Destiny ends with N-Y. It ends with New York Yankees third
baseman Charlie Hayes, just another refugee rescued from
baseball oblivion, clutching a foul pop to strand the Atlanta
Braves' potential winning run. It ends with the Yankees, who
trailed two games to none in the World Series, winning four
consecutive games, in three of which they beat Cy Young Award
winners (this season's probable winner, John Smoltz, included)
and in the other they staged the second-greatest comeback in
Series history. It ends with a victory lap around Yankee Stadium
by a team full of comeback stories, people who have made it back
from the most woebegone of places: the Betty Ford Center,
Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the Alabama Sports Medicine and
Orthopaedic Center, the Northern League, not to mention the
Detroit Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What else could it be but destiny when New York manager Joe
Torre's brother, Frank, has heart transplant surgery on Friday,
the only off day for the World Series, performed by a wizard of
a doctor named Oz. The heart donor was a man who lived in the
Bronx. There's no place like home.
What else could it be but destiny when Torre orders three cases
and two magnums of champagne before leaving home on Saturday for
Game 6, the clincher. Or when pitcher Jimmy Key asks his
girlfriend, Karin Kane, to marry him before he leaves for work
that day to start Game 6 for the Yankees.
Improbable? Unbelievable? Joe Eszterhas has turned in more
credible scripts. Mission: Impossible was less contrived.
Destiny beat what was supposed to be a World Series dynasty. The
Series ended with Torre and pitcher David Cone dripping in
champagne, chatting almost in a disbelieving hush at one side of
a Yankees clubhouse as crowded and smelly as a subway car at
November 4, 1996
"Do you believe this year?" Torre said.
"It's almost like there was an angel up there orchestrating
this, some intangible force," Cone said.
"It's strange. Weird," Torre said. "Like it was supposed to
happen. Whenever something did happen, it didn't surprise us."
The Yankees hit .216--and still won the World Series. They lost
the first two games at home and won four straight, a feat never
before accomplished. They won even though the Braves' starting
pitchers had a 1.51 ERA. They won because Atlanta's four-time
Gold Glove centerfielder, Marquis Grissom, dropped a fly ball.
They won the longest Series game ever played. They won just the
fourth one in which only an unearned run was scored.
They won because Torre laughed in the face of danger as well as
in the face of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. On Oct. 21,
when Steinbrenner burst into Torre's office before Game 2 and
declared, "This is a must win!" Torre told the Boss, "Hey, we'll
probably lose tonight, too, George. But Atlanta's my town. We'll
sweep them there and win it back home."
Like seemingly every other idea Torre had, this one was right.
New York closed out the Series with a 3-2 victory last Saturday
night over four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, scoring all of
its runs in the third inning when the master painter turned
sloppy and left a few pitches too close to the center of the
plate. Key outpitched Maddux only 15 months after undergoing
surgery to repair a complete tear in the rotator cuff in his
throwing shoulder. According to his surgeon, James Andrews of
Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham,
that Key was even able to pitch was unprecedented.
The Yankees won with a roster on which 14 of 25 players were not
in the organization at the end of last season, including seven
added after June 11 of this year. Every time a leak sprang, it
was plugged with the help of an unmatched budget that swelled
past $60 million. These were the dammed Yankees. Atlanta general
manager John Schuerholz all but cursed them, saying the
difference between the two clubs was the extra $18 million New
York spent on its bench players.
Yes, the Yankees were deeper and had a superior bullpen. But
Torre outmanaged Atlanta skipper Bobby Cox, and the New York
pitchers outshone one of the best starting staffs of all time.
"The bottom line is that we beat them at their own game," said
New York catcher Jim Leyritz late last Saturday night. "They
made mistakes, and our pitchers didn't."
All of that Yankees good fortune seemed ordained when the phone
rang at Torre's house in New Rochelle, N.Y., at 5:45 a.m. last
Friday. He had walked in the door only 30 minutes earlier after
flying home from Atlanta following Game 5, which New York had
won 1-0. The caller was someone from Columbia Presbyterian in
New York City telling him that Frank was being prepared for a
transplant after waiting 11 weeks for a suitable donor. "When
Frank got the heart," Joe said, "I felt like we were meant to
win. I mean, Dr. Oz doing the surgery? Come on. It's been like
an out-of-body experience."
Five months earlier Cone had been on the ninth floor of Columbia
Presbyterian, three floors above where Frank would undergo
surgery. Doctors had removed an aneurysm in Cone's right
shoulder by taking a vein from his thigh and grafting it onto
the one that was about to burst. He was expected to be out for
the season. While Cone was in the hospital, Betty Ford alumnus
Dwight Gooden threw a no-hitter for the Yankees, though Cone did
not see it. "No cable there," he said. "It was like Dwight was
replacing me and things were going to be O.K."
