by Matt Waters
As the dogs days of August began to grudgingly give way to the promise of September, nary a thought of foreign politics or agendas swirled through my mind as I happily clutched the tickets to Cal Ripken’s final home game at Camden Yards. In just a few weeks, I’d be sitting in a modern cathedral, bowing at the altar of baseball history. The days dropped off the calendar with routine ease. September 9… September 10…
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A rare early morning that refused any conformity to minutia, one could just crane his eyes toward the heavens and be reminded what it was to be alive. Unfortunately, it was a school day, so I would have to wait six hours before breathing what was perhaps summer’s last gasp of the year. After all, it was September 11, and leafs were already beginning to decay into a familiar autumn brown.
What happened during the course of that day has been recounted by far more worthier voices than my self. On the eleventh day of September, in the year 2001, the world I lived in as a normal eighth grader who had it all figured out was not shaken, it was destroyed. Someone who might have absently brushed past you in the street, someone who might have been going up on an escalator while you were going down, someone who was living and breathing just like you was now gone. Murdered. I don’t recall carrying fear about further attacks on New York the rest of that day, although I probably should have. The state of shock that had overtaken my soul, rendering the future moot, did not allow contemplation of further carnage. By 4 in the afternoon, it seemed the sun had been up forever. Pain that words could never relate.
When darkness finally did permeate the sky and I afforded my self the chance to sleep, the last thing that was on my mind were the 2001 New York Yankees.
As the Yankees rolled along on yet another victorious ride during the 2001 season, an ardent fan of the team was now more inclined to compare them with Yankee teams from the recent past rather than their current competition around the league. In this particular campaign, the pitching was as strong as ever. Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite solidified a staff that was in the top tier of the American League. Clemens, in fact, turned in one of his finest seasons while collecting his sixth Cy Young Award. It was Clemens’ first with the Yankees, and third since Red Sox management pronounced him to be in the twilight of his career. The team’s reliable shortstop Derek Jeter produced another performance that would reflect gold off the back of his baseball card, while Bernie Williams eased once again into the season’s rhythm to provide a melodic expression of Baseball Grace.
Invigorating stories ignited both leagues. Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols each turned in marvelous rookie seasons for the Mariners and Cardinals respectively. Ichiro’s team did just as well to compliment their new star right fielder, as the Mariners hauled in an incredible 116 wins. In the National League, Barry Bonds steam rolled Mark McGwire’s relatively new single season home run record. In eclipsing 73 with 70, Bonds shattered the mere 3-year-old standard. The Mets would make a valiant, last ditch drive in September, eventually bidding fruitlessly for a third straight post season appearance, largely due to the unfortunate implosion of erratic closer Armando Benitez.
As the season rushed toward it’s climatic finish in the dwindling days of summer, the unspeakable tragedy incurred by the victim’s of the 9/11 terrorist attacks curtailed the proceedings for two weeks. While many could have made a reasonable argument that the rest of the schedule be cancelled, pride in our way of life and traditions easily won out over uncertainty. A message was delivered by our President to go about our "normal" lives. While this was impossible, perhaps drifting off into a safe world of familiarity appeared to be reasonable. For me, and many others, Baseball was this world. And now viewed through a new prism, just a simple game in the waning moments of its arduous schedule, it was as relaxing to watch as it had ever been. The rush became a steady, crawling jaunt toward normalcy. If the world wasn’t going to make sense anymore, our individual lives needed to. For me personally, baseball was not a healer. It served as a modicum of stability; hovering consistency during a confusing time. Sitting in class one day, smoke from Ground Zero filtered into the room, letting loose a cackling hiss as it rose to the ceiling. The teachers and students sat in silence, caved in by the moment. Slumping in my desk, my mind flowed into thoughts about a Yankee game later that night.
The New York Yankees had won 3 straight World Series Championships as they entered the year 2001, and after brushing aside the cross town rival Mets in five games for the 2000 season’s crowning achievement, the constituted team held an indefinable, mythical stature. It was as if they were an unanswered proverb, the moral lesson behind their existence only to be revealed when weaved within a tapestry of overall history. As a serene sense of achievement hovered over the Franchise, a bit of Mystique and Aura began to pour from the Pinstripes. Instead of glazed, unimpressed rolled eyes from their contemporaries around Baseball, the Yankees received respect and continued earning it with splendid play on the diamond. There was no ego, no superstar, and best of all little heard from the owner’s box. The team was a puzzle with perfect, form fitting pieces. A machine that churned out victories savored in New York, gloriously repetitive everywhere else.
