Fortitude wears a New York Yankees cap. That was obvious last
weekend to anyone who strolled past the New York Public Library,
where the northernmost of the twin marble lions that guard the
building's main entrance, Fortitude and Patience, sported a
Bombers hat. It was just as obvious, too, to anyone who watched
the Yankees, once again calling upon a reserve of cool under
fire deep enough to shame a Navy SEAL, seize Games 1 and 2 of
the World Series against their intracity rivals, the Mets.
This was an all-New York World Series, all right. While the first
two games were played in the St. Patrick's Cathedral of baseball,
Yankee Stadium, they had the gritty texture of Times Square
before Disneyfication. They were raw, emotional, edgy, a bit
dangerous, bizarre and ultimately tighter than a streetwalker's
spandex. You knew this was not going to be your properly
dignified Fall Classic when Mets relief pitcher John Franco
showed up for Game 1 riding shotgun in a police cruiser. This was
the World According to Garp Series.
Through the madness the Yankees remained Fortitude's favorite
sons. Their two wins, each by a margin as uncomfortably thin as
your typical vehicular following distance in Manhattan, made the
Yankees of manager Joe Torre the only team in baseball history to
win 14 straight World Series games. Over five years Torre's
Yankees have never lost a one-run postseason game in the Bronx.
Going into Tuesday's Game 3 at Shea Stadium, they also had
outscored their opponents from the seventh inning on, 98-44,
during a 44-14 run through Octobers that has made them more
synonymous with the month than Elvira is. The Mets became the
latest team to learn that the Yankees are that trick candle on a
birthday cake. You simply can't put them out. "This team is as
mentally tough as any team I've ever had," gushed Yankees owner
George Steinbrenner after Sunday's 6-5 victory, which followed a
4-3 extra-inning thriller on Saturday. "It has as much heart as
any team I've ever had."
Steinbrenner was a power station of static electricity, a regular
Con Edison in loafers as he paced the clubhouse carpet during the
two games. No one, though, set off more charged ions into the
loaded atmosphere than Yankees righthander Roger Clemens, the
Game 2 winner. He was a spark-throwing bundle of intensity when
he arrived at Yankee Stadium for his outing. He hadn't pitched in
seven days, since his one-hit domination of the Seattle Mariners
in the American League Championship Series. The last four of
those days had been filled with New York media buzz about his
facing Mets catcher Mike Piazza for the first time since beaning
him on July 8, during one of the teams' interleague series. "I
was anxious all day," Clemens said after Sunday's game. "I felt I
couldn't go up and in, which I normally do on Mike, because what
if one got away? All the talk really wore me down. I kept telling
myself, You've got to get ahold of your emotions."
There was more to think about. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre
stopped by to chat with Clemens in the clubhouse before Game 2.
Stottlemyre hasn't been with the Yankees this postseason because
of stem-cell treatments he's receiving to fight blood-plasma
cancer. Clemens also knew that his mother, Bess, would be at the
game, seated in the wheelchair section behind home plate. She had
come last year to watch her son pitch in the World Series, but
she bolted after five innings because she couldn't stand the
tension, and she missed seeing him close out the Fall Classic
with a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.
The seven days of rest had seemed like forever to Clemens. All
the waiting, all the anxiety--he couldn't wait to unleash it. He
spoke to almost no one in the clubhouse before the game. Minutes
before he took the mound, he stretched out over a padded table in
the training room. A trainer rubbed hot liniment all over his
body, even between his legs. Clemens said nothing. He just let
out loud, rhythmic blasts of air through his nostrils, in the
manner of a wild bull in the last moments before the wooden door
of the holding pen swings open to the possibilities of danger. "I
don't remember ever being more ready for a start," Clemens said.
"But I also knew I had to control it somehow."
On the eve of the Series, Yankees righthander David Cone, a
wizened elder of New York baseball (he pitched for the Mets from
1987 to '92), noted, "More than ever guys know they'll be
remembered forever by what happens in this Series. One incident,
one play, one gaffe, and it will be remembered forever."
In that morning's newspapers, Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Mickey
Owen was still--59 years later--dropping that third strike to allow
the Yankees to win Game 4 of the '41 World Series. The Series is
a spin of the roulette wheel. What Cone could not know was that
the wheel would stop on the number 6 of Mets rightfielder Timo
Perez in Game 1 and the number 22 of Clemens in Game 2.
Fifteen Mets players and about a dozen front-office workers dined
together on the evening before the Series opener at a Manhattan
steakhouse, consuming slabs of beef the size of bread boxes.
Owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon each toasted the players,
wishing them luck and expressing pride at having the Mets in
their first Series in 14 years. There is, after all, a reason
that Patience, the other library lion, wears a Mets cap.
New York percolated. The Subway Series was the toughest ticket in
New York this side of one for jaywalking. A fellow Clifton (N.J.)
High '63 alum telephoned Mets media relations director Jay
Horwitz looking for tickets. It gave the man no pause that he and
Horwitz hadn't seen or spoken to each other for 37 years.
The Mets made the 9.1-mile trip from Shea Stadium to Yankee
Stadium in two chartered buses under police escort, with Franco
in the lead car. A crowd 15 people deep, kept at bay by police
barricades, jeered the team as it entered the ballpark; one
Yankees fan held a sign that read WE NEVER TRADED NOLAN RYAN.
Mets first baseman Todd Zeile and outfielder Darryl Hamilton
pressed camcorders to their faces to record the carnival.
