The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

 

Hat Trick

"Ugh. That half-inning may well be the series."

Those were my words on the in-game web log over at Mostly Baseball, where I've been involved in a running commentary of nearly every Yankee postseason game. The Arizona Diamondbacks had just scored two runs in the eighth inning of Game 4 to go up 3-1. Snakes' manager Bob Brenly, his decision to start Curt Schilling on three days' rest seemingly vindicated, sent out his closer, Byung Hyun Kim, to get the final six outs and put his team one win away from the World Championship. You could hear a pin drop over at Chow Mein Central, the Futility Infielder headquarters.

I'll admit it, I'd pretty much thrown in the towel. Neither my roommate nor my girlfriend could muster anything positive to say. Being a fan of these Yankees, one always expects the unexpected, but how often can you go to the well?

As I've said before, we tend to be a superstitious lot underneath the Chow Mein sign. When the ninth inning came, I retreated to my bedroom. "I'm going looking for talismans," I announced. I donned my navy-blue David Cone practice jersey. And then I had a stroke of genius.

Back in late April, I attended games on consecutive weekends where the giveaway was a Yankee cap of sorts. Now, I tend to prefer the genuine article, the fitted New Era 5950 cap which every major leaguer wears. But desperate times--say, looking down the barrel of a 3-1 World Series deficit--call for desperate measures. So I pulled out an adjustable cap which says "World Champions NY [logo] 1998-1999-2000". Never worn it before, but maybe that meant the cap still had a few hits left in it.

It did, to say the least. After Tino Martinez's 2-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning--as exciting as any I've seen since Jim Leyritz's game-tying 3-run shot in Game 4 of the 1996 Series, on The Short List--I ran into my room and got an identical cap for my roommate. The gang at Chow Mein jumped up and down. We screamed ourselves hoarse. The game wasn't over, but the Yanks suddenly had life. Stick that in your 3-1 graphic, Fox.

The hat thusly donned by my roomie made the ending a formality. For the life of me, I do not understand what Bob Brenly was thinking in sending Byun Hung Curveball back out for the 10th inning. Kim had already pitched two innings and surrendered the game-tying shot. A third inning rendered him useless for Game 5. He got two outs, but Derek Jeter, nearly invisible thus far in the series, poked one over the short porch ("Short porch! Short porch!" shouted the roomie as the ball left Jeter's bat) in right field to give the Yanks their second GOMP (Get Off My Property) home run of the postseason and tie the Series at two games apiece.

The list of reasons this game will forever be remembered is long. It was only the third time in World Series history (and the first in over 70 years) that a team came from down 2 runs in the 9th inning to win a game--a shocking stat, now that I think about it. It was the first time in a World Series that a team had tied the game with a home run in the 9th, then won it with another homer in extra innings. The two homers were hit by two players were a combined 1-for-23 in the Series up to that point. This was the first Major League Baseball game ever played on Halloween, and when the clock struck midnight, we had the first November baseball in ML history as well. Derek Jeter, the first batter after the clock struck 12, is now being hailed as "Mr. November." Byun Hung Curveball, on the other hand, turned into a pumpkin, thanks to the oh-so-second-guess-able way in which Bob Brenly handled his pitchers (preserving your ace for a potential Game 7 when you've still got to win Game 4 is ass-backwards. Joe Sheehan over at Baseball Prospectus picks apart this and several other lousy Brenly decisions). Brenly now has a haunting Halloween tale which should scare any manager. Yankee manager Joe Torre and General Manager Brian Cashman's contracts both expired at midnight, though the early line has them showing up for work today, anyway, with contract extensions to follow just as soon as George Steinbrenner gets his drawer full of turtleneck sweaters in order.

Of course, as Jeter noted in the postgame, Mike Mussina and the Yanks must beat the Diamondbacks (who send Miguel Batista to the mound) in order for their Game 4 win to mean much. Heading back to Arizona down 3-2 with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling lined up is a harrowing proposition, to say the least. Mussina should be more effective than he was in Game 1, when he lasted only three innings. Batista will likely need bullpen support, though of course he can thank Brenly when Mike Morgan or Greg Swindell has to pitch a key situation in the late innings because Kim is unavailable. Tonight is the season finale on baseball in the Bronx, and it probably marks Paul O'Neill's final appearance at Yankee Stadium, so look for some high drama there, not that there won't be enough already.

The Diamondback players, to a man, would probably refuse to admit that they believe in ghosts, even the kind that seem to inhabit Yankee Stadium come October. But don't think they're not spooked right now.

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