Derek Jeter may not have put up top 10 stats, but any Yankee supporter worth his salt will defend him down to the last breath. The knocks on Jeter are plentiful, but blatantly defensible. His salary is often called into question, despite the fact his pay with the Yankees only assumed proper market value. His power numbers are devoured unfavorably, but Jeter’s only flagrant misfortune happens to be bad timing, playing in an era where his stats, otherworldly for a shortstop before 1995, compare palely when measured against certain members of the league wide brethren at Baseball’s new glamour position. Even with this in consideration, Jeter’s legacy will ultimately reside in Cooperstown.
Often, staunch defenders of Derek will call upon his tangibles, contributions to a winning effort not imprisoned by statistical analysis. These arguments are left blankly without response from many in the stat head community. But how else to explain what happened in Game 3?
As the city tried to live and breathe with it’s grief, the Yankees headed into the Play Offs against a scary Oakland A’s team. The A’s were a young team starving for success, and on the prowl for revenge against the very team that knocked them out of the playoffs in 2000. Oakland was at its peak during 2001. Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Chavez all manned the same infield; three cogs of the sport’s future wearing the same uniform. The big three, a triumvirate of aces on top of Oakland’s pitching staff, were beginning an ascent to greatness, guided by unfathomable natural ability. The 3 starters in question were Tim Hudson, who had a bulldog’s tenacity, Barry Zito, a classic oddball lefty with unlimited potential, and Mark Mulder, another southpaw who was the most polished pitcher of the three. Corey Lidle, an unheralded fourth starter, posted great numbers in the second half to buoy World Series hopes. The A’s felt it was their rightful time to shine. All the pieces were in place for the White and Gold.
Sure enough, Oakland roared into the Stadium not unlike a locomotive and took the first two games of the best of five A.L.D.S. with elegiac, dominating flair. As the Yankees marched toward a loss in Game 2, fans left the game early in the eighth inning. It was a sight unfamiliar to my self, but understandable to all. For in this year, it was difficult to get truly excited for Post Season baseball. No one wanted to embrace the stress. If the Yankees were to lose, a general feeling of malaise would greet their defeat. Despite pathetic output with men in scoring position, the A’s were in complete control. It appeared that they were simply suffocating the Yankees with their talent. Discussing it with my friends, one of them wondered if it " just wasn’t the time for all of this." At the time I brushed off, and made all the generic statements about moving on and continuing to live. I believed it, but not with all my heart. I expressed this through the Yankees:
" Hey, maybe they just caught against a hot team this year."
Or maybe it wasn’t that important.
Zito was absolutely dealing that night. It was game 3, and night had faded in on the Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Zito’s curve was a cosmic practical joke, spinning and dancing, defiant of air and space. He would only make two mistakes the entire game. Jorge Posada homered, and Shane Spencer doubled in back to back fashion, but Spencer would be stranded at second base. The Bronx Bombers were bereft of bats. As for the Yankee starter, Mike Mussina was simply brilliant. However, as the game rolled along and the Yankees afforded him razor thin support, a feeling of impending doom floated over the proceedings. The A’s line up was far too effective to be shut out during the course of nine innings. Mussina was going to run into a rough spot eventually, and the consensus wondered whether the Yankees had given him enough leeway to with stand it. Sure enough, the Moose, his affectionate hometown nickname, allowed Terrance Long to pound a 2 out double down the right field line. The A’s had a runner on first. The floodgates seemed ready to purge. The blazing grounder had evaded the dive of First baseman Tino Martinez, and was now rolling towards the right field corner. My shoulders slumped, and my mouth ran dry. " So this is it."
Baseball was going to play by the rules after all. The Yankees had to eventually pay the price for their feeble offensive out put. The only saving grace was that Jeremy Giambi happened to be the tying run. Jeremy was Jason’s brother, and despite putting up better minor league stats than his better-known relative, he had not delivered a sparkling big league career. Jeremy shared two major facets of the game with Jason however, a great batting eye coupled with terrible speed. Giambi’s steps were well meaning, but slow and choppy. He rounded third base with a head of steam, and those impractical steps were a mere ninety feet away from delivering a game tying run and a possible crippling blow to the Yankees. Shane Spencer, filled with adrenaline, over shot not one but two cut off men, and the ball bounced along pathetically towards home plate, kissing the first base line.
He had no business being there. 29 other Short Stops in the Major Leagues surely would not have. But he was.