It was Cone who started Game 3 in Atlanta and who was asked to
save the Yankees after they had lost the first two games by a
combined score of 16-1, the biggest differential at that
juncture in World Series history. "The mood on the plane ride
there was embarrassment," Cone said. "We were thoroughly
embarrassed. It was like, Let's save some face."
The Yankees were angry, too. They had seethed after Cox changed
pitchers with two outs and a 12-1 lead in the ninth inning of
Game 1, as if the game were being played in West Palm Beach,
Fla., in March. Some New York players felt Atlanta was rubbing
it in. Moreover, they learned through personnel working in the
Yankee Stadium visiting clubhouse that the Braves boasted about
that win, some of them saying, "They don't belong on the same
field as us." Said Cone, "Victory was certain. It was a given
for them. Yeah, we noticed it."
Torre felt that for New York to get back into the Series, it had
to take an early lead in Game 3. Atlanta lefthander Tom Glavine,
who won the Cy Young in 1991, accommodated Torre by walking
leadoff hitter Tim Raines to start the game. Torre called for a
bunt, which Derek Jeter executed, moving Raines to second.
Bernie Williams then drove a two-strike pitch into centerfield
for a single, scoring Raines. New York had a lead--the first
against Atlanta pitching in 46 innings, dating to Game 4 of the
National League Championship Series against the St. Louis
Cardinals. The Yankees would not yield the advantage, not even
in the sixth inning when Cone rewarded Torre's faith in
deciding to leave him in by getting Fred McGriff and Javier
Lopez on pop-ups with the bases loaded to escape with a 2-1
lead. Several of Cone's fastballs were clocked at 93 mph.
"That inning," Torre would say after New York went on to a 5-2
win, "was what the World Series is about. If we get out of that
inning with a lead, I just have to run the bullpen guys out
there and put my hands in my pockets."
The Braves learned that trying to beat the Yankees' bullpen in
the late innings was like trying to beat an IRS audit. New York
won 96% of the time this year (75-3) when it led after six
frames. In the World Series, Atlanta batted 19 times after the
sixth and scored two runs. The Braves hit .315 for the first six
innings and .176 afterward.
The Yankees' bullpen helped win the marathon Game 4 as well. It
shut out Atlanta after the fifth inning, enabling New York to
come back from a 6-0 deficit and win 8-6 in 10 innings. An epic?
Ben-Hur didn't take as long and had a smaller cast. After four
hours, 19 minutes, Torre had deployed all of his players except
his top three starting pitchers and had used 10 players in the
ninth spot of the batting order. Only one team, Connie Mack's
1929 Philadelphia Athletics, came back from a bigger World
Series deficit, scoring 10 runs in the seventh inning to defeat
the Chicago Cubs 10-8 in Game 4.
"It was fun being back in the National League," said Torre,
referring to the fact that the games in Atlanta were played
under National League rules. "Anyone who says the DH is better
is nuts." It was a game so complex that Torre, whose previous 14
seasons of managing were in the National League with the
Cardinals, the Braves and the New York Mets, said an American
League manager without National League experience could not have
won it. Torre so outmanaged Cox that Yankees pitching coach Mel
Stottlemyre said, "If it wasn't the greatest game managed, it's
in the top three."
Said Torre, "It was great. [Bench coach] Don Zimmer and I were
yelling at each other during the game, 'What's next? Where's the
pitcher hitting? How many players we got left?' I kept saying,
'Isn't this great?' And Zim would go, 'Shaddup.'"
With Atlanta leading 6-3, Cox brought in his closer, righthander
Mark Wohlers, to start the eighth inning, something he had done
only once this year. Wohlers throws so hard that when Leyritz
came to the plate with one out and runners on first and third,
he took a bat from Darryl Strawberry, the Northern League
emigrant, rather than use one of his own. "I only had a couple
left, and I didn't want to break one," Leyritz said later.
Wohlers threw him a 100-mph fastball, and Leyritz fouled it
"You could see a look on Wohlers's face like, Oh, s---," Cone
said. "He'd given him his best shot, and Jimmy was right on it."
Wohlers also threw a 98-mph fastball, and Leyritz had that one
timed too, fouling it back. That's when Wohlers removed his best
bullet, the fastball, from his magazine. "I've been on the
shuttle to [Triple A] Richmond too many times to keep pounding
my head against a wall," he said. So he threw a slider, his
third-best pitch, and hung it. Leyritz blasted the ball out of
the park, tying the game. "That," Torre said, "was the hit that
made us believe we were going to win this thing."
The Yankees won when Wade Boggs--Torre's last position player on
the bench--drew a bases-loaded walk in the top of the 10th. Then
Cox slipped up. He pulled a double switch, bringing Brad Clontz
in to pitch and replacing McGriff at first base with lefthanded-
hitting Ryan Klesko, whom Cox would have lead off the Atlanta
half of the 10th. Said Stottlemyre, "We couldn't decide who to
start in the bottom of the inning, [lefthander Graeme] Lloyd or
[righthander John] Wetteland. We went back and forth three or
four times. But when he had Klesko leading off, it was a
no-brainer. He made the decision for us."
