New York Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill, who is suffering from bruised ribs, was not in the starting lineup last night for Game 3 of the first-round series against the Texas Rangers.

O'Neill has been hurting since crashing into a fence last weekend in Tampa. While he played the first two games, he's only 2 for 8 with no extra base hits or RBI.

"It's nagging him a little bit," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "He wanted to play tonight, and I said, 'If it was Game 5, you may be able to convince me of that.' I just feel it's better to keep him from further injuring this thing. I feel a lot better if he didn't play because of our situation."

Torre started Ricky Ledee, who drove in the winning run in Game 2, in right field instead of O'Neill.

Losing Takes Toll

With the Rangers having lost eight straight postseason games to the Yankees before last night, it appears that fans in Texas are losing interest in the playoffs. The Rangers still had a few obstructed-view tickets available for Game 3 late yesterday afternoon. If there's a Game 4 today, several thousand seats are still available.

Television ratings also reflect a decline in interest. Three years ago when the Yankees and Rangers played in the postseason, the Rangers attracted a TV audience of around 534,000 homes in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. On Thursday, about 213,000 fewer homes were tuned to the series.

Staubach's Strong Arm

Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach threw out the ceremonial first pitch last night at the Yankees-Rangers game. Asked about his throwing arm, Staubach said: "I didn't think my hair would go before my arm, but my arm is in good shape. My hair is thinning out." For the record, Staubach threw a strike, reminding many distressed fans of the days when he tortured the Washington Redskins.

Valentine Is Blunt

Two weeks ago, with the New York Mets in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, Bobby Valentine said if the team missed the postseason, he shouldn't be their manager next season.

It turns out, that's not all he said.

In an article published in Sports Illustrated on Friday, Valentine was openly critical of some of his players, who called a players-only meeting during the losing streak.

"You're not dealing with real professionals in the clubhouse," Valentine said. "You're not dealing with real intelligent guys for the most part. A lot can swim, but most of them just float along, looking for something to hold on to."

Dierker, Players Displeased

Houston Astros Manager Larry Dierker said he decided to take Shane Reynolds out of yesterday's game after Reynolds failed to field Brian Jordan's grounder up the middle during Atlanta's five-run sixth.

"The thing that bothered me I think more than anything is when the ball was hit back to him and he missed it and it started rolling over toward third base," Dierker said. "To me, the natural instinct of a game is to go chase that ball even when you can't get the out. He doesn't look like he wants to be out there, and I don't know if that's how he felt, but that was the kind of signal it sent to me."

Reynolds was not happy to hear Dierker's comments.

"If he thinks I wasn't trying he doesn't know me," the pitcher said. "I couldn't get to the ball and Cammy was in position. That's ridiculous to say I didn't want to be out there. I always want to be out there."

Justice reported from Arlington, Tex. Molony reported from Houston. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.