Derek Jeter intercepted the errant throw, flipped it to a home plate while he was still on the dead run, and Posada incredibly held on the ball as Jeremy Giambi’s massive legs collided with his catcher’s mitt with full force. Indeed, Giambi made the unwise decision not to slide, making the call for the Umpire all the more easy.
Call it intangibles, call it instincts, or even call it luck and attempt to keep a straight face, the fact of the matter was that Derek Jeter was there to rescue Shane Spencer’s errant throw heading towards oblivion. No stat could project what the play did for that team. For they would go on to win game 3. There would be tomorrow.
The A’s did have a better team than the Yankees in this particular year. They just couldn’t prove it on the field. Corey Lidle was hammered in Game 4, although he wasn’t particularly helped by a muffed double play blown by utility man F.P. Santangelo in a game changing first inning. The Yankees turned that botched play into a big rally, and rolled in game 4 behind Orlando Hernandez.
The scene shifted to the Bronx in game number 5. The A’s jumped off to a great start, scoring a pair before the fans had settled into their seats after the National Anthem. Their lead would not hold up. New York was helped by shoddy defensive play by the A’s infield, and eventually won the contest 5-3. Derek Jeter would make another spectacular play, this time falling into the seats along the third base line to corral a foul pop up. By the time Yankee closer Mariano Rivera entered the game, the out come seemed predetermined by the Baseball Gods, who had appeared to abandon the A’s. The Yankees, who just a week prior had been a team pronounced dead after two shocking opening losses in their home ballpark, were now heading to the A.L.C.S.
While the infield capsized in joyous celebration, an invited guest was welcomed to join the party by manager Joe Torre. It was the city’s mayor Rudy Guliani, a Yankee fan his entire life. When his honor momentarily refused the invitation at first beckon, Torre prodded him forward by exclaiming that the Representative, the Leader, the Molder of a New City, was indeed part of the team.
In 2001, the Seattle Mariners amazed baseball forecasters and fans alike with a legendary performance, winning 116 games on their way to a dream season. Ichiro Suzuki, an imported player from the far East Coast, slashed his way to 3 prestigious awards. [Batting title, Rookie of the Year, and M.V.P.] He played defense with impeccable precision, and his throws from the outfield were breathtakingly beautiful. If Ichiro, who was foolishly tabbed as a potential fourth outfielder by assorted scouts in Spring Training, was a surprise, second baseman Bret Boone was a revelation. The short, bulky second baseman rose from obscurity to produce eye-popping stats, not to mention a Gold Glove. Other contributors included John Olerud, Mike Cameron, and the entire pitching staff, which did not rely on one hurler but rather the whole to carry 162 games of beastly burden. This was team in the truest sense of the word, which made their series against the Yankees so intriguing. Which selfless group was going to hitch a ride to the World Series?
When the Yankees returned to the Bronx carrying a 2-0 advantage in the series, they appeared invincible. Lou Pinella however, was far from convinced that his record setting Mariners were finished. His team backed up the fiery manager’s pointed words with a blow out of the Bronx Bombers in game 3. Sweet Lou’s bold proclamation that the A.L.C.S. would return back to Seattle was appearing now to be a shrewd move rather than act of desperation. Game 4 saw a seesaw battle conclude on Alfonso Soriano’s clutch ninth inning home run Kaz Sasaki. Sasaki’s lone weakness as a closer was a susceptibility to the long ball, and sure enough, he served up an opposite way blast to the Yankees’ young, prodigal second baseman. The Mariners wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but they were finished. As the Yankees trounced them in a decisive game 5, an outpouring of emotion from the Stadium served as a release to many in New York. As symphony of Yankee hits demolished Mariners pitching deep into the night, a tribal chant arose from the masses.
CLAP CLAP CLAP
" Over- Rated!"
CLAP CLAP CLAP
CLAP CLAP CLAP
The chant continued, rising in volume and in utter joy. Some misinterpreted it as a classless send off to the Mariners. Hardly. It was a nod of appreciation to the Yankees. We found peace by seeking the quiet in noise.
Lou Pinella recognized the true measure of the chant. Despite his team’s defeat, the thought crossed his mind in the dugout that "this city had been through a lot."
We were having fun. No one could touch the Yankees. And they were our team. The New York Yankees.
It appeared that the Yankees were enjoying it just as well. After the victory over the Mariners, a touching scene occurred in the clubhouse as the team solemnly rose their champagne glasses in tribute to the city of New York.
