Work in Sports
Yankees relievers knuckle down when it counts
Updated: Sunday October 22, 2000 10:33 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- Paul O'Neill backed up, but not quickly enough. The ball sailed past his glove, bounced off the right-field fence and the New York Mets had men on second and third with just one out.
It was the top of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the World Series, the Mets led 3-2 and were just a medium-range fly ball away from that all-important "insurance run."
They'd never get it. And, boy, could they have used it.
The New York Yankees knuckled down when it counted, relying on Mariano Rivera and his merry band of relievers for a 4-3 comeback in 12 long and intense innings at Yankee Stadium. They scratched out a run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score, then held firm until they scratched out another in the bottom of the 12th to win their 13th consecutive World Series game.
"Our bullpen did a great job. Period," Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez said after the longest game in Series history. "They've been there before. And it showed."
A pair of Yankee relievers retired the last 11 Mets they faced -- striking out six of them -- to set up Jose Vizcaino's game-winning single in the 12th. But it was the top of the ninth, with the Yankees' best reliever on the mound, that proved the hairiest for the defending World Series champs.
Rivera started the inning by getting Jay Payton to fly out to right field. But he hit catcher Todd Pratt with a high cut fastball, which brought up shortstop Kurt Abbott, a late-inning replacement for Mike Bordick.
Abbott took Rivera's first pitched and slammed it to right. O'Neill had no time to turn on it, and it ended up zipping over his head and off the wall for a double.
The seemingly unhittable Rivera was in trouble. Or so it seemed.
"No. Nu-uh," said reliever Jeff Nelson, who began the run of relievers by taking over for starter Andy Pettitte in the seventh. "He's been such an automatic for us out there. He usually eats left-handers up with that cutter. So ..."
So the Yankees weren't worried. And, as it turned out, they didn't need to be.
Rivera sawed off the lefty Timo Perez to get a weak grounder to second -- the runners had to hold -- then struck out Edgardo Alfonzo on a check swing to end the inning.
"That extra one run would have been big there," Nelson said.
"I was just trying to get it in on him, trying to get him to pull it," Rivera said of his pitch to Perez. "That's exactly what happened."
Mike Stanton took over in the 11th to get the win.
"Just put up another zero," Stanton said, when asked what his mindset was in extra innings. "We have a bunch of scrappers on this team. I knew if I kept putting up zeroes, we'd get something sooner or later."
It was later -- almost five hours later. But the key hit, thanks to some key relief work, finally came for the Yankees.
As it always seems to do.