As quintessential New Yorkers, the Yankees have a knack for quickly responding to any crisis. This time, one crisis was a flood in their clubhouse at Shea Stadium, which was only a minor annoyance. Another crisis was a little competition, which turned out to be no crisis at all.
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One night after the Mets created a slight opening in this Subway Series, the Yankees invoked that saying from the subway: "Stand back from the closing doors."
They are only one win away from ending the Subway Series, having bounced back from a rare Series loss Tuesday by earning an intense 3-2 win last night in Game 4 at Shea Stadium. Their bullpen held the Mets quiet for 4 1/3 innings, including one-third of an inning by David Cone (speaking of quintessential New Yorkers), who faced one batter, Mike Piazza, and got him to pop out.
The night had an auspicious start and finish for the Yankees, who set the tone with a homer by Derek Jeter on the first pitch, and ended the game with two scoreless innings by Mariano Rivera. Jeff Nelson threw 1 1/3 innings and got the win.
The Yankees' closer has the most reliable right arm in New York, with the possible exception of the Statue of Liberty. It was the 17th consecutive save opportunity he has converted in the postseason. It all meant the Yankees were not fazed by having lost Game 3 after 14 straight Series wins.
Last night, their clubhouse was flooded with waterfrom a burst pipe (the Mets know the feeling, they were flooded out of their clubhouse after their home opener last season). Tonight, the Yankees have a chance to soak the place with champagne.
Another win will give them their third straight championship and fourth in five years. So both sides in this Subway Series are close to history. The Yankees are close to making it, the Mets are close to being it.
The Yankees put their experience to work, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and holding on, even though they were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, 1-for-17 with runners on base, and their starter didn't make it out of the fifth.
"Experience can work either way," said Mike Stanton, who struck out the only two batters he faced in the seventh. "You still have to catch the ball, you still have to throw the ball, you still have to hit the ball."
His team did all of that when it had to last night, coming close to putting a smooth ending on a season that has been a rocky ride. Manager Joe Torre acknowledged that this season hasn't been as much fun as the past two world championship seasons.
"But Tuesday night I had the best night's sleep I've had in about two-and-a-half, three weeks," he said earlier last night.
You could say the Series really started in earnest last night. Game 1 was consumed by the aura of the first Subway Series in 44 years, Game 2 was overwhelmed by the bizarre Roger Clemens bat-throwing episode, Game 3 was dominated by the Mets' need to prove they could make it a contest. Mets manager Bobby Valentine mentioned after Game 3 that, as a baseball fan, he was disappointed by the lack of competitiveness in the previous two World Series, both Yankees sweeps.
Before last night's game, Andy Pettitte said, "It's a series now." When the Yankees' Game 5 starter was asked if he was happy that the Mets had stirred the competitive juices, he quickly replied, "No, not at all. It's been a long year. It's been a hard year. It would have been nice to win four straight and get back down to my hometown in Texas. But everything has been hard for us this year, so the World Series might as well be hard."
That was not to say the Yankees were in a panic about having finally lost a World Series game after 14 straight wins. "I don't think it has changed anything," Bernie Williams said. "They're a tough team, and all season, they've been able to come back."
What changed yesterday was the Mets' outlook. "I think we feel better today coming to the park than we did yesterday," Valentine said before the game. " I don't know how that's going to translate in how we play the game."
It didn't translate so well at the very start. On Bobby Jones' first pitch, Derek Jeter blasted a home run into the leftfield bleachers. So much for Mets momentum. There were loud cheers from some members of the capacity crowd.
"I like Yankee fans, they're great people," Mets centerfielder Jay Payton said. "But I wish we could find a way to keep them out of our house."
Yankee fans had more to cheer in the next two innings. Paul O'Neill hit a triple to rightfield against Jones in the second and came home on Scott Brosius' sacrifice fly. Jeter, perhaps bolstered by the presence of his personal hitting coach, Gary Denbo, led off the third with a triple to right-center. He scored on Luis Sojo's groundout, making it 3-0.
Then Mets fans had a chance to roar (and to try and keep up with the teeth-shaking volume coming out of the Shea speakers) in the bottom of the third against Denny Neagle. Piazza drilled a two-run high liner to the leftfield bleachers, making it 3-2 and making it a contest.
It was so tense a contest that Torre removed Neagle with two outs, no one on and Piazza coming up in the fifth. The manager apparently didn't want to risk another bomb, and replaced the starter with Cone (much to the apparent astonishment of Neagle).
Cone didn't get much of a response when he walked in from the bullpen - a reflection of the eight years that have passed since Cone was a Met. He didn't get much of a response from Piazza, either. The slugger popped out to second. Cone was lifted for a pinch hitter right after that.
Derek the Hit Man
Derek Jeter's leadoff home run in Game 4 extended his World Series hitting streak to 13 games, the fourth longest in history. It began in Game 6 of the 1996 Series and has included all four games in 1998, '99 and 2000.