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Twice As Nice The Yankees' righthander reflects on the heroics and tears that marked New York's second consecutive sweep of the Fall Classic

Nov. 08, 1999
Nov. 08, 1999

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Nov. 8, 1999

Twice As Nice The Yankees' righthander reflects on the heroics and tears that marked New York's second consecutive sweep of the Fall Classic

Our manager, Joe Torre, called a meeting before Game 1 of the
World Series against the Atlanta Braves, one that had nothing to
do with scouting reports or strategy. He wanted to deliver a
message, and it was similar to the one he gave us before our
first postseason game this year, the Division Series opener
against the Texas Rangers. "You've earned the right to be here,"
Joe told us. "Just make sure you really enjoy this one. Soak it
up. Enjoy it. Don't let it go by too fast."

This is an article from the Nov. 8, 1999 issue Original Layout

The words resonated. We knew exactly what he was talking about.
Only seven months earlier a doctor had told Joe he had prostate
cancer. We'd all felt fear and anxiety during Joe's surgery and
the convalescence that kept him away from the team for the first
36 games of the season. There was also the unspoken knowledge
that the dreaded c word that hits so many families had invaded
ours for a second time, the first having been with Darryl
Strawberry's colon cancer in September 1998. To hear Joe tell us
to smell the roses was a powerful message--especially for me.

I've been fortunate enough to play in four World Series, but I
never appreciated one as much as I did this one. I'll be 37 in
January. My contract is up. Three years ago doctors told me I
had an aneurysm in my right arm. My only thought then was of
somehow making it back to the mound. So I had my own perspective
on what Joe was talking about.

This year I took the time to look around and enjoy everything
the World Series had to offer. Between innings I'd peer into the
stands and read the facial reactions of the crowd. I noticed how
fans at Yankee Stadium anticipated the moment, like the way
they'd stand and cheer when we got two strikes on a batter. I
noticed how the fans in Atlanta didn't normally do that. When
they did try to get behind Braves pitcher Kevin Millwood that
way in Game 2, the game I pitched, we took them out of the game
with three runs in the first inning.

It was unusual for me to notice such things. Before, I always
tried to block out everything--tried to develop tunnel vision.
Don't bother me, don't call me, don't ask me about tickets. On
the day I was to pitch, I just wanted to worry about pitching.
But this time I tried to soak up every moment. I caught myself
on the bench looking at the faces of Joe and Don Zimmer, his
bench coach, during key moments. I watched the facial
expressions of my teammates and tried to read their body
language. I observed and made mental notes for keepsakes.

What made this championship so special, though, were the
emotional undercurrents. There was Joe and his illness. There
was Darryl recovering from cancer and a slip from sobriety that
led to his arrest on charges of soliciting a prostitute and
cocaine possession during spring training (he would plead no
contest), and an eventual 113-day suspension from baseball.
There were the three players--Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo and Paul
O'Neill--who lost their fathers in the last few weeks. Paul's
dad passed away on the morning of Game 4. I heard about it from
NBC announcer Bob Costas in the parking lot when I arrived at
Yankee Stadium. I walked up to Paul in the clubhouse, shook his
hand and said only, "I'm sorry."

Paul's not one for long conversations, but he's a great teammate
whose intensity rubs off on the rest of the team. He and first
baseman Tino Martinez are the same way. They never concede
anything, never give away an at bat. Believe me, that's
contagious.

I understood why Paul was playing in Game 4. I'm certain he
thought that's what his father would have wanted him to do. We
all made sure to give Paul an extra special hug on the field
after the last out. Then Joe hugged him and said in his ear,
"Your father saw this one, too." Paul just lost it then. His
knees buckled, and he broke into tears. We all saw it and rushed
to form a circle of support around him.

A similar scene played out more privately with Darryl a bit
later in a back room of the clubhouse. This was after the
initial celebration of spraying champagne all over the place.
Some guys ran back onto the field. Darryl, Chili Davis and I
were in a back room. Darryl had a free flow of emotions and
tears. Chili and I just gave him a big hug and told him, "It's
all right. Just let it all out." I saw a Darryl this year who
was humbled, even embarrassed. He was very thankful, not only to
owner George Steinbrenner, but also to Joe, who during Darryl's
suspension called him time and time again, and never to talk
about baseball. They share a special bond because of cancer.

