October 23, 1999: the Yankees vs. the Braves, World Series, Game One

The big news pre-game, of course, is Tom Glavine’s flu. Well, unless you count all the excitement over the rumor about Kofi Annan throwing out oneof the ceremonial first pitches. With all these reporters shuffling around, even the smallest nugget of news is treated like the Pentagon Papers; KeithOlbermann, the man who made sarcasm a required (and tired) part of sportscasting, had a mini-scoop today, thanks to beig tipped off early today by a security guard as he walked into the stadium. Olbermann’s faceis plenty recognizable from all his TV time, of course; the other easy way to spot him is to look for the guy wearing the pretentious leather duster.

Glavine was supposed to be the Braves, starting pitcher tonight but won’t go until at least Tuesday in New York. Glavine’s parents, wife, and kids were sick last week; if the flu had started circulating in the family of one of the Yankees’ pitchers, George Steinbrenner would have had the guy quarantined before he could catch the bug.

There are at least 500 media people on the field before tonight’s game, which drives the Braves ground crew and security staff nuts. The Braves are morepersnickety about their grass than just about any team in the big leagues; when one of my shoes – actually, half of one of my shoes – edges off the protective carpet along in foul territory down the third base line, a guard barks, “Off the grass!” This is the first World Series at Turner Field, and at least the grass will make it out alive, even if the Braves don’t.

The Yankees are utterly calm before tonight’s game; no amount of pestering from Biff Henderson, Spike Lee, or any of us seems to disrupt their preparation. As if the team needed one more embodiment of the relativeimportance of this game – or of the fact that everything seems to turn out just fine, in the end, for this crew – Joe Torre’s special guest at the gametonight is his cancer surgeon, Dr. Bill Catalona, from St. Louis. Catalona, who removed Torre’s prostate last spring, got a call from the manager lastweek, asking him to bring his family down to Atlanta. Catalona is giving interviews in the Yankees dugout before the game, as his wife snaps picturesof their kids on the field. No one wants to win more than Torre, but the mood he sets tonight is hey, just another family gathering; there’s thingsto be thankful for and bigger problems than ours. Seems the Yankees family is making the World Series as comfortable as their own personal picnic ground once again.

–8:00 p.m., October 23, 1999

So El Duque pitches seven innings, gives up one hit, one run and strikes out ten, and the Yankees immediately grab the lead and get him the win whenHernandez is lifted for a pinch-hitter. Nice night’s work for any pitcher, especially in the World Series. Hernandez? He’s mad because he had to comeout of the game at all. “I no like the National League,” he tells David Cone as Darryl Strawberry goes up to hit for Hernandez in the pivotal eighth inning. “In Cuba, we have the DH.” In the American League, too, of course, but since baseball is the only sport that can’t come up with consistent rules, there’s no designated hitter tonight in a National Leagueballpark.

Hernandez’s reaction shows, once again, how these Yankees have just the right balance of selfishness and selflessness. All this teamwork stuff starts to sound hokey quickly, especially since it’s been the much-repeated theme for four years now. But it’s true. When Derek Jeter, who had the enormous discipline to take a very close 0-2 pitch tonight, then single todrive in the tying run in the eighth inning, is asked about that rally, his first words are, “Scott Brosius did it again.” This is true; Brosius, the MVP in last year’s World Series, drove in the winning run tonight, but the longer Jeter talks, the less it sounds like Jeter even played tonight. Of course he’s being politically smart, but Jeter could talk all night and not say ‘I.’ (Ask how hard it was for him to let that near-strike go by, after watching a strike three on his previous at-bat, and Jeter grins and says,”Aw, that pitch wasn’t even close!” Right, only about a quarter-inch too wide, and moving at 90 mph.)

All around the room, players are repeating the word ‘patient’ to describe their strategy at the plate. It sounds like they’ve programmed, and to a certain extent they are. Reporters try to pry out more complicated emotions, calculations – “What was the attitude on the bench?” “Did you know you were going to get them?” “Did you notice Maddux letting down?” – and mostly the answers are shrugs. This is a very good, very deep team that is used to winning lots and lots of games, in every kind of situation. They’replenty happy each time they win, but it’s really just another day at the office. “You look down the bench and see Straw, Chili Davis, Jim Leyritz sitting there,” Chad Curtis says. “That’s a lot of firepower in reserve, and we know eventually we’ll get the chance to use it.” So why worry when you’re down 1-0 in the eighth inning against Greg Maddux, one of the greatest pitchers of the past decade?

It was bitingly cold tonight, 46 degrees at game time and windy, and the Braves fans stuck it out most of the night. Still, it was surprising to see most of them streaming out after the eighth inning, with the Braves down 4-1.

But the Yankees have that effect on opponents and their fans; they demoralize them as they beat them. The media-interview room, where pre- andpost-game mass interviews are conducted, is down a vast hallway from the Braves’ locker room. When it came time for Bobby Cox, the Braves’ manager,to do his interview, he traveled to the room reclining in a super-size golf cart, one leg up, frown on his face. Of course, Cox has arthritic knees and doesn’t want to make the long walk, but his pose made him look like he was being wheeled off the battlefield, vanquished.

–1:30 a.m., October 24, 1999

October 23, 1999: the Yankees vs. the Braves, Wor […]