Then there was a video snap shot of Bernie Williams walking off the field toward the dugout, his arms raised over his head in complete and utter victory. As the noise around him swelled, Bernie slowed down his walk and embraced the moment. Before 2001, I would have wondered what that feeling was like, to walk off a Baseball Diamond into a cauldron of delirious noise and exultant praise. I no longer needed to. The city and this team, for a moment in time, were waves in water. In complete and utter unity.
Awaiting the Yankees in the World Series were the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had dispatched Atlanta in the N.L.C.S. and survived a hard fought series against St. Louis the round previous, winning on a single by Tony Womack. The Diamondbacks Organization may have been young as a franchise, but the players behind the logo were grizzly veterans. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson formed the best top of the rotation one-two punch in all Major League Baseball. Mark Grace provided leadership and a line drive bat at first, but the centerpiece of their offense was Louis Gonzalez. In a year when Barry Bonds pounded 73 homers, the astounding season by Gonzalez  will eventually be lost in time.
If Arizona was looking to set a tone in Game 1, they accomplished it in spades. D-Back hitters jumped all over Division Series hero Mike Mussina, and several fielding miscues by the Yankees help to fuel a game 1 wash out. Game 2 belonged to Randy Johnson, as the intimidating lefty who had haunted the Yankees in post season’s past ripped their hearts out yet again, nullifying the Bomber offense to the tune of a shut out. Matt Williams ended any hope of late game heroics, swatting a key three run homer in the closing innings. The series shifted back to the Bronx, and the hopes of the Yankees and their fans rested on the broad shoulders of Roger Clemens.
Clemens was often badgered as not being a true Yankee, despite winning a World Series crown with the club in 1999. After jumping ship to New York by forcing a trade from the Blue Jays, the expectations heaped on the Red Sox legend were of overwhelming proportion. When Clemens let the masses down with a disappointing individual year, the tabloids were preparing the venom for further scathing during Clemens’ follow up year. The Media Jackals got exactly what they desired when Roger once again fell short of expectations during the first half, which was only compounded by a stint on the D.L. with a groin problem. During the D.L. stay, George Steinbrenner shared a pep talk with the beleaguered future Hall of Famer, and shortly thereafter Clemens returned to his old sneering self. Whether the Owner’s little talk had any bearing on his performance is a question for another day, but the fact of the matter remains that the man they called "Rocket" took off in the second half, and didn’t slow down for the rest of the season. After previously closing out the Braves in the ’99 Series and pitching a dominant game 2 during the 2000 Edition, with a start for the ages thrown in during the 2000 ALCS for good measure, Clemens had seemingly overcame the stigma that he couldn’t control his emotions or the outcome of a big game. But if there were still any doubt remaining on that issue, it was all summarily answered in Game 3 of the 2001 Series.
Game 3 is the most over looked battle of this historic series, and in comparison with Games 4 and 5 it may look a bit dry. Roger Clemens’ effort in the do or die endeavor for the Yanks however, should not be forgotten. With his team’s back against the wall, Clemens went out and pitched an absolute masterpiece, handing the game to Mariano Rivera having held the D-Backs to an anemic 1 run. And Rivera, as he always did, closed the game out with an Assassin’s poise. It was a Series again, and no one had the faintest idea of where it would go next.
On three days rest, Curt Schilling took the ball in game 4 hoping to bury the Yankees in a 3-1 hole. Schilling, despite the short rest, had drawn from the apex of his ability, dealing strikes and working the corners with cunning savvy. The only blemish on his record was a solo homer surrendered to Shane Spencer, who shot one the opposite way into the short porch in right. Orlando Hernandez was in peak form as well, but eventually tired in the eighth inning, giving way to Mike Stanton with one man on. The score sat deadlocked at 1-1. Stanton, bought in to neutralize the dangerous Erubial Durazo, failed to do his job as he hung a curve on the inside corner of the plate. Durazo walloped it just beyond the reach of Bernie Williams in center field, and the runner on first came all the way around the merry go round to score. When the D-Backs padded their lead with an additional run, the game appeared to be all but over. Arizona manager Bob Brenly surprised many however, with his decision to hook Curt Schilling and summon the enigmatic B.K. Kim from the bullpen in an attempt to record the final six outs. Kim, a mysterious right-hander from Korea, was rumored to sleep 17 hours of a given day. The reliever’s pitching motion fit well with his personality, a confounding submarine style that gave right-handed hitters fits. Due to this arm action, lefties were afforded a longer look at the ball before it spiraled to home plate, and the numbers dictated that they benefited from this precious advantage. Kim almost effortlessly reached the 90’s with his fastball, and had a wide array of junk to keep the opposition off balance. He had assumed the closer mantle from the oft- injured flamethrower Matt Mantei, and the stage was now set for him to be a hero.