You don't plan on sweeping the Braves. I'll say this, though: We
thought we matched up well against them because we had three
righthanded starters (Orlando Hernandez, Roger Clemens and me)
going up against their predominantly righthanded-hitting lineup.
We were right: Atlanta ended up batting .200 and scoring only
four runs against our righties. We also knew our margin of error
was minimal because of the Braves' great starting pitching. We
expected 1-0, 2-1 games.

After we swept the Division Series in Texas, Joe told me on the
flight home that I would start Game 2 and, if needed, Game 6 of
the American League Championship Series, in which our opponents
would turn out to be the Boston Red Sox. Joe came to the back of
the plane to tell me his plan and explain how a Game 2 start
would give me an extra day of rest if he needed me for Game 6.
(Since we beat Boston in five games, he didn't.) So I wasn't
surprised when Joe told me before the World Series I'd get Games
2 and 6 again. He noted that this also would give me starts in
Atlanta, where the weather was expected to be warmer. (It
wasn't.) It's funny how I've started five World Series games,
and they've all been on the road, with four having been played
in Atlanta. I'm proud to say my team has won all five. It's
especially gratifying to come through for your team on the road
in the postseason.

Hernandez, our Game 1 starter, and I felt good going into our
games. We had great numbers against righties this year, and
after facing the DH all season, we were glad to see a pitcher in
the lineup. El Duque threw great and set the tone for the Series
by beating Greg Maddux in the opener 4-1.

El Duque faced six righthanded batters, and I expected to get
the same number in Game 2. It wasn't until an hour before the
first pitch that my catcher, Joe Girardi, told me in the
trainer's room that the Braves had juggled their lineup so that
only four righthanded hitters were starting. It caught me off
guard. I'd been planning to drop down my arm angle more often,
the way El Duque did, and throw more curves and sliders. Now I
had to adjust. Once the game started, I had pretty good stuff,
including a good, low fastball. I think I surprised the Atlanta
hitters by getting quick fastballs on their hands. That's how I
got righthanded-hitting Andruw Jones to ground into a big double
play in the fifth inning after a leadoff single by
lefthanded-hitting Greg Myers, the only hit I gave up over my
seven innings. We won 7-2.

People asked me after the game if I thought about the
possibility of that night's game being my last in a Yankees
uniform. The thought had crossed my mind during the Series, but
nothing more. In September I spent way too much time thinking
about things like that.

Then I had a long chat with Chili. We talked about how nothing
else matters but the here and now. Coming from him, a guy who
might have been in his last year as a player, the message really
hit home.

Joe caught a great game. When it comes to calling pitches, he
strikes a great balance between memorizing the scouting reports
and not being a slave to them. He's great at adjusting on the
fly. Inning by inning I could have one pitch working and another
not. Joe's good at reading that. If I shake him off, 90% of the
time he'll put down the pitch I'm looking for with the next sign.
That's important for keeping a pitcher's rhythm.

I thought our attitude on the flight home after Game 2 was
perfect. We were loose, but we also realized that Game 3 was
crucial. We knew Tom Glavine could turn the Series around, and
they had John Smoltz and Maddux ready to go after that. We knew
we were on our way, but we also knew we had to take advantage of
the situation. That's been a trademark of our team. Whenever we
saw an opportunity, we capitalized on it, whether that meant
closing out a series or cashing in on an error.

I have to admit, though, that after we fell behind Glavine 5-1,
I was thinking, I'm going to have to pitch Game 6. We'd had to
grind for runs all year. As Joe Torre had said, We're not a home
run hitting team, but we can hit home runs, and we belted a
couple of solo shots against Glavine, one by Chad Curtis and
another by Tino. Then Chuck Knoblauch tied the score with a
two-run wall-scraper of a home run. People may call it cheap,
but he got the count in his favor, 2 and 0, and he knew Glavine
was going to stay away. It was a good piece of hitting.

Now I really felt good, especially in a tie game at home,
because we knew Joe wouldn't hesitate to bring in Mariano Rivera
from the bullpen. By using Mariano for two innings, Joe gave us
a couple of turns at bat to win. You bring Mariano in, and now
it's not a save situation. It's a win situation.

Chad, who was making his first start of the Series, won it for
us with a home run in the 10th. He followed the example set by
Darryl and Tim Raines in 1996: Don't worry about your playing
time, just be ready when you get the chance.

