For any bred-in-the-bone Yankees fan this was no real cause for alarm. Rivera would keep the ball low, maybe even get Aramis Ramirez to hit into a double play that would end it. And in fact Rivera's first two pitches were nasty, down at the knees and just nicking the inside corner.
"Not to note the unlikely, if not impossible," McCarver said, "but Ramirez did hit three home runs in six games against the Marlins."
Rivera's next pitch was just as low, but this time it was aimed at the outside corner. The righthanded Ramirez swung, and the ball headed down the rightfield line, hit not very hard at all, but the fence was only 314 feet away, and rightfielder Karim Garcia was shaded toward center, playing Ramirez to pull, and now the ball was falling into the seats tucked just inside the foul pole—a home run as unimpressive as Dusty Rhodes's 10th-inning, 296-foot pinch-hit homer for the Giants in Game 1 of the '54 Series. But it put the Cubs up 3--1, and after Rivera set down Simon and Karros, the Cubs took the field for the bottom of the ninth.
Three outs. Three outs, and 95 years of pain would disappear. Three outs, and the Second City would be second—or fifth or last—no more.
At the Billy Goat Tavern the kitchen doors were thrown open so patrons could stare and cheer as a goat—the first and most enduring of Cubs curses—slowly roasted on a spit. At Wrigley the crowd was standing, cheering, weeping. In the owner's box at Yankee Stadium, a red-faced Steinbrenner was screaming at general manager Brian Cashman after summarily firing a steward who had been slow to fetch a drink.
In the stands 55,773 fans—most of them, anyway—were chanting "NINE-teen OH-eight for-EVER!" but it had the ring of desperation. Prior, striding out to the mound, had given the Yankees nothing save Jeter's home run.
Williams, as beloved as any Yankee, led off. But Williams had lost something—his batting average had dropped 70 points that season—and after he swung and connected on Prior's second pitch, a ball that might have sailed into the Yankees' bullpen a year or two earlier fell into Sosa's glove just on the edge of the warning track.
One out, bases empty.
Matsui was luckier than Williams. "The most popular Japanese import since Sony," as one sportswriter called him, stroked the first pitch into the hole between third and short, where it took a hop just over Gonzalez's glove. Then it was Curtis Pride's turn; pinch-hitting for Flaherty to create a lefty-righty matchup, he punched an opposite-field single to left.
One out, men on first and second.