The Yankees’ witching hour comeback amazes everyone…except maybe the Yankees. After everything that’s happened in the past seven weeks, it’s nice to see that Yankee fans haven’t lost their capacity for amazement. When Tino Martinez hit his improbable game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, the Stadium didn’t erupt the way it usually does. There were cheers, but the reaction was tempered, partly by the unfaithful few who left after the seventh, but even more by the shocking suddenness with which the events turned.
“I can’t fucking believe it,” I said more than once, the ball cleared the wall and Paulie and Tino rounded the bases. I wasn’t the only one breaking the code of neutrality in the auxiliary press box.
Until Tino crushed Byung-Hyun Kim’s hanging fastball, the bottom of the ninth seemed less like a rally than a death rattle. Sure, the scoreboard played the go-get-’em-boys clips from Rudy and Rocky, but no one really expected that the team that had let Curt Schilling and Brian Anderson off the hook time and time again would be able to push across two to tie. But like Rasputin, like Freddy Krueger, like Bob Hope, the Yankees would not die. For a Yankee team that has more flair for the dramatic than Kevin Kline, this was the ultimate curtain call.
Derek Jeter’s 10th-inning walk-off, by contrast, almost had an air of inevitability about it. Bob Brenly, who quick hooked Schilling, left his closer in to throw an unfathomable 63 pitches—that’s more than starter Mike Mussina threw in Game One. “Is this punishment?” I wondered when Kim came out for the tenth. Jeter, who had been mired in as deep a slump as Tino, made it mercifully brief.
The Yankee clubhouse, which usually about as raucous as a Big Eight accounting firm, had a decidedly different air as October turned to November. Sure, when facing the microphone-toting reporters, they recited the same “We’ve still got to win tomorrow” platitudes. But the unguarded moments proved that this was no ordinary night. Practically bouncing through the catacombs, Bernie Williams planted a kiss on MLB operative Phyllis Merhige, and let out a boyish “Whooohoo. What a win!” In the player lounge, the team chowed down in front of the big screen, with Jeter front and center, wearing a uniform shirt and dripping jams. When the SportsCenter replay of Tino’s blast tied the game, the room erupted as if it were happening in real time. Jeter’s homer was met with respectful silence. As Jeter made his way from his locker to the interview room, a giant ice pack still perched on his shoulder, the team’s normally implacable PR boss Rick Cerrone gushed, “You’re the best.”
“Thank you,” Jeter replied casually, followed by a herd of camera crews. For some at Yankee Stadium, the capacity for amazement stops at the clubhouse door.