never trailed in the series and outscored New York 29-6.

"We wanted to finish strong and on a good note, and we did," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "On a day when there could have been a lot of distractions, we kept our focus."

Orlando Hernandez (12-13), who is slated to start the third game of the playoffs for the two-time defending World Series champions, allowed five runs and seven hits in six innings. It was his first loss against the Orioles in five career decisions.

"It was important to just get into the playoffs. We got there and now we'll just work from there," he said.

Roger Clemens, who will start the opener for New York, insisted that the Yankees merely went into cruise control after it became apparent they had locked up the division title.

"We were playing extremely hard and then it got to the point where we just wanted to get some guys healthy and clinch," he said. "Fortunately, we did and now here we are."

Jose Mercedes (14-7) earned his 11th win since the All-Star break, most in the AL, despite allowing two runs, four hits and six walks in five innings.

Ryan Kohlmeier worked the ninth for his 14th save in 15 chances, sealing the Orioles' first three-game sweep of the Yankees since Sept. 9-11, 1991.

The sweep had little bearing on the confidence New York manager Joe Torre will take into the playoffs.

"It doesn't mean anything to me. Obviously, the last couple of days you're trying to get ready," he said.

Baltimore snapped a 1-1 tie with a four-run third inning. Albert Belle hit a sacrifice fly, Cal Ripken singled in a run with a two-out bloop to left and Richard followed with his 13th homer, a two-run shot to center.

Jose Canseco hit an RBI single in the fifth and Jose Vizcaino doubled in a run in the sixth.

The Orioles scored two runs in the eighth off Denny Neagle, who yielded Belle's first homer since Aug. 12 and an RBI single by Melvin Mora.

The Orioles used some aggressive baserunning to go up 1-0 in the second. Richard doubled, took third on a single by Mora and scored on the front end of a double steal.

New York tied it in the third when Chuck Knoblauch hit a leadoff double and scored on a two-out single by Tino Martinez.

Game notes
Ripken, who appears set to return in 2001, was given a ovation before and during his final at-bat in the eighth inning. He walked. ... Hernandez is 0-2 in his last three starts. ... Baltimore's Buddy Groom pitched the eighth, giving him five straight seasons with at least 70 appearances, an AL record. ... The Yankees' 74 losses is their most since 1993.


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Ripken hoping to return for 21st season in Baltimore

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