Big mistake, D-backs

If you want to beat the Yankees in a World Series, don't win the first two games.

By King Kaufman

Published October 30, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Go ask Oakland. Beating the Yankees twice just pisses them off.

Stop me if you've heard this before. The Yankees are down two games to none. They've looked pathetic in the first two games. Their hitters aren't hitting. They look feeble, beaten, clueless, overwhelmed by superior pitching.

When last in this predicament, our pinstriped heroes had been beaten twice at home and were on their way to Oakland, where the A's had won 17 straight games. They needed three straight wins, the first two in California, to win the series. Done.

Having dispatched the A's, and then the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees actually have it easier this time, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The two losses have come on the road, and now the World Series returns to the Bronx for the next three games, starting Tuesday. And the Yankees don't even have to be perfect. Four wins in five games will be sufficient.

It's looking like they'll have to beat the nearly unbeatable duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson twice in those five games to win their fourth straight championship. That does seem unlikely, on its face. In Game 1 Saturday, Schilling allowed only a run on three hits and a walk, striking out eight as the Diamondbacks cruised to a 9-1 win. In Game 2 Sunday, Johnson was even better, throwing a complete-game, three-hit shutout, walking one and striking out 11 as the Diamondbacks won again, 4-0.

Schilling and Johnson are 7-1 in the postseason with a 1.07 earned-run average, and in the 78 games the pair has started since Opening Day, Arizona is a dazzling 59-19. In the postseason, opponents are batting .141 against them, and the Yankees, with six hits in 16 innings, are hitting .107.

But hold on a minute. Arizona manager Bob Brenly is being coy about it, but the Diamondbacks appear to be leaning toward starting Schilling in Game 4 Wednesday, on three days' rest. "I don't see that happening," Schilling said when asked if he thought he'd get his regular rest before his next start. Then, if the Yankees are able to force a Game 7 Sunday, Schilling would likely go again, also on three days' rest. Johnson figures to pitch Game 6 Saturday regardless of what Schilling does.

Old-timers like to say that before the 1970s, every pitcher used to work on three days' rest every time out, and they never seemed to have a problem with it. Walter Johnson, Lefty Gomez, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, you name him. Every fourth day. This is true. But pitchers today work on four days' rest. All of them. And for whatever reason, when pitchers who regularly work on four days' rest pitch on three days' rest, they aren't as good. Schilling has never pitched with only three days' rest. Can he do it? Who knows.

The Diamondbacks will send Brian Anderson, a surprise move by Brenly, who wants a lefty pitching in left-handed hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, in Game 3 against Roger Clemens, who is leaking oil as his terrific season winds down. Clemens is nursing a sore hamstring, and has managed to finish the fifth inning only once in his three postseason starts. In his last six starts, counting the playoffs, he's 0-3 with a 4.06 ERA, and the Yankees are 2-4. In his 20 starts previous to that string, the Yanks were 20-0.

If the Diamondbacks can get to Clemens and get into the weak part of the Yankees bullpen -- the Jay Witasick, Randy Choate part that the Yankees have to use before they get to Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza and Mariano Rivera in the late innings -- without the Yanks teeing off on Anderson, then it doesn't matter when Schilling pitches next. The Diamondbacks will have a 3-0 lead, and nobody has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the World Series, or any other baseball playoff.

But that's a big if. Anderson is an ordinary pitcher at best (4-9, 5.20 ERA in the regular season, mostly as a starter), and the Yankees, returning home after two grisly offensive showings, are due to score some runs. If New York wins Game 3, it's a series, and if Schilling then pitches Game 4 on short rest and is ineffective, the D-backs could be reeling. They'd have Miguel Batista -- talented but inconsistent, pitching against Mike Mussina in Game 5 Thursday, still in New York. Mussina is coming off a bad game in the opener. He doesn't have many bad games, and doesn't figure to have two bad ones in a row. Then Game 6 would be a rematch of the Johnson-Andy Pettitte duel in Game 2, in which Pettitte was almost as good as Johnson before he gave up Matt Williams' three-run homer in the seventh inning. Pettitte is generally pretty good in big games, you know.

This is getting way ahead of things, of course. All I'm saying is that it's not difficult to conceive of things going the Yankees' way, despite their seemingly dire situation. And this isn't to say that holding Schilling out until Game 5 is the obvious answer for the Diamondbacks either. After all, what happens if the Yankees beat Anderson and Batista in Games 3 and 4, and then Mussina outduels Schilling in Game 5? Then Arizona would need two wins in a row back home. Johnson would pitch one of those games -- against the tough Pettitte -- but then if there's a Game 7, the starter would be Anderson. That's not an inspiring thought for D-backs fans.

Four times, the Yankees have lost the first two games of a World Series on the road. Three of those four times -- against the Dodgers in 1956 and '78 and the Braves in 1958 -- New York came back to win the Series. They also came back five years ago after the Braves won the first two games in New York. The last two times the Yankees came back from 2-0, they didn't even need a seventh game. The only team to win the first two at home from the Yankees and then take the Series was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, arguably the greatest team ever assembled.

It's strange, but don't you almost get the feeling the Yankees have the Diamondbacks right where they want them?

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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