On the brink

After a come-from-behind win in Game 3, there seems to be no stopping the New York Yankees.

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Through two games there was no way to tell how much this World Series was
the story of one great team establishing its greatness, and how much it was
about one talented but overmatched team embarrassing itself by showing
nothing. Now we all know. The New York Yankees really are that good, or even
better than that, and their power to reduce opposing teams into blinking,
baffled fools is almost scary.

“I think the ballpark beat me more than anything,” Braves starter Tom
Glavine said afterward. You almost expected an orderly in white to show up
and reprimand him for delusional behavior, then shoot him up with something
powerful and soothing.

For the second year in a row, a member of the Yankees supporting cast became the hero. Last year, it was third baseman Scott Brosius who went on to become the Series Most Valuable Player. Tuesday night, left fielder Chad Curtis helped keep the Yankees in the game with a
solo shot off Glavine in the fifth, and then jumped right into the jumbled
center of Yankee lore with a game-ending homer off reliever Mike Remlinger in
the 10th inning.

It was so crazy, so preposterous, so quiet and methodical — as the Yankees continue to roll, hoping to finish off their sweep of the
best-of-seven series Wednesday night and put the Braves
out of their misery.

“It almost feels like we stole it,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said of the game Tuesday, though he might as well have been talking about the entire series.

Braves manager Bobby Cox
could have been gripping his head in pain during his postgame news
conference, or mumbing gibberish at the way the game got away from him and
the way once again none of his moves seemed to pay off. Instead, he was
laughing at the 5-foot-8 Curtis.

“When you saw him introduced tonight, I knew he was a little guy, but I
was amazed when he was standing by players how short he is and how powerful
that he is, too,” he said.

That was the beauty of it. Curtis makes no lists of the most-liked
players in the league, or on the Yankees for that matter. But his coming
through like this was straight out of a childhood fantasy. Millions of kids have imagined themselves on the
field at Yankee Stadium as the World Series hero. Curtis was all of us out there, and it
was quite a ride.



“I’ve never hit a walk-off home run,” he said. “I’ve heard people talk
about tingling. I’ve never felt that before, but I think somewhere between
second and third base I felt like there was electricity running through my
legs. It was a great feeling. You’re rounding third base coming home, seeing
all your teammates waiting there for you in a World Series game. It was a big
thrill.”

As a reward for his moment of glory, Curtis even earned the right to
carry the torch for Pete Rose. You could see it coming, but it was still fun:
Payback for NBC reporter Jim Gray, the one who ignored the sense of moment
and history in the air at Turner Field on Sunday night and badgered Rose with
question after question about his gambling.

The Gray controversy has been the
best thing to happen to Rose in the 10 years of his suspension, the way
people are rallying to his cause. Add the Yankees to the list. Gray walked up
to Curtis after the game, mike in hand, and was told that none of the Yankees
would be talking to him because of the way he handled the Rose matter.

The hero of Game 3 should have been Glavine, the only pitcher ever
scratched from a Game 1 World Series start for being sick as a dog. Glavine
had it bad, there was no doubt, and he was eating nothing but soup and
saltines as recently as Monday.

He might have been weakened, but he didn’t
show it Tuesday night. He was sharp from the beginning, and with Glavine in
control, the Braves knocked Yankees starter Andy Pettitte out of the game early with
their first offensive outpouring of the series and cruised ahead to a 5-1
lead. Glavine had it working so well, at one point he retired Paul O’Neill on
a ball that traveled about one ball length from the plate and at another he
had Chilli Davis fooled enough to lose his bat on a strikeout and send it
flying into the stands.

“I was surprised,” Glavine said. “I felt better than I thought I would.
I was throwing better and felt sharper than I expected.”

The key to the game was the eighth. NBC’s cameras showed Cox conferring
with Glavine after the seventh, with the Braves up 5-3, obviously asking how the pitcher felt. Glavine leaned back with a stony expression on his face that made it clear he
wasn’t about to come out of the game. He had only thrown 72 pitches at that point.

“He’s their No. 1 pitcher,” Curtis said. “You don’t pull your No. 1
pitcher when it’s 5-3.”

Good point. Even so, it had a bad feel to it. Then Yankees catcher Joe Girardi
led off the bottom of the eighth with a crisp single and it really started to look
like Glavine was in trouble. But Cox hung with his ace, and the next batter, Chuck Knoblauch, homered to right to tie the
game, 5-5. Right fielder Brian Jordan drifted back and leaped, and the ball
hit his glove and bounced away. “It was like, ‘Oh man, another inch and I
would have had it,’” Jordan said.

“It would be easier if I could sit here and say I was tired or if I could
sit here and say I made a bad pitch,” Glavine said. “When it left the bat, I
thought it was a routine fly ball to right. If we were in Atlanta, that’s not
a home run. But we’re not in Atlanta.”

Added Cox: “We got beat by a popup to right field. It was a Yankee home
run.
The ball went 315 feet and it was a home run.”

Complaining about the contours of another team’s ballpark, to put it
politely, is what losers do. As good as the Braves have been this decade, as
impressive as their starting rotation and regular-season numbers have been,
they are now staring in the face of a likely 1-4 World Series record in the
’90s. Their slow expiration in this Series has an end-of-an era feel to it,
and as much honor as there may be in being displaced by a great Yankees club,
it would have been much better for the game if the Braves had not let this
one slip away. That total silence that filled Yankee Stadium as the Braves jumped out to an early lead was beautiful, too beautiful to last.

Much has been made of the lack of animosity between these two teams, and
that’s a fair point, but it’s time to take the idea one step further.

Really, the Yankees club that looks ready to establish itself as a dynasty
here at the end of the century has a lot in common with the methodical Braves
teams of the recent past. Dynastic teams usually have more than just
confidence. Baseball people like to comment that the Oakland A’s teams of a
decade ago would swagger into your ballpark with a cocky strut like they were
not just going to embarrass you on the field but have their way with your womenfolk while they were at it.

Compared to that sort of image, this year’s Yankees are more like that
really good periodontist who gets helicoptered in from Connecticut. They are
confident, oh yeah, and Jeter at times has trouble disguising his oh-so-cool
awareness of just how much better he is than everyone else. But it’s a
confidence that you put on and off like an overcoat getting checked at the
opera.

Mostly, these Yankees are low-key and professional and, as a
result, they risk becoming boring. Tuesday night’s come-from-behind win was
anything but that, and it pushed the Yankees’ World Series winning streak to
11 games. It’s already time to shift to the question of how many
seasons the Yankees can keep this going. Judging from the way things went at Yankee
Stadium Tuesday night, it may be a long, long time.

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