ESPN.com - MLB Playoffs 2001 - These Yankees just continue to amaze

Friday, November 2
 
These Yankees just continue to amaze

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- And for their next trick ... the Yankees activate Don Zimmer for Game 6 of the World Series ... and he hits a 500-foot game-tying homer off Randy Johnson with two outs in the ninth.

Ridiculous, you say? Impossible, you say? For the New York Yankees, there is no such thing as ridiculous, no such thing as impossible now.

Derek Jeter
Chuck Knoblauch leaps into the arms of his onrushing teammates after scoring the winning run.

You can't doubt them. You can't stop them. You can't beat them.

And you apparently require a court order to get a 27th out against them.

None of us needs to call M.I.T. to ask what the odds are of a team coming from two runs behind with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning two nights in a row to win a World Series game. We already know the odds.

The odds are zero.

That can't be done. It had never been done. And even though we've now seen the New York Yankees do what can't be done, we still don't believe this is mathematically possible, logically possible or humanly possible.

Except that we really did see Scott Brosius bash a two-run miracle into the left-field bleachers with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night.

And we really did see Chuck Knoblauch slide home with the winning run in the 12th inning, as a seemingly perfect throw to the plate made sure to hop over the nearest catcher's mitt.

And we really did see the numbers on the scoreboard change to read: Yankees 3, Diamondbacks 2, at 12:39 a.m.

And we know we really had seen almost an identical baseball game the night before.

So if the first game was off-the-charts impossible, what was the second game? A science-fiction novel?

"Last night was a night dreams are made of," said the most poetic of all Yankees, reliever Mike Stanton. "But tonight? Wow. You don't even dream that."

Maybe some day, the Arizona Diamondbacks will be able to convince themselves they were privileged to take part in two of the most historic, most exhilarating, most improbable back-to-back World Series games ever played.

But all they know now is that they are losing this World Series, 3 games to 2, when they should be busy figuring out which cactus plants to parade around.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson. "I've never heard of anything like this. Two times with two outs in the ninth? We could be celebrating a world championship right now. Instead, we're behind the 8 ball.

"If we come back and win the Series now," Anderson said, "it would be like we beat them six times in seven games. That's a tough thing to do -- put them one out from losing six times in a seven-game Series."

It's remarkable. It's unbelievable. To have two different nights both have almost the exact scenario? To get a home run to tie the game when you have one out to play with? It's very strange, very weird.
Chuck Knoblauch

No kidding. But it's that last out that is killing them. It's that last out that is adding astonishing lore to that Yankees legend. It's that last out that has turned a fun little World Series into the greatest sporting event of the 21st century.

"We were saying last night that they should just put this game right on ESPN Classic tomorrow," Stanton laughed. "After tonight, ESPN might as well just put the whole series on as soon as it's over. Just have World Series day and play the whole World Series over and over."

It is rare when you find athletes in the middle of an event this close, this exhausting, this riveting, who realize they are taking the ride of a lifetime. But these men realize it now.

"It's remarkable. It's unbelievable," said Knoblauch, who, of course, got his first hit of the World Series in the 12th inning to put himself in position to score the winning run. "To have two different nights both have almost the exact scenario? To get a home run to tie the game when you have one out to play with? It's very strange, very weird."

"We're all just kind of blown away by what's happening out there," said Paul O'Neill, after the final game he would ever play in Yankee Stadium. "It's a storybook Series. You keep hearing, 'New York needs it.' Heck, everyone needs it. The World Series is for the fans, and this is as good as it gets."

"Just when you think you've seen it all," Knoblauch said, "it happens again. You can't say it was out of nowhere because it just happened last night. But the odds of that happening are slim and none."

No. The odds of that happening would be slim and none if that were the Babe in left, DiMaggio in center and Gehrig on first. But when you start looking at the extenuating circumstances involved in this team doing something like this two nights in a row, you ought to upgrade those odds to none and none.

After all ...

  • In 101 seasons on the baseball earth -- several of which have turned out fairly happily -- the Yankees had never hit game-tying home runs with two outs in the ninth inning in back-to-back games. We're talking about more than 15,000 games, too, friends.

  • No team had ever won two games it trailed in the bottom of the ninth inning in the same World Series, let alone won two like that in two nights.

