The dress rehearsal for Armageddon was a success. Baseball
staged five League Championship Series games over seven days in
New York City last week without paging the medical examiner's
office once. That was accomplished with the help of some 600
uniformed police officers, many festooned in full riot gear;
bomb-sniffing dogs; concession-stand vendors who, while trying
hard to comply with the NO SPITTING signs posted behind their
food counters, removed the caps from water bottles lest their
customers use them as artillery shells; the greatest gathering
of celebs this side of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; wild-eyed
fans who are obsessive-compulsive about conjugating the verb "to
suck"; and one massive city-owned sanitation truck positioned to
fend off vehicles potentially engaged in suicide-autograph runs
by Mets fans. The truck barricaded the entrance to the players'
parking lot near rightfield at Shea Stadium, and as players
arrived for work, it would roll out of the way, allow them to
drive through, then roll back into its defensive position.
Like it or not--and is there anybody in between?--this is
baseball New York-style: obnoxious, oversized, provincial and a
bit dangerous, which, come to think of it, also describes the
indigenous pastrami on rye. As Clemens once wrote about the
place, "There is something about this ceaseless buzz, and hurry,
and bustle, that keeps a stranger in a state of unwholesome
excitement all the time, and makes him restless and uneasy."
That Clemens would be Samuel, the 19th-century Connecticut
Yankee humorist, and not Roger, the one-hit, 15-strikeout
Clemens's description also applies to the kind of baseball played
last week by the Yankees and the Mets as they forged toward an
intramural World Series matchup two generations in the making.
Thankfully, the wildest incident last week was the pitching of
Cardinals rookie lefthander Rick Ankiel in St. Louis, and the
only time the bomb-sniffing dogs barked with alarm was before
Game 4 at Shea when they picked up the scent of St. Louis
righthander Darryl Kile as he entered the Stadium before giving
up seven runs in an incendiary three-inning stint.
Would a Yankees-Mets World Series keep the rest of the country in
that state of unwholesome excitement all the time? The answer may
be forthcoming. With lefthander and National League Championship
Series MVP Mike Hampton tossing a masterly three-hit, 7-0 Game 5
win on Monday night, the Mets clinched the pennant and did their
part to bring to town the first Subway Series since 1956. The
Yankees, holding a three-games-to-two lead over the Seattle
Mariners, needed only to win one of two possible games at Yankee
Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday to hold up their end.
The rest of the country might watch out of prurient interest,
with nobody to root for. Iran versus Iraq in spikes. "I think
they would watch," Mets lefthander Al Leiter says, referring to
baseball fans outside earshot of the obscenely loud Shea Stadium
speakers, or roughly beyond a 200-mile radius. "If nothing else,
they'll want to see the security aspect of it: the police
officers, the fights in the stands, the scene around and outside
the stadiums, the snipers on the rooftops, things like that."
"If a Subway Series ever happened," says Brooklyn-born Yankees
manager Joe Torre, "it would be absolutely crazy in New York. I
was growing up in New York in the '40s and '50s when the
[Brooklyn] Dodgers and [New York] Giants played all the time, and
that was wild. Of course the Yankees were always in the World
Series, sometimes playing the Dodgers and sometimes the Giants.
That was crazy. But a Subway Series now would be far wilder than
The game is a more bloated spectacle since the Yankees'
seven-game win over the Dodgers in '56. For one, the teams played
those games in an average of two hours, 34 minutes. The 10 League
Championship Series games through Monday night lasted an average
of 3:31. The Yankees and Mariners took a ghastly 3:45 to score
all of two runs (both by Seattle) in Game 1 of the American
League Championship Series. Rickey Henderson, a former Yankee and
Met, drove in the first run with a fifth-inning single while the
Yankee Stadium crowd serenaded him with its usual vulgar chant.
This is, after all, the city that never bleeps. "Rickey still the
best, Rickey still the best," the Mariners leftfielder crowed to
his teammates after the hit.
Baseball, too, is immensely more popular, if not as emotionally
ingrained, today than it was in the nostalgically gilded postwar
"golden age." From 1949 through '56 all but four of the 46 World
Series games were played in New York. Yet at the climax of that
Gothamcentric success--the '56 season--the Yankees, Dodgers and
Giants combined to draw 3,334,525 fans. This year the Yankees by
themselves came within 106,868 paying customers of that total.
Without a third team, New York no longer has disinterested third
parties for a Subway Series. Choosing a team is an either/or
proposition, which is why even the mayor, Rudy Giuliani, wore a
Yankees cap to Yankee Stadium last week but a generic city Parks
Department cap to Shea Stadium. It also is why Senate candidate
and erstwhile Cubs fan Hillary Clinton--running against a Mets
fan, Rick Lazio--suddenly reiterated her "longtime affection for
the Yankees," though she did not break into discourse on the
Horace Clarke-Jerry Kenney era. Billy Crystal made sure
postproduction work for his baseball movie, 61*, much of which
was shot in Detroit, took place in New York so he could attend
the games at Yankee Stadium. The Backstreet Boys, Penny Marshall
and 'N Sync also turned up in the Bronx. Jerry Seinfeld, Goldie
Hawn and Kurt Russell, Jay-Z, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tim Robbins
and Chris Rock showed up at Shea.
St. Louis? Uh, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Dick
Cheney, received polite Midwestern applause for attending Game 2
at Busch Stadium.
Indeed, against the incessant drumbeat of a potential all-New
York series, the underdog Mariners and Cardinals sometimes seemed
as insignificant as the rest of the country in The New Yorker's
famous cover cartoon depicting a New Yorker's self-absorbed view
of the world. On Wednesday, however, the Mariners were six outs
away from a Yankee Stadium sweep of the first two games. The home
team hadn't scored a run in 21 straight postseason innings, tying
a franchise record, when the Yankees busted loose in a New York
minute with seven runs in the eighth inning.