Or perhaps a goat.
Kim made Brenly appear a brilliant tactician in the eighth inning, striking out the side on his way to a deliciously easy frame. As the scoreboard flashed forward to the bottom of the ninth inning under a glowing full moon, Kim recorded an easy first out before giving up a limp broken bat bleeder into left field by Paul O’Neill. Many argued that left fielder Gonzalez could have laid out for the ball, but the way Kim was throwing, it didn’t appear to be even remotely an issue. He struck out Bernie Williams on a nasty slider in the dirt for the ninth’s second out, and Arizona readied their grip for a strangle hold on the series. The only person left standing in their way was Yankee first baseman, Tino Martinez.
Over the course of Tino’s career, he had gotten in the tricky habit of replacing legends at first base. In Seattle, Tino took over for the beloved Alvin Davis, who to that point had been the Mariners’ only real superstar. After many productive years in the Pacific North West, Tino was shipped off to the Bronx prior to the 1996 season. Yankee Deity Don Mattingly had just taken a leave of absence, and would be missing for all of ’96. While fans wondered if they had seen the last of Mattingly, they didn’t know what to make of Martinez. A timid reputation as a decent fielding first sacker had followed him from Seattle, though he certainly was no Donnie Baseball. A slow start at the plate did nothing to dissipate the fan’s incredulous reaction to their newest Yankee. However, everything changed on one rainy night in Baltimore. For Martinez would sock a grand slam in extra innings to give the Yankees a valuable win, and from that point forward Tino would be beloved in the Bronx. A 1997 season when he hammered 44 homers, a World Series Grand Slam in game one of ’98, and generally solid performance and citizenship there after made Martinez a beloved figure around the Bronx. When Tino’s production fell off drastically in 2000, many called for Nick Johnson, than a phenom at Triple A. But in 2001, it was Tino who would carry the offense. Swatting 34 home runs and collecting over 100 RBI’s, the consummate team player appeared to have regained support from the front office while also earning an undying loyalty that players seldom get from fickle fans.
Now, it was up to Martinez to keep the Yankees afloat in the Series. It was his first face off with Kim, and he only had a few sneak peeks through video as reference. Choosing the simplest of strategies, Tino simply looked for a fastball he could put his best swing on. Kim, perhaps feeling invincible, was only too willing to oblige. Joe Buck, the Fox play-by-play man, had barely finished praising Kim for his presence under pressure before the next pitch was thrown. What came next was the most shell-shocked call of a dramatic home run in recent history:
" Belted… right center field… and this game is tied."
As the disbelieving words sputtered out of Buck’s mouth, Tino Martinez floated around the bases with the game’s tying run.
After the reliable Rivera slammed the door on the D-Backs in the tenth, the Yankees came up in the bottom half and were greeted by… Kim. Brenly had left his closer in the game due to a fallible lack of confidence in the rest of his pen. It was a questionable move by Brenly, who was earlier heavily criticized for an erroneous decision during the decisive inning of the L.D.S., attempting a squeeze with Tony Womack at the plate. There was one out, the winning run on third, and with seemingly a season’s worth of blood and sweat riding on the move, it backfired horribly. The pitch was too far outside to bunt, and the left for dead runner was tagged out in a rundown. Luckily for Brenly, Womack would deliver a hit to win the series on the next pitch. It wouldn’t be Tony’s last big hit in the playoffs.
Whatever weariness Kim may have felt, physically or emotionally, was not evident as he mowed down the Yankees’ first two hitters. With two outs in the tenth, the stadium clock struck 12. It was officially November 1 st, the first time a baseball game had been played this late in the calendar. It was a cruel reminder.
If nothing else, Derek Jeter now had a chance to officially become Mr. November. Early in the at-bat however, Kim seemed to be seizing his chance for redemption. He quickly jumped ahead of the count 0-2, and Jeter had to foul some tough pitches off just to maintain the AB. As Kim readied yet another one of his deliveries, I noticed that the D-Backs’ catcher, Damien Miller, was setting up outside. It was horrendous strategy, especially at Yankee stadium, where Jeter could poke one out of right field using the short porch. Kim’s last fastball of the night exploded off of Jeter’s bat and landed just beyond the friendly right field fence. The Yankees had rose from the dead once again. As Tim McCarver succinctly stated over the chorus of ecstasy:
" A night to remember forever… bedlam in the Bronx."
