2001 World Series

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Where's the Justice?

Yankees lead Series despite Justice's futility at the plate

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Posted: Friday November 02, 2001 3:51 AM
Updated: Friday November 02, 2001 4:30 AM
  David Justice David Justice protests after striking out in the fifth inning -- his ninth in 11 Series at-bats. AP

By Jamal Greene, Sports Illustrated

NEW YORK -- Chuck Knoblauch scored the winning run in the 12th inning of Game 5 Thursday night but, quick, why was he in the game?

If you answered that he replaced David Justice as a pinch runner in the bottom of the seventh inning, you're good.

This is a Yankee team for which every win seems to have a new hero, but in this Series the only position Justice has played is left out.

You're forgiven if, among the rampant cheering in Yankee Stadium, you missed a few jeers. It takes a lot to get booed while wearing pinstripes in Yankee Stadium in October (okay, November).

It also takes a lot to get booed in a baseball game in these turbulent times when your last name is Justice. Justice, God bless him, managed to get booed not once, not twice, but thrice. The first round came when the lineups were introduced before the game. The crowd knew the numbers well (Justice entered the game 1 for 9 with eight strikeouts), though he wasn't alone.

Lost in the dramatic game-tying home runs of this Series is that no one has really been hitting much of anything. The two teams are batting a combined .187 in the Series, giving them an outside shot at the record for least (okay, most) offensive Series, which now stands as the four-game set between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles in 1966 (.171). The last time neither team in a Fall Classic hit above .200 (the Yanks are at .196, Arizona at .177) was in 1906. Somewhere Mario Mendoza is cringing.

Justice, though, has discovered another level of futility entirely. Justice holds a few postseason records -- most games played (106), most RBIs (59) -- but these mostly result from his fortuitous wanderings, like a 90s Forrest Gump (see Berry, Halle), from Atlanta to Cleveland to New York in an age of three rounds of playoffs. The record he set in this World Series he can take full credit for: His eight strikeouts in his first eight at bats of the Series was the longest string of consecutive strikeouts in World Series history. His strikeout in the fifth inning of Game Five (cue the second round of boos) gave him nine in 11 at bats.

Justice's long-armed, hyperextended swing was ill-equipped for the darting splitters of Diamondbacks starter Miguel Batista -- all three of his missed swings in his fifth inning strikeout were splitters low and outside. Said one AL scout in discussing Justice before the American League Championship Series, "His swing has gotten real long. Good fastballs can get him out." As we saw, it's not just fastballs.

Some of Justice's woes in Game 4 can be tied to Batista, a smart pitcher to say the least. He published a book of poetry earlier this year and is conversant on many topics. "If you're not talking about fantasy football or baseball or girls," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly before Game 4, "most ballplayers don't have much to say. Miguel has got opinions on everything. He's extremely well-read, extremely well-spoken and a very thoughtful, caring human being."

Still, Charly the Mouse could have gotten Justice out in Game 4. Which brings us to the third round of boos. In what may well have been the worst swing in baseball history-almost certainly in postseason history-Justice, with his team down 2-0 and a runner on first in the seventh inning, swung 3-0 at a Batista pitch that bounced on the plate. Even Justice's Mom must have been booing.

Lucky for him he ended up walking. When Knoblauch pinch ran for him, the crowd cheered. Knoblauch was 0-for-12 in the Series. What the crowd knew was that Knoblauch could maybe, possibly, in dire straits, get a hit, of which Justice seemed utterly, historically, incapable.

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