Oct. 22, 1998
By Greg Shea
SAN DIEGO — The ball knew where to go. Like it belonged anywhere else.
This Series was destined to be in Scott Brosius’ hands from the beginning. So it had to be in his hands for the end. The ball found him like a magnet finds a refrigerator. Brosius fielded Mark Sweeney’s ground ball and threw to Game 1 hero Tino Martinez for the final out.
New York is the World Series champion. Brosius is the Series MVP.
“The biggest moment is that third out, throwing the ball and knowing it’s going to end the game and the season,” reflected Brosius, who hit .471 in the series. “There’s nothing better than coming up and seeing the player’s eyes and that sense of achievement and accomplishment.”
The coronation of baseball’s greatest team began with a mosh pit at the mound. It was a perfect end to a season too perfect to conclude. The best team played the finest baseball and won the game’s greatest distinction. The team with the smallest sense of self finally took home a prize of its own.
“It’s the best club I’ve ever been around,” manager Joe Torre said.
These were not your Bronx Bombers. This was a team too malleable to quantify as a basher, too chameleon-like to win with any particular style, too adaptable to rely on individuals and too darn good to lose a game to a mere mortal like Kevin Brown.
It was only fitting that the Yankees completed the sweep of the Padres with a win that epitomized the team’s true personality. New York scraped out three runs with tooth picks, a butter knife, a couple of bouncers, a sac fly and a Brosius hit. Andy Pettitte spun his curve and magic at Padres’ hitters for 7 1/3 shutout innings. Mariano Rivera closed the door with a shove.
New York shortstop Derek Jeter beat out a chopper with one out in the sixth inning. After a Paul O’Neill double brought him to third, the Yankees’ quiet cleanup hitter, Bernie Williams, drove in the winning run with a bouncer back to San Diego starter Kevin Brown. New York added two runs in the eighth inning on two hits, two walks, a groundout and a sacrifice fly.
All three runs were unquestionably mundane. Winning is like that — unglamorous trench work with champagne sprinklers at the end.
Williams drove in the first run any way he could, anyway possible. This is not your egotistical ballplayer, if you could find one on the Yankees. It was no time for heroes, not with Williams in a slump that would have him hitting .063 for the series. One run was needed against Kevin Brown. And one run was what Bernie Williams delivered.
Williams hustled down the line and appeared to beat Brown’s throw. He hustled like it was his last game as a Yankee, which it was, if you believe the speculation.
“I have a lot of memories here and playing here,” said the free-agent-to-be, just short of stating his intentions.
It would be a shame to see Williams leave. Few wear the Yankee uniform better, few patrol the hallowed Yankee Stadium center field with more class. He is the heir to DiMaggio and Mantle.
“The nature of the game is you’re not going to have everyone back,” Torre reflected before the game. “Obviously, we all hope we get Bernie back … but it is going to be tough. I would miss Bernie if he left.”
Torre almost teared up at the thought of Williams leaving. It was a bittersweet moment. This team was such a delicious concoction, you’d hate to see the recipe changed.
“I don’t know anything else,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t know what it is to play for another team.”
It means losing, a feeling the 125-50 New Yorkers never fully understood.
This was a New York team with 25 contributors. It was a team that put the fun back in fundamentals. They beat teams at the basics on a daily basis. They took pleasure in 2-1 wins more than 10-1 victories. They found happiness in moving the runner over or a executing a precise relay throw. Little by little, inch by inch, they won all year.
The Yanks had a pitching staff that could overpower you and out-fox you. It was a pitching staff of many stars, but none shining much brighter than the other.
Pettitte was the ugly duckling of the rotation, winning 16 games on run support. His playoff performances were inconsistent. He dominated Texas before Cleveland bombed him in Game 3 of the ALCS with four home runs and six runs in 4 2/3 innings. After jetting home to be with his father for a triple-bypass surgery, Pettitte returned for Game 4 of the World Series with his inconsistent pitching arteries cleaned up.
Pettitte had to be nearly perfect to beat Brown. He was, allowing only five hits in 7 1/3 innings.
“Andy is a big-game pitcher,” Jeter said. “That’s the bottom line.”
New York featured an offense more patient than Dick Cavett — and sometimes more boring, too. New York could scratch out rain in a drought or open up the clouds in a downpour of runs. They frustrated pitchers by fouling off pitch after pitch. They gnawed their way into bullpens by taking pitch counts into the stratosphere and, more importantly, taking their time.
They could beat you at their game or yours, whichever poison you preferred. You wanted a NL-style execution? The Yankees would hit-and-run, bunt runners over and squeak out a pitchers’ duel before walking you over to the gallows. You’d rather just lose in a slugfest? New York was happy to oblige with any of nine hitters capable of going deep.
“They only really cared about the end result, which was winning,” Torre said. “And yes, if we look back on these Yankees teams, that’s the one thing I’d love to have people think about is there’s no one name that comes to mind, but the team itself.
They took their hits, battling back to beat Cleveland in a hotly contested ALCS. They overcame the intense pressure to win in New York. They fell behind to San Diego twice and sprinted back into the lead both times. They had the admiration of friend and foe.
“This club has to go down as one of the greatest of all time,” Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
Let the debate begin.
Copyright Real Fans, Inc., 1998.