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Stroke of Fate
Tom Verducci
November 04, 1996
As New York rallied to win four straight games from Atlanta, its World Series title seemed preordained
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November 04, 1996

Stroke Of Fate

As New York rallied to win four straight games from Atlanta, its World Series title seemed preordained

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Destiny ends with N-Y. It ends with New York Yankees third baseman Charlie Hayes, just another refugee rescued from baseball oblivion, clutching a foul pop to strand the Atlanta Braves' potential winning run. It ends with the Yankees, who trailed two games to none in the World Series, winning four consecutive games, in three of which they beat Cy Young Award winners (this season's probable winner, John Smoltz, included) and in the other they staged the second-greatest comeback in Series history. It ends with a victory lap around Yankee Stadium by a team full of comeback stories, people who have made it back from the most woebegone of places: the Betty Ford Center, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, the Northern League, not to mention the Detroit Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

What else could it be but destiny when New York manager Joe Torre's brother, Frank, has heart transplant surgery on Friday, the only off day for the World Series, performed by a wizard of a doctor named Oz. The heart donor was a man who lived in the Bronx. There's no place like home.

What else could it be but destiny when Torre orders three cases and two magnums of champagne before leaving home on Saturday for Game 6, the clincher. Or when pitcher Jimmy Key asks his girlfriend, Karin Kane, to marry him before he leaves for work that day to start Game 6 for the Yankees.

Improbable? Unbelievable? Joe Eszterhas has turned in more credible scripts. Mission: Impossible was less contrived. Destiny beat what was supposed to be a World Series dynasty. The Series ended with Torre and pitcher David Cone dripping in champagne, chatting almost in a disbelieving hush at one side of a Yankees clubhouse as crowded and smelly as a subway car at rush hour.

"Do you believe this year?" Torre said.

"It's almost like there was an angel up there orchestrating this, some intangible force," Cone said.

"It's strange. Weird," Torre said. "Like it was supposed to happen. Whenever something did happen, it didn't surprise us."

The Yankees hit .216—and still won the World Series. They lost the first two games at home and won four straight, a feat never before accomplished. They won even though the Braves' starting pitchers had a 1.51 ERA. They won because Atlanta's four-time Gold Glove centerfielder, Marquis Grissom, dropped a fly ball. They won the longest Series game ever played. They won just the fourth one in which only an unearned run was scored.

They won because Torre laughed in the face of danger as well as in the face of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. On Oct. 21, when Steinbrenner burst into Torre's office before Game 2 and declared, "This is a must win!" Torre told the Boss, "Hey, we'll probably lose tonight, too, George. But Atlanta's my town. We'll sweep them there and win it back home."

Like seemingly every other idea Torre' had, this one was right. New York closed out. the Series with a 3-2 victory last Saturday night over four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, scoring all of its runs in the third inning when the master painter turned sloppy and left a few pitches too close to the center of the plate. Key outpitched Maddux only 15 months after undergoing surgery to repair a complete tear in the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. According to his surgeon, James Andrews of Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, that Key was even able to pitch was unprecedented.

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