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Posted: Wednesday October 28, 2009 11:40AM; Updated: Wednesday October 28, 2009 5:00PM
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Twenty years ago, an earthquake shook a Bay Area World Series (cont.)

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Candlestick Park
The scoreboard at Candlestick Park showed the earthquake's effects before Game 3.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

Krukow did not sense anything was particularly wrong until he got back to the dugout. "One of the police officers, he was rattled," Krukow said. "He was the only guy that was rattled."

The cop explained that they had a brand-new communication system that was supposed to be infallible. It couldn't be knocked out.

"So?" Krukow asked.

"It's knocked out."

*****

When mass tragedy strikes, people usually say it is a communal experience -- that no matter your station in life, you feel the same way. And that surely happens ... eventually. But the initial reaction is individual.

Giants centerfielder Brett Butler, a born-again Christian, felt the earth shake and thought it was the Second Coming. "Is this it, Lord?" he wondered. Canseco said when he started wobbling on his feet, he thought he was having a migraine.

In Richard Ben Cramer's book, Joe DiMaggio: A Hero's Life, Cramer describes the 74-year-old DiMaggio, a San Francisco native, hustling off the field, to a limo in the players' parking lot, so he could get to his home in the Marina district. DiMaggio, Cramer wrote, told TV reporters he was looking for his sister, Marie. (She would soon call to say she was fine). The Yankee Clipper then walked away from his house with a garbage bag containing $6,000 in cash.

A's reliever Dennis Eckersley was in front of a mirror, combing his hair. (As teammate Dave Parker explained recently: "He's a pretty boy.") Eckersley had looked forward to this series more than any other Athletic; he saw a Series victory as his personal redemption after giving up Kirk Gibson's famous homer the year before.

The A's clubhouse went dark. Some players, like Eckersley and Parker, turned left as they left the clubhouse and ended up, in full uniform, in the parking lot. Stewart and others turned right and ended up on the field. Eventually, almost all the players ended up on the field, where they searched for their families.

Most of them had gone from thinking this was awful to believing everything was OK. Then the news trickled in, each update worse than the last: Power is out ... phones aren't working ... the Bay Bridge collapsed. Parker's wife, Kellye, had driven over the bridge less than an hour earlier.

The game was postponed. With many of the phone lines out, players and coaches could not reach babysitters to make sure their kids were OK. Canseco was spotted at a gas station, sitting in his car in full uniform to avoid autograph-seekers while his wife, Esther, filled the tank.

Krukow was living in a Marriott (his rental lease had expired at the end of September), and when he got back to his suite, "it looked like somebody had ransacked rooms. The television had bounced across room." They had no electricity, and slept with the windows open -- not because they wanted cool air, but because the windows would not close.

There were reports that hundreds had died.

Brett Butler had told reporters that "this World Series, you can take it or leave it." Giants outfielder Pat Sheridan said "we just want to get this over with, and get home to our families and the offseason." Third baseman Matt Williams said "right now, the World Series is pretty unimportant to us."

Around the country, and especially in the Bay Area, people wondered: should the World Series be canceled? It did not seem to matter that the 49ers simply moved a home game against the Patriots from Candlestick to nearby Palo Alto, or that Cal and Stanford played at home while the World Series was on hold. Those were just games.

The World Series was different. It was an event, inextricably tied to the earthquake in the public's consciousness. And since the Series had already been established as a Bay Area celebration before the earthquake ... well, how could San Francisco and Oakland party now?

The Series was pushed back to the following Tuesday, Oct. 24, and then finally to Friday the 27th. Commissioner Fay Vincent made the announcement at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square, with San Francisco mayor Art Agnos by his side.

"Churchill did not close the cinemas in London during the blitz," Vincent said. "It's important for life to carry on."

Besides, the World Series had already done a service for the Bay Area -- inadvertently. When the quake hit, many people were home to watch the game instead of on the roads at rush hour; after those initial reports that hundreds had died, the final number would be around 67. Baseball had saved many lives.

*****

There had never been an American sporting event like it: a party for one area of the country, interrupted by one of the biggest tragedies in that area's history. Once Vincent decided to restart the Series, the question for the players was: How?

The question was partly physical: a week and a half off between games is no way to stay fresh. The year before, the A's had a five-day layoff between the ALCS and the World Series, and some of the players thought it hurt them against the Dodgers.

This time meticulous A's manager Tony LaRussa was taking no chances. A few days before the series resumed, LaRussa took his players to their preseason home in Arizona to sharpen their skills and clear their minds. The A's held spring training in the middle of the World Series.

And then there was the mental part of the question. Days after saying the Series did not matter, would the players be ready? What if there were aftershocks during the game? Some expressed fears that pieces of Candlestick would fall from the sky.

And what would happen to Smoke? That was Dave Stewart's nickname; he was known as much for his cold stare on the mound as for any of his pitches. Now here he was, back at the scene of the terror, pitching Game 3 for the A's. Officially, Stewart was working on 11 days rest. But his mind had not rested at all. Could he lock in on opposing hitters the same way he always had?

A spot at the top of the park -- Section 53, Seat 24 -- turned into an impromptu shrine. That was where The Stick had cracked but not collapsed.

There was a moment of silence at 5:04 p.m., precisely 10 days after the quake struck. Then the crowd sang "San Francisco," the title song from the 1936 movie about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake:

It only takes a tiny corner of
This great big world to make the place we love;
My home upon the hill, I find I love you still,
I've been away, but now I'm back to tell you ...
San Francisco, open your Golden Gate ...

*****

Rescue workers threw out ceremonial first pitches. Then the teams picked up right where they'd left off. Stewart had a 2-0 lead before he threw a pitch and never looked back. There was a brief scare in the bottom of the ninth, with the Giants staging a hopeless rally: a bank of lights in right-centerfield went out.

It was a simple electrical problem. Fans were used to those by now. They pulled out cigarette lighters.

The A's won Game 3, 13-7 to take a 3-0 Series lead. In Game 4, Oakland took an 8-0 lead and won 9-6 to finish the sweep. The Giants never had a lead in any game. The Bay Bridge Series ended, mercifully, with Eckersley getting a three-up, three-down save in Game 4, a year after giving up that home run to Gibson. It was closure for the closer -- and for the region, too.

The A's celebrated like they'd just won the annual softball tournament at the Betty Ford Clinic. There was no champagne celebration, no shotgunning of beer. "It would have been the improper thing to do," Stewart said.

In the ensuing months and years, the Bay Area coped in typical American ways, for better and worse: solemn memorials; questions about whether the government was doing enough; reconstruction of buildings, including most of downtown Santa Cruz, which was virtually obliterated by the quake; and bickering over whether the Giants would -- or should -- get public money for a new ballpark.

People moved on -- in Brenda Stewart's case, literally. She left her house for a place in Oakland Hills shortly after the earthquake, and never moved back. She now lives in the Sacramento area.

"I always say, like when 9/11 happened: for people who live in those areas, the memory stays the longest," she said recently. "The rest of the world forgets."

She will never forget. But she didn't need that daily reminder, either.

Dave Stewart lives in San Diego, where he is a baseball agent. He said he doesn't think about that earthquake too often. But once in a while, he'll go back to his hometown, and he'll drive over the Bay Bridge, and he'll think back to 1989, back to the Bay Bridge Series, back to that moment when he was on top of the world and the world cracked.

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