It's `trick or treat' time in baseball's cosmic drama 

Friday, November 02, 2001

(Published in Haaretz, Nov. 2, 2001)

It was almost enough to restore one's faith in cosmic justice. The dynastic New York Yankees were humbled in Arizona, held to six hits in the first two World Series games by the Diamondbacks' dynamic duo - Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

The series moved to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, with the Bronx Bombers trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven competition. In a full display of American pride, a tattered flag salvaged from the World Trade Center wreckage was raised and President George W. Bush delivered the ceremonial first pitch.

Instead of the overpowering pitchers who silenced New York's bats during the first two games, the Yankees now faced Brian Anderson, a pitcher with a lousy record (4-9 this year with an ERA of 5.20), whose best weapon is a change-up. Anderson also does not have the reputation of being particularly cerebral (he reportedly scorched his face this year while checking whether an iron was hot.) For the Yankees, perennial superstar Roger Clemens took the mound; the only question was whether his strained hamstring would cooperate.

It looked like Clemens would get some early support in the first inning, when the Yankees got a couple of men on base and Tino Martinez lifted a long drive to right-center. But Steve Finley leaped to snatch the ball, whose trajectory was slowed by the chilly New York air. Other than a home run by Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, Anderson was able to hold the Yankees scoreless for almost five innings - despite some embarrassing defensive gaffes by Arizona (as every Little Leaguer knows, you are supposed to "call it up" when there's a pop-up.)

Meanwhile, Clemens showed the dominant form that will almost certainly win him a record sixth Cy Young award this year, holding Arizona to three hits over the first seven innings and striking out nine. Defensive gems by second baseman Alfonso Soriano and left fielder Shane Spencer helped to extinguish an Arizona rally, and the unhittable Mariano Rivera relieved Clemens in the eighth to ice a narrow 2-1 victory for the home team.

The Yankees had avoided the humiliation of a sweep, but still were behind in the series and had to face Schilling again in the fourth game on Wednesday night. If they lost, they would be down to their last game, with Randy Johnson more than happy to put them out of their misery.

Working on only three days rest, Schilling was brilliant again, holding the Yankees to a single run in seven innings. But Arizona's closer, Byung-Hyun Kim, was bewitched on this Halloween night by Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter. Kids who grow up playing baseball fantasize about being in this World Series situation: two outs, bottom of the ninth inning, your team is trailing. It's all up to you. Here comes the pitch. A fastball. You see it well, here's the swing - what a sweet feeling. The crowd roars as the ball sails into the night.

With the Yankees one out away from defeat, Tino Martinez's two-run homer to center tied the game at 3-3 and sent it into extra innings. It also extended the game past midnight, into November, for the first time in World Series history. As expected, Rivera was perfect in the top of the tenth. Then, Derek Jeter continued the awesome display of Yankee heroics. His opposite-field home run tied the World Series at two games each and turned the momentum in New York's favor. It also guaranteed that the series would return to Arizona for a sixth (and possibly seventh) game.

As this newspaper goes to print, the Yankees and Diamondbacks will be warming up for Game 5. If the Yankees complete a three-game sweep at their home diamond, they will still need to beat Randy Johnson in Game 6 or Schilling - again - in Game 7. So there still is some hope for cosmic justice. In any event, at least there will always be baseball.

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