What next?

With the World Series headed back to Phoenix for the finale, the Yankees have taught us to expect the extraordinary.

Published November 2, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

What can you say? The impossible has become usual. The incredible ordinary. The ridiculous is now routine.

You're not supposed to go into the ninth inning down by two runs to a good team and expect to win. It just doesn't happen that often. In the World Series, a popular American festival that dates to 1903, it had happened exactly twice before this week, on Oct. 25, 1911, and Oct. 14, 1929, to be precise.

This week, it happened Wednesday and then it happened Thursday.

Now, the Yankees expect to come from two runs down, tie the game in the ninth inning and win it in overtime. If they go into the bottom of the eighth inning with a lead Saturday, they'll probably cough up a few runs just so they'll feel comfortable in the ninth.

It must be fun to be a Yankees fan these days. It's certainly not fun to be a Yankees hater, though there's never a dull moment. It's not just that they're winning, but they're doing it in the most preposterously and maddeningly inspiring ways. Except for Mariano Rivera's bionic relief work, the Yankees provide a different hero every night. Here are veterans Paul O'Neill, who's likely to retire after the Series, and Tino Martinez, who's likely not to be re-signed by the Yankees, tying Game 4 with a single and a homer in the ninth. And then here's Derek Jeter, the new DiMaggio, the handsome young superstar, winning it with a home run in the 10th.

And now here's Chuck Knoblauch, the much-maligned second baseman who couldn't throw straight turned left fielder who turns fly balls into adventures (not to mention leadoff hitter who doesn't hit), combining with aging third baseman Scott Brosius to tie Game 5 with a single and a homer in the ninth. And then here's Alfonso Soriano, the impressive rookie who reminds his manager, Joe Torre, of a "young Jeter" -- Jeter is 27 -- winning it with a single in the 12th.

For crying out loud. I've been to the movies. I know that with all that New York has been through, this is how it should go, but give me a break. "The art of fiction is dead," Red Smith wrote after Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run in 1951. "Reality has strangled invention." He didn't know the half of it.

It's hard to find much fault with the Diamondbacks in all of this. Except for Game 3, when they kicked the ball all over the yard like a Pony League team and still only lost by a run, they've been damn near magnificent, far better than their fans -- the ones who left thousands of seats empty throughout the playoffs -- had any right to expect. Surprise starter Brian Anderson, a hittable left-hander, turned in a solid start in Game 3. Ace right-hander Curt Schilling, pitching on only three days' rest, a gamble by manager Bob Brenly, was brilliant in Game 4. Miguel Batista, who can be good or not so good, was very, very good in Game 5. Guys like Erubiel Durazo and Rod Barajas and Craig Counsell have been getting big hits and making big defensive plays.

Rookie manager Brenly is a gambler, and when a gambling manager loses three straight games, he's open to criticism, but it's hard to find fault with Brenly either. Most of his moves have paid off. Sure, he took Schilling out after seven innings in Game 4 when the big guy was still pitching well, but Schilling, though he fought Brenly at the time, later admitted that he was out of gas. And Byung Hyun Kim, the side-arming reliever who gave up the tying and winning homers, looked dazzling before Martinez got a fat pitch and hit it over the fence.

I might not have sent Kim out for the 10th, in which he gave up a leadoff homer to Jeter to end the game, but it's not like Brenly had a lot of inspiring choices in his bullpen. Mike Morgan (who attended that 1929 Series with his middle school class, by the way), Greg Swindell, Troy Brohawn, Albie "19 Losses" Lopez. Blech. Hard to fault Brenly for staying with the guy what brung him here.

I'm not sure I'd have gone with Kim to pitch the ninth in Game 5 either, after he'd thrown a colossal 61 pitches in Game 4. But again, who else do you use? As it turned out, Morgan, the 42-year-old former Athletic, Yankee, Blue Jay, Mariner, Oriole, Dodger, White Sock, Cardinal, Red, Twin, Cub and Ranger, pitched two and a third perfect innings after taking over from Kim following the Brosius homer, and Morgan has now turned in three solid outings in the Series. But it's hard to argue that Brenly should have all of a sudden turned to his ancient journeyman to save a crucial game when his closer appeared to be ready to go.

I don't know that I'll ever forget Kim's crestfallen look after surrendering that two-out, game-tying blast by Brosius Thursday. Only 24 hours before, he'd given up an eerily similar game-tying homer, then a game-winning shot. Now, it was happening to him again. He squatted in front of the mound and stared at the grass, then in toward home plate. He stood, turned and climbed the mound. His catcher, Barajas, ran up to him and, cupping his hand gently on the back of Kim's head, spoke to him. Kim, who reportedly speaks little English, nodded and stared blankly toward the scoreboard in center field as he listened to Barajas. Shortstop Tony Womack and first baseman Mark Grace ran up to Kim and threw their arms around him, Womack patting Kim's cheek.

I thought, as maybe Kim's teammates did, of Donnie Moore, a fine relief pitcher who gave up a dramatic home run in the 1986 American League Championship Series that cost his team, the California Angels, the pennant. Three years later, after Moore had shot his wife and then himself, his obituary quoted friends saying he never recovered from that defeat, and had been on a downward spiral ever since. Moore was near the end of his career in 1986, and he had troubles outside of baseball. Kim is 22, with a bright future, but what pitcher has ever had to endure such a devastating turn of events on consecutive nights?

And so the Series goes to Phoenix for the final act. The Diamondbacks are reeling, to be sure, but they have Randy Johnson, who threw a shutout in Game 2, and then Schilling ready to start. Anderson and Batista, so effective in Games 3 and 5 as starters, now figure to be available in relief. That and the surprising success of Morgan mean Brenly won't have to lean so heavily on Kim. At this point, it would be hard to justify sending Kim out again with the game on the line.

The Yankees will start Andy Pettitte in Game 6 Saturday. He pitched well in Game 2 but was not as good as Johnson, and the Yankees lost 4-0. Pettitte has been known as a big-game pitcher ever since his 1-0 shutout win in the pivotal Game 5 of the 1996 Series against the Atlanta Braves. If Arizona wins Game 6 Roger Clemens will take the ball in Game 7. Clemens has not been known as a big-game pitcher for most of his career, but except for the 2000 divisional series against the Oakland A's, he's pitched very well in the last two postseasons. He struggled through a sore hamstring to pitch seven strong innings and win Game 3. And the Yanks will have extra bullpen help too, from Orlando Hernandez and Mike Mussina.

I'd be lying if I said I had any idea how things are going to go over the weekend, and so would you. If these were normal times we could say we're sure nothing can top the drama of the last two games, but these are not normal times. The World Series is being played in November. Neither team seems able to score any runs, yet no lead seems safe.

When next week starts, we'll know how it turned out. We just won't believe it.

By 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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