As Perez discovered, sometimes posterity is bigger than 8 mm. He
and the other Mets had appeared loose, with third baseman Robin
Ventura giving new meaning to the term by taking batting practice
sans undergarments. With two outs in the sixth inning and the
game scoreless, Zeile smacked a fly ball deep to leftfield off
Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte. Perez, the dynamic rookie who had
reached first on a single, unwisely ran in low gear, thrusting an
arm in the air to signal that Zeile had homered. Zeile, too,
pumped a fist in celebration, while rounding first base. One
problem: The ball didn't leave the park. It hit the top of the
padded wall and caromed to leftfielder David Justice. "Where's
Jeffrey Maier when you need him?" Zeile would crack later,
referring to the 12-year-old boy whose reach turned a fly ball
out by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter into a home run in the
Yankees' win over Zeile's Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of the 1996
American League Championship Series.
The 5'9" Perez tried to outrun his blunder, but Jeter would not
allow him to get away with it. He took a throw from Justice and,
wheeling toward the plate and throwing off one foot (think Joe
Montana to Dwight Clark), fired a strike to catcher Jorge Posada
to nail Perez. "I'll gain experience from it," the humbled Perez
said. "If I'd left at full throttle, I would have scored easily."
The new Lonnie Smith (Smith's baserunning blunder cost the
Atlanta Braves Game 7 of the 1991 Series) was chastised by
several teammates, who told him never to be so careless again.
The missed run loomed large in the ninth inning, when the Mets
asked closer Armando Benitez to protect a 3-2 lead. Benitez did
get one out and came within one strike of the second, but
rightfielder Paul O'Neill, in the most important and stubborn at
bat of the young Series, drew a 10-pitch walk. Not even the IRS
takes as much as the Yankees; they outwalked the Mets in the
first two games 15-1.
Then lefthanded-hitting pinch hitter Luis Polonia laced a single
off Benitez with a bat on which he had written A. BENITEZ and T.
WENDELL in anticipation of facing Benitez and Turk Wendell, the
Mets' top righthanded relievers. Another single, by second
baseman Jose Vizcaino, set up a game-tying sacrifice fly by
designated hitter Chuck Knoblauch.
It wasn't until the 12th inning that the Yankees won, on a
bases-loaded single by Vizcaino off Wendell. New York had waited
38 years for a Mets-Yankees Subway Series, and Game 1 seemed to
take just as long. At four hours, 51 minutes, it was the longest
of the 560 World Series games ever played and only five minutes
shorter than the two previous Subway Series games combined, in
'56 between the Yankees and the Dodgers. Not even Torre's Yankees
had won a game like this. The franchise had been 0-54 when
trailing after eight innings in World Series games since...Owen
dropped that third strike.
Game 2--and a piece of Series history--belonged to Clemens. His
pregame intensity exploded in an angry spray of 98-mph fastballs.
He whiffed the first two batters, all the while spitting and
snarling and huffing and puffing. "My feet were flying off the
ground," he said.
Then, in a blip of time, all his tightly strung circuitry went
haywire. On a buzz saw of a fastball, Piazza's bat shattered in
three pieces. The largest part, the barrel, bounced to Clemens,
who fielded it with two hands as if it were the baseball--which,
unbeknownst to both Clemens and Piazza, had fallen foul wide of
first base. In this instant the synapses became overloaded.
Clemens heaved the daggerlike piece of wood toward the Yankees'
on-deck circle. ("I didn't even know [Piazza] was running,"
Clemens would say.) The bat, its sharp end tumbling end over end,
cartwheeled only about a foot in front of Piazza. "What's your
problem?" Piazza yelled.
Clemens at first indicated that he thought he had fielded the
baseball. Piazza kept yelling for an answer--fishing for Clemens
to defuse the situation by passing it off as an accident--but
Clemens would not address him. Clemens stalked toward home plate
umpire Charlie Reliford, wanting only to get another baseball and
get back on the mound. Both benches emptied, though without
On the next pitch Clemens retired Piazza on a grounder. He ducked
into the clubhouse, where he ran into Stottlemyre. "You've got to
settle down," Stottlemyre told Clemens.
He did. The Mets went down meekly thereafter. Clemens faced 28
batters over eight innings, and only five of them put the ball
out of the infield, just twice for hits. The Mets did hang five
runs in the ninth on the Yankees' bullpen, but that was one short
of the six the Yankees had scratched out off skittish lefty Mike
Hampton and a succession of leaky relievers.
The Mets absolved Clemens of intent in the bat incident, and
Piazza described himself as "more shocked and confused than
anything." In the interview room after the game, Clemens said,
"There was no intent there." Torre, normally the stoic sage, blew
up at repeated questions from reporters about the incident.
Clemens was astonished at Torre's outburst. Later, after he'd
showered and put on his black shirt and leather jacket, Clemens
telephoned a friend while walking to his black SUV. "Boy, they
really got Skip fired up!" said Clemens.
As he arrived at the SUV, his wife, Debra, hopped down from the
passenger seat. There was one thing he had to know. "Did Mom make
it?" he asked.
"Yes," Debra replied. "She made it through, all the way until you
Clemens smiled. It was 2 a.m., and only now did he put himself at
ease. He had stared down the Mets with the help of a fastball
straight out of his youth and a will straight from his mother. It
was a night in which he became, in the parlance of the territory,
a made Yankee.
tighter than a streetwalker's spandex.
"What's your problem?" he yelled.