Behind the scenes, playoff games are a giant industry convention, job swap meet, and reunion all mixed together. It makes for some odd juxtapositions and lots of storytelling. Kevin Kennedy, the former Red Sox manager, is here as an analyst for Fox TV. The Red Sox fired Kennedy, and the team still has plenty of players who hated him. So Kennedy stays a long way from the Red Sox dugout. “John Valentin keeps squinting at me,” Kennedy says.”Like, ‘what’s he doing over by the Yankee dugout?’” Or maybe making sure Kennedy doesn’t come anywhere near him.
The happier encounters are between scouts, who’ve been out on the road all summer looking for future stars and now have new tall tales to exchange. Joe McIlvaine, the failed Mets general manager, is now a scout for the Twins. He tells a story about traveling hours out of his way to watch a talented player, a first-baseman, in a tiny southern town. The first game McIlvaine went to was rained out. In the second game, the pitcher for the first-baseman’s team threw a no-hitter, and the player McIlvaine was interested in never fielded a ball. When the kid came to bat, the opposing team was so scared of him as a hitter that they walked him intentionally four times. So what did McIlvaine write in the report he filed with the home office? “He looked good getting off the bus.”
An old Yankee tells a story about Mickey Rivers, the team’s center fielder in the late seventies. Mickey had a volatile marriage. One day, he showed up for the team bus in tattered clothes. Turned out he’d had another argument with his wife, and she’d burned all his clothes. When the Yankees got to Chicago, Billy Martin gave Rivers some money and told him to go buy a suit.
Much pre-game rehashing of last night’s blown call in the top of the tenth inning that stalled a Red Sox rally. Umpire Rick Reed admits he blew the call, that Chuck Knoblauch clearly dropped the ball, but Boston manager Jimy Williams, perhaps mindful that he has to deal with these umpires for perhaps six more games, won’t come out and criticize Reed. Or maybe it’s just Williams’s speaking style: Boston writers call him ‘The Human Ellipse.’
Sox players are plenty relaxed. Derek Lowe is joshing with the fans in right field during batting practice, tossing them the occasional baseball and waving his arms to tell them he can’t supply everyone. And immediately after last night’s sudden loss, Pedro Martinez (Dominican) and Rheal Cormier (French Canadian) were debating whether it’s harder to learn to write in Spanish or French. Another example of better cultural brotherhood through baseball.
–8:00 p.m., October 14, 1999
David Cone pitches not just for the win, but for a happier ending to his ‘99 season. Cone is best when working as if his life and career are at risk; certainly his time with the Yankees, nearing the end of a one-year contract, at age 36, is in danger. You can feel that as he rears back in the seventh inning, against Nomar Garciaparra, who has homered off Cone earlier tonight; there’s that joyful little hesitation in Cone’s delivery, and he fires one of his hardest fastballs of the night, 91 mph. Cone’s ninth strikeout. His last pitch. At least for tonight.
Here’s what kind of energy another comeback win produces: At 1 A.M. in the Yankees’ clubhouse, seven small boys, the sons of Strawberry, Grimsley, Pettitte, and Leyritz, are sprinting all over the room, dodging reporter, Minicams, their dads. The boys chant, “Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!” We’re all up way past our bedtime.
–1:30 a.m., October 15, 1999