  • No team in 72 years had trailed a World Series game by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and won -- and then the Yankees did it two nights in a row.

  • Byung-Hyun Kim -- the Arizona closer who gave up these homers to Martinez and Brosius, plus Derek Jeter's 10th-inning game-winner Wednesday -- had given up two home runs all year to right-handed hitters. Both to Jeff Cirillo -- at Coors Field.

  • If these games were 26 outs long instead of 27, the Yankees would still have no two-run innings in this entire World Series. So how could they possibly have come from two runs behind with one out to play two nights in a row, on these mind-blowing two-run homers by Martinez and Brosius?

  • And as Brosius came to the plate with two outs in the ninth, this team full of champions and drama majors was 1 for the World Series (1 for 24) with runners in scoring position. Whereupon it then went 2 for its next 2 -- the game-tying hit by Brosius, the game-winner by Soriano.

  • Brosius, as was the case with Martinez the night before, is a free agent probably playing his final game as a Yankee in this stadium, so the schlock meter was at its all-time pinnacle.

  • Meanwhile, Brosius was 7 for 49 (.143) in the postseason, 21 for his last 101 (.208) over the last seven weeks. He'd hit one home run since July 26. And he then homered off a pitcher who'd held right-handed hitters to a .152 batting average.

    And because he did, as the clock blew past 12:30 a.m., the storied stadium in The Bronx remained nearly completely full. At an hour when they should have been snoring, more than 50,000 people stood, mesmerized by this fantasy they were watching.

    And then there was Soriano in the 12th, lining a single to right field off emergency reliever Albie Lopez. Knoblauch, at second base, was off at the thwack of the bat.

    Right fielder Reggie Sanders charged and seemed to make a perfect throw to the plate, a throw that was going to arrive home just before Knoblauch did.

    Except that, for no apparent reason other than this was the Yankees, the baseball took what Arizona's Mark Grace would call "a kangaroo bounce." And so, when catcher Rod Barajas went to swipe it out of the sky and apply the tag, he found himself applying that tag without the baseball.

    Plate ump Jim Joyce signaled safe. Knoblauch sprung out of the dirt and leaped into the night, both fists pumping with a sense of ecstasy these Yankees never seem to get tired of.

    "Last time I jumped that high? I don't know," Knoblauch said. "Probably trying to dunk a basketball about 20 years ago. But hey, it doesn't get any better than that. This is the World Series. Just to be a part of it, to score the winning run, it's a great feeling. These games are so exhausting, physically and mentally. And this whole series, it's been so difficult to score runs ...

    "At least," he couldn't help but add, "until two outs in the ninth."

    We know there are millions of Americans who are tired of watching these Yankees win and win and win again. But the hardest thing in sports and in life is to be great for any period longer than an instant. So how do you not admire, at least in some way, a team that builds its legend one hit, one win, one miracle at a time.

    After six years of miracle-making, the Yankees now have won 17 postseason games since 1996 in which they've trailed at some point in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings. The bullpens that have faced them in these postseasons are now 3-15, with 13 blown saves in 21 tries -- while the Yankees' bullpen is 18-3, with one blown save in six years (33 chances).

    So now they're somehow winning a World Series in which they've been outscored, 19-10, and their team batting average is .177.

    And with every impossible dream they fulfill, their stadium shakes a little harder, their city smiles a little wider -- at a time when it needs all the joy its baseball team can provide. And down on the field, the men who play the games feel that passion.

    "I can't tell you what it's like to be out on that field, doing these things, listening to this crowd, seeing all the lights from the flash bulbs," O'Neill said. "You look around, and you see the joy in these people -- it's a great feeling to be out there."

    After all this, by the way, they still haven't won this World Series yet. They still have to find a way to beat Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling in Games 6 and 7 in Arizona. And, as Jeter said, "we haven't hit them yet."

    But whatever happens, they've just spent two of the most thrilling, breathtaking nights any team has ever spent at any ballpark, two nights even Hollywood couldn't make up.

    After Wednesday, Stanton said: "It felt like Billy Crystal wrote this one." So who, he was asked Thursday, wrote the encore?

    "I don't know," Stanton answered. "It would have to be somebody who writes fairy tales -- because this is a fairy tale. It really is."

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.






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