Our manager, Joe Torre, called a meeting before Game 1 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, one that had nothing to do with scouting reports or strategy. He wanted to deliver a message, and it was similar to the one he gave us before our first postseason game this year, the Division Series opener against the Texas Rangers. "You've earned the right to be here," Joe told us. "Just make sure you really enjoy this one. Soak it up. Enjoy it. Don't let it go by too fast."
The words resonated. We knew exactly what he was talking about. Only seven months earlier a doctor had told Joe he had prostate cancer. We'd all felt fear and anxiety during Joe's surgery and the convalescence that kept him away from the team for the first 36 games of the season. There was also the unspoken knowledge that the dreaded c word that hits so many families had invaded ours for a second time, the first having been with Darryl Strawberry's colon cancer in September 1998. To hear Joe tell us to smell the roses was a powerful message—especially for me.
I've been fortunate enough to play in four World Series, but I never appreciated one as much as I did this one. I'll be 37 in January. My contract is up. Three years ago doctors told me I had an aneurysm in my right arm. My only thought then was of somehow making it back to the mound. So I had my own perspective on what Joe was talking about.
This year I took the time to look around and enjoy everything the World Series had to offer. Between innings I'd peer into the stands and read the facial reactions of the crowd. I noticed how fans at Yankee Stadium anticipated the moment, like the way they'd stand and cheer when we got two strikes on a batter. I noticed how the fans in Atlanta didn't normally do that. When they did try to get behind Braves pitcher Kevin Millwood that way in Game 2, the game I pitched, we took them out of the game with three runs in the first inning.
It was unusual for me to notice such things. Before, I always tried to block out everything—tried to develop tunnel vision. Don't bother me, don't call me, don't ask me about tickets. On the day I was to pitch, I just wanted to worry about pitching. But this time I tried to soak up every moment. I caught myself on the bench looking at the faces of Joe and Don Zimmer, his bench coach, during key moments. I watched the facial expressions of my teammates and tried to read their body language. I observed and made mental notes for keepsakes.
What made this championship so special, though, were the emotional undercurrents. There was Joe and his illness. There was Darryl recovering from cancer and a slip from sobriety that led to his arrest on charges of soliciting a prostitute and cocaine possession during spring training (he would plead no contest), and an eventual 113-day suspension from baseball. There were the three players—Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo and Paul O'Neill—who lost their fathers in the last few weeks. Paul's dad passed away on the morning of Game 4.1 heard about it from NBC announcer Bob Costas in the parking lot when I arrived at Yankee Stadium. I walked up to Paul in the clubhouse, shook his hand and said only, "I'm sorry."
Paul's not one for long conversations, but he's a great teammate whose intensity rubs off on the rest of the team. He and first baseman Tino Martinez are the same way. They never concede anything, never give away an at bat. Believe me, that's contagious.
I understood why Paul was playing in Game 4. I'm certain he thought that's what his father would have wanted him to do. We all made sure to give Paul an extra special hug on the field after the last out. Then Joe hugged him and said in his ear, "Your father saw this one, too." Paul just lost it then. His knees buckled, and he broke into tears. We all saw it and rushed to form a circle of support around him.
A similar scene played out more privately with Darryl a bit later in a back room of the clubhouse. This was after the initial celebration of spraying champagne all over the place. Some guys ran back onto the field. Darryl, Chili Davis and I were in a back room. Darryl had a free flow of emotions and tears. Chili and I just gave him a big hug and told him, "It's all right. Just let it all out." I saw a Darryl this year who was humbled, even embarrassed. He was very thankful, not only to owner George Steinbrenner, but also to Joe, who during Darryl's suspension called him time and time again, and never to talk about baseball. They share a special bond because of cancer.
You don't plan on sweeping the Braves. I'll say this, though: We thought we matched up well against them because we had three righthanded starters (Orlando Hernandez, Roger Clemens and me) going up against their predominantly righthanded-hitting lineup. We were right: Atlanta ended up batting .200 and scoring only four runs against our righties. We also knew our margin of error was minimal because of the Braves' great starting pitching. We expected 1-0, 2-1 games.