Fortitude wears a New York Yankees cap. That was obvious last weekend to anyone who strolled past the New York Public Library, where the northernmost of the twin marble lions that guard the building's main entrance, Fortitude and Patience, sported a Bombers hat. It was just as obvious, too, to anyone who watched the Yankees, once again calling upon a reserve of cool under fire deep enough to shame a Navy SEAL, seize Games 1 and 2 of the World Series against their intracity rivals, the Mets.
This was an all-New York World Series, all right. While the first two games were played in the St. Patrick's Cathedral of baseball, Yankee Stadium, they had the gritty texture of Times Square before Disneyfication. They were raw, emotional, edgy, a bit dangerous, bizarre and ultimately tighter than a streetwalker's spandex. You knew this was not going to be your properly dignified Fall Classic when Mets relief pitcher John Franco showed up for Game 1 riding shotgun in a police cruiser. This was the World According to Garp Series.
Through the madness the Yankees remained fortitude's favorite sons. I heir two wins, each by a margin as uncomfortably thin as your typical vehicular following distance in Manhattan, made the Yankees of manager Joe Torre the only team in baseball history to win 14 straight World Series games. Over five years Torre's Yankees have never lost a one-run postseason game in the Bronx. Going into Tuesday's Game 3 at Shea Stadium, they also had outscored their opponents from the seventh inning on, 98-44, during a 44-14 run through Octobers that has made them more synonymous with the month than Elvira is. The Mets became the latest team to learn that the Yankees are that trick candle on a birthday cake. You simply can't put them out. "This team is as mentally tough as any team I've ever had," gushed Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after Sunday's 6-5 victory, which followed a 4-3 extra-inning thriller on Saturday. "It has as much heart as any team I've ever had."
Steinbrenner was a power station of static electricity, a regular Con Edison in loafers as he paced the clubhouse carpet during the two games. No one, though, set off more charged ions into the loaded atmosphere than Yankees righthander Roger Clemens, the Game 2 winner. He was a spark-throwing bundle of intensity when he arrived at Yankee Stadium for his outing. He hadn't pitched in seven days, since his one-hit domination of the Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series. The last four of those days had been filled with New York media buzz about his facing Mets catcher Mike Piazza for the first time since beaning him on July 8, during one of the teams' interleague series. "I was anxious all day," Clemens said after Sunday's game. "I felt I couldn't go up and in, which I normally do on Mike, because what if one got away? All the talk really wore me down. I kept telling myself, You've got to get ahold of your emotions."
There was more to think about. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre stopped by to chat with Clemens in the clubhouse before Game 2. Stottlemyre hasn't been with the Yankees this postseason because of stem-cell treatments he's receiving to fight blood-plasma cancer. Clemens also knew that his mother, Bess, would be at the game, seated in the wheelchair section behind home plate. She had come last year to watch her son pitch in the World Series, but she bolted after five innings because she couldn't stand the tension, and she missed seeing him close out the Fall Classic with a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.
The seven days of rest had seemed like forever to Clemens. All the waiting, all the anxiety—he couldn't wait to unleash it. He spoke to almost no one in the clubhouse before the game. Minutes before he took the mound, he stretched out over a padded table in the training room. A trainer rubbed hot liniment all over his body, even between his legs. Clemens said nothing. He just let out loud, rhythmic blasts of air through his nostrils, in the manner of a wild bull in the last moments before the wooden door of the holding pen swings open to the possibilities of danger. "I don't remember ever being more ready for a start," Clemens said. "But I also knew I had to control it somehow."
On the eve of the Series, Yankees righthander David Cone, a wizened elder of New York baseball (he pitched for the Mets from 1987 to '92), noted, "More than ever guys know they'll be remembered forever by what happens in this Series. One incident, one play, one gaffe, and it will be remembered forever."
In that morning's newspapers, Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen was still—59 years later—dropping that third strike to allow the Yankees to win Game 4 of the '41 World Series. The Series is a spin of the roulette wheel. What Cone could not know was that the wheel would stop on the number 6 of Mets rightfielder Timo Perez in Game 1 and the number 22 of Clemens in Game 2.
Fifteen Mets players and about a dozer front-office workers dined together on the evening before the Series opener at a Manhattan steakhouse, consuming slabs of bee] the size of bread boxes. Owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon each toasted the players, wishing them luck and expressing pride at having the Mets in their first Series in 14 years. There is, after all, a reason that Patience, the other library lion wears a Mets cap.
New York percolated. The Subway Series was the toughest ticket in New York this side of one for jaywalking. A fellow Clifton ( N.J.) High '63 alum telephoned Met.' media relations director Jay Horwitz looking for tickets. It gave the man no pause that he and Horwitz hadn't seen or spoken to each other for 37 years.