NEW YORK -- It happened again Thursday night. It couldn't, but it did.
They'll talk about this night at Yankee Stadium in the World Series as long as baseball is played. But perhaps all of "them" -- those future generations -- will not really understand. Because what happened here in Game 5 was so inextricably part of this time, this place, this moment in history in a city so full of pain that it cannot find words to speak it and so desperate to rediscover joy that it can't stop screaming its cheers.
For the second night in a row, the New York Yankees trailed by two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in the World Series. Not just the ninth inning. But two outs.
For the second straight night, they were about to lose their third game in this World Series and come within one defeat of elimination. Their chances of defending their world title for a fourth straight season would be down to a single game.
For the second night in a row, the Arizona Diamondbacks had gotten an amazingly courageous performance from their starting pitcher. This time, it was Miguel Batista, one who quotes Einstein, who played the role filled by Curt Schilling the previous night.
And for the second night, the Diamondback on the mound was tiny Korean 22-year-old submarine pitcher Byung Hyum Kim. The Arizona veterans affectionately call him "BK." Perhaps they don't know that, on Wall Street, "BK" is the euphemism for "bankrupt."
In their entire history in the Series, covering 38 classics over 80 years, the Yankees had only pulled out one game -- that's o-n-e game -- in which they trailed by two (or more) runs entering the ninth inning. Much less two outs in the ninth.
That's why what happened Thursday night was impossible. In fact, as I typed those words it had not actually happened yet. With the Yankees, you sense what is coming, so you tear up the first story after you have written it and begin your account of the miracle. Even before it has happened.
Just as I reached the word "impossible," but had not yet typed it, Scott Brosius hit a pitch from Kim into the left field seats with Jorge Posada on base to tie the score at 2.
Just as Tino Martinez did the night before in Game 4, except his blow landed in the left field bleachers. Around here these days, wherever you sit, history may fall in your lap.
Surely, even Yankees fans cannot believe this. Or, perhaps, they can. For they surely believe that, despite their hallowed history, they are now an underdog team of "D-E-S-T-I-N-Y," but with the last two letters -- the "N" and "Y" -- linked in that distinctive Yankee logo.
This team has a motivation that goes beyond logic and baseball. It cannot be denied. It would be offensive to ignore what drives this team, inspires it, makes it believe that it is almost obligated to do what -- in the standard-issue world of baseball statistical probabilities -- is mysterious to the point of mythology.
Shane Spencer, a home run hero in Game 4, put it perfectly for his entire team. "Everybody on our team has friends -- fire, police, Port Authority. And they are living through us right now. They go to work and we have no idea what they are actually going through, finding bodies, still. I get to hang out with some of them afterward and go to dinner with some of them and you know, they don't talk about what they are doing. They want to talk about what I'm doing and how much fun it is to come to games and watch.
"It's a great feeling, to see them in the stands, to see them all smiling and having fun."
They are having more than fun here. They are experiencing a game of century-old ritual as it raises itself to a level where it symbolizes American resolve, indomitability and resourcefulness.
For two nights, baseball has become the national pastime again -- and at exactly the moment when the nation so much wanted something to help it pass this harrowing time.
The denouement should be coming now. Just as in Game 4, Mariano Rivera has been called in to enforce his unique form of postseason perfection. In the 10th, he retired the side -- one, two, three -- just as he did the night before.
But this game cannot be exactly like Game 4. It must be better. So Rivera has also had to pitch the 11th -- his fifth relief inning in three nights. With men on second and third, Arizona's Reggie Sanders hit a line drive into center field to score two runs.
Well, almost. Except that rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano, one of the fastest men in baseball, dove, staggered and stumbled to make a lunging last-second catch. Just an out. Just another moment to shake your faith in agnosticism.
Who will the hero be? We simply need to wait.
In this game, everyone rises to every occasion. In the eighth inning, the Diamondbacks had a man on third base with nobody out against starter Mike Mussina. He'd given up two solo homers in the fifth to Steve Finley and, most humiliatingly, backup catcher Rod Barajas, who was told he would get to play just 90 minutes before the game. But Mussina atoned. The "insurance run" that really would have insured this Arizona victory never scored.
Down went Craig Counsell, Luis Gonzalez (57 homers) and cleanup man Erubiel Durazo. As it had to be.
As the 11th inning gave way to the 12th, and Sterling Hitchcock picked up the pitching where Rivera had left off, the only question in the House of Champions was, "Who will the hero be?"
We simply needed to wait. But not long.
At 12:40 a.m. -- so long after midnight, but so close to heaven -- Alfonso Soriano, who had saved the game in the 10th, won it in the 12th with a single to right field. Chuck Knoblauch, who had singled off Albie Lopez and been sacrificed to second base by Brosius -- home run, bunt, it's all the same to the Yankees -- came scooting home.
The throw might have had a chance to beat him. But it took a bad bounce. Perhaps it hit a police shield or Babe Ruth's watch fob. As the ball bounced to the screen, the Yankees erupted from their dugout, the deed done.
From now on, when the history of the World Series is mentioned, those who were here the last two nights will refer to these events only as The Games. Other games, somewhere, sometime, have been as good as these.
But no two games in baseball history-back-to-back-have matched these. No, for who knows how long these games will stand.
They are simply: The Games.
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