Sunday, October 06, 2002

Overdue comeuppance buries pinstriped glory, myth

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

        ANAHEIM, Calif. — This was the day the meek inherited the earth, the hour all born baseball losers peddled their souls to become Joe Hardy from Hannibal, Mo., a ballplayer who could beat those damn Yankees to a bloody, Faustian pulp.

        The Anaheim Angels were doing it for the Washington Senators, the Brooklyn Bums, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets, doing it for generations of men, women and children conditioned to love the game and to hate the team that owned it.

        The destroyers were destroyed. Decades upon decades of overdue comeuppance finally came crashing down on all that pinstriped glory and myth, its sound and fury signifying everything.

        When the Angels scored eight runs on 10 hits in the fifth inning of this Game 4, they eliminated the Yankees and wrecked the most appropriate arm.

        David Wells wears the Babe's caps and wears the Babe's gut and wears the Babe's number, 3, back to back. Burying Wells isn't just burying one of the most successful postseason pitchers of them all; it's burying the great Ruth right along with him.

        “If they play like that,” Derek Jeter said after this 9-5 demolition was complete, “I don't see anyone beating them. No team has ever played better against us than that team has.”

        The Angels had never won a playoff series. They had gone 2,527 games without appearing in one, and they had endured more disastrous finishes and more tragic twists of fate than the New Jersey Nets.

        Now they can go deeper into October than the Nets went into June. The Angels are good enough and bold enough to win the World Series, to become a cross between Tom Brady's Patriots and Joe Namath's Jets.

        “The first game didn't affect them,” Jeter said, “and they came back in the second game, came back in the third game and came back in this game. They hit, they pitched, they played defense and they ran the bases.

        “They did everything better than we did.”

        How in the world did this happen? How did a franchise that sends out Gary DiSarcina for the first pitch make a mockery of a franchise that sends out Yogi and the Scooter? How did Gene Autry's widow, Jackie, end up in the winning clubhouse soaked in champagne while she poured beer on the Angels' heads?

        How did the Angel hitters nail the Yankee pitchers with a thousand Buster Douglas hooks, leaving them crawling all over Anaheim in search of a mouthpiece they never found?

        The Angels delivered 56 hits, 9 homers, 31 runs and a .376 team batting average, and it just doesn't add up. The Angels are a $61 million team and the Yankees are a $141 million team? The Angels entered this series with two games' worth of playoff experience, and the Yankees entered with 543. The Angels were so unwashed and so unworthy that Disney can't sell them fast enough.

        But something funny happened on the way to another pinstriped parade. Everything that worked for the Yankees suddenly worked against them. Take Garret Anderson's running catch of that Derek Jeter shot to left, a play made on the 55th anniversary of Al Gionfriddo's catch in the World Series. Joe DiMaggio kicked the dirt then like Jeter grimaced and slapped his hands Saturday, but DiMaggio's team came back to win the title - something Jeter's Yanks won't be doing any time soon.

        “Garret Anderson really pulled the plug on us,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “I didn't think he had a chance in the world to make that catch.”

        Did you know that Jarrod Washburn, winning pitcher, grew up in the Wisconsin hinterland worshipping Don Mattingly and dreaming of playing in the Bronx? Did you know that David Eckstein, another Mattingly fan, was schooled by his father, Whitey Eckstein, who was schooled by his high school coach, Lou Carnesecca, who was a St. John's teammate of Joe Torre's brother in the College World Series and who watched Saturday with a broken but conflicted Yankee heart?

        Whitey Eckstein said he shared Carnesecca's lessons with his boy, which means one of New York's leading sports citizens unwittingly inspired the implosion of a Yankee dynasty.

        “Don't blame me; I love Joe Torre,” Carnesecca said Saturday night by phone. “But sometimes it's just not in the cards. You're going back a long way with Eckstein's father, so I'll have to check the St. Ann's yearbooks. I do know that Eckstein kid gets everything out of himself and you've got to have that spark and those intangibles.

        “He would've made a great point guard.”

        Eckstein was one in Game 4, fueling that historic fifth-inning fastbreak with a beautiful slap hit through second on a hit and run. Suddenly the Angels began bopping and blooping and blasting the Yankees out of their misery, plowing through Wells and Ramiro Mendoza and becoming the first team since the 1929 Philadelphia A's to manage 10 hits in one inning.

        “It seemed like it lasted forever,” Jeter said.

        Donnie Moore wasn't coming out of the pen on this day. The fans dressed in their red October best were chanting “Go Home Yankees” before Troy Percival threw his arms toward the sky and watched Nick Johnson's pop fall into Eckstein's glove.

        The fireworks and water fountains exploded out of the fake rock formation in left center as the Angels mobbed each other near the mound, this while Torre and Jeter and the rest slumped over the dugout railing and watched the celebration through stone-cold eyes. Photographers moved within feet of the fallen, morose Yanks and snapped away. Jeter would grab his glove and cap and head for the tunnel, and soon enough teammates and coaches would spill off the rail and follow him home.

        Mariano Rivera would dodge the delirious Angels like he dodged the delirious Diamondbacks last year, trudging from bullpen to dugout and wondering why his team couldn't get him the ball. This wasn't supposed to happen. The Yankee starters and bullpen weren't supposed to appear so sickly and small. Mike Scioscia wasn't supposed to ruin a Yankee season in 2002 like he ruined a Mets season in 1988.

        “We got beat by the best,” said Wells, who somehow predicted that his friend, George Steinbrenner, would offer comfort and cheer. “I don't think he's mad or is going to start pointing fingers. That's not George. He's done crazy things in his life and we've done stupid things on the field, but ...”

        But nothing.

        “I'm leaving it up to Cashman and Torre,” Steinbrenner said by phone the other day. “Joe's the best manager in the game and Cash has assured me we have enough to get there, so I'll take his word for it.”

        The Yankees watched the “aberration” Twins blast Oakland in their pregame clubhouse, then took their postgame flight knowing Tino Martinez was in a much better place. Steinbrenner isn't about to accept that.

        He didn't give Jason Giambi $120 million to watch him finish in the playoffs like his A's forever did. Steinbrenner didn't pay $141 million in wages to watch a TV replay of Juan Rivera doing a ball-missing, sunglasses-flying tumble in the outfield while Mike Stanton stood on the mound and smiled in disbelief.

        These things happen to the Mets, the Red Sox, the Brooklyn Bums and the Washington Senators. But they finally happened to those damn Yankees on October 5, 2002.

        A day belonging to millions of Joe Hardys. A day worth six generations of peddled souls.


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