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Absent for 15 years, the Yankees are returning to what was once their traditional October stage.

Powered by a three-homer third inning and eight strong innings from Andy Pettitte, New York won its 34th American League pennant Sunday with a 6-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees took the ALCS 4-1 and head to the World Series for the first time since 1981.New York closed out the best-of-7 series with a dominating performance reminiscent of the great Yankees teams of the 1950s and 60s featuring DiMaggio, Berra, Ford, Mantle and Maris.

This group, with names like Jeter, Williams, Pettitte, Fielder and Strawberry, will get a chance to make their own mark in the franchise's storied history when the World Series opens Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.

The National League entrant - the St. Louis Cardinals or Atlanta Braves - will have their hands full because the Yankees are playing their best ball of the season.

When Cal Ripken grounded out for the final out, the Yankees celebrated in a mob scene in the middle of the infield at Camden Yards where they went 9-0 this season.

Bernie Williams hit .474 (9-for-19) with two homers and six RBIs and was named MVP of the series. The center fielder, along with rookie shortstop Derek Jeter, carried the Yankees offensively through the first three games of the series before New York's power hitters came around.

"I just feel very good right now," Williams said. "I have no words to describe it. I was just trying to be myself."

After winning Game 1 in New York with the help of a 12-year-old fan from New Jersey, and taking Game 3 at Camden Yards with a shocking four-run eighth inning, the Yankees wrapped up the series with two conventional wins.

They outslugged the Orioles, who set a major league record with 257 homers during the regular season. New York hit four homers in Game 4 and three more in Game 5.

The Orioles, meanwhile, ended their season in a miserable offensive funk. Baltimore was 5-for-31 with runners in scoring position in the series, including 0-for-14 with two outs.

Right fielder Bobby Bonilla finished the series 1-for-20 and the Orioles hit just nine home runs. By the sixth inning Sunday, many Baltimore fans realized the home team's season would conclude with another loss to the Yankees and headed for the exits.

Pettitte allowed only two hits - both to Todd Zeile - through the first seven innings before Eddie Murray opened the eighth with a homer to make it 6-2.

But Pettitte, who allowed three hits, finished the inning and John Wetteland, the AL saves leader, pitched the ninth, allowing a two-out, two-run homer to Bonilla."I wasn't worried about the home run," New York manager Joe Torre said. "Wetteland's been exciting all season."

Pettitte, the likely AL Cy Young winner after winning 21 games in the regular season, improved to 4-0 at Camden Yards with best outing of the playoffs.

With Sunday's win, the Yankees finished the year 14-4 against the Orioles. New York, which turned back a late-season charge by Baltimore to win the AL East, is only the second team to sweep a team on the road in a league championship.

The Yankees had made a habit of coming from behind to win this postseason, rallying five times for victories. This one was no white-knuckler, though.

Only two teams have ever rebounded from 3-1 deficits in the ALCS since the seven-game format was instituted in 1985, Kansas City that year and Boston in 1986.

The Yankees made sure the Orioles wouldn't be the third in the third inning against Scott Erickson. New York hit three home runs, including consecutive shots by Cecil Fielder and Darryl Strawberry.

Jim Leyritz opened the third with an opposite-field home run to right, and Jeter and Wade Boggs hit one-out singles. Erickson looked like he might get out of the inning when Williams hit a slow grounder to second. But second baseman Roberto Alomar, anticipating a double play, came up early on the ball and let it go through his legs as Jeter scored from second.

Alomar atoned for the miscue by throwing out Boggs at the plate on Tino Martinez's grounder. Fielder, though, gave the Yankees a 5-0 lead with a three-run homer to left and Strawberry followed a 448-foot shot that landed in the Yankees bullpen in center.

It was yet another remarkable moment this season for Strawberry, who began the year playing in the independent Northern League before being signed by New York in July. In Game 4 on Saturday night, he hit two homers in the Yankees' 8-4 win.

Erickson was charged with six runs - one earned - and seven hits in five innings.


Cardinals 4, Braves 3

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Somehow, these St. Louis Cardinals keep finding ways to win.

Former NFL defensive back Brian Jordan hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning, shortly after unheralded rookie Dmitri Young came up with a key triple, and the Cardinals rallied past the Atlanta Braves 4-3 Sunday night to move within one win of the World Series.

The victory gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead over the Braves in the best-of-7 NL championship series, with a chance to wrap it up Monday night at Busch Stadium.

Todd Stottlemyre starts Game 5 for St. Louis against John Smoltz, with both pitchers having already earned wins in the series.

The Cardinals won their ninth straight postseason game at home, breaking loose for three runs in the seventh and Jordan's homer in the eighth.

The surprising victory was St. Louis' third straight in the series. A misplayed bunt was the key to winning Game 2, and Ron Gant's two long homers off his former team won Game 3.

This, however, might have been the most unlikely win of all.

Home runs by Ryan Klesko and Mark Lemke helped the Braves take a 3-0 lead. Shut out on two measly singles for six innings by Denny Neagle, St. Louis seemed to have nothing going when its first two batters made outs in the seventh.

Then, the Cardinals struck.

John Mabry singled, Tom Pagnozzi walked and Neagle was pulled for Greg McMichael.

Up stepped Young, who won the American Association batting title this year. Batting for Mike Gallego, the 23-year-old Young lined a two-run triple off the wall. Royce Clayton followed by beating out a chopper to McMichael for a single that tied it.

Jordan, who played for the Atlanta Falcons through 1991, homered into the Cardinals bullpen in left with one out in the eighth off McMichael.

Dennis Eckersley got the last out in the eighth and worked around a leadoff double by Jermaine Dye in the ninth for the win.

Klesko, benched a day earlier for 19-year-old Andruw Jones, returned to the defending World Series champions' lineup with a bang. He connected for the fifth postseason home run of his career, a solo shot to deep right in second for a 1-0 lead.

Lemke, who has a penchant for getting big hits in October, led off the sixth with a home run that made it 2-0.

When Chipper Jones followed with a double off the top of the fence in right-center - both he and Braves manager Bobby Cox initially believed the ball reached the flowers beyond the fence - starter Andy Benes was pulled.

With two outs, Dye lined an RBI single off T.J. Mathews, who injured his right groin trying to stop the ball. Rookie Alan Benes, the brother of Andy, relieved for the last out, keeping the score 3-0.

All the while, Neagle was keeping the Cardinals off-balance with off-speed stuff. Pitching like a seasoned pro in his first postseason start, Neagle faced just one jam and escaped it, retiring three straight hitters to strand runners at first and second in the fourth.

Neagle also worked carefully to Gant, a day after the Cardinals cleanup hitter became the first player to ever hit two home runs against his former team in a postseason game. Gant drew walks in his first two at-bats.