After we swept the Division Series in Texas, Joe told me on the flight home that I would start Game 2 and, if needed, Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, in which our opponents would turn out to be the Boston Red Sox. Joe came to the back of the plane to tell me his plan and explain how a Game 2 start would give me an extra day of rest if he needed me for Game 6. (Since we beat Boston in five games, he didn't.) So I wasn't surprised when Joe told me before the World Series I'd get Games 2 and 6 again. He noted that this also would give me starts in Atlanta, where the weather was expected to be warmer. (It wasn't.) It's funny how I've started five World Series games, and they've all been on the road, with four having been played in Atlanta. I'm proud to say my team has won all five. It's especially gratifying to come through for your team on the road in the postseason.
Hernandez, our Game 1 starter, and I felt good going into our games. We had great numbers against righties this year, and after facing the DH all season, we were glad to see a pitcher in the lineup. El Duque threw great and set the tone for the Series by beating Greg Maddux in the opener 4-1.
El Duque faced six righthanded batters, and I expected to get the same number in Game 2. It wasn't until an hour before the first pitch that my catcher, Joe Girardi, told me in the trainer's room that the Braves had juggled their lineup so that only four righthanded hitters were starting. It caught me off guard. I'd been planning to drop down my arm angle more often, the way El Duque did, and throw more curves and sliders. Now I had to adjust. Once the game started, I had pretty good stuff, including a good, low fastball. I think I surprised the Atlanta hitters by getting quick fast-balls on their hands. That's how I got righthanded-hitting Andruw Jones to ground into a big double play in the fifth inning after a leadoff single by lefthanded-hitting Greg Myers, the only hit I gave up over my seven innings. We won 7-2.
People asked me after the game if I thought about the possibility of that night's game being my last in a Yankees uniform. The thought had crossed my mind during the Series, but nothing more. In September I spent way too much time thinking about things like that.
Then I had a long chat with Chili. We talked about how nothing else matters but the here and now. Coming from him, a guy who might have been in his last year as a player, the message really hit home.
Joe caught a great game. When it comes to calling pitches, he strikes a great balance between memorizing the scouting reports and not being a slave to them. He's great at adjusting on the fly. Inning by inning I could have one pitch working and another not. Joe's good at reading that. If I shake him off, 90% of the time he'll put down the pitch I'm looking for with the next sign. That's important for keeping a pitcher's rhythm.
I thought our attitude on the flight home after Game 2 was perfect. We were loose, but we also realized that Game 3 was crucial. We knew Tom Glavine could turn the Series around, and they had John Smoltz and Maddux ready to go after that. We knew we were on our way, but we also knew we had to take advantage of the situation. That's been a trademark of our team. Whenever we saw an opportunity, we capitalized on it, whether that meant closing out a series or cashing in on an error.
I have to admit, though, that after we fell behind Glavine 5-1, I was thinking, I'm going to have to pitch Game 6. We'd had to grind for runs all year. As Joe Torre had said, We're not a home run hitting team, but we can hit home runs, and we belted a couple of solo shots against Glavine, one by Chad Curtis and another by Tino. Then Chuck Knoblauch tied the score with a two-run wall-scraper of a home run. People may call it cheap, but he got the count in his favor, 2 and 0, and he knew Glavine was going to stay away. It was a good piece of hitting.
Now I really felt good, especially in a tie game at home, because we knew Joe wouldn't hesitate to bring in Mariano Rivera from the bullpen. By using Mariano for two innings, Joe gave us a couple of turns at bat to win. You bring Mariano in, and now it's not a save situation. It's a win situation.
Chad, who was making his first start of the Series, won it for us with a home run in the 10th. He followed the example set by Darryl and Tim Raines in 1996: Don't worry about your playing time, just be ready when you get the chance.