Many people saw Chad blow off NBC reporter Jim Gray after the
game because he was upset with the way Gray questioned Pete Rose
following the All-Century team ceremony before Game 2. I'm
saddened that those two interviews detracted from the World
Series, though I believe Chad earned the respect of a lot of
teammates who were upset with Gray. But we never had a meeting,
never decided as a group about taking a stand by refusing to be
interviewed by Gray. If I had pitched Game 3, I would've talked
with him. It was an individual call. That's what Joe told us in
a team meeting before Game 4--to be your own man, make your own
decision. That made a lot of sense to me.

Joe savored every moment of the season. I'll tell you a story
about that. It was Game 2 of the League Championship Series, and
we had a 3-2 lead on Boston in the eighth inning. The Red Sox
emptied their bench with two pinch runners and three pinch
hitters. Joe countered with four relief pitchers. Joe won out.
We held the lead. After that inning I went up to Joe--I had
pitched the first seven innings--and said, "Worked out just the
way you planned, huh?"

Joe was staring at the ground. He looked up slowly and said,
"You know, just when you think it doesn't matter, you'd sell
your soul for this thing."

Roger got the ball for Game 4 of the World Series. He was loose
and relaxed before the game, much different from his usual
intense game-day self. I think Roger was grateful for another
chance to pitch after getting hit hard in Boston the week
before. I went back to the clubhouse in Fenway Park after Roger
came out of that game, having surrendered five runs in two-plus
innings. I wanted to talk to him, just to say, "Don't worry.
You'll have the chance to have the last laugh." I think he knew
he'd get another chance to pitch, either in a Game 7 against the
Red Sox or in the World Series. Roger wasn't down or depressed.
He was more worried about making sure his wife and family were
O.K., given how many anti-Clemens rowdies were in the stands.

I talked to Roger just a little before his Game 4 start. I gave
him a couple of ideas about certain hitters. For instance, I
told him I thought Gerald Williams and Brian Jordan had better
swings at my slider the third time around the order, like they
were getting a bead on it. So I mixed in splitters to keep them
off balance.

I think Roger wanted to close out the Series for all the obvious
reasons, but also to spare El Duque from another game. El Duque
told us that in Cuba he would throw maybe 120 to 150 innings a
year. Counting the postseason, he was about 100 innings past
that.

The Roger Clemens we saw that night was the Roger Clemens who'd
pitched against us over the years. He probably had his best
slider and as good a splitter as he'd had all year. I felt so
good for him when he got that ovation coming off the mound in
the eighth. He'd had a tough time with fans: booed in Boston,
booed in Texas because he decided not to play for the Rangers,
and in New York they'd been trying to love him all year. They'd
been waiting a long time to give him that ovation.

I don't know where our team ranks in history, but I'm proud that
we are part of the debate when people talk about the greatest
teams. I don't know what the future holds. Will I be back? I
realize that when you play for the Yankees, anything can happen.
If anybody thought he was safe, it was David Wells, and he was
traded to Toronto. The Yankees are very good at not tipping
their hand. So I'll wait to see what they have to say. I'll wait
to hear what any team has to say.

After last season I wasn't sure how much I had left. Now I feel
real good about the way I threw in September and October. I feel
I can pitch at least two more years. I'd like to get past 200
wins; I'm at 180 now.

No matter what happens, I'll have the vivid memories of this
season, a year when reality intruded on our game. Together we
celebrated life's victories and mourned its losses. We weren't
just a team. We were a family. That's what I'll remember most.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY V.J. LOVERO Such relief! After the last out, the relentless Rivera, the Series MVP, exulted with Brosius and catcher Jorge Posada. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Gotcha Yankees do, Braves die: On a play that typified the Series, Jeter foiled Otis Nixon's attempted steal in Game 3.COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Gone, but barely Knoblauch's two-run wall-scraper in Game 3 just eluded Jordan but went far enough to tie the score 5-5.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Bubblying over The trying season having ended in triumph, setup man Ramiro Mendoza helped his skipper chill out.COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA Roger and out Clemens and the Stadium fans had waited all season for the ovation that came after his Series-clinching performance.
I have to admit that after we fell behind Glavine 5-1 in Game 3,
I was thinking, I'm going to have to pitch Game 6.
"You know," said Joe, "just when you think it doesn't matter,
you'd sell your soul for this thing."