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PETTITTE PULLS A FAST ONE AGAINST BREWERS

MILWAUKEE -- What seemed like a stroll down easy street suddenly became a cobblestone road for New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte. And with all the karma of an early four-run lead now a distant memory, Pettitte needed something to stem the momentum and save the game.

He "picked" the perfect remedy.

Pettitte, who already had picked off one runner in the third inning, caught catcher Kelly Stinnett sleepwalking off first base in the seventh. The sleight of hand and foot helped thwart the hard-charging Brewers and propelled the Yankees to a 7-3 victory Monday night at County Stadium.

The win sent the Yankees home with a satisfying 4-2 road trip and kept them 3 1/2 games behind the victorious Baltimore Orioles.

"Obviously the word is around the league so when I get them I'm surprised," said Pettitte, who raised his pickoff total to a major league-leading 11, one more than last year's league-best total and even with his league-best effort from 1995.

"I never realized until my last start when I saw a replay of my pickoff in fast motion just how much it looks like my regular motion. It changes only at the last second. I've got a good move right now and I'm glad it keeps working."

Stinnett had just lined an RBI single that sliced the Yankee lead to 4-3. With none out, Fernando Vina was set to bunt the tying run to second for the heart of the order.

But Pettitte, who allowed one run in the sixth and two in the seventh, caught the lead-footed Stinnett trying to increase a minuscule lead and nailed him for the momentum-killing out.

Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton combined to retire the final seven Brewers for the victory.

"Something like that deflates the other team," Joe Torre said. "You have something good going and all of a sudden he pulls the rug out from under you."

Tino Martinez helped ease the Yankee angst in a three-run ninth inning with an RBI single that snapped a 1-for-18 slide and raised his RBI total to an AL-best 92. Paul O'Neill also singled home a run for his 14th hit in 26 at-bats and ninth RBI on the trip.

"Those two guys are a two-man gang," Torre said.

Alvarez gets four for the books

DETROIT -- When Wilson Alvarez became the first Chicago White Sox pitcher to strike out four batters in an inning, he had something else on his mind.

"I don't think about that," Alvarez said after becoming the 28th pitcher in modern major league history with four strikeouts in an inning. "But I like to be in the history book when the White Sox win."

Frank Thomas hit a two-run homer off Justin Thompson (8-7) in the first inning to send Chicago to a 3-0 victory over Detroit. Thomas was 2 for 3 to raise his American League-leading average to .375.

In the seventh inning, Tony Clark was first up for Detroit -- and the first to strike out. When Phil Nevin fanned on a wild pitch, he reached first base safely. But Alvarez (9-7) then struck out Melvin Nieves and Orlando Miller to end the inning.

Around the horn

Rafael Palmeiro put the Orioles in front for good with a two-run homer in the sixth inning and Jimmy Key (13-6) pulled out of a tailspin during which he had lost five of his previous six decisions with a 5-1 victory over the Rangers. . . . Red Sox left-hander Steve Avery didn't allow a hit until the Indians' Julio Franco singled leading off the sixth and allowed just four in 7 2/3 innings overall to win his second straight decision, 3-1.

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