Yanks have heroes for every need

October 27, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- Chuck Knoblauch and Chad Curtis.

If anything, they figured to be goats of this World Series, not heroes.

Knoblauch is the guy who was unable to complete a simple throw to first base, unable to conquer the mental demons that diminished his reputation as one of the game's top leadoff hitters.

Curtis is the guy who barely made the postseason roster, the guy who criticized the popular Derek Jeter when the Yankees' shortstop appeared to fraternize with Alex Rodriguez during a fight with the Seattle Mariners.

Well, that was Knoblauch rounding first base last night, raising his right fist in triumph after hitting a two-run homer that tied the score in the eighth inning.

And that was Curtis hitting his second home run of the night leading off the 10th inning against Mike Remlinger, giving the Yankees a 6-5 victory and a three-games-to-none lead over the Atlanta Braves.

To the victors belong the spoils: Curtis followed a new team policy by refusing to talk to NBC's Jim Gray afterward, while Knoblauch refused to discuss his throwing problems, saying, "Enough has been said about it. I think it needs to be put to bed."

Both earned the last word.

"I've never hit a walk-off home run," Curtis said. "I've heard people talk about that. I've never felt that before. But somewhere between second and third, I felt the electricity running through my legs."

Whatever it takes, the Yankees do it. They didn't hit a homer in their first two World Series triumphs over Atlanta. Last night, they hit four, rallying from a 5-1 deficit to again vanquish the Braves.

Curtis started the comeback with his home run in the fifth. He entered that at-bat 0-for-11 in the postseason and 0-for-12 lifetime off Tom Glavine. And at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he didn't exactly strike fear in the heart of Braves manager Bobby Cox.

"When he was introduced tonight, I knew he was a little guy, but I was amazed by how short he is," Cox said.

Curtis had hit only five homers this season. He had started only 52 games while sharing playing time in left field with Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer and Tony Tarasco. But last night, he entered his name in Yankees lore.

Not that Knoblauch and Curtis were the only heroes.

The Yankees' bullpen delivered 5 1/3 scoreless innings after Andy Pettitte was knocked out in the fourth. Tino Martinez hit a solo homer. Catcher Joe Girardi started the eighth-inning rally and threw out Otis Nixon attempting to steal in the ninth.

The winning pitcher? None other than Mariano Rivera, who worked the ninth and 10th to extend his scoreless streak to 41 2/3 innings on the season, and 24 1/3 in postseason play.

One more win tonight, and the Yankees would tie a World Series record with their 12th straight victory. One more loss, and the Braves would tie a record with their seventh straight loss.

This was the night that looked to be different, the night that Glavine returned from the stomach flu three to four pounds lighter, but determined to pitch the Braves back into the Series.

It should have happened. It didn't happen. Glavine faded like Greg Maddux in Game 1. And as usual, the Yankees pounced at the opponent's first sign of weakness.

Perhaps Cox should have inserted a left-handed reliever for Maddux against Darryl Strawberry in Game 1. And perhaps Cox should have removed Glavine after seven innings last night.

Or, perhaps all of those Braves' Cy Young winners should have outpitched their World Series opponent for a change, especially with Atlanta trying to avoid losing the Series for the fourth time in five tries in the 90s.

`He didn't want to come out of the game," Cox said of Glavine. "[Pitching coach] Leo [Mazzone] thought he was throwing great. Tommy thought he was throwing great. I thought he was throwing great. We got beat with a pop-up to right field. A Yankee home run."

Knoblauch will take it.

"I'm glad I hit it in Yankee Stadium," he said.

How can Cox complain? You take a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning, you had better protect it. You take a 5-1 lead, and with John Smoltz facing Roger Clemens in Game 4, you should be getting ready to tie the Series.

The Braves got three hits from leadoff man Gerald Williams, three doubles from No. 2 hitter Bret Boone and a crucial two-run double from DH Jose Hernandez. But this defeat will rank with Game 4 of the 1996 Series against New York, when they blew a 6-0 lead.

No one expected the rematch to be a rout. No one expected back-to-back sweeps in the game's showcase event. But the Braves, much like the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, seem almost spooked by the Yankees.

Cox complained about ball-strike calls after Game 1, then did something even more questionable before Game 2, replacing three-fourths of his up-the-middle defense in a desperate attempt to kick-start his offense against David Cone.

Not surprisingly, Ozzie Guillen, Keith Lockhart and Greg Myers made little impact -- and the seven hits by the Braves in the first two games were the fewest by a World Series team since the Los Angeles Dodgers had that many against the Orioles in 1966.

All that seemed destined to change last night, but not even a 5-1 lead was enough. Nothing ever is against the Team of the Moment and the Team of the Century. The cruelly efficient, relentlessly dominant New York Yankees.

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