Indeed, against the incessant drumbeat of a potential all-New York series, the underdog Mariners and Cardinals sometimes seemed as insignificant as the rest of the country in The New Yorkers famous cover cartoon depicting a New Yorker's self-absorbed view of the world. On Wednesday, however, the Mariners were six outs away from a Yankee Stadium sweep of the first two games. The home team hadn't scored a run in 21 straight postseason innings, tying a franchise record, when the Yankees busted loose in a New York minute with seven runs in the eighth inning.
That same night in St. Louis the Mets, behind seven innings of shutout ball from Hampton, opened the National League Championship Series with a 6-2 win. The next night, in their 6-5 victory, the Mets parlayed a ninth-inning error by St. Louis first baseman Will Clark into the winning run, which scored on a single by center-fielder Jay Payton. In a reprise of his one Division Series outing, which included five wild pitches in the third inning, Ankiel opened Game 2 by missing the plate with 20 of his 34 pitches, five of which hit the backstop. "The backstop isn't a pitchback," Clark told the rookie during a conference on the mound.
The Busch Stadium fans weren't nearly so cruel. They gave Ankiel a sympathetic cheer as he trudged off the mound after getting only two outs and yielding two runs. "You could tell they felt for him," said Mets first baseman Todd Zeile, a former Cardinal. "If it had happened [in New York], whoa, they would have buried him."
The Mets under manager Bobby Valentine are an energetic bunch, the kind of team that actually engages in Little League-quality dugout chatter, such as "Good eye! Good eye!" They stormed back to their clubhouse after Game 2 in a noisy frenzy. "Six more! Six more!" they yelled, counting wins toward a world championship. The clubhouse boom box blared the 1979 nugget Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now. It was then that the Mets deeply sensed that a path had opened for them, a process that began when St. Louis took out New York's nemesis, the Atlanta Braves, in the Division Series.
"I can't sleep at night," lefty reliever John Franco said after Game 2. "There is a different feeling this year than last year. Atlanta was always in our way. Now it's different. There's a long way to go, but the guys can smell it."
On Friday at Seattle's Safeco Field, the Yankees stayed hot, getting back-to-back, second-inning homers from centerfielder Bernie Williams and first baseman Tino Martinez in their 8-2 victory. Leiter, watching at home during the Mets' off day, rooted for the Yankees. "Sure, [a Subway Series would] be great for the city," he said. Mets owner Fred Wilpon added, "I wouldn't go as far as to say I was rooting for them, but I'd like to see them get in against us."
The weekend brought New York a pair of split decisions. On Saturday at Shea the Mets lost 8-2 to Cardinals righthander Andy Benes, who threw eight solid innings despite a right knee so wobbly he had nearly 100 cc of fluid drained the day before he pitched. Later that night Clemens—the one not noted for his sense of humor-threw his gem, coming within about one inch of a no-hitter (box, page 57) in winning 5-0. Leftfielder Al Martin's line drive scraped the glove of Martinez at first and went for a double. The Rocket set the tone in the first inning by coming high and inside on consecutive pitches to Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who walked. "I was just trying to go for his hands inside and, actually, for strikes both times," Clemens said afterward.
Said an enraged A-Rod, with a straight face, "Maybe his control was off a little bit."
Said an incensed Mariners manager, Lou Piniella, "He wants to throw at our guys, we'll throw at his guys, period."
Sunday brought a reversal of fortunes. At Shea the Mets were up (a 10-6 romp), and at Safeco the Yankees were down (a 6-2 dud). Each game underscored the doomsday strategy of using pitchers on short rest. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did so with Kile, though Kile had an awful history when starting on three or fewer days of rest (4-8, 6.66 ERA). His first 17 pitches resulted in five doubles and four runs. He was gone after issuing a lead-off walk in the fourth. Kile was the ninth pitcher to start on three or fewer days' rest over the past two postseasons. Those pitchers were 0-4 with a 16.83 ERA; they lasted an average of only 2? innings.