Game 5 was scheduled for the next night. It was growing apparent that the Yankees had a date with destiny.
What could possibly be next? As many followers of the National Past Time observed, a game such as number 4 only occurred once in a lifetime. However, any rules mistakenly tangled with sanity were about to be turned upside down for game 5.
Mike Mussina found redemption from a putrid game 1 with a sterling outing, leaving the game having given up only 2 runs. Unfortunately for Mussina and the Yanks, Miguel Batista had answered the call for Bob Brenly and pitched shut out baseball. A fact somewhat lost in the series was that Batista and Brian Anderson, by and large unheralded hurlers, both pitched marvelously in their starts with nary a win to show for it. Many in Baseball circles were left in disbelief when Bautista rose to the occasion, being that his strange persona combined with World Series pressure was perceived as a combustible combo. Miguel’s reputation was well earned, through many odd statements and decisions. He once diverted all questions about his performance, claiming that if the media wanted to talk it could only be about his pet bird. Despite his assorted personal variables, Miguel pitched the game of his life on the biggest stage.
Was it idiocy, trust, or blind faith? Whatever conclusion one arrives at remains a matter of distinct opinion, but the increasingly questionable Bob Brenly gave the ball to B.K. Kim, requesting the closure of game five. Kim, now a national symbol for choking, had seemingly acquired a teenager’s vulnerability. B.K. was in his early twenties, and still had traces of acne trailing down his young face. His task was to hold down a two run lead, a mission that had disastrously escaped his grasp the night before. He was welcomed with a double down the left field line by Jorge Posada, before quickly retiring the next two hitters. Once again, Kim only needed one more out. And once again, a corner infielder for the New York Yankees stepped up to the plate. This time, it was Yankee third baseman, Scott Brosius.
Brosius was regarded as the booby prize awarded to the Yankees for unloading Kenny Rogers on the A’s, but he was penciled in to be third baseman in 1998. Scott had just come off an absolutely awful season for the A’s in ’97, barely keeping his average above the Mendoza line. The Yankees’ initial plan was to use Brosius as a stopgap for prospect Mike Lowell. Brosius however, would prove his worth much higher than that. He surprised everyone by hitting .300 in 1998, this after a dismal Spring Training that had some questioning his ability to hit Major League Pitching. The best was yet to come, as Brosius won the 1998 World Series M.V.P. trophy, on the strength of his clutch homer off Trevor Hoffman during game 3. Solid seasons sprinkled with great defense followed, Brosius became a familiar staple of the Yankee Dynasty.
Kim had almost served up a home run to Brosius the previous night in extra innings, as the established veteran just missed clipping the left field foul pole with a line drive. Perhaps this was on B.K.’s mind when he served up an awful slider, hanging so atrociously that it flattened out right down the middle. Brosius crushed it into the left field seats, and Posada, who appeared to be left twisting in the wind at second after his double, joyously rounded the bases. As for Brosius, instantly after he made contact with the ball his arms raised in the pose of a hero, a role now played to fitting familiarity. It was De Ja Vu all over again, and as John Sterling proclaimed " probably the greatest feat in World Series history."
Byun Hyun Kim slumped to his knees on the mound, in absolute defeat. His teammates attempted to console him, and Rod Barajas went as far to shake his fist with a forceful yell: "this isn’t going to beat us!"
Kim was removed from the game, and received a massive sarcastic ovation from the New York fans. Cheers for tears.
When Chuck Knoblauch touched home plate after Alfonso Soriano’s winning single in the 12th inning, the final period had been punctuated on the two most memorable games in World Series history. It may have been trite to say a baseball game had lifted the spirits of New York, but it isn’t outlandish to offer that it may have helped. The fact remains that only time can serve as consultation to many unfortunate, still living among the Ashes of a ruined life. No Baseball team could undo the damage of 9/11. No one person could heal the broken families or dreams. However, two victories in the month of November, two games that will go down in the City’s history, and two teams that delivered virtuoso athletic performances, would perhaps allow a small, spiritually tempting thought to sneak into our minds: We can make it through this. If nothing else, there was the possibility for hope. A journey is nothing without that first step.
