Work in Sports
Yankees' celebration was especially sweet this time
Updated: Wednesday October 18, 2000 8:04 AM
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
NEW YORK -- You'd think they would have developed an immunity to the sting of champagne by now. For the third season in a row and fourth time in five years, the Yankees cracked open the bubbly to celebrate a trip to the World Series.
"Oh no, wait, I'm soaked already," second baseman Chuck Knoblauch moaned to third-base coach Willie Randolph, even as Randolph doused him with half a bottle of the stuff. "That's all right," responded a giggling Randolph, "a little more is good for you."
Knoblauch turned back to a group of reporters, simultaneously struggling to regain his train of thought, open his eyes and wipe champagne from his face.
"Forget it, my eyes are burning," he said. "I don't even know what I'm saying."
It didn't matter -- there probably weren't words to describe the glee and relief the Yankees felt at finally sending the Mariners home. Seattle forced this sixth game with a convincing victory on Sunday and jumped to a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning Tuesday, momentarily raising the specter of a seventh game after the Yankees had stormed to a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
"You never want to get to a seventh game because then anything can happen," said Knoblauch. "We went about this game as if it was a must win for us. A number of players felt that way."
Fittingly, in a year when the Yankees had the fewest wins among the eight playoff teams and limped into the postseason on a seven-game skid, getting that win was a struggle.
New York cut Seattle's lead to one with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, but fell silent until the seventh, when pinch hitter Jose Vizcaino led off with a single, went to second on a sacrifice and then to third on a single by Derek Jeter.
Mariners manager Lou Piniella summoned left-hander Arthur Rhodes to pitch to David Justice, which must have had the Yankees fighting at the bat rack to get to the plate. In Rhodes' last appearance in Yankee Stadium, in Game 2, the Yankees went 4-for-4 and scored three runs against Rhodes; the only out he got was a run-scoring sacrifice fly. That rally was started by Justice with a double off the left-center field wall.
Tuesday night, Justice worked the count to 3-and-1 and then unloaded on a fastball, driving it off the facing of the upper deck in right field. "As soon as I hit it, it was one of those that you just know is gone," said Justice, who was named series MVP. "There's no chance it's going foul, no question about the distance. I just turned to the dugout and saw the guys going crazy."
"That was a great at-bat," said Bernie Williams. "He laid off some tough pitches, and this place was rocking after it went out."
The Yankees addded three more runs in the inning for a seemingly insurmountable 9-4 lead but, still the Yankees couldn't coast. Alex Rodriguez led off the eighth with a homer and closer Mariano Rivera surrendered a two-run double to Mark McLemore, the first time since 1997 that Rivera has allowed a run in the postseason.
The Mariners got the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Rivera slammed the door by getting Edgar Martinez to ground to short. Over the din of 56,598 fans you could hear a sigh of relief gushing from the Yankee dugout.
"It has been a struggle," said Williams in a clubhouse filled with cameras, family members and honorary Yankees Billy Crystal and Rudy Giuliani. "Everything hasn't been easy."
"It never gets old," said Rivera of another trip to the World Series. "This one is special because we went through a lot of stuff.
Of course, it's also special because the Yankees gave New York the first Subway Series in 44 years. Asked over and over to anticipate what it would be like, the Yankees threw around words like "mayhem," "bedlam," and "unbelievable."
But, Justice was asked, would they ride the subway themselves. "Uh, no," he said, "but we'll get there. Don't worry."