Yankee Stadium, the fabled Cathedral of Baseball, saw the two most spectacular endings in World Series history Wednesday and Thursday. Previously, no team had come from two runs behind at the bottom of the ninth to win a World Series game since 1929. The Yankees did it two nights in a row.
There is something for the ages in the current, aging dynasty of baseball world champions at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. These Bronx Bombers have now won four out of the last five World Series and three in a row. If over the coming week they can beat the odds once again against the fearsome super-pitchers of the upstart but brilliant Arizona Diamondbacks, it will be four in a row, and five out of six.
Only three teams in baseball history have ever equaled or surpassed that record and they were all Yankees too. The Yankee teams of Joe DiMaggio in the late 1930s-early 40s, the DiMaggio-led Yankees of the late 40s and early 50s, and the Mickey Mantle-led Yankees of the late 50s. The two later teams were both managed by Casey Stengel.
The 1998 Yankees were one of the most dominant teams in baseball, history throughout the previous season. But the teams of 1999, 2000 and this year had only reasonable, or even disappointing records in the regular season. It was only when the post season play-offs came in October that they took their play to an awesome new level.
It was as if the players became different men. Or, in the imagery of that other all-American cultural obsession, comic books, they abandoned their workaday, mundane regular season identities of ordinary guys, the "Men at Work' players that George Will celebrated as the backbone of baseball in his book of the same name. Instead, they donned their capes and masks -- metaphorically -- over their 19th century style pinstripe uniforms and became sporting superheroes. So far this year, they have been doing it again.
To get to the World Series, the Yankees demolished two teams that had won more than 100 victories apiece in the regular season. The second of those teams, the magnificent Seattle Mariners, had won 116 games in regular season, an all-time record that may never been surpassed. They broke the previous standard for regular season excellence of the Yankees who that year had won 114 games. Yet in the American League Championship series, the Yankees walloped them too.
At first, it seemed that the Phoenix-based Diamondbacks -- a team only four years old -- was different. They had not one but two of the very greatest, most formidable pitchers of all time, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. That was a combination of pitching ultra-excellence never seen before on a single team in the century and a half of consecutive baseball history.
And in the first two games of this World Series, earlier this week down in Phoenix, Schilling and Johnson reigned supreme and virtually shut the Yankees out. No team since the Chicago White Sox of 1919 had scored so few runs in World Series games as the Yankees batmen did against that Dynamic Duo. And those White Sox were throwing that infamous Series -- the one organized crime figures had bribed many of them to lose -- deliberately. The Yankees playing in Phoenix really were trying to win.
The Yankees clawed back a game on Tuesday back in the Bronx to trail only two to one. But for most of Wednesday night, it looked as if they would lose again. They went into the ninth innings trailing one to three. It seemed to be all over bar the shouting. At the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees had two out, and Diamondbacks were only three strikes away from going three to one ahead again in the seven game series.
But then old-timer Paul O'Neill, in the second last game of his career at Yankee Stadium before he retired at age 38, managed to hit a single. Then Tino Martinez, whose batting average throughout the current World Series had previously been dire, came to the plate. And he homered high into the stadium stands. Bringing O'Neill home too.
The Fox Network TV cameras closed in on the face of Curt Schilling, who had just pitched seven magnificent innings allowing the Yankees only a single run in all of them. He was thunderstruck. The whole weight of 78 years of Yankee Stadium history had just come crashing down won his head with full force.
The game went into the 10th. The great closer Mariano Rivera was still pitching for the Yankees. He held the Diamondbacks scoreless. But the Yankees knew they would need Rivera to close the following night, and probably for the last crucial two games back down in Arizona too. And they were not nearly as confident of the reliability of their back-up pitchers. Time was still running out on the Yankees.
Then Derek Jeter, the effective field leader of the team through its current golden "Bronx Age," came to the plate. He was reputed to be so banged up from injuries in the post-regular season games that it was joked he was held together with bandages and tape. Like Martinez, his post-regular season statistics were poor at bat and dismal so far in this Series. None of that mattered. He homered and won the game.
It was the most spectacular finish to a World Series game since the New York Mets confounded all probability by beating out the Boston Red Sox in the magnificent, bizarre series of 1986.
That should have been enough. Yet the following night, Thursday, this same fairy tale scenario played itself out almost identically. The Yankees trailed again, this time by two to nothing. The Diamondbacks' second string pitcher Miguel Batista, turned out to be as formidable as Schilling and Johnson. It was bottom of the ninth and two out. The Yankees were again looking heartbreaking defeat in the face within three strikes.
Again, an old time veteran possibly looking at the end of his career as a Yankee was at the plate. Scott Brosius had been 3 for 16 in the World Series so far. His contract was expiring. But with one on base, just when it mattered most, he homered and tied the game at 3-3.
This one was not resolved in the 10th, where both teams held each other scoreless. It was not resolved in the 11th. Finally, at the bottom of the 12th, Chuck Knoblauch, another veteran with a disappointing series to that point, got on base for the Yankees. Brosius advanced him with a sacrifice bunt. And then rookie Alfonso Soriano singled in the still lightning fast Knoblauch to win the game and put the Yankees ahead 3-2.
The Diamondbacks are a superb team, and if they still manage to come back in Games 6 and 7 this weekend down in Phoenix to win this World Series, they will have richly earned it. But even if that happens, the amazing double ninth innings comebacks two nights in a row in the Bronx demand salute and celebration.
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