That same night in St. Louis the Mets, behind seven innings of
shutout ball from Hampton, opened the National League
Championship Series with a 6-2 win. The next night, in their 6-5
victory, the Mets parlayed a ninth-inning error by St. Louis
first baseman Will Clark into the winning run, which scored on a
single by centerfielder Jay Payton. In a reprise of his one
Division Series outing, which included five wild pitches in the
third inning, Ankiel opened Game 2 by missing the plate with 20
of his 34 pitches, five of which hit the backstop. "The backstop
isn't a pitchback," Clark told the rookie during a conference on
The Busch Stadium fans weren't nearly so cruel. They gave Ankiel
a sympathetic cheer as he trudged off the mound after getting
only two outs and yielding two runs. "You could tell they felt
for him," said Mets first baseman Todd Zeile, a former Cardinal.
"If it had happened [in New York], whoa, they would have buried
The Mets under manager Bobby Valentine are an energetic bunch,
the kind of team that actually engages in Little League-quality
dugout chatter, such as "Good eye! Good eye!" They stormed back
to their clubhouse after Game 2 in a noisy frenzy. "Six more! Six
more!" they yelled, counting wins toward a world championship.
The clubhouse boom box blared the 1979 nugget Ain't No Stoppin'
Us Now. It was then that the Mets deeply sensed that a path had
opened for them, a process that began when St. Louis took out New
York's nemesis, the Atlanta Braves, in the Division Series.
"I can't sleep at night," lefty reliever John Franco said after
Game 2. "There is a different feeling this year than last year.
Atlanta was always in our way. Now it's different. There's a long
way to go, but the guys can smell it."
On Friday at Seattle's Safeco Field, the Yankees stayed hot,
getting back-to-back, second-inning homers from centerfielder
Bernie Williams and first baseman Tino Martinez in their 8-2
victory. Leiter, watching at home during the Mets' off day,
rooted for the Yankees. "Sure, [a Subway Series would] be great
for the city," he said. Mets owner Fred Wilpon added, "I wouldn't
go as far as to say I was rooting for them, but I'd like to see
them get in against us."
The weekend brought New York a pair of split decisions. On
Saturday at Shea the Mets lost 8-2 to Cardinals righthander Andy
Benes, who threw eight solid innings despite a right knee so
wobbly he had nearly 100 cc of fluid drained the day before he
pitched. Later that night Clemens--the one not noted for his sense
of humor--threw his gem, coming within about one inch of a
no-hitter (box, page 57) in winning 5-0. Leftfielder Al Martin's
line drive scraped the glove of Martinez at first and went for a
double. The Rocket set the tone in the first inning by coming
high and inside on consecutive pitches to Mariners shortstop Alex
Rodriguez, who walked. "I was just trying to go for his hands
inside and, actually, for strikes both times," Clemens said
Said an enraged A-Rod, with a straight face, "Maybe his control
was off a little bit."
Said an incensed Mariners manager, Lou Piniella, "He wants to
throw at our guys, we'll throw at his guys, period."
Sunday brought a reversal of fortunes. At Shea the Mets were up
(a 10-6 romp), and at Safeco the Yankees were down (a 6-2 dud).
Each game underscored the doomsday strategy of using pitchers on
short rest. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did so with Kile,
though Kile had an awful history when starting on three or fewer
days of rest (4-8, 6.66 ERA). His first 17 pitches resulted in
five doubles and four runs. He was gone after issuing a leadoff
walk in the fourth. Kile was the ninth pitcher to start on three
or fewer days' rest over the past two postseasons. Those pitchers
were 0-4 with a 16.83 ERA; they lasted an average of only 2 2/3
"It doesn't work--ever," said Valentine, who survived a wobbly
outing from his No. 4 starter, righthander Bobby J. Jones. "I
don't do it in the regular season, never mind October."
Torre was nearly burned in the Division Series by using Clemens
and lefthander Andy Pettitte on short rest. Both threw poorly.
This time he lost Game 5 with his No. 4 starter, lefthander Denny
Neagle, but that still left him with righthander Orlando
Hernandez (7-0 lifetime in the postseason) and Pettitte lined up
on full rest for Games 6 and (if necessary) 7 at Yankee Stadium.
Surreally, the Mets, minutes before they were to play their own
Game 4 on Sunday night, watched on televisions in their clubhouse
as the Yankees attempted a vain comeback in Game 5. Third baseman
Robin Ventura followed the action without a rooting interest,
though he preferred to play the Yankees in the World Series
"because there'd be no travel." Backup catcher Todd Pratt was
hoping the Yankees would lose the game (even though he, too,
wanted to see them in the World Series) "because I want them to
see us win [the pennant] first." Franco wasn't sure what to
"There would be a lot of pressure," admitted the Brooklyn native
as he contemplated a Subway Series. "Listen, I'd like us to get
to the World Series any way we can. But for the past few years
the focus in the city has been on them. If we played them, we'd
have to share the focus. I'd love to see the focus on us. Just
Clubhouses, families, politicians, comedians and your friendly
neighborhood bomb squad were divided on the matter of a Subway
Series. This much, however, would be as true for all parties
during an all-New York World Series as it was when Clemens--the
one without the splitter--wrote it in 1867: "There is one thing
very sure--I can't keep my temper in New York."
beat the Dodgers in the '56 Subway Series.
frenzy. "Six more!" they yelled.
"There's a long way to go, but the guys can smell it."