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This is fast becoming a special World Series

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By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001


PHOENIX -- You know what a World Series looks like. The player introductions, the red-white-and-blue bunting, the turtlenecks and the first pitches. It looks, to all the world, somehow familiar and comforting.

You remember what a World Series looks like.

Of course you do.

But do you remember how it feels?

It is played in front of you every fall, but only occasionally does it reach out and touch. Rarely does it pull you in with its emotion. Hardly ever does it test your imagination. This is a World Series like that.

A Series unlike any in the past decade. A Series with the kind of memorable moments that demand to be retold again and again.

"This is real baseball," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The drama that one play may turn the game, as opposed to getting lost in a slugfest. What we have done in the last five games has been very dramatic.

"I have never been involved with, or even witnessed, games like the last two days."

Word is beginning to spread. Ratings on Fox, which were embarrassing early in the postseason, have jumped the past two games. Analysts are talking about this Series as one of the greats of all-time.

Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, who has been in the majors more than a half-century, was a third-base coach for the Red Sox in 1975 and an eyewitness to what is considered the greatest World Series game in history.

The Red Sox were facing elimination in Game 6 in '75 when Bernie Carbo hit a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the eighth to tie it at 6. An inning later, Reds leftfielder George Foster threw a runner out at the plate. It finally ended, half-past midnight, with Carlton Fisk's legendary homer off the leftfield foul pole at Fenway Park.

Late in that game, Reds third baseman Pete Rose turned to Zimmer.

"Popeye," Rose said, "we may be playing the greatest game in history."

When Game 4 ended at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night with Tino Martinez hitting a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth and Derek Jeter hitting a two-out, game-winner in the 10th, Zimmer's mind drifted back a quarter-century.

"When I got back to the clubhouse, I thought of '75 and how similar this was," Zimmer said.

The rub is that Wednesday's Game 4 was repeated in Thursday's Game 5.

Back-to-back, extra-inning games featuring ninth-inning comebacks are rare in the regular season. In the World Series, they are absurd.

Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte was on the bench next to Roger Clemens in the ninth inning of Game 5 and was resigned to falling behind Arizona three games to two. Pettitte is scheduled to pitch today's Game 6 and Clemens will go on Sunday if Game 7 is necessary. They were talking about how the pressure was about to fall on them when Scott Brosius hit a two-run homer.

"We were literally sitting there, talking about how we could go out and throw two good games and still win, right?" Pettitte said. "Right as it came out of my mouth ... Brosius hit it out. It was amazing."

Still, this World Series is not simply a succession of dramatic moments. It is not a motion picture built on special effects. It breathes because it has heart, it touches because it has emotion.

The Yankees and New York have come together in the perfect marriage of a team and a time. The city has been shaken by terrorist attacks and the team, the most famous in all of sports, has constantly fought from behind. The Yankees have been inexorably linked to their city and they seem emboldened by the thought.

The cast members in the melodrama also have come to life.

Soon-to-be-retired Paul O'Neill, serenaded between innings by the 1980s pop song The Warrior, heard his name chanted again and again by Yankee Stadium fans during the ninth inning of Game 5. In his last game as a player in the Bronx, he stopped short of the dugout and waved his hat to 50,000.

Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly, who won praise throughout the year for his seat-of-the-pants managing style, has had his pants pulled down the past two games after a series of debatable strategies.

And, finally, regrettably, there is Byung-Hyun Kim. Every hero needs a villain, every star needs a foil. The role has unfortunately fallen to the soft-spoken 22-year-old from Korea.

World Series memories are filled with pitchers who have allowed tying or winning home runs. From Ralph Terry to Charlie Leibrandt, from Dennis Eckersley to Mitch Williams, their names are forever assigned a specific moment. But none has ever suffered the fate of Kim, who has surrendered two-run home runs in the ninth inning of successive games.

If we remember Kirk Gibson hobbling around second base in 1988 and Bill Mazeroski being mobbed at the plate in 1960, what we will take out of 2001 is the image of Kim squatting on the mound as Brosius circles the bases. And later, the pitcher being consoled by shortstop Tony Womack and first baseman Mark Grace, who has his arm thrown around Kim's shoulder.

Kim was later asked whether he cried in the moments before leaving the mound.

"No."

Did he want to cry?

"Yes."

This is the World Series.

Can't you feel it?

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