Bernie Williams often sinks to the background of Yankee lore, despite the fact he deserves every right to be mentioned as one of the franchise’s all time best players. He has recorded the most home runs in post-season history. He has won multiple gold gloves. Bernie’s tendency to be overlooked can be partially blamed on his largely aloof personality. It’s not as if Bernie doesn’t care, it’s simply the way he views and plays the game. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that he underestimated the security concerns around Bank One Ball Park, causing him to be late to Game 6 of the World Series. Emotions were heightened around the clubhouse for good reason as it was, but no one was more furious at Bernie than Derek Jeter. He berated Bernie for being late, screaming at the top of his lungs that a more important place for Williams to be simply ceased to exist. Derek Jeter did not want anything to threaten the Yankees attempt to win the 2001 World Series. He leads the way.
Andy Pettite had come up big for the Yankees before, pitching unbelievable post-season games that will be the staple of his career long after it’s over. On the night of game 6 however, Andy picked the wrong evening to have his worst stuff. Pettite and the Yankee bullpen was flogged for over 10 runs, as the Diamondbacks feasted on terrible New York pitching. On a sour note for the Yanks, it wasn’t until the Series’ conclusion that they realized Pettite might have been tipping his pitches. Whether or not the element of surprise would have helped his hanging breaking balls is a matter still open to discussion.
It was inspiring win for the D-Backs in their own right, as they refused to back down against a team that had just thoroughly attempted a World Series Heist. Randy Johnson pitched superbly yet again; no revenge would be afforded for the Yankees against their long time post-season nemesis. In retrospect, the Series needed to go 7 games. It would be Roger Clemens against Curt Schilling.
As Curt Schilling endured hard times early in his career, possessing little control over his fastball or self, he happened to meet a mentor in the gym one fateful day. On Schilling’s best starts he could vaguely assume the form of the very individual that personally sat down and gave much needed advice, about working the corners, staying in shape and maintaining focus. That individual was Roger Clemens. Schilling often credits that conversation as the singular reason why his career path shifted route, from vagabond to upper echelon. After pitching wonderfully for languishing Phillies teams through the 1990’s, Schilling finally received his long overdue wish for a trade. The team that netted him was the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose eyes lit up at the proposition of pairing him with Randy Johnson. The two fully gelled during 2001, as they carried Arizona to the Play Offs. The two names became synomous with each other: Schilling and Johnson. Johnson and Schilling. Schilling was far more talkative of the two, and many wondered whether they actually had a working relationship. There indeed may have been a bit of a rivalry between the two aces, although any traces of that story are for the most part unsubstantiated.
Curt solidified his decidedly non-cerebral approach by launching into a hushed, but stinging tirade during a Press Conference before Game 4 of the Series. The issue regarded whether Yankee Stadium had any aura or mystique.
" To me, aura and mystique or dancers at night club."
The comments appeared foolhardy after the game 4 and 5 results, but it was just Schilling being Schilling. That personality made him the perfect pitcher for game 7.
Emotion swirled before Game 7. It would be Paul O’Neill’s final game wearing a Yankee Uniform. There is no measure to determine how much O’Neill had meant for the franchise, or how much he affected individual members of the Yankees. His mentality of continued grinding, to never waste any At-bat, and to simply play the game right, were all staples of the Yankee Dynasty.
How much did the fans love Paul O’Neill? During his last turn as Right Fielder in Yankee Stadium, a game the Yankee were trailing 2-0, 57,000 people began to chant the name of their beloved warrior:
The chant rang for the entire inning, and nearly bought Paul to tears as he headed back toward the dug out. It was a measure of appreciation for a man who had left it all out on the field. In the end, it’s all we really ask for.
Game 7 lived up to it’s billing as a classic pitcher’s duel. Clemens and Schilling traded zeroes up until Danny Bautista’s clutch double into the left center gap. The blow gave the Diamondback a 1-0 advantage. Ironically, Bautista was thrown out attempting to advance to third, a rare perfect throw to the cut off man Jeter by the glass armed Bernie Williams, followed with the requisite, perfect Jeter bullet. Any sore feeling between the two Yankee stalwarts was vanished by than.
The Yankees would tie the game up on a Tino Martinez single to right field. Schilling would outlast Clemens, pitching into the eighth inning. For the Yankees, with the game tied at 1, a debate was surely brewing as to whether Mariano Rivera should make an eighth inning appearance. The argument raged as Alfonso Soriano stepped up to the plate.
