Classic postseason atmosphere envelops New York
Posted: Thursday October 14, 1999 08:17 AM
By Jamie MacDonald, CNN/SI
NEW YORK -- In a game where so many things happened so quickly -- with the obvious exception of the actual pace of the game -- it was only appropriate that Game 1 of the ALCS was decided with a lightning-quick exclamation point.
Besides Scott Brosius' nearly simultaneous arrival at the plate with Trot Nixon's throw, and a few reflexive snags in the infield, there was Bernie Williams's over-before-you-knew-it home run in the 10th.
The ending even stunned its author. "I was just trying to have a good at-bat and get on base. I didn't think it was going to be gone," Williams said after the walkoff homer. "When it went, I was so surprised it was unbelievable."
But there was no champagne, even if the moment called for it. Champagne is the drink of champions, and this, alas is just Game 1. There may be celebration, but relief? Nah.
"It was a very tense game," Joe Torre said, "and we feel we're under the gun because we're playing at home. I think that it's important that we win on our home turf to keep the home-field advantage. But it's ... elation. I don't know about the relief part, because it's going to be some time before I'm able to get that feeling."
Tough to call Rather than having men on first and third with no outs in the 10th, the Red Sox -- after umpire Rick Reed ruled that Chuck Knoblauch held the ball long enough for the force play at second -- were left with a man on first and one out. It's not quite the Curse of the Bambino but, of course, in the next at-bat, Brian Daubach grounded into a double play. Of the umpire's call, Jimy Williams, who came out to argue, would say: "I don't go out that often ... in my mind [Knoblauch] didn't have any possession of the ball."
Even Bernie acknowledged it had something to do with the outcome. "We were trying so hard to capitalize [even before that]. We had a few men on base and a lot of opportunities to score and we just didn't do it. If it took a break like that to get us going ... it is welcomed."
Reed admitted, after seeing a replay on tape, that he missed the call. "I thought he had possession before he dropped the ball. As an umpire it was my job to get it right. I didn't. You feel bad about it. I feel awful."
The zoo tamed
A Yankees fan's favorite pastime is winning. A close second is reminding Red Sox fans how often it happens.
That said, even before the rain dampened some spirit in the crowd before letting up in the ninth, it was a particularly docile effort from the Bronx Zoo, the frenzied post-Bernie homer notwithstanding.
Sure, "Welcome to the Jungle" blared just before Kent Mercker's first pitch -- at 8:20 p.m. -- and the first boo followed the Boston starter's second offering only a minute later, but throughout the rest of the game, one had to look pretty hard to find any hardcore Boston-versus-New York in-your-face venom.
This is what we did see from the otherwise mild-mannered crowd: There was a, shall we say, disturbance, in the center field bleachers -- one. But in a regular season game without playoff implications earlier this season between the Sox and Yanks, there were at least four such brouhahas.
Scott Brosius' two-run homer to left incited a mini-riot that began with everyone rising -- nearly in unison -- and issuing high fives to his or her neighbor for a solid minute. That did prompt one fan to dance his "Boston Sucks" T-shirt in another man's face, but all parties were wearing smiles.
Keeping the crowd from taunting in earnest could be credited to Nomar Garciaparra. Though charged with two errors, his three highlight-reel plays at short saved at least five runs. Two of those plays, spectacular leaping catches, were of the "Ooooo-ohhh" variety -- as in "Ooooo, we're going to score -- ohhh, what a play."
A derisive chant popularized by Islanders fans -- until 1994 -- in an effort to mock the cross-town Rangers who hadn't won a Stanley Cup between 1940 and 1994, "Nine-teen-forty, Nine-teen-forty!" resurfaced on Wednesday night. But this time the raspberries were aimed at the Red Sox. "Nine-teen-eight-teen, Nine-teen-eight-teen," in reference to the last time the Red Sox won a World Series, though, was left behind for the always popular "Boston sucks," only a few moments later.
On the subway that left midtown Manhattan for the Bronx, there were no signs of a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game ... or a Yankees game of any kind, for that matter. But as the Uptown Four chugged toward 161st Street -- Yankee Stadium -- the atmosphere changed.
By 86th Street, it seemed there were only passengers boarding the train; few were getting off. By 149th Street, one stop from the Stadium, the train was packed ("If you can't step in the train," the conductor bellowed, "then step off the train") and conversation turned to this storied rivalry.
"You going to the game?" a tall man in a tie asked a short man with an untucked shirt. Both were wearing Yankee caps.
"Yeah," said shorter/unkempt guy. "I just hope the Red Sox spent all their runs in Cleveland."
And as the train pulled into its intended destination for many, and its once-shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face commuters poured toward the gates, it looked a bit like the New York Yankees souvenir shop had exploded. Hats, jackets, Bernie jerseys, Jeter jerseys. No different from the average pre-game crowd, but very different for three hours before game time.
Jorge Posada may have said it best when he panned the horde of media members who ringed the batting cage in a semi-circle: "Christ, it's like the playoffs out here."
Shane Spencer, who got the starting nod in Game 1 in left field, probably couldn't agree more. The talented outfielder, though, took the call in stride. "I don't think it's any different," he said. "I'm just going to try and be aggressive and take it one at-bat at a time."
As Spencer answered questions, many of his teammates were being led around the interlocking N-Y behind home plate on warmup exercises.
Not much in the way of batting-cage fireworks, but there is something very different about the way the ball leaves Darryl Strawberry's bat. He may have the sweetest lefty stroke this side of Ken Griffey Jr. Straw hit about a handful into the seats -- to all fields.
At about 6:30 p.m., the Yankees took the field to shag flies and work on double plays. Meanwhile, the Sox had taken to the field to stretch. While the Yankees' infield was working on the double play, photographers were working on new ways to capture Nomar Garciaparra. (A personal favorite: One guy on all fours with the camera at ground level -- looking a lot like the world's worst mechanic checking under the chassis -- shooting up the Red Sox shortstop's nose.)
By the time the Red Sox were taking BP -- again, not much here inspired comparisons to Mark McGwire -- Dan Duquette, dressed in a double-breasted navy blazer, an open-collared white shirt and khaki trousers -- was willing to talk about the rivalry.
Duquette, mastermind of the underdog Sox and the pride of Dalton, Mass., said, "This is a great rivalry and this series should only add to the richness of it." When reminded of his team's history (only for a quote, because he could probably recite the history, chapter and verse), Duquette countered, "Hopefully, it will have a different ending this time."