The dress rehearsal for Armageddon was a success. Baseball staged
six League Championship Series games over eight 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 Yankees
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, 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.
Now is when the unwholesome excitement really begins. Arriving on
track 1: The Subway Series. It is the first all-city series since
1956, when the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers wrote the last
episode to their seven-chapter epic. And yet it is like nothing
the city or the baseball world has ever seen.
Yes, the LCS games riveted New York with their sometimes
twice-a-day heapings of elation and agita. Shea Stadium
literally shook on Monday--its industrial gray concrete decks
sent swinging by a stomping, swaying crowd--as Mike Hampton
closed out the Cardinals 7-0 with a brilliant three-hit shutout
in Game 5. Squalls of paper and confetti swirled inside Shea as
Timo Perez, the wild-card player for the wild-card winners,
jumped high in the air before he caught the last out in
centerfield. To be there was to feel captured inside a souvenir
snow globe, suspended in a moment in time.
"We want the Yankees!" chanted many of the Queens faithful. The
next night, they got them. Ten miles away in the Bronx, the
Yankees rallied from four runs down to finish off Seattle, 9-7,
in Game 6.
David Justice changed the game and wrote a piece of New York
baseball folklore with one swing, a lash at a 3-and-1 fastball
from Arthur Rhodes in the seventh with Jose Vizcaino and Derek
Jeter on. Justice launched a viciously swift and hard line drive
home run that sailed into the rightfield upper deck. In an
instant, the Yankees had turned a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead.
They piled on three more runs, emboldening their fans to start
their own chant of "We want the Mets!"
The Yankees would need to endure a last-breath Seattle rally
before Mariano Rivera at last ended a maddening marathon of a
baseball game that took four hours, three minutes. It was 17
minutes past midnight when Rivera retired Edgar Martinez on a
grounder to short. And New York, MetroCards at the ready, had
never before seen this kind of nightlife.
Those clinching moments, however, were positively placid compared
with the encounters that lie ahead, both on the fields of play
and off. The rest of the country might watch New York-New York
out of prurient interest, with nobody to root for. Iran versus
Iraq in spikes.
"I think they would watch," Mets lefthander Al Leiter said on
Sunday, referring to baseball fans outside earshot of the
obscenely loud Shea Stadium speakers, or roughly anyone outside 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."
Middle America might gawk at its tube with visions of mayhem, but
Mets owner Fred Wilpon, noting the heavy security precautions in
place for the LCS games, said, "With 70 million people watching,
we'll prove the people wrong."
Wilpon, a Brooklyn native, used to throw batting practice at
Ebbets Field to the 1953 Dodgers. That was an era in which the
Subway Series happened nearly as regularly as the Macy's
Thanksgiving Day Parade. Seven of them took place in a 10-season
span starting in '47. From '49 through '56 all but four of the 46
World Series games were played in New York.
As romanticized as those sepia-toned days have become, the
spectacle that will unfold this year on both sides of the
Triborough Bridge promises to be bigger, louder and edgier.
"Absolutely crazy" is how Yankees manager Joe Torre sees the
Series. Torre, a New York Giants fan from Brooklyn, was at Game 5
of the '56 Series at Yankee Stadium, the day Don Larsen threw his
"I was growing up in New York in the '40s and '50s, when the
Dodgers and Giants played all the time, and that was wild," Torre
said. "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 that.
"I have a feeling that this city is not going to be the same for
the next 10 days, and maybe for some time after that. I hope it's
going to be a good Series. I hope it's clean. I hope that people
behave themselves, because it's going to split a few families up,
The game has become 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. This year's
11 League Championship Series games lasted an average of 3:34.
Baseball, too, is immensely more popular, if not as emotionally
ingrained, today than it was in that gilded age. In 1956 the
Yankees, the Dodgers and the Giants combined to draw 3,334,525
fans. This year the Yankees by themselves came within 106,868
paying customers of that total.
Moreover, without a third team, New York no longer has neutral
third parties watching a Subway Series with casual interest.
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. 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 postseason 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.
Against the incessant drumbeat last week 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. In the American League Championship Series,
however, the Mariners stood 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 of Game 2.
That same night in St. Louis the Mets, behind seven innings of
shutout ball from Hampton, opened the NLCS with a 6-2 win. The
next night, in their 6-5 victory, the Mets parlayed a
ninth-inning error by Cardinals 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 mound. In a brief,
painful Game 5 cameo Ankiel would add two more wild pitches and
two more walks.
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. The weekend brought New York a pair of split decisions.
On Saturday at Shea the Mets lost 8-2 to Cardinals righthander
Andy Benes. 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 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 afterward.
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."
Mets fans nodded in icy empathy. They had watched Clemens whack a
fastball off the coconut of Mike Piazza at Yankee Stadium back in
July, a terrifying scene (though Piazza would soon be fine) that
adds intrigue to the teams' October reprise.
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).
In the Mets' clubhouse after their Game 4 win, Hampton told his
teammates, "I'm going to pitch the game of my life tomorrow." He
was a man of his word.
Though the Mets lost the season series to the Yankees 4-2, they
bring a different flavor this time. The Yankees have never seen
Perez, the irrepressible package of unpredictable atomic energy.
In the postseason Perez--a rookie who had never even been in this
country until March--has bunted for a hit with two strikes, thrown
out two runners from rightfield, fouled off a pitch that bounced
en route to the plate and ran up in the batter's box to hit
pitches like a slo-pitch softball player. He tied an LCS record
with eight runs while the Mets scored in their first turn at bat
against St. Louis in all five games. "The best thing to happen to
this team was Derek Bell getting hurt," one Met said, referring
to a season-ending ankle injury suffered in the Division Series
by the starting rightfielder.
"He feels no pressure," Mets executive Omar Minaya, the man
credited with finding Perez, said of the Dominican-born rookie.
"For guys like him there is more pressure in winter ball, playing
for your country. If you lose there, by the time you get home,
people are throwing rocks at your house. Here, your neighbor
might not even know you."
For one week in October, give or take a few days, the spice and
heat--and, O.K., that tingly, nerve-jangling sensation of danger
in the air--of winter ball gets blown out of the supersonic
amplifier that is New York. This week every New Yorker knows his
neighbor, and he is either rooting for the Yankees or the Mets.
Clubhouses, families, politicians, comedians and your friendly
neighborhood bomb squad are divided on the Subway Series. This
much, however, is as true for World Series week 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.
unpredictable atomic energy.
The next night, they got them.