As Yankee Manager, Joe Torre had made a living out of these types of decisions. With dependable bench coach Don Zimmer at his side, Joe had navigated the Yankee ship to 4 world championships in five years. The fact that he was soundly butchered upon his arrival to New York by the media must have made it all the more sweeter for Joe, as he carved his name into the Mount Olympus of Yankee managers, along with Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy. Dubbed " Clueless Joe" before even managing his first game, Torre’s even handed style was the perfect fit for both the Yankee club house and it’s Owner, who was better seen and not heard. It was a perfect formula, just another piece of the puzzle.
The most compounding component of being manager however, lies in the duty to make the tough call day after day, and to make it right more than 90 percent of the time. And as decision time loomed in game 7, Mariano Rivera awaited the call in the bullpen. The free swinging Soriano could have put a lot of the concerns to bed if he blasted one, but the Yankee brain trust wasn’t relying on the kid to make their lives any easier. After all, Schilling often had aggressive hitters like Alfonso for lunch, tantalizing them with pitches just off the plate.
Soriano was often mistaken as a pure Yankee farm hand, when the fact is that the gifted second baseman had been paid a handsome ransom to join the organization after a controversial exit from his team in Japan. Exasperated with a coaching staff attempting to change his hitting style, Soriano faked his retirement in order to escape out of his ironclad Japan League Contract. Word had spread around the Majors about Soriano’s amazing ability, and he would not remain in the bushes for long. Probably a better fit for the outfield, the Yankees stuck Soriano at second base for his rookie season due to Chuck Knoblauch’s case of Steve Sax disease. [Sax often had trouble throwing the ball from second to first. Purely a mental issue.] Alfonso often struggled or looked awkward in his new position, but his bat more than made up for it. He would have solid rookie season at the dish despite defensive woes. Soriano’s confident personality made him the perfect fit for Post Season play, and he had already proven his affluence for the clutch situation with his monumental walk off shot of Kaz Sasaki.
Now Soriano faced off against Schilling, but looked overmatched in falling behind 0-2. Schilling than threw a splitter in the dirt, a waste pitch really, that had no right to be hit. The ball nearly scrapped the ground as it arrived to home plate.
Soriano golfed it out of left field for a tie breaking home run. As he rounded the bases, rain fell down from the sky. It was an odd occurrence, being that Bank One BallPark had a retractable dome. The dome seemed on the momentary fritz, and the drops of rain would only last for a few minutes. But as Soriano rounded the bases with the precipitation falling around him in peaceful harmony, fate seemed to be at hand. Maybe this team was blessed.
Rivera would be pitching the eighth, where he sliced and diced the D-Backs. The Yankees were three outs away.
He only has one pitch, really. It’s a devastating cutter running inside to both lefties and righties, rendering bats useless. Rivera was a heralded young arm coming through the Yankee system before he had arm surgery. After that, his velocity went down and he became trade bait. During the winter of 1995 he was mentioned in trade rumors ranging from David Wells to Felix Fermine. The Yankees would hold on to Rivera, possibly the wisest decisions in franchise history. For Mo would regain his fastball and become an invincible set up man, a mere apprenticeship for his time as an indomitable closer. After blowing game 4 of the 1997 A.L.D.S. against Cleveland, sportswriters and fans wondered if the loss had broken Joe Torre’s "Hammer of God." The answer will lie on his plaque in Cooperstown. Quite simply, Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer who ever lived, and the one man I would trust with my life if it depended on a Stopper in the Ninth. He has etched his legend in the post season, compiling a miniscule, slightly laughable Earned Run Average.
He is the Great Mariano.
And he blew it. The Diamondbacks rallied for two runs in the ninth, capitalizing on a Rivera throwing error and clutch hits in the ultimate pressurized situation. The biggest blow was Tony Womack’s double down the line to tie the game up. Louis Gonzalez’s single over a drawn in Yankee infield was the death knell for a great team that came up two outs short. As Rivera walked off the field that night, he walked off it with dignity and pride. There was no goat. A team won and a team lost.
It was Arizona’s time to celebrate.
In the end, it was just a series of Baseball games. That is the beauty. A winner. A loser. A reason for all of it that is pliable to our conscience. And if it could be enjoyed, if it could be a savored, or if it could be a safe and familiar place, it would have served its purpose, just a game.
A Just Game…
Sublime- verb- To elevate or exalt especially in dignity or honor (2) : to render finer (as in purity or excellence) b : to convert (something inferior) into something of higher worth