NEW YORK -- A Bronx crowd of 56,018 Thursday night chanted "Paulie" and "One More Year," saluting what was the final career apperance for Paul O'Neill -- and, perhaps, several of his New York teammates -- at Yankee Stadium.
Call it a last stand for an old guard at the storied park where this core group had contributed so dramatically and frequently to Yankee lore -- and where they would do it again in improbable fashion in Game 5 of the World Series.
Only 24 hours after the Yankees stunned the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 4, when Tino Martinez hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and Derek Jeter hit a game winner in the 10th, Scott Brosius provided the dramatics when he hit a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning home run off the same Byung-Hyun Kim to save the Yankees from a 2-0 defeat and send Game 5 into extra innings, where they would numb the Diamonbacks again, 3-2, in 12.
It is difficult to believe there is much life left in Arizona, which now trails the best-of-seven Series, 3-2, but the Yankees still will have to defeat Randy Johnson at BankOne Ballpark on Saturday night, and if they fail in that, they will have to defeat Curt Schilling in Game 7 Sunday night -- or beat the Arizona bullpen again.
The one certainty is that the Yankees will be a different team when they next play in the Bronx.
O'Neill, 38, is retiring.
Brosius and Martinez, the home run stars of these last two victories, are eligible for free agency and may not be re-signed.
Chuck Knoblauch, who was benched in Games 4 and 5 but pinch ran in the seventh inning Thursday night and ultimately singled and scored the winning run in the 12th, is also eligible for free agency and is not expected to be re-signed. Only O'Neill, one of the first building blocks in the current dynasty when he was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds for Roberto Kelly in 1992, knows for sure he won't be back. O'Neill will be spending next summer at his Cincinnati home, coaching his sons in youth baseball and basketball.
"I can't think of a better way to play my last game in Yankee Stadium," said O'Neill, who went hitless but was awed again by his team's magical comeback.
"The odds of it happening two straight nights well, it would be lovely to score a bunch or runs and be able to relax, but this just signifies the heart of this team. We've proven we can beat the Diamondbacks here, now we have to prove we can do it in Arizona, where we haven't yet. I mean, we still need one more win."
Once described by owner George Steinbrenner as his team's ultimate warrior, the helmet-throwing, water-cooler-kicking O'Neill insisted there was nothing on his mind except the game, but he acknowledged that he got goose bumps with the crowd's long and loud response to his last at-bat at the stadium and that he has been "floored and blown away" over the nine years by his treatment from the fans and the organization.
O'Neill will watch from a distance as the Yankees attempt to add power and improve their once vaunted on-base percentage during the winter.
Jason Giambi is a possibility through free agency. The Yankees may weigh a trade for Gary Sheffield of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The acquisition of a high salaried power hitter might prompt them to go cheaper at first base, replacing Martinez with long touted Nick Johnson, and third base, replacing Brosius with the force-fed Drew Henson. It won't take the Yankees long to begin weighing their alternatives once the Series is over. For the time being, they will fly to Arizona on the adrenaline high of these last two victories.
"It's pretty amazing," said Brosius, who had a disappointing summer but always seems to respond in the postseason.
He was the MVP of the 1998 World Series victory over San Diego, and his clutch home run off Kim was his eighth in the postseason.
Was he thinking that might have been his final at bat at Yankee Stadium wearing pinstripes?
"No, not really," he said. "There's so many things that go through your head. When I hit it, you've got tons of emotion from hitting the home run, but at the same time you realize that the game is still tied and there's still a game to try and win, so it's weird. I mean, you go from just this high to all of a sudden you have to get yourself back together again and realize there's still a game to be played."
Brosius paused, shaking his head.
"To have a situation like this two nights in a row is pretty unbelievable," he said. "I can't image ever being on a team or in a situation where, on that type of stage, you would pull out two unbelievable games in a row.
"That's certainly never happened to me before."
It hasn't happened to many, of course, and for Brosius, Martinez and Knoblauch, they will have a lasting memory -- among many others -- if this was their last game at Yankee Stadium, as it definitely was for the warrior O'Neill.
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