By making the switch, Cox, who wanted to avoid having to
pinch-hit for Clontz, weakened himself defensively and had
Klesko, who blasted only three of his 34 homers in the regular
season against southpaws, batting leadoff against Lloyd. It was
as if the baseball gods had screamed, "You can't do that!" The
next ball put into play, a soft line drive off the bat of Hayes,
was hit to Klesko. He dropped it, allowing an insurance run to
score. Batting against Lloyd in the bottom of the inning, Klesko
whiffed. Wetteland came in for the final two outs.
When asked where the game turned, a bitter Cox mentioned a
leadoff foul pop fly in the sixth inning with Atlanta ahead 6-0.
Rightfielder Jermaine Dye overran the ball, which fell behind
him and rightfield umpire Tim Welke. "Dye couldn't get around
the umpire to catch the goddam ball," Cox said, although Dye had
told Welke while taking the field in the seventh, "It's not your
fault. I should have caught it."
In Game 5, the last game ever at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium,
Cox had no one to blame for the 1-0 loss except his players.
Grissom dropped a fourth-inning fly ball hit by Hayes after
nearly colliding with Dye. Hayes, a former member of the
last-place Pirates, scored on a double by Cecil Fielder, a
former member of the last-place Tigers. Torre started Hayes and
Fielder, both righthanded batters, against righthander Smoltz,
benching struggling lefthanded hitters Boggs and Tino Martinez.
Torre also allowed his pitcher, Andy Pettitte, to bat in the
ninth inning with two outs and runners at first and third, and
he put the potential winning run on base intentionally in the
bottom of the inning. Of course, all of the moves worked. The
game ended with a gimpy Paul O'Neill running down a fly by Luis
Polonia in the gap in rightfield.
"He's been doing it all year," Cone said of Torre's deft moves.
"Joe plays to win. He doesn't go by managing lore or by the
supposed book. He does whatever he thinks he has to."
The Yankees beat Smoltz, who had lost only once in 17 postseason
starts, on a night when he became the first pitcher in the past
91 World Series games to whiff 10 batters. Pettitte, who allowed
only five hits, outpitched him.
Atlanta joined the 1905 Athletics, the 1921 Yankees and the 1986
Mets as the only teams to lose a 1-0 World Series game on an
unearned run. And when the Braves lost by one run again in Game
6, they assured themselves of being labeled as the Dynasty That
Never Was. Though TEAM OF THE '90S is engraved on their 1995
world-championship rings, the Atlanta players have won as many
world championships this decade as Marge Schott's Cincinnati Reds.
Perhaps history will condemn Grissom, Wohlers or even Cox to
places alongside Lonnie Smith and Jeff Reardon, goats from the
Braves' 1991 and '92 Series losses, in Atlanta infamy. As well
as Cox's teams have played in the regular season this decade,
they have these numbers to explain: In 63 postseason games they
are 11-19 in one-run decisions and 4-9 in extra innings.
Wetteland, who saved each Yankees victory, won the MVP award,
but no one had a better Series than Torre. He will have
virtually the same club next season, with Key, a free agent, the
only important player whose status is uncertain. Outfielder
Ruben Rivera is New York's next phenom, following homegrown
frontline players Jeter, Pettitte, Williams and Mariano Rivera
in this decade. There will always be money to cover mistakes
and upgrade the roster, and there is no reason to think the
Yankees can't be back in the World Series next year--no reason
unless they have exhausted their credit limit with destiny. "Joe
Torre will never have another year like this one," Zimmer said.
"There are not that many other things that could have worked out
for him. Everything went his way."
You can never tell about destiny. On the same night in which the
Yankees' third hitter drove in the third run in the third inning
to beat a third Cy Young winner 3-2 to win New York's third
world championship of the Steinbrenner era, a horse named
Electric Yankee ran out of the third post position in the 11th
race at Yonkers. It finished last.
Oh, well. Otherwise the Yanks had all the right horses,
including those from the NYPD who spread some of New York's
finest on the Yankee Stadium sod after the clinching victory.
The cavalry kept the fans in the stands--another improbability
come true--while the Yankees celebrated their championship on
the field. Then Torre yelled into the ear of Leyritz, the lone
New York player left from a 95-loss season six years ago,
"You're used to getting these guys together. Let's do it one
more time." Soon the Yankees ran a victory lap, with the mounted
police as escort, around the old ballpark.
"We were floating," Cone said later. "Guys jumping up and down,
slipping around. It was an incredible feeling." That's how the
story concluded. Cone had his fastball, Key had his bride, Frank
had his heart and Joe had his ring. Could it have ended any