- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Inside the Stadium Club, Rudolph Giuliani, Billy Crystal, Puff Daddy, Regis Philbin, Dan Rather and dozens of other boldface names gathered for sirloin tips, tuna carpaccio and pâté. A thousand miles away more than 40,000 Cubs loyalists were sitting in Wrigley Field, where they had paid $20 each to watch the game on a JumboTron in centerfield. It was a crisp, clear night, with temperatures at a reasonable 35°—a good sign, a portent, the fans were sure.
By game time the fervor in Yankee Stadium was measured by a calculus familiar to New Yorkers: how early the national anthem was drowned out by cheers. On this night the clapping and cheering began just as Robert Merrill was singing "by the dawn's early light." By the time he had reached the final "Oh, say," more than 55,000 fans were chanting a taunt left over from the days when the New York Rangers were seeking to end their half-century drought: "NINE-teen OH-Eight For-EVER, NINE-teen-OH-Eight For-EVER...."
The cheers only grew louder when Mussina walked to the mound and threw a nine-pitch 1-2-3 inning. But when Prior struck out the side in the bottom of the first, the cheering ebbed. And for the next two hours the noise waxed and waned rhythmically as Mussina and Prior pitched 7½ innings of shutout ball.
Then, in the bottom of the eighth, with two out and the bases empty, Jeter took a high, outside fastball and lined it four feet inside of the rightfield foul pole. "You can feel the Stadium literally shaking!" said Fox analyst Tim McCarver as Jeter rounded the bases and the crowd chanted, "DER-ek JEE-ter!" The chanting continued even as Jason Giambi flied out to end the inning.
Everyone knew what was coming next, not least the shocked patrons a thousand miles away at the Cubby Bear, across the street from Wrigley. As the Yankees took the field, the P.A. blared the ominous first notes of Metallica's Enter Sandman, and Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, jogged to the mound, bringing with him that devastating one-pitch repertoire—a cut fastball—as well as a postseason-record 29 saves and an ERA of 0.70.
"Mariano is as close to perfect as any reliever who has ever played the game," Joe Buck said, "but he is human."
"And here's the proof," McCarver said as Fox played a tape of the end of Game 7 of the 2001 Series, in which Rivera, with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, gave up a single, committed a throwing error and then gave up a double and the game-winning bloop single over the drawn-in infield that gave the Series to the Diamondbacks.
More than a few Yankees fans recalled that grim moment as the Cubs' leadoff hitter, Grudzielanek, walked on a pitch that just missed—or just hit—the outside corner. Posada ripped off his mask to snap a few words at umpire Ed Rapuano, and now a palpable uneasiness rippled through the park: Sosa was at the plate, with 332 home runs in the previous six years, 103 RBIs this year alone. The slugger worked the count to 2 and 1 ... and then skied a pop foul that third baseman Aaron Boone calmly put away.
"Shades of Yaz in '78!" McCarver said. "And now Posada's really going at it with Rapuano!" Indeed, the Yankees' catcher, still fuming over the leadoff walk, was nose-to-nose with the home plate umpire. Torre sprinted from the dugout and grabbed Posada by the shoulder. "Back off," lip readers saw Torre say. "We can't lose you now." Posada spun away—and banged into the chest of Rapuano, who threw his thumb in the air. Posada had been ejected.
No one could say for certain that Posada's expulsion was the cause of what happened next. John Flaherty, a 12-year veteran with more than 950 games under his belt, had appeared in 40 games with the Yankees in the regular season, but he hadn't caught Rivera much—a fact that became evident when Rivera repeatedly shook off his new catcher, then called him out to the mound ... and finally, with his first pitch, hit the batter, Alou, something he had done only four times the entire season.