Work in Sports
Yankees find Rhodes to the World Series
Updated: Wednesday October 18, 2000 4:40 PM
By Ken Klavon, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- As Seattle reliever Arthur Rhodes snapped off the last of his warm-up pitches, the antiquated Queen/David Bowie hit, "Under Pressure," bellowed throughout the archaic Yankee Stadium.
After all, the Yankees were behind 4-3, had runners at the corner and only one out. Rhodes was to be the one to put an end to the sordid situation, the one to restore calm to the nail-biting Mariners. Prior to Game 6, manager Lou Piniella gushed how Rhodes had "65 or so excellent" appearances in 70 outings over the season, including the playoffs.
Make it "65 or so" out of 71.
In the course of four pitches, the face of the game -- and series -- changed. Rhodes, the durable left-hander, faced left-handed hitter David Justice. Clearly the odds were in Rhodes' favor, lefty versus lefty. Or so Piniella thought.
Justice quickly worked the count to 2-1. On the next pitch, third-base umpire John Hirschbeck ruled that Justice checked his swing in time, but replays indicated that the call could have gone Rhodes' way.
"Going to 3-1, instead of 2-2 in the count was big," said Justice. "Any hitter will tell you how big of a difference it makes."
Said Piniella: "Well, did he swing at it? I thought he did, but I always think they do."
Rhodes, who had self-destructed in Game 2 of the ALCS in New York, withered again. Going to 3-1 forced him to challenge Justice, instead of risking a based-loaded scenario by throwing his slider. He challenged Justice alright -- with a peach of a fastball that slithered its way into Justice's wheelhouse.
A split-second later Justice's super-smooth stroke sent the ball orbiting over the right-center field wall for his 13th career postseason homer. Yankees fans, salivating at the thought of a Subway Series, erupted.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew. While rounding second base, to see the fans going crazy, was really unbelievable. I just wish you could all experience that feeling," Justice told a champagne-soaked media herd.
After the game, Piniella didn't second-guess his choice to go with Rhodes, even though Rhodes' pitching line was beyond condemnation. In Game 2, Rhodes gave up four hits and three runs in one-third of an inning and was pinned with the loss. In what must have felt like déjà vu Tuesday, Rhodes surrendered four hits and four runs. This time, though, he didn't get anyone out. What's more, he escaped being the loser.
The showdown between Rhodes and Justice was critical in the sense that it may have been the Yankees' last chance to score runs off what had been a stingy Seattle bullpen. In the fourth, New York chipped away at a 4-0 deficit by scoring three times. Starter John Halama was replaced in favor of Brett Tomko with one out and two runners on. But Tomko got Luis Sojo to pop up and then baited Scott Brosius into a weak groundout.
"If we don't score off Rhodes there," Jeter said, "then it would have been a momentum-changer in the series."
All Justice could think of was somehow tying the game.
"The plan was to just get that runner in from third," said Justice. "Rhodes throws 95 miles an hour. I definitely did not want to strike out."
In the gallows of baseball lore, Rhodes' performance - a la Donnie Moore and Mitch Williams -- was, if nothing else, at least as equally horrific as those former postseason goats. But don't tell Piniella that.
"He's done such a marvelous job for us all year. Anybody can get hit," said Piniella.
So now, for the first time in 44 years, begins the fabled Subway Series.
"It's more than a sport," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "Let's hope it's a clean World Series and the fans have fun with it."